Sunday, April 4, 2010

Top 13: Were-Creatures of Film (from big budget to the obscure)

Enough with the teenage angst-ridden vamps and werewolves, already!
Consider this is The Black Glove’s anti-Twilight sequel top 13 list.
Sure, I love werewolf movies. In fact, some of the most innovative special effects techniques of the 80s came about in werewolf films like ‘American Werewolf in London’ and ‘The Howling’. It was heady stuff back then...unlike the CGI idiot-o-thon that seem to be jumping and growling across every teenage mall movie screen across the country.
But what about the more obscure were-creatures of horror cinema?
Does anyone ever shiver in their boots over a were-moth or a were-snake?
What about a were-bee girl?
Okay, okay, so maybe they don’t sound so scary, but they’ve all shown up in various horror/sci-fi movies over the years. So The Black Glove staff thought it would be a grand idea to drag them out into the light of day again, so we can all remember that there are other shape-shifting monsters to fear besides the more hirsute of their breathren.
Or if not fear, then at least be entertained by them.
The criteria for choosing this month’s top 13 were-creatures was simple: our were-creatures had to start out as human, and had to definitively turn into some sort of other creature by the end of the film. It didn’t matter if this transformation came about by science or sorcery.
And please bear in mind that some of these movies are pretty obscure, so finding vids and pics wasn't always very easy to do. We did our best, in other words, with what we had to work with, folks. Forgive us, if some of the vids are of terrible quality or just plain don't exist.
So, without further ado (and in no other order than alphabetical order) The Black Glove’s Top 13 Were-Creatures of Film.

13. Sssssss (1973)
Mad doc Strother Martin, named appropriately enough Dr. Stoner, wants to use young college student Dirk Benedict in his outlandish snake experiments, despite the fact that his daughter is in love with his new guinea pig. That’s right: Dr. Stoner has developed a way to change a human into a King Cobra! Why the possibilities are…why they’re…well, not sure what they hell Stoner’s thinking. The reasoning is pretty glib, at best. What’s important is that ‘Sssssss’ is a great, silly little movie, with a classic twist ending that has garnered it a cult following over the years. And, as you may notice, this is just one of many 60s and 70s human-to-snake relation horror films. Movies like ‘The Snake Woman’ (1961), ‘Rattlers’ (1976) and ‘Stanley’ (1972) made it fun to slither. Another aspect that made this particular were-snake film different is that it’s a male who turns into the snake, something that didn’t happen in many of these were-creature movies. They’re almost exclusively female, unless we’re talking lycanthropy, which is almost exclusively male oriented.

12. The Reptile (1966)
From Hammer Studios, this is one of the weirdest of their weird horror movies, and rightfully has a cult following of its own. Another human-to-snake movie, this has a great cast and production values that elevate it beyond its own paltry, simplistic story of a snake worshipping woman who has a terrible secret in a small English village. Great writing, solid cinematography and some weird touches create an atmospheric experience, despite the monster’s identity is easy enough to guess.

11. Relic (1996)
Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Douglas J. Preston and Lincoln Child, The Relic definitely has one of the most unique were-creatures in our countdown. Seems a world trotting scientist happened across a small village where they have a strange ritual involving a very strange plant. Unfortunately for our scientist, besides giving one the sense of cosmic oneness with the universe, it also happens to build up a toxic level in the human body, thereby makes some rather grotesque genetic changes. When a large, prestigious metropolitan museum receives the good professor’s collection of crates, but no professor, the mystery begins. The mystery only gets bloodier when museum personnel begin to disappear as well. One guess who’s doing it. But you sure won’t guess what this were-creature looks like. Big budget stars, huge budget special effects from the late, great Stan Winstone, and a compelling story make this a treasure of 90s horror. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so.

10. Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973)
Beautiful women turning into killer bees who sex their male victims to death?
Yes, it’s true. Believe it or not.
This cheap B-grade film could only come out of the 70s, folks. But it does star Anitra Ford, truly one of the most gorgeous women in the 70s. And, of course, there’s porno moustached tough guy William Smith, a man who made his living playing the villain in just about every television crime series in the 70s. More scientific experimentation gone wild. More sexy women running around killing off men. What more could you ask for in a horror film?

