Aaahh!!! Reel Monsters

Beasts of the big screen.

Martina Marosi

They’re hiding in our closets, under our beds, on our Netflix queues. Monsters populate the collective imagination in forms far more manifold than a seething and mucus-covered extraterrestrial or a spiny, sunlight-starved creature creeping beneath the earth’s surface.

Along with their horrifying physical presence, they may wreak havoc and psychological terror upon the societies from which they emerge. Descriptions of Joan Rivers aside, a monster can appear in the form of a standard Frankenstein spin-off, the gargantuan underground worms of “Tremors” or even Kathy Bates in “Misery.”

Since the first eve of the full moon, silver screen standbys have satisfied this ravenous appetite for diving the depths of the collective unconscious. Sometimes of mysterious origins — sometimes only human —movie-bound monsters serve as caricatures of our worst qualities while, in other instances, they simply bring them out. “We have met the monster,” cartoonist Walt Kelly might have said, “and he is us.”

 

“M”

1931

Directed by Fritz Lang

Starring Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut

Oft-caricatured Peter Lorre stars as a child predator and murderer whose shadowy presence terrorizes a quiet neighborhood in Berlin that sees mutually exchanged accusations abound in the face of an anonymous enemy. Lang’s film, which at the time had a working title of “The Murderer Among Us,” follows the witch hunt through the eye of a camera that lingers on large crowds and the backs of strangers. Here, the monster is anywhere and everywhere. From the fold emerges a vigilant manhunt and trial that sees the weak-willed murderer collapse before an unsympathetic, silent jury. Thrust out of the masses and identified, Lorre’s Hans Beckert must face the scrutiny of the mob that threatens to eat him alive.

 

 

“The Thing”

1982

Directed by John Carpenter

Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David

A group of hot-blooded and bored men isolated in the Antarctic tundra stumble upon charred, two-faced remains of a humanoid corpse and decide to bring it back to their research station. What could possibly go wrong? The “thing” they’ve brought into their midst, as it turns out, is an awakened extraterrestrial capable of absorbing the physical appearance of its victims before anyone has time to learn who’s the impostor. With each man guilty until proven innocent, it’s only a matter of time before the cloistered confines of the work station sets the stage for the most dangerous game.

 

“It”

1990

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring Tim Curry, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher

Childhood memories become a battleground in this Stephen King book-to-movie feature when a group of outcasts — going by the name of “the losers club” — take on the ominous figure initially known only as “It.” Terrifying, haunting and in some cases actually murdering children living in the small town of “Derry,” “It” is a fang-bearing, deceptively cheerful demonic clown that has the power to take on the form of both a child’s fears and desires. But “It” is unfortunately anything but a metaphor, as the “losers” —grown up and in their charmingly damaged adult forms — later return to their hometown to take on the very real creature with material means and fatal consequences.

 

 

“Class of Nuke ’Em High”

1986

Directed by Richard W. Haines

Starring Janelle Brady, Gil Brenton, Robert Prichard

This Troma Entertainment staple sets the scene at Tromaville High School, constructed a mile away from a nuclear power plant. “Nuke ’Em High” enters the picture long after a group of enterprising individuals have harvested radioactive marijuana plants on the periphery of the plant and the nuclear nugs have transformed the school’s honor society into an unruly band of anarchistic thugs Among this fray, mild-mannered co-ed Chrissy spends an innocent night out; taking a few hits of the atomic bong before sleeping with her letter jacket-wearing steady. Later, she squeals and screams after seeing she’s given birth to a slimy creature spit out into the toilet when she steals away from class for a quick trip to the restroom. Quickly flushed down the pipes, the fearsome thing somehow ends up in a tub of nuclear waste and — like radioactive monsters are wont to do — mutates into a larger, more threatening version of its former self while its grotesque transformation is mirrored by the high school student body that progressively spins out of control.