Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel: Let's All Watch "Monsters" Now

It was only a matter of time before Monsters would show up here. I did the Amicus collection, then the Tales from the Dark Side and Night Gallery posts, then last week came one of the worst, Tales from the Crypt. But I'm a chump for horror anthology television, I guess, even when it's somewhat bad. I feel it necessary to explain that I watch this stuff while I'm doing other things, like sculpting. I'm a stay-at-home dad, I have lots of time for crappy television.

The budget of Monsters was very low. Most episodes were shot on a single set, no exteriors, with an average of three actors. But despite this, and the retarded opening sequence, and a theme song that sounded like it was played on a Casio, some of it isn't so bad. It's basically a continuation of Tales from the Darkside, since it's from the same producers, and it started when Tales stopped, in '89.  And like that show, it was independently produced to sell directly into syndication. Think of it as the TV equivalent of the crudely illustrated, lurid black+white horror comic magazines of the 70s. I just saw the show for the first time a couple weeks ago. I wasn't about to sit through all three seasons, though, so I skimmed the online reviews and checked a dozen or so of the top-rated episodes. Here are my four picks.

The Match Game


Bug House



Movie of the Week: Android (1982)

This near-forgotten, small-but-substantial movie rates a tepid 5.8 on imdb.com (user reviews) but a solid 83% on rottentomatoes.com (critic reviews). To me, this indicates that most people who rent a movie called Android, produced by Roger Corman and allegedly starring Klaus Kinski and with no previous knowledge are probably going to be disappointed. This is not a drive-in action-horror like Creature, it's a philosophical drama that has haunted me since I saw it in the mid-80's.

Like several other Corman science fiction productions, this was filmed on leftover Battle Beyond the Stars sets in Venice, CA. The budget was a mere $500,000. But the limitations in resources are made up for with sensitivity to the material. This is a touching little film, and it's also fun, with a black comedic streak.

Here's what might interest me about it, and I don't even have to give away any plot, just the premise: Max the Android (credited simply as "himself" in the end titles, but actually a human co-writer of the screenplay) is sharing a remote space station with Klaus Kinski, who created him. But Max is an old model, so he's largely ignored while Kinski develops more technologically advanced androids. Max is left to fill the days on his own, assimilating Earth culture through old movies, living a life of isolation. This is an existential scenario: if your creator has forgotten you, then how do you give your own life meaning, especially when existing in a literal vacuum? How does one live a life after God?

But soon a crew of three with mysterious motives shows up on the station, including a female, the first Max has ever seen. Then the movie delves further in what it means to be human. Some smart and reflective people made this film, and it should be better known. On a related note, Corman decided it wasn't Corman-y enough, and sold the rights back to the filmmakers after completion. It sat around for two years before it was theatrically released in '84.

The actor/writer who plays Max is perfect as the center of the film, and the Maggie character is a charmer. This was the only real role of her career. She was a drummer in a all-girl band when the (first-time) director met her at a party, and he recommended her to audition. And if you're going to sit through this just because you're a Klaus Kinski admirer, be advised that you'll be seeing him for about 10 cumulative minutes.


Movie of the Week: The Pit (1981)

More like movie of the year. Did I say year? Nay, Movie of the 20th Century. Ah, Pit, where have you been all my life? I only discovered you a few weeks ago, but it seems like we've been together forever.

This 1981 aberration is a Canadian production shot in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, and as you'll often find with Canadian horror, it sustains a surreal and uncomfortable-yet-irresistible vibe throughout. The whole movie is from the perspective of little Sammy, who looks like an average 12-year old boy, but has the voice of a 50-year old alcoholic midget. Plus he likes to play sadistic psychosexual games with grown women. He talks to his teddy bear, but it's not so weird, because the bear talks back (and, in a sequence that I find to be very scary for its sheer oddity, it also moves when the kid isn't around). Plus there's the titular pit, which Sammy uses to dispose of people he doesn't like. Plus there are troglodytes (whom the kid affectionately refers to as "Tra-la-logs") living in the pit, eating anyone who is pushed in. Plus a lot of other things happen.

Call it a conflation of The Bad Seed, Private Lessons, Child's Play and C.H.U.D. In other words, call it the best movie you've probably never heard of before. You're welcome.

(a minor note: my one complaint with this superlative work of cinema is the first three minutes, a flash-forward that is entirely replayed later anyway. I recommend skipping ahead to the title at 3:07. And the teacher in the opening scene is Bianca O'Blivion, from Cronenberg's Videodrome).