9. Curse of the Black Widow (1977)
Geez, another 70s horror film about a woman who eats men for dinner. Who would have thought it in the midst of the feminine movement? Boy, talk about some bald-faced male social terror going on here. This time, there’s no bees or snakes, but something even more: our femme fatale turns into a giant black widow spider, complete with a thirst for blood and web spinning super action. This is a must TV-movie for those who make it a hobby to see such things. And it’s actual pretty well done, filled with great 60s and 70s television stars, and a tense story…even if it stints on the gore a bit. Trust me, the last scene will make up for the lack of blood (it was made-for-tv, after all).

(sorry, but we couldn’t find the original 1977 trailer to this cult classic made-for-tv movie)

8. Cult of the Cobra (1955)
Starring that 50s beauty, and frequent horror and sci-fi cinema damsel in distress, Faith Domergue, Cult of the Cobra is one of the stranger of Universal horror movies during its silver age. She plays a snake goddess who follows a sextet of idiot American GIs from her Indian home back to America, where she begins to kill them off one by one for desecrating her sacred temple by taking pictures of their most secret snake dancing ceremony. As usual, Universal had a great stable of actors and technicians from which to pool, and gave an otherwise simplistic narrative a touch of melancholy when the snake goddess falls in love with one of her intended victims, ex-GI, Marshall Thompson.

(again, sorry, but no trailer could be found for this obscure film, but someone was kind enough to post a scene from the film…enjoy)

7. The Cat People (1982)
This is a sort of Technicolor pervert remake of the original 1942 classic produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, both masters of understated horror and suspense films that look like a million dollars, despite their low budgets. There is nothing understated about this remake: from the synth heavy soundtrack by David Bowie and Giorgio Moroder to long stretches of exotic beauty Nastassja Kinski walking around naked. Oh, and when she’s not naked, she and incestuous brother, Malcolm McDowell, are busy turning into black panthers and tearing apart their sexual partners. One thing can be said about Paul Schrader’s version: it’s gorgeously shot, full of shots to make you cry or cum. But it pays very little respect to the original. Which in itself may not be such a terrible thing. After all, he had no hope of improving upon the original, did he?
In any case, Kinski alone is worth the price of admission.

6. The Cat People (1942)
The original version is still the best. In fact, this movie is probably one of those movies later film historians can point to as being responsible for a new Hollywood horror and suspense cinema aesthetic. After seeing what an inventive and dedicated producer and director could do with a minimal budget and an emotionally complex story, reliant almost completely upon the actors to carry the tension of a young foreign woman who just happens to be descendant to a species of cat people- creatures are human until their emotions get out of control (it’s also intimated that includes the act of sex), and then they transform into savage black panthers. Which makes her new marriage to young ad artist Kent Smith sort of a problem. He turns to a female workmate for the missing intimacy and that really pisses off Irena. Meanwhile, perverted doctor, Tom Conway, has a little something he’d like to give Irena to ‘help’ his new patient. One guess what that is.
Simone Simon is also the original exotic beauty. I know I fell in love with her the first time ever I saw this version back when I was a kid. Her face carries a sense of deep melancholy which works for her character Irena, the cat woman. This is a must see for any horror fan—especially those damned Horror-peas I mentioned in this month’s editorial.

5. The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Okay, let’s clear this up right now. There is no freaking vampire in this movie, as advertised in the above official UK poster. Why in the hell Tigon Studios (which if you’ve been reading this magazine for a while, then you know I think Tigon Studios is one of the best unknown studios of the 60s and 70s and could do no wrong in my eyes) decided to push the whole vampire angle, to the point of actually releasing it in the U.S. as ‘The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood’, is beyond me. What you DO get is your basic were-moth.
Yes, you read that right…a were-moth. A blood thirsty one, but it’s still a MOTH!
But despite the silliness of such a monster, this is a well made film, with some rather gruesome scenes that you’d never expect from something built around a blood thirsty moth monster.
It does star the great Peter Cushing, who could bring some class to even the worst movies. But, like I said, this isn’t a bad movie at all. Some really great atmosphere and acting, coupled with a decent script and pacing, make it a lost treasure that deserves rediscovery by a modern horror audience.

