RIP HR Giger

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The man who first really scared the living shit out of me was HR Giger.

Oh, Ridley Scott gets some credit. And Bolaji Badejo, the guy in the alien suit. One of the most memorable and effective horror movies of all time, Alien played on HBO in 1980. I crept out of my bedroom to sneak-watch it, ignoring my mother’s warnings that it’ll give you nightmares.

And boy, was she right.

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It plays equally well to men and women. The creature that crawls from the eggs those astronauts find in the belly of the wrecked ship makes impregnation by rape an equal opportunity nightmare. Everyone remembers the scene at the table where John Hurt really gets hurt. Talk about an unwanted childbirth. For men, these scenes give a horrific glimpse of what it’s like to not have control of your own body, to imagine what it’s like to know there’s a creature out there that wants to use your body for its own purposes. The story is pure genius that way. Apparently, that’s how tsetse flies reproduce. I’ve never been happier to be a mammal, than after learning that.

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Giger’s creature gave me great nightmares. The one I remember most is a huge fly with the face of the alien chasing me, with its toothy double mouth. I told you so, Mom said. But I didn’t care. I loved being scared. Especially by an eyeless black monstrosity made of bones and fangs, the stuff of pure nightmares that looks as if it crawled from the cesspit of the human id.

Giger’s art was hard to find back then. I found it on the cover of a Debbie Harry album. And then one of my favorite bands of the time, Dead Kennedys, became embroiled in a pornography trial. Which made listening to them all the more rebellious. Their album Frankenchrist included a poster with some HR Giger art of decaying sex organs lined up in a row. It grossed me out, but I mailed in for the poster- they couldn’t sell it with the album during the trial- and hung it on my wall to be shocking.

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I still don’t know what Giger was trying to say with it. Or any of his art, except the more overtly political stuff, with guns and jackbooted thugs. Over the years I collected many of his books, such as Necronomicon II. His art was disturbing on the subconscious level, reminding us that we’re all meat and parts, like offal at the slaughterhouse. He had a unique imagination, and I am glad he lived a long life and shared it with us.

80’s Trash of the Week: The Deadly Spawn

Looking like a cross between a chestburster, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, and a fleshy lobster, The Deadly Spawn: known in some parts as Return of the Alien’s Deadly Spawn, cashed in on the spectacular success of Sigourney Weaver’s panty battle in space by bringing horrible creatures to Earth to feast upon us. Over the years, I remember eager Giger fans hoping that every cheap cash-in was an actual sequel.

You can go a long way with a freaky critter design.

This was long before San Diego Comic Con was around to leak every bit of movie minutiae, and I remember going to a Creation Con dressed as Arthur Dent and arguing with a scrawny nerd who claimed Galaxy of Terror– a delightful Corman vehicle with Ray Walston and Sid “I live and die by the crystals!” Haig that James Cameron cut his teeth on as A.D.- was the official sequel to Alien. Thank goodness Cameron would give us Aliens a few years later and end the argument.

But before then we had The Deadly Spawn, a surprisingly effective cheapo horror film that begins with a “meteor” crashing to earth near a campsite, where the curious campers become chow for a shadowy, snaky creature with ferocious fangs and an unseemly appetite. Not long after it’s in someone’s basement, chomping off the face of a housewife in her pink terry cloth robe. After hubby’s evisceration is seen only in shadow, I thought this was gonna be a ripoff, where we only see the creature for a few seconds until the end. But no, they make the best use of the “severed arm tapping on the shoulder” gag- even better than Jurassic Park- that I’ve ever seen, and the huge lamprey-like beast is soon in our face. And its victim’s is off. Nice effects. Damn.

I gotta hand it to these low budget film makers


The movie pays homage to horror by giving us a nerdy household with a science fiction loving Dad and Son, and a kid named Pete who makes monster costumes and loves ‘5os-era monster movies. He names his favorites as The Mole People and The Terror from Beyond Space, and sneaks around with capes and rubber masks on. Unfortunately the portions of the movie not involving a three-headed alien lamprey gnawing fingers and faces off are near MST3k material. I kept waiting for Charles to befriend the sluglike alien spawn that swim like toothy sperm in his blood-laked basement. And the little monster lover does not disappoint! Just like Trumpy in Pod People, he has a new misunderstood pal from outer space. I kept hoping he’d direct the creature to attack his enemies, as he stood back in his glorious red cape.

You fool! I possess a Cape of Lamprey Control!


