American Creatures, Czech Strasidlos, Russian Three-Headed Dragons… “But does he have a human brain, or the MURDEROUS BRAIN OF A FLY?”
Any doubt about the value of monster movies is shattered by contemplating an overwrought Vincent Price uttering these words in the original version of The Fly.
For if it wasn’t for monster movies of the b-variety, would such a sentence ever exist? Even sci-fi literature of the pulpiest kind rarely reached such levels of dialogue. Great dramatic films have memorable conflicts and heartaching tragedy, but produce banter that is startling mainly for its ordinariness.
“Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.” Variations on that one will have echoed across the Lousiana bayou about the time you finish this sentence. Nope, there’s no doubt that b-monster movies are the very stuff of creation, and a basic intro to the genre is possible right here in videostores of the quaint ol’ city of Prague. And never content with products of the west side of the Atlantic, Czech and even Russian offerings also get their due in the list.
PART 1: The North (and Central) American Monolith (+Japan)
The Fly, the1958 original mentioned above, is a tragic tale of a scientist trying to invent a molecular transportation device, only to get seriously involved with a six-legged stowaway. It can be found at that relative gold mine of such movies, (also known as ‘the internet’). All the movies in this section are to be found (unless otherwise noted) at Amazon.com, the links will take you right there.
For another classic from the 50s, and to see what happens when a very serious UFO lands on earth and says “Stop!”, check out one of the best alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), which was just remade with Keenu Reeves and a less war and more ecology themed reason for the visitation by the alien and Gort his Genetically organizing robotic technology.
If you can, try to find 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein, the psycho/sociological nerve-dangler about an all-broken-up technovictim freak desperate for female companionship (sound familiar?).
More gore rearrangement, voluptuous death and male desperation in 1962’s The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, a truly creepy depiction of a man going to all efforts to save his wife after a car crash. If your summertime picnic is ruined by ants, as least be thankful they aren’t two stories tall as in Them (1954). The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), about that familiar sensation that there is something wrong with everybody in the world besides you, is out there, though in shamefully colorized form that was extremely mass-marketed.
Lots of shameful activity goes on in Spider Baby (1964), a genuinely strange and sometimes disturbing tale of some very bad kids. While slipping over into the unfortunate realm of camp a couple times and containing only degenerating humans, this one is still mandatory viewing.
Two important Mexican mummy films are Curse of the Aztec Mummy and Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy. Speaking of mat-fighting, the Amazon has a listing for some of the greatest Mexican wrestling monster movies of all time, from the legendary Santo series.
The video labeled Santo in the Wax Museum, wherein the always-masked mauler should take on wax museum figures that come to life, is in fact Santo vs. the TV Assassin, a very boring film in which the Tijuana toughguy deals with some electronic mind-control hijinks.
If the stereotypical mid-twentieth century women’s roles in most of the above flicks get you wishing for a little payback, Lux Interior of The Cramps once recommended Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat, Kill Kill in order to see beautiful women driving fast sportcars and breaking joculatory hemen men’s spines’. While not strictly a monster movie, there is some truly monstrous behavior going on.
Fastforwarding in time, for an updating of the genre that mixes horror and monsters with wry humor and exhibits the kind of remarkable film technique only found in such movies, the 1980s Evil Dead series should be scrutinized, but becomes a parody of itself in Evil Dead II.
PART 2: The Czech Chillers
Czech monster movies videos with English subtitles are next to impossible to find. One might be Lekce Faust (The Faust Lesson), where a unnerving life-sized puppet-devil makes the rounds and some nightmarish claymation sequences guarantee a disturbed viewing.
Another Svankmayer film, Alice, a version of Alice In Wonderland, might also qualify. And the most well known Svankmayer issue, Otesanek (Little Otik , 2001), is very monstrous – dealing with a piece of wood that grows into a giant tree person with a demanding meat requirement – but isn’t out on video yet. Otherwise your friendly neighborhood Czech videostore should carry some of these titles, and it doesn’t matter if your Czech skills are not up to par, because screaming is the international language!
Cesta do praveku (Journey to the Primieval, 1955) – a land o’dinosaurs flick. Fantom Morrisvillu (The Phantom of Morrisville, 1966) is a wonderful horror parody.
Adela jeste nevecerela (Adela Hasn’t Eaten Yet, 1977) – a giant carnivorous plant goes berserk. Upir z Feratu (Vampire in a Ferata, 1982) – wherein a thirsty car drinks the blood of drivers (more of those in Prague, please).
Tajemstvi hradu v Karpatech (Secrets of the Carpathian Castle, 1981) – some strange goings on in a haunted mansion. Divka na kosteti (The Girl on the Broom) – little witch in fantasy land: headless knights and demons.
Vlci bouda (The Wolf Kennel, ’86) by director Vera Chytilova, about some hungry women aliens. Proketi domu Hajne (The Fall of Hajn House, ’88) is a Poe-influenced tale. Repaci (’88) – from the Dark Blue World and Kolya team, is a pseudo- documentary about a little creature discovered to eat toxic waste.
Cisarev pekar a pekarev cisar (The Caesar’s Baker and The Baker’s Caesar, 1951, dir. Martin Fric) – a Golem monster masterpiece. Baron Prasil (1961) is a Czech version of Baron Munkhausen, the man who tells very incredible stories.
Carodejev ucen (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1977) – animated film of witchcraft. Monstrum z galaxie Arkana (Monsters from the Arkana Galaxy, 1981) – just what it sounds like. Na komete (On a Comet, 1970) a Jules Verne in Space thing.
Krvava pani (The Blood Countess, 1982) animated with lots of red ink, the story of the Romanian gentlewoman Bath who bathed in her subjects blood.
PART 3: Russian Reanimators
Though they would call them fairly tales, these Russian films always featured a supporting cast of supernatural creatures and outright monsters. Just across and over from the Chateau Rouge on Mala Stupartska 5 is Chutia (in Prague), a seller of Georgian wine and various things Russian, and this is where to find them, but you have to buy the videos there (280 kc).
The best of these fairy tales, one that features a huge frog and a giant spider and finally ends with a flying three-headed dragon that was an obvious inspiration for Monster X from the Godzilla movies, is called Vasilisa the Beautiful. This film is unsubtitled, so bring your comrades to translate or just follow the bouncing heads.