In the spirit of the season, let's take a walk through a trio of fun horror movies: The Astro-Zombies (1968), Ghoulies IV (1994), and Plankton (1994) AKA Creatures from the Abyss. Enjoy!
The Astro-Zombies (1968)
When I heard that Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H* co-wrote this screenplay, I simply had to take a look. It begins with a CIA official (note the LBJ photo in the back) explaining that there's been a string of mutilations, and he is linking a mad scientist, Dr. DeMarco, to the crimes.
The official, Holman, is played by Wendell Corey, who would die from drink before this film was even released.
Dapper CIA agent, Chuck Edwards (Joe Hoover), is on the case. He's been staking out the nightclubs, the meeting place of the criminals associated with these mutilations. He comments that he'll get some good information... "if I don't turn into a lush first."
Everyone laughs... except Holman. Given Corey's above mentioned trouble with the sauce, this is more than a little awkward.
Dr. DeMarco (John Carradine) is hard at work in his laboratory creating the "Astro Man" - a man who has his thoughts and memories transferred from a computer.
His assistant, Frenchot (William Bagdad), is a hunchbacked, sweaty mess who's hard to look at, quite frankly.
I'll just point out an obvious problem with this film, painfully evident at this point: the scenes last forever. The opening scene with the investigators goes on for about 15 minutes - that's a quarter of an hour of exposition. Then, this laboratory scene goes on equally long, with Carradine's barely intelligible mumblings throughout. It's almost unwatchable.
Tura Satana lounges around the house, reading a newspaper headline about the string of mutilations while listening to a tape recording of Dr. DeMarco's incomprehensible mutterings.
She's a member of an international spy ring; so, her interest in DeMarco's work intrigues her.
The Astro-Zombie attacks! A poor laboratory technician gets stabbed by a conveniently placed blade.
I will say the Astro-Zombie looks bad as hell. These old B-movies are notorious for laughably silly costumes; it's surprising to see one this awesome. Totally metal.
Chuck wasn't lying when he said he was hanging out at nightclubs for a living. It's a hard job working for the CIA, but somebody's got to do it. With him are Agent Porter (Tom Pace) and the lovely Janine Norwalk (Joan Patrick), a laboratory assistant.
Did I mention this was a titty bar?
This moment is too classic not to share: their waitress drops something and the CIA agents don't even hide their stares as she bends over. These guys are livin' the dream.
Satana demonstrates her ruthlessness as the Commie spy ring's leader. She uncovers a CIA agent camped outside the titty bar and straight up murders his ass.
Note that this scene was shot at the home of Peter Falk. Falk was a friend of Wayne Rogers and let him use his house. He even appeared in a cameo, but the director cut the scene because he felt it was too comedic and ruined the tone.
Porter and Chuck have a brilliant plan: they'll have Janine sit alone in the laboratory as bait. Sure, it may be a tremendous risk resulting in the death of a young woman; but it's for a good cause.
After what seems like an hour, nobody comes. An utter failure (and waste of celluloid). Porter drives her home.
Of course, as soon as she's home and undressed, the Astro-Zombie arrives. I must say, this attack scene is pretty realistic - Janine's struggle and screams seem give the impression this was a real zombie assault .
Creepy, sweaty, rapey Franchot has a victim (Barbara Richards) on the slab for Dr. DeMarco's experiments.
But before DeMarco can begin, all hell breaks loose with everybody attacking everybody (a la Tarantino). The spies arrive and attack DeMarco, but then the CIA arrives and attack the spies, but then the Astro-Zombies (yes, that's a plural) get in on the attacking.... even Janine shows up and gets attacked. Pretty much everyone dies except "the good guys".
The Astro-Zombies would be a great campy cult classic if it were not for long stretches of filler and long-winded exposition. But, with kick-ass zombie masks, copious Tura Satana cleavage, and loads of unintentional humor, this is still well worth a watch.
Shot on a budget of $37,000 (of which $3,000 of that went to pay John Carradine's salary) in a matter of six days, I'd say this isn't a bad effort. Good job, Trapper John.
Ghoulies IV (1994)
A sexy woman, Alexandra (Stacie Randall) arrives from god-knows-where into a Raiders of the Lost Ark style warehouse. Is she searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant? Nope. It's some dumb artifact that unleashes the Ghoulies...