What really shines are the effects, which are quite good for a film of this nature. They’re revolting as hell. Watching the little slugspawn pull apart a rubber human head reveal the gaping eyes of the skull beneath? The monster itself, with row upon row of glistening, recurved fangs? Brilliant. The cast of nobodies are deservingly devoured and their careers mostly begin and end with this film. But the movie is easily forgiven for unforgettable scenes like the spawn nibbling on the toesies of the old biddies having a potluck dinner. It also has one of the great “Blob” endings- what I like to call them- where we think the crisis is over, but it’s only just begun. If you’ve seen The Blob, it ends with the frozen goo in the Arctic getting frisky and under “The End” it reads “…Or Is It?”; that’s been copied endlessly since, and here we get a Spawn the size of a mountain awaking to chomp some more. Perfect.

The perils of using too much exfoliating cream


Now normally I’d love a movie where a kid with a proclivity for running around in a cape saves the day with nothing more than a fake rubber head and an extension cord, but it’s hard to recommend The Deadly Spawn for anyone but the lover of gory bad movies. It just doesn’t have the charm of Night of the Creeps or The Gate, but it does have a unique and disgusting creature and plenty of gore. Other Alien ripoffs like Galaxy of Terror jolt us with boobies and bizarre sex (and presumably, with a name like Inseminoid, that does too) but this one eschews it. I’m not sure it would have added to it anyway. According to fellow blogger Dreamin Demon it was filmed over a period of 2 years of weekends, so that makes it more like homebrewed films such as Equinox (full review), giving it charms of its own. Plus, it was made right here in New Jersey, with one of the locations being fantasy artist (and co-producer) Tim Hildebrandt’s house in Bergen County.

Lookin’ meaner than a Dune sandworm designed by David Cronenberg


This is no Troll 2 and is a fine entry in the 80’s Trash of the Week. Lovers of cheesy horror will get their fix, and because most of the actors are family or people working for free after answering an ad in the paper, you never know who’s gonna die next. One hottie famously got a job and had to leave, so the monster surreptitiously gnaws off her head and punts her out the window! You gotta love it. John Dods, the man behind the creature, went on to be a make-up artist on many Hollywood films and Broadway productions, creating the masks for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the prosthetics for Young Frankenstein. The film makers also have a website up with plenty of behind the scenes photos and information for fans. Check it out!

One of many monster chomper POV shots

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today?: Can’t do CGI in your basement yet
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Land O’ Lakes White American (New Jersey’s favorite)
High Point: Don’t go down to the basement!
Low Point: Nerd Family Breakfast
Gratuitous Boobies: None

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Big Bald Black Dudes I admire- 2009 update

As you know (or you should) every Black History Month, I take a moment to reflect on the Big Bald Black Dudes I admire. Perhaps it was growing up in the ’70s with Gordon on Sesame Street, or my favorite movies including The Thing with Keith David, but big bald black dudes are just the baddest asses in cinema, in my not so humble opinion.

Last year I dubbed Keith David, Ving Rhames, Scatman Crothers, Delroy Lindo, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. in my annual post, where I also made the audacious claim that Stephen King has never met a black person, so this year I came up with a few new nominees for the halls of badassery.

1. Bill Duke
Best known as Mac from Predator, Bill’s been a bad-ass for ages. I first remember him as a bad guy in Commando, where he tells Matrix he’s a Green Beret. Unfortunately, John Matrix eats Green Berets for breakfast and shits toy soldiers, so he gets impaled on a table leg. But not before he trashes the hotel room with Arnie in such a brutal fashion that Rae Dawn Chong is made to exclaim, “you guys eat too much red meat!”

Of course, there’s no such thing as too much red meat, and Bill Duke can probably eat the ass off a brontosaur and ask for seconds. Even though the Predator freaks him out so bad that he sings “Long Tall Sally” in a falsetto, Mac is one of the classic movie bad-asses. My cousin Lou Taylor Pucci got the honor of starring with him in a movie called The Go-Getter, and for that I’m more envious than when he got to touch Kelli Garner’s tit in Thumbsucker. Bill Duke’s given us memorable performances in Menace II Society “you know you done fucked up right?” and The Limey, and I’m hoping someday he’ll get to play a frog.

2. Charles Dutton
Best known as the star of “Roc” in the early ’90s, Charles Dutton has clobbered xenomorphs in Alien3, and gigantic mutant flying cockroaches in Mimic. He’s one of the few redeemable qualities of the “scripted by comittee” shitfest that is the second Alien sequel, that even David Fincher could barely save. Seeing him swing Sigurney Weaver around by the neck, you wonder why they bother trying to trap the alien, when it’s obvious that Dutton could just grab it by it’s li’l mouth and force it to perform oral sex on him, after which it would just kill itself in shame.

