Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Top 5 Favorite Monster From Space Movies

 NOTE: This is part of a series I'm doing for Halloween. You can catch up here if you are interested:

Let's face it: nothing good ever really comes from Space.
Few things inspire more terror in people than the idea that not only are we not alone, but that the bug-eyed monsters from the outer galaxies are buzzing cornfields in Kansas and picking up random chuckleheads and performing medical experiments on them. Who knows where that comes from, but ever since the Roswell incident, this has been a Going Concern for movies and television, H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds notwithstanding.

These movies usually fall into two categories: The misunderstood monster, such as Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, or the confused being that doesn’t mean to hurt us (the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth comes to mind). I like those movies, but that’s not what this list is about. This list is all about the scary stuff out there—the things that want to eat our faces, literally. There’s something deliciously thrilling when you combine the monstrous with the idea that it came from Out There, where we can’t go and can’t imagine what else might be waiting for us.

Between the Blob and the Tingler, it's a wonder anyone
went into theaters ever again.
The Blob (1958)
This under-appreciated gem is more known now for the theme song that launched the career of Burt Bacharach rather than its own merits, and that’s a shame, because this is such a classic mash up of the “Teen-Agers On the Loose” genre and Whack-Job 50’s Science Fiction. Steve McQueen is the star of the movie, his first role with top billing, and he was pretty embarrassed about it years later. Personally, I'd have been more upset about being cast as a 28-year old juvenile delinquent.

What’s so interesting about The Blob is that it’s unstoppable in a kind of Lovecraftian sort of way. And while it’s easy to ascribe characteristics of mass consumerism in the 1950s to the amorphous, insatiable goo from space, you can’t help but laugh at the irony of the ending and consider the fact that if the blob were real, global warming (excuse me, climate change) would have killed us all by now.

"Hey guys, I'm going to go die in a cliched fashion!
Don't wait up, okay?"
Night of the Creeps (1986)
One of the best things (some would say “only good thing”) about the 1980s was the explosion of horror films and novels, the likes of which we’ve not seen before or since. Night of the Creeps is a film that wears its “80’s-ness” like a bad prom tuxedo, but what it lacks in timelessness, it makes up for in effective and creepy critters that want to take us over.

The creeps in question are space slugs that, once they get inside you, zombify you and make you a walking incubator for them. Oh, and it’s homecoming at Corman University. That’s it, really, but there’s some really great creep out moments when these fast-moving little boogers slither up pants legs and enter people through the mouth. Blargh! The special effects are great (for the 1980’s), but now the fun of the movie comes from seeing 1980’s teen movie clichés get taken over and turned into uglieness. 

These little bastards are the good guys.
Attack the Block (2011)
This movie got a very limited theatrical release, most likely due to its British-ness. When meteors start falling out of the sky, kids in the British version of The Projects—thugs in training, the lot of them—investigate and stumble across, well, you know. It’s South London hoodlums versus some of the most original space boogums I’ve ever seen.

This movie is a kind anti-Goonies, in that none of the children are particularly likeable or loveable. In fact, they are all pretty much little shits. But they have the same problems as any kids in these kinds of films—no one is listening to them, and the few that do, don’t believe them for a second. It’s up to this group of misfits to defend their block against the invaders from space. The results are a nice twist on the old formula, from the characters on down to the monsters. In the end, you will dig this movie, and you’ll probably pick up some new slang to throw around for a fortnight, as well. 

"Hello my baby, Hello my Honey..."
Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott made his reputation on this old school suspense thriller filmed in the confines of a space ship. This was a return to some of the more traditional methods of monster movies, in that audiences didn’t see the alien until the very end of the film. As such, the glimpse we do get are more than enough to freak out and terrify, while the ship’s asshole cat, Jones, provides most of the jump scares for the film. The rest is all tension and great acting from a really good cast, and would have been just fine as a movie except for one thing: The Face Hugger.

From the second that egg splits open to John Hurt’s wonderful surprise death, it’s those scenes that lift Alien up into the classic category. That scene at the dinner table was a shocker for everyone, including the cast, who were not in on the joke. It’s not a surprise that the movie won an Oscar for best visual effects. While the franchise that followed is charitably considered uneven at best, the first film is a modern classic by any definition.

I miss matte paintings. I really do.
The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s remake of the Howard Hawkes classic is closer in theme to the original John W. Campbell story, “Who Goes There?” than its 1950s predecessor, but you won’t care about any of that as you watch this thing morph into dogs, people, and other unnamable stuff. Rob Bottin spearheaded the special effects, and John Carpenter ratcheted up the horror as the research scientists investigate a nearby weather station that apparently found something in the ice and dug it up. Of course, everyone is dead, and when our group of guys start trying to figure out what’s what, the Thing starts taking them over, one by one.

Excellent suspense, coupled with a few jump scares that will make you pee your pants, and lots of paranoia as people try to figure out who’s real and who’s a monster. The film is also very quotable, for those of you who like to sprinkle your House Patois with phrases from recently watched films. The Thing also features Wilford Brimley at his all-time most frightening. The sequel, called also The Thing, (2011), is actually a prequel about what happens to the original research station, and it dovetails nicely into the 1982 film. All in all, not a bad double feature, if you can handle it. You will end on the scarier movie, without a doubt.

Jeffrey Combs fights off the extra-dimensional thingie,
ironically the least suggestive monster in the movie.
Bonus Film! From Beyond (1986)
Not strictly a Monster From Space movie, these strange, bioluminescent uglies are from a different dimensional frequency than ours, and when madman Crawford Tillinghast, played with signature intensity by Jeffrey Combs, turns on his resonator, we can see that they are really all around us...oh, yeah, and they can see us, too...

The second film from the team that brought us the brilliant Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon again play fast and loose with H.P. Lovecraft’s original short story in order to crank up the sex and violence in this freak-filled movie. Many of the beats in the film are standard genre tropes, but when From Beyond veers off, it goes way out there where the buses don’t run. Most of the cast and crew from Re-Animator return with Yuzna and Gordon, and they do a much better job the second time around. The ending is effective, very creepy, and is probably the only real Lovecraftian bit that plays tribute to his work in the film. 
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