Posts Tagged ‘monster movies’

Grabbers (2012)

After reading way too much about Harvey Weinstein, I decided that I needed to see a movie about a different kind of eldritch monster from the depths of the ocean. So I popped on Grabbers, about a little Irish town menaced by octopean monstrosities with a way better weakness than those water-hating aliens in Signs.

Grabbers introduces us to a sweet little village on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. It’s home to exactly two police officers: Ciaran O’Shea (Richard Coyle) and the newly arrived Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley). He’s an alcoholic, she’s a workaholic, and so romance will of course be in the offing. When hundred of sea creatures wash up on the beach, the Garda get involved to figure out just what the hell is happening just in time for people to begin vanishing left and right. Meanwhile, one of the many local drunks Paddy (Lalor Roddy) traps an ugly sea monster and takes it home. Dubbing it a “grabber” after it tries to eat him, he carts the creature off to the local biologist, Dr. Smith (Russell Tovey), who proclaims that it’s not quite of this world. But Paddy has discovered the creature’s weakness: it lives on blood, and Paddy’s blood alcohol level was so high when it attacked him that he literally poisoned the thing. The only solution to surviving the creatures, then, is to get roaring drunk.

Grabbers is just an incredibly fun, incredibly Irish little monster movie, with some effective monstrosities to cut through the comedy, and a massive drink-up at the film’s center. The conceit is amusing, of course, and the film carries it off well, building to the revelations of the monsters and how to defeat them with deprecating humor and a charming self-awareness. There are a few plot holes, but that’s all right – I don’t really watch monster movies for the story structure. The romance angle is sweet as well, with a hilarious scene in which a very drunk Lisa explains O’Shea’s life story to him. Grabbers also posits the question of how roaring drunk people can possibly fight vicious aliens, and does so in some hilarious (and gruesome) ways.

I’ve seen very few humorous Halloween movies this year, which is always a mistake. Grabbers was a wonderful distraction from the occasional darkness of the holiday, a reminder that tales of terror need not be soul-crushing. Sit down, have a pint, and prepare to wrestle the tentacled nasties until final call.

Grabbers is available to stream on Shudder.

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Piranha (1978)

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As a self-proclaimed Joe Dante fan, I am heartily ashamed that it took me this long to get around to seeing Piranha. The ridiculous 1978 Jaws rip-off, from a script by John Sayles, is nothing short of delirious monster movie fun that can only come to us from the loving camera of the director of The Howling and Gremlins.

Piranha opens with two teenagers making the unhygienic decision to skinny-dip in a government reservoir near Lost River Lake, surrounded by a massive fence and signs that say “Do Not Enter.” When the teenagers are consumed by underwater forces unknown and vanish without a trace, private insurance investigator Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) comes in to look for them. She buddies up with alcoholic curmudgeon Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) who lives in the mountains of Lost River, and together they hunt down the government facility where the teenagers went missing. Draining the reservoir to try and locate the bodies, the pair are set upon by Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy), who provides the exposition: they’ve unwittingly released hyper-intelligent, weaponized piranha into the river.

Piranha is spectacularly ludicrous and knows it. Dr. Hoak gives an extensive explanation as to why he’s been weaponizing piranha at a secret government facility, itself just as ridiculous as the idea of creating a breed of carnivorous fish that can now organize themselves, outwit human beings, and survive in fresh and salt water. But while much time is spent on setting up the situation, even more is spent in the gleeful indulgence of B-movie mayhem. The piranha attack without mercy, ripping up fishermen, beach-goers, and innocent campers on their journey downriver. The violence is actually quite gory and very well-done – not exactly Jaws, but good enough to make me cringe quite a bit.

In addition to McCarthy, the film features the always welcome faces of Keenan Wynn and B-movie superstar Barbara Steele (providing probably the best final close-up of any monster movie…ever), as well as Dante’s usual character actors, including Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski. Because the film knows its status as a Jaws rip-off, Dante gets to indulge in subversive humor, weird secondary characters, and ripping on military authority with a loving glee. This is a movie about how amazing horror movies are, and how much fun they should be.

While Piranha is unlikely to replace The Howling in my affections, it comes in a pretty close second. It’s just good fun, right down to the cheesy one-liners and silly open-ending.

The Host (2006)

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While a South Korean monster comedy might seem a contradiction in terms, The Host proves itself both unique and of its time, a mocking commentary on the depredations of toxic waste in South Korea and the government mistreatment of its own people.

The film opens with an American military scientist instructing his South Korean assistant to dump bottles of formaldehyde down the drain, where it will eventually flow in the Han River. Many years later, a deformed fish-monster, mutated from the toxic waste, crawls from the river and runs amok, killing and consuming. The film zeroes in on the Park family who run a noodle stand by the Han. The monster grabs Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung) and drags her down into the river, while her horrified father Gang-du (Song Kang-hu) and grandfather Hee-bong (Byun Hee-bong) look on. But the nightmare is only beginning: Gang-du and his family must face off against government officials, the American military, and even Korean businessmen to escape from a government containment facility to search the sewers for Hyun-seo.

Rather than a straight monster movie for the 00s, The Host veers into comedic territory whenever it has the chance, mocking the incompetent government forces and increasingly dangerous attempts to eradicate the monster through biological warfare. Like many of the kaiju and Atomic Age monsters, The Host‘s monster is brought to life by scientific hubris and inattention – and was, in fact, inspired by an actual incident in 2000 when a Korean mortician working for the Americans admitted to dumping formaldehyde down a drain and poisoning the river. The efforts of the Park family to recover their daughter are met with absurd bureaucracy and manipulation, to the degree that the family actually resorts to criminals to escape a government facility. The heroes are all members of the underclass – shop owners, criminals, poor children, students, and the homeless – while government, military, and business forces (American and Korean) are at best sycophantic and at worst diabolical.

The Host is a deceptively complex monster movie. Monstrosity itself is neither good nor evil – the monster is simply an animal attempting to survive, and the Parks a family who don’t care about government bureaucracy and only want to rescue their child. Monster movie tropes are subverted and new ones introduced, making the film unpredictable and phenomenally entertaining. I only wish I spoke Korean.

The Host is happily available to watch on AMC’s Shudder streaming service.

(Incidentally, director Bong Joon-ho was also behind the spectacular Memories of Murder, a very different kind of horror film, more than worth checking out).