3. Samuel L. (the L. stands for le motherfuckin’) Jackson
Last time I disqualified Mr. Jackson because his best bad-ass role- Jules from Pulp Fiction – was performed with the assistance of hair. However, since then Sam has been shorn, and given us the baddest, baldest motherfuckin’ Jedi (despite the festive purple lightsaber), a bald Son of Shaft, a bald Nick Fury, and a mostly bald bad-ass bluesman in Black Snake Moan. So I’m going to induct him into the Big Bald Black Men Hall of Fame. He’s earned his due.

4. Isaac Hayes
(pre-Adventure Club)
Before he got suckered into thinking our souls were H-bombed in volcanoes billions of years ago, Isaac Hayes was a groundbreaking musician and one of the biggest bald black bad-asses around. to mourn the passing of his reason that happened so many years prior to his death, I would like to posthumously induct him in. The evidence: The Duke of New York, A number One, from Escape from New York. He gave super bad-ass Snake Plissken a run for his money, and that’s saying a lot. He was also the star of Truck Turner. This was after writing the amazing score to Shaft and composing great soul albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses. He also served as Chef for many years before his handlers got to him, obviously in a time of weakness, since he passed on not long after. We forgive you Isaac. Rest in peace.

Note: Tony “Candyman” Todd
Last year I got flack for not including Tony Todd. Well, I finally watched Candyman, and I will concur that Tony Todd is a fucking bad-ass. However, it must be noted that he is not bald. He would be even more bad-ass if he’d been bald, with some crazy facial hair, maybe shaped like a hook. Todd’s also been in the Final Destination movies, Platoon, and The Crow, so he’s a shoo-in for badassery. If only he’d take a Wahl clipper and polish up his noggin, he could join the club.

That’s all until next year, where it will get even harder to find nominees for this post. I might even have to include Elmo:

Schlocktoberfest!

Okay it is not terribly original for a movie blogger to do horror movie reviews in October, but I’m doing it anyway. My Netflix queue, DVD rack, and download folder (for the out of print rarities) are clogged with horror films I’ve been told I must see, and favorites I haven’t watched in a good while. I’ll try to have a horror movie every day, but with the new car I may have less time for bloggery.

Horror movies are their own beast. It’s hard to be truly scared by a movie as an adult. Sometimes if you’re home alone with all the lights out at night, you can get so absorbed in a horror film that the scares still work, but it’s been difficult for me. And the theater experience is even harder nowadays with jackasses talking, texting, and getting calls during movies. Before I begin this horror movie marathon, let me name my favorite horror movies and why I enjoy them so much. Most branded my childhood brain and therefore sit on the pedestal of nostalgia. It is very difficult for new movies to compete with such memories, but some have managed.

1. Poltergeist is my all-time favorite scary movie. A normal family composed of little-known actors in your standard Haunted House movie, but with so many bizarre occurrences that you are drawn in to their terror. This is also what Richard Pryor used to call a “dumb white people” movie, because “black people would move the fuck out of the house!” And I suppose that’s true. If my walls bled and disembodied voices growled “GET OUT” I’d probably high-tail it out the window in my underwear. But we can suspend disbelief for a little while, and imagine being sucked into the static of the television, or having chairs rearrange themselves behind our backs, or that creepy tree out our window suddenly decide we look pretty tasty. Some of the effects are dated- the fake faces that get torn apart, mostly- but the rest are still terrifying. When Paula Prentiss turns around and her kitchen chairs are neatly stacked on the table, it’s one of the most subtle, creepiest scenes put to film. It merges creepy classics like The Uninvited and The Haunting (1963) with Tobe Hooper’s gory sensibilities for the perfect mix of the unknown and the unfathomable.


2. The Thing (Carpenter version). Probably the pinnacle of stop-motion and traditional effects, and taking place on the loneliest spot on Earth- McMurdo Station in Antarctica. A dozen men braving the coldest of winters, we are immediately thrust into an unlikely science fiction story where anyone can be not what they seem. The sense of paranoia and isolation is driven home by the amazing score, and the “things” are still some of the most bizarre creations on film. Kurt Russell went from being a Disney movie kid to an utter bad-ass with Carpenter, and as the unseen enemy winnows down the cast we have no idea what will happen next. We’re on the edge of our seats. It’s Hitchcock-level suspense in a horror context.

