MONSTER MONTH: Giant Bugs and Horny Beasties

As the cold weather begins to dissipate and the flowers start to bloom, I’m digging up monster movies for the month of April. What I love about monster flicks is there’s a lot of them and with a wide variety of breeds: werewolves, vampires, mutants, subterranean beings, underwater creatures, and slew of others.

2006’s FEAST is a spirited, low budget splatter romp in the vein of From Dusk till Dawn, and like that 1996 classic, Feast features a group of larger-than-life personalities stuck inside a desert bar surrounded by creatures. Instead of vampires, predatory monsters of some kind quickly descend upon the bar, bringing a reign of gory terror and even releasing their young inside the building to cause further havoc.

Shot in a frenzied, fast-paced manner, Feast has a great cast – Henry Rollins, Krista Allen, Judah Friedlander, Clu Gulager – and some terrific moments, including several involving the baby monsters. It’s just a shame that when it ended I was expecting something…better. The harried camera work is fine, but director John Gulager (Clu’s son), doesn’t exactly have an eye for clarity; a lot of the action is lost on the viewer, who’s most likely trying to figure out what is going on. But, the strength of the movie’s vitality is its cast and they give it their all, especially Friedlander, who spends most of the runtime soaked in monster puke and maggots.

Coming off the lackluster reception of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, horror auteur John Carpenter returned to his chiller roots with 1995’s crackerjack IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, a visually rich horror-fantasy that would make H.P. Lovecraft proud. Sam Neil stars as P.I. John Trent, who’s hired by a big-time publishing company to locate their most precious asset, Sutter Cane, a Stephen King-like horror writer whose novels sell millions and, as of recently, have been having a negative effect on his legions of fans. Trent, along with Cane’s editor, Linda (Julie Carmen), find Cane (J├╝rgen Prochnow) hiding out in a Byzantine church in Hobb’s End, a dying town where time doesn’t seem to flow in any logical sense, and where the locals are slowly turning into otherworldly creatures.

Trent eventually realizes he’s entered into another dimension, one where Cane’s writing seemingly comes to gruesome life. This doesn’t bode well when Cane’s newest book is released and opens the supernatural floodgates to the entire reading world. Things get even worse when a film adaptation goes into production…

A splendidly energetic film from beginning to end, Madness is Carpenter in top form. Using his expertise with widescreen framing and knowledge of handling complex monsters, Carpenter doesn’t pretend Madness is The Thing by moving the creatures to the front of the line, but wisely places them in the background, where they cast a more effective shadow. Neil is wonderfully cast as the doubting Thomas, and Prochnow is his usually sinister self while Carmen gives good Julia Sugarbaker vibes. Easily Carpenter’s best film after Big Trouble in Little China.

The low-budget but highly inventive TICKS feels just as fresh and fun as it did when it was released in 1993. A weekend retreat into the woods for a group of troubled inner city youths goes haywire when they’re attacked by large ticks, mutated from a liquid concoction made by a hippie pot farmer (Clint Howard). It isn’t long until the teens and their harried camp counselors (Rosalind Allen and Peter Scolari) are up to their eyeballs in aggressive tick attacks while also dealing with a couple of dangerous backwoods rednecks (Michael Medeiros and Barry Lynch) and a forest fire!

A good cast (which also includes Seth Green, Alfonso Ribeiro, and Ami Dolenz) gives it their all, and writer Brent V. Friedman smartly injects the screenplay with both comedy and self-referential humor, poking fun at itself and the overall horror genre. The mechanical visual effects by K.N.B. EFX are terrific and rival those found in many bigger budgeted movies of the era. If you’re a fan of practical FX monster flicks then Ticks is for you.

In the Mouth of Madness and Ticks: B+ Feast: C+

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