Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973)

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This oddball entry was the last movie in Hammer Films’ Frankenstein cycle that starred the incomparable Peter Cushing as the most infamous mad scientist of all. Judging by the sets and the sketchy monster makeup, it was certainly a low-budget affair, but for sheer audacity and inspired lunacy, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell deserves a place alongside better-known examples of Hammer/Cushing greatness like Curse of Frankenstein and Evil of Frankenstein. Seriously, give it a chance.

Young surgeon Simon Helder (played by bored Sting lookalike Shane Briant—by far the most emotionally blasé mad scientist that I can recall) is sentenced to an insane asylum for experimenting on corpses and discovers that the man in charge is none other than his mentor in madness, Victor Frankenstein (Cushing). Together they make use of body parts donated by expired inmates and fashion a creature that resembles a simian drag queen version of George “The Animal” Steel. The pitiful “monster from hell” does very little to earn such a fearsome sobriquet, and it’s really up to Cushing in a foppish blond wig to carry the movie—which he does admirably.

Seldom has this dignified and methodical actor behaved in such a delightfully giddy, unhinged manner. When his plans for the monster—which include mating it with his beautiful mute assistant (Madeline Smith)—come to light, even the normally listless Helder is forced to acknowledge, “But surely you’re mad.” To which Cushing’s doctor replies without missing a beat, “Yes, perhaps. But I’ve never felt more elated.”

Despite the low horror quotient, veteran director Terrence Fisher doubles down on the atmosphere, including a fairly excruciating brain-transplant sequence that gives Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell some much-needed shock value. It’s no triumph, but for acolytes of Cushing and the Frankenstein oeuvre, it shouldn’t be missed.

Note: The monster is played by none other than David Prowse, who would ascend to immortality as the man in the Darth Vader suit in a series of films conceived by George Lucas.

Beast Beneath (2011)

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Another case of the cover art being scarier than the film.

If you’re in the mood for a low-budget, slow-paced monster matinee, I guess you could do worse than Beast Beneath. But you’d have to try pretty goddamn hard.

Seated beside a campfire, a father tells his bored teenage son the true (?) story of Griffith Park (their present location) in Los Angeles. Seems the family that once owned this prime piece of real estate was cheated out of it by a trio of unscrupulous douches.

The offenders and the land itself are cursed, and now the ghost of the family patriarch and his demonic dog haunt the premises. Sounds good on paper, but Beast Beneath never transcends the restraints imposed by its humble budget, and instead of inspired amateurism, we merely get amateurism.

Of note to followers of “Where Are They Now?” trivia. Jimmy Buffet-esque one-hit singer Bertie Higgins (“Key Largo,” 1982) cowrote and stars in Beast Beneath. His son Julian is the director. Hope they didn’t sink their own money into this project.

Grim (1995)

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Since when does a movie made in the 90s look like a movie made in the 70s? When it’s made in England, pretending to be Virginia! It certainly helps explain the abundance of denim jackets in this thing, that’s for sure.

Nutshell: Rob (Emmanuel Xuereb—he’s good in anything!) is a mining expert inspecting a series of tunnels and caves under a housing in development in “Virginia” (actually, Coleford, Gloucestershire) where folks have been disappearing. He and a bunch of concerned homeowners go spelunking into the bowels of the earth and are set upon by a magic troll-like being who can walk through walls.

The creature (Peter Tregloan) is the best thing about this SPoS—a toothy brute who bites and kills some of his victims, while others are imprisoned, presumably to be scarfed at a future date. By the way, the monster is initially summoned by some bored New Age suburbanites playing with a homemade Ouija board.

Grim is an idiotic film, but it’s the right kind of idiotic, as writer-director Paul Matthews leaves plenty of lengthy silences in the script so viewers can hurl snarky comments with impunity (a perfect movie for MST3K-style riffing). The story also gets increasingly (and I would argue “winningly”) bizarre, contains a decent amount of bloodletting, and leads to a WTF finale, with a minor character helplessly snared in a completely FUBAR situation. Grim is an amusing time-waster with an OK monster—nothing more, nothing less.

Chupacabra Terror (2005)

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Witness the birth of a new description category, SPOS, which stands for Serviceable Piece of Shit.

The SyFy Channel can always be counted for a SPOS, and that’s what we have here. Though it played on SyFy as Chupacabra Dark Seas, it was originally, less evocatively, titled Chupacabra Terror.

In the interest of truth in advertising, there is a Chupacabra involved—and not much terror—though the GiaS (Guy in a Suit) factor is handled competently.

Sometimes that’s all the silver lining you get.

But not here. In addition to an adequate creature, you get a decent lead in Captain Randolph (John Rhys Davies) and an even better mad scientist with Dr. Peña (Giancarlo Esposito).

Along with the Captain’s curvy daughter (Chelan Simmons, a petulant blond with no acting talent), and some other guy (Dylan Neal), they spend the majority of the movie below deck of a luxury cruise ship searching for the titular critter.

