Fright Club: Best Mutant Animal Horror

It would not surprise us if we saw a new wave of ecological horror in which our own mistreatment of the environment and our irresponsible handling of pharmaceutical progress creates flesh hungry critters, pissed off two-headed bears, opioid addicted tapeworms, whatever. Let’s prepare by looking over history’s forewarnings, shall we?

Here are our favorite mutant animal films—cautionary tales about big pharma, careless planet keeping and sex.

5. Shivers (They Came from Within) (1975)

In an upscale Montreal high rise, an epidemic is breaking out. A scientist has created an aphrodisiac in the form of a big, nasty slug. That slug, though, spreads wantonness throughout the high rise and threatens to overrun the city with its lusty ways.

Not Cronenberg’s best film, but this is his first feature length horror and it announces not only his arrival on the genre scene, but it predicts so many of the films to come. The film obsesses over human sexuality, social mores, the physical form, physical violation and infestation, medical science, conspiracy, and free will. He’d revisit all of these preoccupations throughout his career, most obviously in his very next feature film, 1978’s Rabid, which is weirdly similar in every way.

Shivers takes a zombie concept and uses it to pervert expectations. (See what we did there?) They’re not here to eat your brains, after all. It’s the first film where Cronenberg marries ideas of the repugnant with the pleasurable, medical monstrosity with human body. It would be several years before his skill with performances (or maybe casting) matched his other directorial talents, but Shivers is still a worthwhile, utterly bizarre pleasure.

4. Isolation (2005)

In 2016, writer/director/Irishman Billy O’Brien made an effective and lovely – yes, lovely – creature feature called I Am Not a Serial Killer. But about a decade earlier, he started down that path along a muddy, ruddy Irish roadside that wound ‘round to an out-of-the-way farm.

It’s the kind of a depressing, run-down spot that would catch nobody’s eye – which is exactly why it drew the attention of runaway lovers Jamie (Sean Harris) and Mary (a young Ruth Negga – wonderful as always). The solitude and remoteness also got noticed by a bio-genetics firm.

Down-on-his-luck Farmer Dan (John Lynch, melancholy perfection) has little choice but to allow some experimentation on his cows. He doesn’t really mind the required visits by veterinarian Orla (Essie Davis – hooray!).

But when one cow needs help delivering – genetic mutations, fetuses inside fetuses and teeth where no teeth belong. Nasty.

O’Brien and his truly outstanding cast create an oppressive, creepy, squeamish nightmare worth seeking out.

3. Black Sheep (2006)

Graphic and gory horror comedy seems to be the Kiwi trademark, no doubt a product of the popularity of native Lord of the Gastro-Intestinal-Splatter-Fest-Laugh-Riot, Peter Jackson.

First-time writer/director Jonathan King uses the isolation of a New Zealand sheep farm and the greedy evil of pharmaceutical research to create horror. He does it with a lot of humor and buckets full of blood. It works pretty well.

Evil brother Angus (Peter Feeney) has bred some genetically superior sheep while smart but sheep-phobic brother Harry (Nathan Meister) has been away. But the new sheep bite (a recurring problem with bio-genetically altered farm animals). Victims turn into, well, were-sheep. Of course they do.

The result is an endearing, often genuinely funny film. Cleverly written with performances strong enough to elevate it further, Black Sheep offers an enjoyable way to watch a would-be lamb chop get its revenge.

2. The Host (2006)
Visionary director Joon-ho Bong’s film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water. And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Steve Buscemi (the beast’s actual on-set nickname) – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Steve Buscemi, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

1. The Fly (1986)

After a couple of interesting, if un-medical films, the great David Cronenberg made a triumphant return to the laboratory of the mad scientist in his most popular film to date.

But it’s not just Cronenberg’s disturbed genius for images and ideas that makes The Fly fly; it’s the performance he draws from Jeff Goldblum.

Goldblum is an absolute gift to this film, so endearing in his pre-Brundlefly nerdiness. He’s the picture’s heartbeat, and it’s more than the fact that we like his character so much. The actor also performs heroically under all those prosthetics.