Weird Worlds: The Magazine for Proto-Heads

I recently dug up Weird Worlds #5 in my garage. It was the original copy that I got through the Scholastic Book Club in my fifth grade class when I was ten (1980). Despite only being 40 pages from cover to cover, it's loaded with enlightenment, inspiration, and general neat stuff:

 -An article on cult movies, describing such non-kiddie fare as The Harder They Come, El Topo and Reefer Madness

- A graphic three-page horror comic drawn by Steve Bissette (one of his earliest jobs)

- A five-page color monograph of paintings by the Hildebrandt brothers

-A Ripley-style compendium of odd facts and freaks from the news of the day

-"Wolfie's Howlers", a collection of monster-themed jokes ("I sent my girlfriend a heart for Valentine's day." "So? Everyone does that. I sent my girlfriend a heart, too." "Yeah, but this one was still beating.")

-Short stories by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury

-An interview with the inventor of the Laserium light show

-Fortean articles about UFO's, the Hollow Earth Theory, psychic dogs and the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

-And a feature about the Creature from the Black Lagoon, with a fold-out poster.

That's all in one issue, and it came out frequently, while it lasted. Edited by R.L. Stine (who went on to success with Goosebumps), it ran just eight issues for one and a half years. #5 is the only copy I still own, but I once had 6 and 7 as well, and I remember them being just as interesting.  I carried #6 to and from school for a few weeks, because I couldn't stop looking at the portfolio of paintings by Rene' Magritte during class. And issue #7 was especially treasured, because it had an article on the Flash Gordon movie, with a fold-out poster of a concept painting: Flash on his rocket cycle, with his army of hawk men swarming War Rocket Ajax. I hung that over my bed, it was so boss.

Weird Worlds seems to have been largely forgotten, which is… weird. There's no wikipedia page, even. I think it's very readable to this day, and much of the content belongs more in a head shop than in a Scholastic publication. These guys were heads.

They're rare, but not too expensive considering their rarity. Last week I bought a couple issues for $6-10 each through ebay and Amazon third party. I probably won't be inspired to acquire the whole run, but I haven't yet found the elusive #7 for sale at any price, so let me know if you do.


Tales from the Crypt: Three Somewhat Good Episodes from a Generally Terrible Series

Tales from the Crypt ran seven seasons. Most of the stories had potential, but were ruined in translation by bad television tropes: overacting, lowbrow "black" humor, boring production design and music cues, and the gratuitous violence and language audiences demanded in the early days of the premium cable TV series. It had no sense of atmosphere, in other words. This is perhaps best exemplified by two things: Danny Elfman's typically carnivalesque theme song, and the Cryptkeeper, who looks about as scary as Count Chocula, and has the voice and dialogue of an abusive lounge comedian. Oh lord, how I hate the Cryptkeeper. It's no wonder that he became a Saturday Morning franchise. Anyway...

So with these three episodes that I consider to be exceptional with a grain of salt, credit mostly goes to the writing team of William Gaines and Al Feldstein, creators of the original comic stories. These are all fairly successful translations of the originals' Eisenhower-era comic book vibe, without too much of the stylistic awfulness that defined most of the series.

Dead Right (Season 2, episode 1)

This was one of my favorite stories from the original Shock Suspenstories comic, since I read it in a reprint when I was 12. You can see the end coming from a mile away if you have any familiarity with E.C. plotting. But it has a cool period atmosphere and nice comic book art direction and pacing. The young Demi Moore looks like she was drawn by Jack Kamen, holy smokes.
(sound mutes for a short time in the middle, due to a music copyright)

Abra Cadaver (Season 3, episode 4)

Variations on this have been done better in film, dating back at least to Vampyr (1932). But it's suspenseful, and it takes a couple of unexpected turns.

Three's a Crowd (Season 2, episode 5)

A tragic and horrific story of marital jealousy, miscommunication and self-hatred, the kind Gaines and Feldstein specialized in (was there ever a single E.C. story that ended with a happily married couple?) Be warned, this one has especially upsetting content, and use discretion in general with the whole series: no episodes of this show are family-friendly or work-friendly. Violence, swears, tits, etc.


Movie of the Week: Blastfighter (1984)

Hey cool, this is the first Lamberto Bava movie I've seen that I really like. And it's very atypical for him, looking more like a PG-rated action movie from a major U.S. studio. 

There are probably some debts to First Blood (1982) here, as well as the Death Wish franchise and Deliverance. But never mind the predecessors, this stands on its own as a well-paced thriller, with a grueling manhunt sequence that lasts for over 40 minutes (until our hero gains access to his futuristic SuperWeapon, and the true Blastfighting begins, only to end a few minutes later to roll the credits). I'm just going to spoil it for you: a whole town full of demented hillbillies with guns chase a guy for a long time, then he turns the tables and blows them all up. It's very edifying.

This Italian production was filmed entirely in Georgia, where life is cheap. Nice original score by Fabio Frizzi, who also composed for Fulci's best known films (The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, Zombie). 

If the movie's title seems inappropriate, it's because the production company was planning on a science fiction film. When they lost the budget, they made this instead, but were locked into using "Blastfighter" as the title. Hence the deus ex machina ending.