4. The Beast Within (1982)
Another horror oddity, this has a hell of a pedigree. Based on a novel by Edward Levy, written for the screen by horror novelist/producer/director Tom Holland, directed by Aussie great Philippe Mora, and starring some very prestigious character actors, Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, L. Q. Jones, Don Gordon and R. G. Armstrong: hell, all of these elements alone would make it worth the time to see it. But there’s one more strange little twist to the movie that makes it even more worthwhile. This particular were-creature is a man-sized were-cicada. Yeah, a giant cicada that likes to eat human flesh.
WTF?! seems to be a phrase made specifically for this movie.
A middle aged married couple breakdown in the middle of a nowhere highway on a dark and stormy night. The husband leaves his new bride in the car so he can hike to get help. Unfortunately, she is attacked and raped by a horrifying creature that lives in the adjoining forest. Even more unfortunate, she is impregnated by the faceless thing, and eventually gives birth to a young son, which they decide to raise as their own.
Like I said…WTF?!
Well, the kid hits his teen years, and acne and hormones are the least of his problems, believe me, when he starts to develope a pretty unhealthy obsession with raw meat and sex.
By the end of the movie, you’re not sure whether to root for the giant were-cicada or his human food.

3. The Ape Man (1943)
This is in public domain, like too many of Bela Lugosi’s films, but after viewing it, one can understand how this might have slipped into such a state. It’s pretty silly at best, and damn near ludicrous during certain portions of the movie. The dialogue is as ripe as a Stilton cheesewheel, the ‘special’ effects aren’t, and even poor old Bela can’t save this turkey from damn near chocking on its all too serious tone for such a silly narrative. Bela plays a crazy doc who is trying to find a cure for yet another spinal disease (an overused MacGuffin in many 30s and 40s cheap Z-grade horror films) and is conducting weird experiements. Stupidly, he decides to inject himself with the experimental formula and…well…you guessed it…he turns himself into an Ape Man. Even though he’s now got muttonchops that would make Lemmy squeal with envy, he still retains his human intelligence. Well, for a little while anyway. Soon, Bela is yowling and beating his chest in his best imitation of the real ape they have chained up in the basement laboratory, where Bela must be locked away each night. Then some nosy reporters (another big thing in these 30s and 40s Z-movies) come around and blow his cover.
Bad goes to worse, and Bela soon slips into pure animal savagery and attacks his wife and lab mate, going on a rampage that ends with a battle between him and the real gorilla.
I promise you won’t find another were-creature like The Ape Man!

2. Altered States (1980)
What do you get when you mix bestselling novelist/playwright Paddy Chayefsky with uber-weird director Ken Russell and a young intense actor named William Hurt? Apparently you get a were-creature that’s actual a primeval throwback to the first protoplasmic life seen on our planet, which may make this the absolute weirdest of the creatures on this list.
William Hurt plays a psychologist who decides to conduct sense deprivation experiments on himself (Oh, will they never learn?!) and inadvertently triggers an abnormal psychological effect which slowly degenerates him backwards through the various stages of mankind’s animal development. He goes from being a complete asshole to people because he can’t control his growing instinct to fight, to running naked as an apelike creature, to finally a protoblob thing that’s trying to revert even further back before he’s saved by his pissed off wife.
Truly a were-creature that could only exist in the bullshit 80s Me-Generation decade. A movie filled with loose spiritual nonsense, mixed liberally with even more pseudo-science crapola, and some nifty special effects.
Leave it to Ken Russell.

1. The Alligator People (1959)
Starring Lon Chaney Jr. and Beverly Garland, this is another weird one. Seems yet another doc and his crazy experiments have gotten out of hand, as he begins injecting injured war veterans with some strange Bayou swamp medicine, turning them into were-alligators. Some of the worst special effects makeup ever, but as long as you can squint to forget how bad it is, you can still have a good time with this silly little horror romp. Besides, any movie with the vivacious Bev Garland is worth sitting through Chaney’s terrible drunken Southern Cajun accent, as it slips more often than Ms. Garland’s blouse from her curvy tanned shoulders. It has a surprisingly huge cult following for such a small picture for its time, and its references have turned up everywhere from Marvel Comics (The Lizard, Spiderman’s longtime friend and arch foe) to the Metal Gear games.

--Nickolas Cook