Oh dear, God. These guys are ridiculous. They're supposed to be comedic, but they're just cringeworthy. And they're not even Ghoulies, they're trolls. If you've seen the other Ghoulies films, you'll know what I mean.
Ghoulies IV is ranked in the all time bottom 20 on IMDb, so I had to see what made it so awful. With a smoking hot alien like Alexandria, I just can't fathom how it could rank so low... but with creatures like these showing up, I'm already beginning to understand.
Hardboiled police detective, Jonathan Graves (Peter Liapis) has a new partner (it seems he was too hard to handle for his previous partner, Mancuso) - and it's a woman. Look out!
To make things worse (and even more typical), they used to be lovers. Will Kate (Barbara Alyn Woods) be able to keep up with this wannabe Dirty Harry? I don't know, but it's reminding me of Silk Stalkings right now.
Back to Alexandra, She has used Chinese throwing stars, all manner of weaponry, and martial arts to dispatch a bunch of hapless guards. She makes contact with her leader: Faust...
Before there was Ronan The Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy) there was Faust. He looks like he just had a shower and is wearing a terrycloth robe. His command to Alexandra: retrieve the Amulet.
Kate and Graves head to the warehouse (from the start of the film), where a valuable item has been stolen. Unfortunately, we have to listen to another round of witless banter and groan-inducing insults between these two ex-partners.
Oh, and by the way, Graves is wearing the amulet.
Graves stops by a convenience store to use a phone. Yep - cell phones didn't become commonplace for a number of years. And take note of that "Meet Sali" advertisement. Anyone know what booze that's promoting?
The idiotic trolls take off with Graves' car. During a gun battle in the convenience store, we get a good look at the 1995 Pringles flavors. Ah... back in the days when products like Oreos and Pringles didn't have a zillion flavors.
Graves has a long day, so he decides to get drunk and crash at his hooker girlfriend's (Raquel Krelle) place. While he lays there in a gross, sweaty drunken blackout, Jeanine removes the Amulet from his neck and takes it for herself.
Meanwhile, there's some goofy weirdo unleashing the Ghoulies - not trolls this time, it's the genuine article. Yes, thirty minutes into the film, we finally have Ghoulies.
But, if I'm not mistaken, this is a clip from Ghoulies III. It would seem to have no bearing or relationship to this film whatsoever. Go figure.
The curator of the museum associated with the warehouse is explaining to someone on her cool car phone that she spotted the Amulet (on Graves when he was at the crime scene). But she's shortly vanquished when her car spirals unexplainably out of control into a power station and explodes.
The trolls have rescued a whore from the clutches of a mugger. For their good deed, she offers to reward them. (wink, wink) Truly stomach churning. Did I mention the trolls sound like two jive-talkin' black guys from the 70s?
Graves heads to the warehouse and finds Mancuso (remember, his partner?) prisoner as well as Alexandra - whom he recognizes as an ex-girlfiend. Count 'em - three ex-girlfriends are the central characters in this film: Kate, Jeanine, and Alexandra. The movie should be called Ghoulies IV: The Return of Jonathan's Exes. An epic battle ensues.
Well, maybe not epic. More like a weak, half-assed, poorly choreographed fist fight between Graves and a possessed Mancuso.
At Grave's house, the trolls have come looking for the jewel/amulet. They're making themselves at home, drinking beer, eating fried chicken, and looking at porn. Isn't that hilarious?
The trolls split and Grave's comes home for some bed rest (he was injured in the Graves v. Mancuso battle). There's an awkward confrontation between the two ladies in his life: Jeanine the prostitute and Kate the cop.
Jeanine is back to hitting the streets while Kate takes care of bedridden Graves. Look out behind you, Jeanine!
Faust has commanded Alexandra to bring a female sacrifice to the altar. He is fading into the abyss, and needs a sacrifice to bridge the two worlds.
Huh? I don't get it either. Just roll with it.
In the backyard of an insane asylum, Alexandra and Faust are sacrificing Jeanine. Before it can take place, however, Graves arrives. But how did he know to come here, you ask? Let me explain...
Alexandra is, as mentioned, Jonathan's ex-girlfriend. They had kinky sex and were into satanism; she eventually sold her soul to the darkside and had to be committed.
So, that's how he knew to come to the nut house.