He and Geena Davis make the perfect pair, with their matching height and mullets, and their onscreen chemistry does give the film a level of human drama traditionally lacking from the Cronenberg canon. Atop that, there’s the transformation scene in the bathroom – the fingernails, the pustules – all classic Cronenberg grotesquerie, and still difficult to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BzwxJ-M_M0

Fright Club: Best Korean Horror

It’s time again to travel the globe and pull together a list of the best in horror to be found, this time in the ripe ground of Korea. Just a decade or two ago, Korea’s horror output tended to feel like an echo of Japan’s cinema, but by the early 2000s, a number of truly wonderful filmmakers began working in the genre and the outcome has been a breathtaking onslaught of the most extreme kind. Hooray!

Listen to the full podcast HERE.

5. Bedevilled (2010)
Cheol-soo Jang’s first feature film bears witnesses not only to some horrific deeds, but to an amazingly confident new filmmaker who knows how to sidestep expectations, turn the screw, and offer surprising insight in a genre that doesn’t always generate that kind of thoughtfulness.

The film opens as beautiful if cold Hae-won (Sung-won Ji) witnesses a crime and chooses not to involve herself. She takes a (somewhat involuntary) vacation on the remote island where she grew up, to find her childhood friend Bok-nam (Young-hee Seo). On the isolated, backward island – though Hae-won is treated to rest and nurturing by her adoring friend – Bok-nam’s life is about as far from ideal as possible.

Jang captures the rugged, isolated beauty of the island and offsets both ideas with his leads – one, an elegant and pristine beauty, the other a rough-hewn image – and sees two sides of the same humanity. This is a morality tale, but it’s also a brutal but sympathetic (and seriously bloody) comeuppance. Jang does not leave off where you think he might, instead crafting a compelling and satisfying whole that will stick with you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbSZqvDvOFs

4. The Host (2006)
Visionary director Joon-ho Bong’s film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water. And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Steve Buscemi (the beast’s actual on-set nickname) – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Steve Buscemi, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

3. I Saw the Devil (2010)
An actor who can take a beating, Min-sik Choi plays Kyung-Chul, a predator who picks on the wrong guy’s fiancé.

That grieving fiancé is played by Byung-hun Lee, whose restrained emotion and elegant good looks perfectly offset Choi’s disheveled explosion of sadistic rage, and we spend 2+ hours witnessing their wildly gruesome game of cat and mouse.

Director Jee-woon Kim breathes new life into the serial killer formula. With the help of two strong leads, he upends the old “if I want to catch evil, I must become evil” cliché. What they’ve created is a percussively violent horror show that transcends its gory content to tell a fascinating, if repellant, tale.

Truth be told, beneath the grisly, far-too-realistic violence of this unwholesome bloodletting is an undercurrent of honest human pathos – not just sadism, but sadness, anger, and the most weirdly dark humor. You might even notice some really fine acting and nimble storytelling lurking inside this bloodbath.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2h52riooIc

2. Oldboy (2003)

So a guy passes out after a hard night of drinking. It’s his daughter’s birthday, and that helps us see that the guy is a dick. He wakes up a prisoner in a weird, apartment-like cell. Here he stays for years and years.

The guy is Min-sik Choi (remember him?). The film is Oldboy, director Chan-wook Park’s masterpiece of subversive brutality and serious wrongdoing.

This is not a horror film in any traditional sense – not even in South Korean cinema’s extreme sense. Though it was embraced – and rightly so – by horror circles, this is a refreshing and compelling take on the revenge fantasy that takes you places you do not expect to go. But that’s the magnificence of Chan-wook Park, and if you have the stomach, you should follow where he leads.

Choi takes you with him through a brutal, original, startling and difficult to watch mystery. You will want to look away, but don’t do it! What you witness will no doubt shake and disturb you, but missing it would be the bigger mistake.

1. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
A lurid Korean fairy tale of sorts – replete with dreamy cottage and evil stepmother – Jee-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters is saturated with bold colors and family troubles.

