RATIONAL FEAR VS. IRRATIONAL PANIC: OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS
TOP TEN SUPERNATURAL AND SCI-FI HORROR MOVIES
by Lynn McSweeney
ALL HORROR MOVIES CONFRONT THE IRRATIONAL, hoping to trigger the limbic system’s reptile brain into panic. That’s what sells tickets! The first self-conscious tale of horror, Frankenstein, set out to dissect this fear under the new light of Rationalism. And yet its Monster still terrified. Whether the menace is of their own making, from outer space, or merely a delusion, all heroes must slay their monster or perish. Some of these movies are giddy with surrealism, others sublime with metaphysics; all bear re-watching, if only for the details missed on first view.
A stormy night on Lake Geneva with the 19th Century’s most infamous Romantics: Mary Wollstonecraft (née Godwin) Shelley; poet husband Percy; her crazed sister Claire; George Gordon, Lord Byron – mad cruel poet, prankster, war hero, and the night-life’s first Goth Boy; and his doctor, all trading tales, partners, drugs. This night’s inspirations Mary polishes into Frankenstein and Byron turns into the first Gothic vampire tale, later stolen and printed by Dr. Polidori (who bases the character on employer Byron!). Directed by Ken Russell with his usual opiated brio. Watch with a hot cup of Swiss Miss – that hasn’t been dosed! – to combat the chill.
2. The Fly-1986
Original version and remake disgust in separate ways, largely based on special effects available in respective decades; the horror’s infectious, humor unintentional in the first, while humor and horror are both thoroughly crafted in the second. The modern version found the perfect fly in Jeff Goldblum, despite his height. His speech about insect logic works well as political analysis for all electoral campaigns to boot. Bonus philosophy points!
3. The Thing-1982
The remake is the better of them, as this tale of a ghastly unstoppable thing from space rings nice changes on the monster theme, with philosophic consideration (of the meaning of being, humanity, etc.) to lend depth to the frightening action. Movie places you effectively in the moment, leading those susceptible to question their own reality once film ends.
4. Jacob’s Ladder-1990
The only horror film to deal with Vietnam (that I know of). Tim Robbins is Jacob, the returning vet haunted by demons & ghosts pursuing him across an ocean, whose origin is a battle he can’t quite remember. Suspicious that he was subjected by his own command to drug experiments in the field, he makes a mess of his marriage while hunting the truth, which his few surviving States-side buddies warn him not to pursue. Elizabeth Peña burns up the screen as his sexy new flame, and Danny Aiello convinces as an heroic, cherub-cheeked chiropractor wrestling a diabolical Medical Establishment on Jacob’s behalf – who knows? maybe he could have won the war. A long, strange trip.
Isolated Rocky Mountain frontier garrison is punishment duty for recently-promoted lieutenant (Guy Pearce), who struggles with shame at morbid memories of his accidental “heroism” in taking a Mexican fort. New comrades-in-arms (includes David Arquette in a stretch as goofy stoner) dwarf his own incompetence when mustered to rescue sole survivor of cannibalized wagon train (Robert Carlyle). Native American brother-and-sister act who blame a Windego – dæmon of cabin fever – are cleverly separated. Celebrates opening of our once-pristine West that, by its natural beauty and abundance of game, begs its own certain despoiling. Larger context of Monroe-Doctrine expansionism deftly plays out in Darwinist survival games. Haunting score samples Appalachian-Scots motifs, quotes nursery rhymes, and ventures into Glassian monotony, while successfully wedding landscape’s lushness to soldiers’ violence.
6. They Live! 1988
John Carpenter’s really bad acid vision urges Paranoids of the World Unite (you have nothing to lose but your Brains!) against Aliens amongst us, detectable only if you break the trance consumerist media has put America under and if you intercept extraterrestrial polaroid glasses, which is how they recognize each other. Very ‘80’s “take” on the underlying reasons for homelessness, joblessness, and the state of our national forests under “Alien Green Party”-appointée Secretary of the Interior (a then-timely barb at Reagan’s choice for same). Gallows-humored political satire at times plays uncomfortably like screwball as if by Riefenstahl, leads to collaborationist dilemma for viewers as hilarity, guilt mix, force collusion in usually-passive film medium. Not recommended for: novice trippers, Reagan Republicrats, copywriters with ideals intact (both of you), nor especially RayBan-wearing dictators.
7. Sharknado-2013 (SyFy Channel original movie, July 2013)
The luckless viewer of “Sharknado” can but nod in agreement with the sage sentiments uttered by hero Fin’s BFF Baz (from Taz), who, as he reflects upon a shark-infested flooded front hall that’s been tinged a painterly carmine with the latest victim’s blood, proclaims: It’s “that time of the month” again: Yes indeed, the dog days of summer SyFy original movies.
8. Frankenstein Unbound-1990
Classic Roger Corman juggling a profusion of subplots. Most-surreal scene may be a drive through the countryside in 1800’s Geneva in a DeLorean with Bridget Fonda’s Mary Shelley very impressed by future tech and hot-rodding older Professor. If she doesn’t write Frankenstein, the future world of 1987 may never exist…!
9. The Wicked City-1992
A creepy/humorous smørgasbørd of nationalistic concerns regarding “tainted [monstrous/ alien/ irradiated/ mutant/ foreign] blood” unfortunately possessed by stoic hero, who fights his own ancestry with the superhuman strength provided by same, but which proves problematic to love interest; luckily, for drama’s advance, this unrequited passion fuels him with enough high-octane rage to battle his relatives – the monsters taking over corporate Japan! Asks burning question, will ancient Shinto spirits, if called on, help or hinder this new Rising Son? Lyrical Kabuki narrative rhythms are sped up, syncopated and updated with mad motorcycle chases, James-Dean attitudinalizing, martial arts moments, and tragically fabulous party gowns, all converging at indulgent poolside party the bad guys throw, with enough quiet turns to mull Zen existentialism. Everything but the kitchen sink.
10. Army of Darkness-1992
Sam Raimi’s big-budget re-make of his own The Evil Dead again involves a dangerous Grimoire that opens nexus between Mediæval castle and Modern Mall, possession by evil spirits, corpse re-animation and a reluctant warrior who wields a chainsaw; stars Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davitz. Lots of movie references, none classical. Most humorous one-liners of any horror movie, especially: “Attention, K-Mart shoppers…” and forehead-knotting attempt to remember spell; Fair Damosel’s gymnastics wins Olympic gold for Most Steroidal.
Lynn McSweeney writes horror, fantasy, and science-fiction, with an occasional foray into erotica. Her story ‘The Healer’s Gift’ appears in the fairy tale horror anthology Once Upon a Scream, published by HorrorAddicts.net. Another story won a workshop contest and was featured on their podcast. Two more stories have been accepted; one will be in the upcoming Giant Sex Issue of the U.K. magazine Imperial Youth Review, under a pseudonym (Colette Torrez).