Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monster March Quick Picks and Pans

Big Ass Spider! (2013) I wasn’t expecting much from director Mike Mendez and writer Gregory Gieras’ giant bug flick, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Taken at face value, it’s nothing new, but the snappy dialogue and brisk pace hooked me from the start.   It’s a fun homage to 50s mutant monsters that’s aware of its low budget origins (watch for the Lloyd Kaufman cameo as one of the spider’s victims).  Unlike the cynical B-movie exercise that was Sharknado, with its incoherent plot and wooden acting, Big Ass Spider’s filmmakers realize you need more than a ridiculous premise to keep viewers interested.  Aside from the requisite monster pandemonium, the film takes time to establish its main characters. 

Greg Grunberg stars as unlucky-in-love exterminator Alex, whose day keeps getting worse by the minute.  In an early scene, he’s bitten by a brown recluse spider, but soon discovers he has a much bigger problem on his hands when he faces an even deadlier foe.  Soon, he’s in over his head, helping the U.S. military combat an eight-legged mutant arachnid rampaging through the streets of Los Angeles.  Ray Wise co-stars as a no-nonsense general, and Lombardo Boyar steals the show as Alex’s ad hoc sidekick Jose.   Highly recommended.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Bad Milo! (2013) The second movie in this post to have a title with an exclamation point is another welcome surprise.  Duncan (Ken Marino) lives a stress-filled life: he’s feeling pressured to help his wife (Gillian Jacobs) conceive a baby, his obnoxious boss (Patrick Warburton) just embezzled company funds, and his co-worker accidentally deleted his presentation.  All of this stress inevitably winds up in his bowels, but a trip to the bathroom isn’t enough to alleviate his woes.  A creature that resides in his lower intestine emerges to wreak vengeance on those who crossed him.  Director/co-writer Jacob Vaughan manages to handle this admittedly juvenile premise with wit and a modicum of restraint.  Marino generates sympathy in his thankless role as the beleaguered Alex.  The movie also features some nice supporting performances, including Mary Kay Place as his overbearing mother, and Peter Stormare as his therapist, who helps him come to terms with the monster inside (during one session, Alex comments, “I had a monster up my ass.  It’s the furthest thing from a metaphor!”). 

Rating: *** ½.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming

Of Unknown Origin (1983) Based on a novel by Chauncey G. Parker III, George P. Cosmatos’ urban horror flick stars a pre-Buckaroo Banzai Peter Weller as yuppie businessman Bart Hughes.  Bart seems to have it all, with a beautiful home, loving family, and a prominent position in a Manhattan (actually filmed in Montréal) firm.  His life takes a turn for the worse when a large, unseen rat threatens his renovated house, and his sanity disintegrates in the process.  Of Unknown Origin rises above many of its contemporaries, thanks to some clever commentary on corporate America and the pursuit of the so-called American dream.  The rat becomes Bart’s white whale, the embodiment of his deepest anxieties and fears.  Despite the film’s aspirations to be Jaws in a brownstone, Of Unknown Origin works best on a metaphorical level.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD

The Giant Claw (1957) This movie was made for late night viewing.  Jeff Morrow and Mara Corday star in director Fred F. Sears’ giant monster epic, featuring one of the goofiest creatures ever committed to film.  Looking something like a cross between a buzzard and Gonzo the Great, a gigantic bird from “a galaxy millions of light years away” terrorizes the skies.  Mitch MacAfee (Morrow) leads a team of scientists, endeavoring to find a way to combat the indestructible avian fiend that threatens any aircraft that cross its path.  Throughout the film, we hear constant comparisons of the creature to a battleship, as if the writers ran out of analogies.  It’s the best kind of stupid, the kind that could only be made without an ounce of irony.  If you’re looking for the ideal title for B-movie night, search no further.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD

Dogora (aka: Uchû Daikaijû Dogora) (1964) Watching director Ishirô Honda’s slow-moving giant space jellyfish flick, I got the distinct impression that he really wanted to direct a jewel heist story, but based on his reputation, Toho probably insisted he deliver on a monster movie instead.  The end result is this (alleged) compromise.  At least, that would explain all the cops and robbers stuff, with a little dash of kaiju thrown in to spice things up.  A massive space jellyfish floats above Japan, absorbing diamonds and coal for sustenance.  Before long, anything carbon-based becomes its potential dinner.  Dogora doesn’t have the wholesale destruction present in many of Honda’s other, more prominent flicks, but it might be worth a look, if only for the unique creature, which (at least to this viewer’s knowledge) never appeared in another Toho kaiju picture.

Rating: ** ½.  Available on DVD

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) This late-80s relic promises much more than it delivers.   After a global nuclear war has left most men impotent, Sam Hell (Roddy Piper), one of the few surviving virile males, is recruited to rescue some fertile women from their captors and procreate with them to help repopulate the human species.  Well, at least the movie lives up to its title, as Hell does in fact come to Frogtown, a post-apocalyptic zone run by frog-human mutants.  Unfortunately, once he gets there, not much happens.  There are a couple stray funny bits, but most of the movie drags when the filmmakers should have taken more chances with the material instead of pulling their punches. 

Rating: **.  Available on DVD

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