Kim also directed I Saw the Devil, but where Devil breathes masculinity, Tale is a deep, murky, and intensely female horror.

A tight-lipped father returns home with his daughter after her prolonged hospital stay. Her sister has missed her; her stepmother has not. Or so it all would seem, although jealousy, dream sequences, ghosts, a nonlinear timeframe, and confused identity keep you from ever fully articulating what is going on. The film takes on an unreliable point of view, subverting expectations and keeping the audience off balance. But that’s just one of the reasons it works.

The director’s use of space, the composition of his frame, the set decoration, and the disturbing and constant anxiety he creates about what’s just beyond the edge of the frame wrings tensions and heightens chills. The composite effect disturbs more then it horrifies, but it stays with you either way.

Halloween Countdown, Day 17

The Host (2006)

Japan may have left its monster movie past behind it, moving on to horrifying, circuitous tales where ghosts and technology intertwine, but in 2006, Korea took its own shot at the Godzilla fable. The sci-fi import The Host, which tells the tale of a giant mutant monster terrorizing Seoul, has all the thumbprints of the old Godzilla movies: military blunder, resultant angry monster, terrorized metropolis. Writer/director Joon-ho Bong updates the idea, and not solely with CGI.

The film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water.  And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Paul – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Paul, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

The film’s decidedly comedic tone gives the film a quirky charm, but seriously diminishes its ability to frighten. Host does generate real, claustrophobic dread when it focuses on the missing child, though. Along with its endearing characters, well-paced plot, and excellent climax, it makes for one of the best creature features to come along in decades.

Creature Feature Countdown

Godzilla made a pretty impressive return last weekend, thanks mostly to director Gareth Edwards‘s ability to spectacularly realize monster fight chaos. The old reptile deserved it, really, having been hashed and rehashed in dozens of ways since his birth in 1954. It put us in the  mood for other great creature features, so here is a perusal of some of our modern favorites.

5. The Host (2006)

In 2006, Korea’s Joon-ho Bong took his own shot at the Godzilla fable. The sci-fi import The Host, which tells the tale of a giant mutant monster terrorizing Seoul, has all the thumbprints of the old Godzilla movies: military blunder, resultant angry monster, terrorized metropolis. The film’s often comedic tone gives it a quirky charm, but seriously diminishes its ability to frighten. Host does generate real, claustrophobic dread when it focuses on a missing child, though. Along with its endearing characters, well-paced plot, and excellent climax, it makes for a worthy creature feature offering.

4. King Kong (2005)

That’s right, we are dismissing the 1933 original and, obviously, the 1976 debacle in favor of Peter Jackson’s remarkable feat of intimacy and CGI. Andy Serkis offers a stunning heartbeat for the giant ape, and Naomi Watts performs better with a green screen than most actors do with flesh and blood colleagues. Even Jack Black proves his mettle in an effort that reminds audiences of the surprising universality of the old tale.

3. The Thing (1982)

Another reboot makes the list. In 1982, John Carpenter reconsidered the old SciFi standby The Thing from Another World from a Cold War terror into a claustrophobic, icy bloodbath. A beard-tastic team of scientists on expedition in the Arctic takes in a dog. The dog is not a dog, though. Not really. And soon, in an isolated wasteland offering barely enough interior room to hold all the facial hair, folks are getting jumpy because there’s no knowing who’s not really himself anymore.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WC_teYGNxvE

2. Alien (1979)

After a vagina-hand-sucker-monster attaches itself to your face, it gestates inside you, then tears through your innards. Then it grows exponentially, hides a second set of teeth, and bleeds acid. How much cooler could this possibly be? Ridley Scott married haunted house tropes with SciFi creature feature scares to create maybe the greatest alien horror of all time.