3. Alien. Sure, you could say it is science fiction, but it is just a monster movie moved to space, where no one can hear you scream. Still one of the best and most memorable taglines ever written. Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon put together a great cast and made them cozy and believable, and then subject them to visceral, instinctively repulsive situations with H.R. Giger’s primal monster designs. He took simple, primal forms like the spidery, handlike “face hugger,” which not only grabs your face but essentially fucks it and pumps a larva load into your chest cavity. When it bursts out of your chest, it now resembles a snake- another creature, like spiders, that people tend to fear and hate on a primal level. And the final design goes beyond Freud to resemble a sleek black creature both phallic and technological- while later movies make it clear that it is a natural beast, Giger’s own style has always been “bio mechanics,” making uneasy mergings of flesh, steel and silicon, not unlike Cronenberg’s horrific visions in Videodrome. The story is a simple slasher tale as the fodder is devoured and the virginal female remains, but damn if it doesn’t scare you on a visceral level.

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4. Videodrome. I saw this last year and regret not getting into David Cronenberg earlier. Much like Alien, it plays on our fears of the great progresses in technology. Here a late-night TV channel is affecting us, and we are not sure what is reality and nightmare anymore. The stunning visuals are still creepy today, and while the “breathing videotape” is quite dated, James Woods and his poor “hand gun” are still cringe-inducingly horrific. It helps to remember when not every station was owned by a cable conglomerate, and you could see some strange shit just flipping the channels. The mood of the film is incredibly bleak and gripping, and the ending is unexpected, shocking, and a true classic. This may not have big scares, but creepiness and sense of dread throughout are impeccable, and must be experienced.

5. The Shining. This is one of Kubrick’s masterpieces, and Stephen King fans be damned, it is still one of the best horror movies ever made even if it strays far from the storyline. It takes several viewings to understand just how fucked up Jack and family are before they arrive at the Overlook Hotel, and what happens there is now among the greatest haunted house tales ever put to film. This film is an old friend to me now, and I watch it every year when the snow comes down. Like The Thing, it makes use of the isolation winter brings, and the cast is full of archetypal characters. Jack with the rage bubbling beneath the surface, fearful Shelley Duvall who is obviously an abused wife, though we never see it, and little Danny, the child of an enraged, unloving father who flees to an inner world and deals with powers he cannot comprehend. I’m not sure if Scatman Crothers is the first Magical Negro on film, but he’s definitely the best. The film also has a lot of dark humor, that it takes several viewings to realize in its richness. Check out Scatman’s art collection, for example. All these years later, I’m still on the edge of my seat when they try to escape the hotel and its hedge maze. It’s a tale by a master storyteller twisted to a master director’s ends, and while it may not be King’s vision, it is still an unforgettable one.


6. Jacob’s Ladder. Without this movie there’d be no “Silent Hill.” Tim Robbins is a Vietnam Vet dealing with what he thinks are flashbacks or effects of a chemical they used on the battlefield, and the entire film is one gigantic mindfuck beginning from there. He soon can’t tell what is real and what is not, as his visions get increasingly terrifying and bizarre, reminiscent of The Thing and Cronenberg’s body modification fetishes. Once again the director draws us into an unfamiliar world more disquieting than scary, and Robbins’ paranoia is quickly infectious. Playing on our familiar nightmares where we remember things that may not be real, this movie stays with you long after it ends.

7. The Descent. This is one of my favorite recent horror flicks and while it has its flaws- namely the interchangeable characters- it also works on a dream-level and pulls a great switcheroo in the middle. A group of athletic gals meet to go spelunking as they do once a year; this time in remote Appalachia. Playing on familiar fears of claustrophobia and darkness, of course they run into trouble and need to find a new way out of the cave; also, no one knows where they are, because it is a new-found system and one gal “wanted to be the first.” So we also get that lurking sense of dread that comes with being lost in the woods, another archetypal fear from fairy tales and childhood. By the time we find out they are not alone in the caves, we are already engrossed in a great survival horror tale, and this take on the Sawney Bean tale amps things up to 11. It is also unclear if this is reality or a dream, and the bleak ending is one of my favorites.

So that’s 7 for now. Why not 10? Well, I have a month to watch 30 horror films and see if I can find 3 more I consider great. There are plenty of modern, good horror movies, but the great ones have been elusive. Calvaire and High Tension out of France have come close, but have more style than substance. They are definitely worth seeing. I’m told that Them (remade in America as The Strangers) is worthy of the title, and both versions are on tap. [Rec] is supposed to be zombies meets The Blair Witch Project, and has many fans. That will be considered. Hell, I may revisit Blair Witch, since I missed it in theaters and only saw it on a small screen. A lot of people love it, and the “lost in the woods” vibe, with weird happenings that may or may not be supernatural is a great premise.

This month I will also be watching a few Paul Newman films I’ve missed, and if I see anything in the theater or with Firecracker (who doesn’t like horror much) I’ll try to squeeze them in here. It will tax my blogging skills to the max. So watch this space for the inevitable meltdown!