Anyway, Jonathan falls under the spell and is about to kill Jeanine when Kate arrives brandishing a weapon.
Kate: "Step away from her, Jonathan.'
Jonathan: "Jonathan lives in hell!!"
Kate: "Big revelation. This is L.A. Who doesn't?"
This is the level of dialog where talkin' about here, folks.
Kate saves the day by throwing the amulet thingy (which the trolls brought) and sends them back to... hell? another dimension?... whatever. Hey, look - there's Mancuso!
Mancuso and Jeanine fall in love, and Graves and Kate are back together. It's a happy happy ending... except for the fact that the trolls are still around (ugh).
So, let's take stock: there are literally no Ghoulies in this film (I'm not counting the Ghoulies III footage), and there is zero nudity. There's no gore, no scares, and no humor even worthy of a smirk. Yet, it's so bad, I couldn't look away. It's like an episode of Silk Stalkings, but with the Prince of Darkness as the bad guy. That's not so bad, is it? Certainly not worthy of being in IMDb's bottom twenty.
Five crazy kids take a boat (really an inflatable raft with a motor) out from Miami beach to party in the ocean. But their good times are ruined when a major-league storm nearly drowns them all. Luckily (or will be unluckily?) they happen upon a deserted ship... and inside is a laboratory.
They explore the place, and there's not a single soul aboard the ship. They also notice that one of the biological specimens in the laboratory may have gotten loose - a hole is cracked through the glass aquarium. This could spell trouble.
The gang discovers the lounge area below deck, and it is outta sight. They naturally assume this must have been a drug dealer's yacht, and the laboratory is a drug lab. Seems like a logical hypothesis to me.
Get a load of what these gals are wearing! I should mention this is an Italian film. (And the dubbing is atrocious.)
So, let's take stock of our five groovy youths, who will almost assuredly get to dying very soon. From left to right:
- Julie (Ann Wolf), the stuck-up hottie.
- Her sister, Dorothy (Laura di Palma), miss party girl.
- Bobby (Michael Bon), ultra annoying horny jokester
- Mike (Clay Rogers), the nerdy guy
- His girlfriend, Magareth (Sharon Twomey), the goody-goody
None of them, besides Sharon, has acted before or since this film.
Bobby tells a highly inappropriate joke. If this was a reality show, he would have walked the plank long ago.
Julie and Dorothy think he's hysterical. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are hammered.
Dorothy is being put to bed. She got sick and was vomiting giant wads of eggy mucous mixed with squirming bugs. I say this with no exaggeration - this was easily one of the grosses movie scenes I've ever had the displeasure to witness.
Mike and Margareth return to the laboratory where they make some interesting discoveries. The researchers must have found a fish thought to be extinct.
Okay, that's not really an interesting discovery. They find new species of fish all the time. Just go with it.
One of the fish jumps from its tank and tries to rip Margareth's throat out. Mike and Bobby commence destroying the lab, ridding the world of these monstrous, hateful fish.
Julie comes to Bobby's room to have sex.... and what a room it is. Do you see the statue with the giant glowing dick? And the polar bear? WTF?
They commence to sex, but the pleasure is short lived, Bobby's eyeball pops out and falls into Julie's mouth. He then grows tentacles and monster-fish emerges from his mouth, all the while still humping away. Words cannot do it justice - it has to be seen.
But when Mike and Margareth storm into the room, they find only an unconscious Julie.... and, of course, the gnome with the giant glowing penis.
Mike decides it's time to evacuate the ship (ya think?). When he attempts to revive Dorothy, a giant monster fish bursts out of the back of her head and attacks him. Mike survives; Dorothy, not so much.
I'll just pause and say the practical effects, while over-the-top, are pretty amazing. If you've seen Peter Jackson's stuff before TLOTR, then you have an idea of what I'm talking about.
In the climactic scene, a lot of insane stuff goes down; too much to explain. Suffice it to say, there's a walking fish monster, lots of explosions, a harpoon to the forehead, and only one person survives. I won't tell you who.
Plankton is a stupid movie. It's a poorly acted movie. It makes almost no sense. But it totally delivers the goods. Once the action hits, it's relentless. The campy, out-of-control fish monster attacks are batshit crazy, and make this a ton o' fun. I'll admit I had low expectations going in, and was pleasantly surprised. Gilligan recommends.