1. Jaws (1975)

Thanks to a cantankerous mechanical shark and a relentlessly effective score, twentysomething Stephen Spielberg was able to create mounting dread like no one before him by relying on the audience’s imagination and showing little of his creature. It may have been partly unintentional, but the effect – along with maybe cinema’s greatest buddy threesome of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss – created the most beloved, most influential creature feature of all.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCjDa44S3kI

Asia Extreme! The Host

The Host (2006)

by Hope Madden

Japan may have left its monster movie past behind it, preferring circuitous tales where ghosts and technology intertwine, but in 2006, Korea took its own shot at the Godzilla fable. The sci-fi import The Host, which tells the tale of a giant mutant monster terrorizing Seoul, has all the thumbprints of the old Godzilla movies: military blunder, resultant angry monster, terrorized metropolis. Writer/director Joon-ho Bong updates the idea, though, and not solely with CGI.

The film opens in a military lab hospital in 2000. A clearly insane American doctor, repulsed by the dust coating formaldehyde bottles, orders a Korean subordinate to empty it all into the sink. Soon the contents of hundreds of bottles of formaldehyde find its way through the Korean sewer system and into the Han River. This event – allegedly based on fact – eventually leads, not surprisingly, to some pretty gamey drinking water.  And also a 25 foot cross between Alien and a giant squid.

Said monster – let’s call him Paul – exits the river one bright afternoon in 2006 to run amuck in a very impressive outdoor-chaos-and-bloodshed scene. A dimwitted foodstand clerk witnesses his daughter’s abduction by the beast, and the stage is set.

What follows, rather than a military attack on a marauding Paul, is actually one small, unhappy, bickering family’s quest to find and save the little girl. Their journey takes them to poorly organized quarantines, botched security check points, misguided military/Red Cross posts, and through Seoul’s sewer system, all leading to a climactic battle even more impressive than the earlier scene of afternoon chaos.

The film’s decidedly comedic tone gives the film a quirky charm, but seriously diminishes its ability to frighten. Host does generate real, claustrophobic dread when it focuses on the missing child, though. Along with its endearing characters, well-paced plot, and excellent climax, it makes for a film that may be no Alien, but it’s a hell of a lot better than Godzilla.

 

 

The Host screens midnight Friday (8/9). You can also see:

1:30 PM: Mother

4:30 PM: I Saw the Devil

7:30 PM: Doomsday Book

10:30 PM: A Tale of two Sisters

It’s Asia – to the Extreme!

It’s coming!!

What’s coming? The coolest thing ever – a film festival Hope got to help program. And it is too nutty!

Asia Extreme opens at the Gateway Film Center next Thursday, August 8 and runs through the following Tuesday (8/13). Expect showers of blood, technology ghosts, regular ghosts, ass kicking, face kicking, face sliting, demonic cats, and vengeance. Oh, so much vengeance.

Some highlights include the Park Chan-wook’s full Vengeance Trilogy, in one location for one low price. See Oldboy as it was meant to be seen before the American version potentially ruins it. Truth be told, Spike Lee’s trailer looks pretty good. Still, the original’s a surefire weirdfest that may kill your soul just a little.

Another insane set of three: Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil, Doomsday Book (in its Midwest premier) and A Tale of Two Sisters. A punishing director with tremendous visual flair and subversive humor, Jee-Woon work is meant to be enjoyed on a big screen.

Another two from Joon-ho Bong – the riveting drama of Mother (voted Best Foreign Language Film by the Central Ohio Film Critics Association in 2011), and the spectacular creature feature The Host – will keep you wildly entertained.

There’s more, including the Asian originals of Hollywood flicks you know and may love: Ringu, Shutter, Ju-On: The Grudge, and Pulse. Plus action and Sci-Fi to rip your flesh off, like the infamous Battle Royale, Election, BKO: Bangkok Knockout, and the fascinatingly titled This Girl Is Bad-Ass (in its Ohio premier, no less).

And more! Seriously, there are like another dozen movies I haven’t even mentioned! Who’s geeked?!

So, obviously, go. Do it! How could you not?!!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQV7ejqpbPc

 

Thursday, August 8

7:30 PM             BLOOD C: THE LAST DARK (2012) – US Theatrical Premiere!