Note on the mise-en-scene: It is apparent after about five seconds, that they are not, in fact, passengers on an immense ship, but rather four actors meandering around in an industrial location (Anonymous Industrial Walkabout, another long-needed category).

In order to reinforce the nautical illusion, director and co-writer John Shepphird wisely thought to tack life preservers on a majority of the walls, even deep in the bowels of the ship, which, if you think about it, doesn’t make a lick of sense.

As for the Chupacabra itself, actor (Stuntman? Intern?) Mark Viniello, resembles a squat, vaguely canine, wingless gargoyle, who tears out a few dozen throats and demonstrates the annoying ability to be everywhere at once when in attack mode, followed by long periods of dormancy in which the principals wander around the set saying not much of anything.

Esposito, who plays the amoral scientist, repeats the line “I captured him before, I can do it again,” at least five times.

There is some entertainment value to be savored in Chupacabra Terror, but it’s a mighty thin broth.

Hypothermia (2010)

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What we have here is your basic ducks-in-a-barrel situation with a bit of domestic nonsense on the side, as two ice-fishing families find themselves on the other end of the hook!

If only writer/director James Felix McKenney had used that as his tagline, Hypothermia might have been box-office gold instead of a marginal curiosity starring The Walking Dead‘s Michal Rooker. Some competent supporting actors and a better monster suit would have helped, too.

Rugged outdoorsman Ray Pelletier (Rooker), his wife Helen (Blanche Baker), their clean-cut son David (Ben Forster; lousy actor) and David’s milquetoast fiancee (Amy Chang; I’ve seen totem poles that were less wooden) get their frozen fishing vacation interrupted by the arrival of an asshole big-game hunting yuppie (Don Wood), and his soon-to-be-supper son Steve (Greg Finley).

The two clans notice that something big and fast is zipping around beneath the ice and they join forces to land the beast, which turns out to be a normal-sized guy with pointy teeth squeezed into a fairly unimpressive Neoprine jumpsuit. The hunters, soon become the hunted, blah, blah, blah, gore, scream, flee.

Look, I love the guy-in-the-monster-suit solution, and I’ve said as much right here in this very blog. At least with the the suit you get a sense of menace proportion that’s reasonably accurate, as opposed to the sliding size scale you get with a CGI monster. Is it as big as a car? A boat? An airplane?

In this case, the proportional accuracy of the guy in the (not very impressive) suit works against the overall aim of the movie, namely, to scare me! Sorry, I just can’t summon up the adrenaline to freak out over a skinny dude in a wetsuit who looks like a hastily put-together Sleestak.

Furthermore, the finale of Hypothermia is a painful example of a the-checks-didn’t-clear, lets-pack-up-and-split ending, as Helen appeals to the monster’s sense of decency and fair play to spare her life. Oh. Effin. Brother. The movie’s not a complete flop, due to the steadying presence of Rooker in a surprisingly mild-mannered role. (Face it, once you’ve played Henry Lee Lucas in a movie, you’re pretty much type-cast as the psycho.)

Finally, I don’t understand the title. I “get” that the whole movie takes place on a frozen lake, and the threat of icy weather conditions are clearly present. But it’s like deciding that a better title for Jaws would have been Undertow or Cramps.

You have to scroll quite a ways down the page of worst case scenarios before settling on hypothermia. Frankly I’d rather freeze to death (they say it’s just like going to sleep!) than to still be conscious while my intestines are slurped up like ramen. But that’s just me.

Chillerama (2011)

We submit for your approval a quartet of farcical drive-in features rendered in the most tasteless fashion possible. The nearly charming monstrosity is a tribute not only to classic B-movie horror but also to schlockmeister Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma Team, who staunchly believe that there should be no limits on disgusting, juvenile entertainment.

The action takes place at a drive-in movie theater on its last night of operation. Theater owner Cecil Kaufman (Richard Riehle, whom you’ve seen in dozens of small parts over the years) is screening three lost horror movie classics, including Wadzilla, the story of a mutated sperm cell that grows to gigantic proportions and tries to mate with the Statue of Liberty.

The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, is a black-and-white flick starring Joel David Moore (Bones, Hatchet) as Hitler, who wants to create a monster of his very own (played by Kane Hodder).

I Was a Teenage Wearbear, a homoerotic beach-blanket bingo romp about a young man who transforms into a bloodthirsty bear (meaning large, hirsute gay man) under the power of the full moon.

Each section gets its own director: Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), who also stars, does a fine job with Wadzilla, constantly wringing extra laughs out of a one-joke setup.

Adam Green’s (Hatchet, Frozen) Diary of Anne Frankenstein is the most ambitious of the vignettes, and the most artfully realized.

Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs, Driftwood) simply doesn’t have enough gas in the tank for I Was A Teenage Wearbear. It’s overly long and silly, though he gets props for a few catchy musical numbers and for casting the always watchable Lin Shaye as the Maria Ouspenskia gypsy woman.

Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2) has a barrel of fun as zombies run roughshod over the drive-in in the wraparound tale. And in the end, the fun should be enough to hold your interest.

But make no mistake, this is proudly low-brow cinema, and non-horror buffs probably won’t last to the credits.