10:30 PM          BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

12:00 AM          HOUSE (1977)

Friday, August 9       

1:30 PM             MOTHER (2009)

Three films from legendary director Kim Jee-Woon:

4:30 PM             I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)

7:30 PM             DOOMSDAY BOOK (2012) – Midwest Premiere!

10:30 PM          A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) – First Ohio Theatrical Screening!

12:00 AM          THE HOST (2006)

Saturday, August 10             

1:30 PM             RINGU (1998)

4:30 PM             JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)

7:30 PM             HORROR STORIES (2013) – US Theatrical Premiere!

10:30 PM          IP MAN: THE FINAL FIGHT (2013)

12:00 AM          THE SLIT MOUTHED WOMAN (2006)

Sunday, August 11  

The Vengeance Trilogy – First combined theatrical screening in Columbus! Patrons can see SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, OLDBOY, and LADY VENGEANCE at normal prices or all three for $15!

1:30 PM             SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002)

4:30 PM             OLDBOY (2003)

7:30 PM             LADY VENGEANCE (2006)

10:30 PM          THE RED SHOES (2006) – Columbus Premiere Screening!

Monday, August 12 

1:30 PM             PULSE (2001)

4:30 PM             SHUTTER (2004)

7:30 PM             BKO: BANGKOK KNOCKOUT (2010) – Ohio Premiere!

10:30 PM          THIS GIRL IS BAD-ASS!! (2012) – Ohio Premiere!

Tuesday, August 13              

1:30 PM             ELECTION (2005)

The Ghost School Trilogy – First combined screening in the Midwest! Patrons can see WHISPERING CORRIDORS, MEMENTO MORI, and WISHING STAIRS at normal prices or all three for $15!

4:30 PM             WHISPERING CORRIDORS (1998)

7:30 PM             MEMENTO MORI (1999)

10:30 PM          WISHING STAIRS (2003) – Closing Night Screening!

 

No shirtlessness, no sparkling skin, same old story

By Hope Madden

A young girl, plunged into a supernatural adventure, is torn between the abiding love of two handsome, upstanding, oddly respectful young men. Whom will she choose?

Nope, this one is The Host, the newest effort by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, who clearly has a one-track mind.

The earth has long been occupied by an alien race of Invasion of the Body Snatcher-style parasites. (Except these aliens are pretty, glowy guys, so expect a far softer ending. Indeed, expect an ending so soft, so convenient that it undoes any amount of credibility the film struggles to create.)

When Melanie (Saiorse Ronin), one of the few remaining humans, is captured, her will to live and be herself makes it difficult for her alien parasite Wanderer to take her body over completely. Now the two battle it out over control of the body, as well as dating decisions.

Both crushes (Max Irons, Jake Abel) keep their shirts on – just one of the ways director Andrew Niccol finds to tell a more understated, less creepy version of basically the same story as Meyer’s unforgivably popular Twilight.

Another huge difference – the great Saiorse Ronin stars. Perhaps you think it’s a bit premature to call a 19-year-old great. You are incorrect. Ronin is a phenomenal talent, and while The Host may not be her best effort, she is certainly superior to the material.

Most of the film consists of Ronin (in voice over) fighting with Ronin (in the flesh), as she plays two characters trapped in the same body. The performer possesses a calm control that grounds not only her performance, but the film itself, elevating the silliness to something surprisingly watchable. (I’m not going to lie, you’re better off just renting Hanna again.)

While Ronin helps to make the content palatable by sheer force of talent, Niccol can’t manage the same. His film plods ever onward, often filling the screen with beautiful images, but never finding any forward momentum. Trimming 30 minutes from his 125 minute run time would have helped a great deal.

But then, we’d have been spared some of the bludgeoning of Meyer’s wisdoms aimed at today’s young women. What can we learn? You must fight to be who you are, girls! Also, prejudice is bad. And violence – violence is bad.

And, of course, wouldn’t it be exciting if two hot boys wanted to kiss you at the same time?

2 stars (out of 5)