Posted in: Review

When Horror Goes Bonkers

Horror is a genre where you see a lot of the same things time and again. Sometimes, this is because it follows trends. For example, a ton of slasher movies followed in the wake of Friday the 13th‘s success, The Ring briefly made Asian-inspired freak-horror popular, and Saw started a trend of torture-themed shockers. There are also certain images that have become staples of cinematic horror: masked killers, ghostly apparitions, hideous monsters, etc. These things go in and out of fashion. The big fright flick in 1979 was the haunted house thriller The Amityville Horror; in 2013, it’s the haunted house thriller The Conjuring. Even those of us who love horror have to admit that the genre can sometimes feel more stale than Halloween: Resurrection. And don’t get me started about zombie movies.

Every once in a while, though, a film breaks out of the norm. Some director or producer will decide to try something no one has ever seen before. This often entails taking a huge risk by embracing unusual subject matter or an off-the-wall concept rather than falling back on the traditional stuff. Bravery is essential; stepping outside of the box can potentially lead to rejection from the notoriously opinionated horror audience. The payoff, however, can be astronomical. If an offbeat concept hits the mark, it can lead to box office riches and an equally important horror currency: respect.  When everything clicks, it is a really entertaining sight to see horror go bonkers.

Some outlandish horror movies intentionally border on comedy, turning unexpected things into instruments of death. We’ve already seen murderous prophylactics (Killer Condom), psychotic drug paraphernalia (Evil Bong), and vengeful Thanksgiving dinners (Thankskilling). Other times, the story concept itself is bonkers. The 1980 chiller Blood Beach (my personal favorite as a child) is about a creature living under the sand that likes to suck young beach bunnies into its jaws. Frankenhooker, proclaimed the best film of 1990 by none other than Bill Murray, envisions a dismembered woman being stitched back together using the body parts of murdered prostitutes, and then going on a trick-turning rampage. And who could forget the The Human Centipede, in which a mad scientist sews together three innocent victims so that they share one digestive tract? Concepts like these, regardless of execution, are enticing, as they create a you-gotta-see-it-to-believe-it vibe. Before these movies existed, there had been nothing else like them.

Obviously, the quality level of bonkers horror movies will vary greatly. Plenty of them are just bad ideas, while others are crazy enough to work. Either way, there is something admirable about them. They don’t rest on their laurels. Like Jason Voorhees lumbering after a nubile young camp counselor, they doggedly attempt to introduce a creative element. Given that so many fright flicks traffic in the same old same-old, this is a highly respectable trait.

So let’s say you want to enjoy some supremely crazy horror. Where to start? Here are a few quality horror movies that are delightfully bonkers for you to check out. All are readily available on DVD.

Black SheepThis New Zealand production is about a young man with a debilitating fear of sheep. He returns to his family farm, only to discover that his brother is raising genetically modified versions of the animals. The experiment goes horribly wrong, turning the beasts into bloodthirsty killers. Anyone unlucky enough to get bitten by one turns into a human/sheep hybrid. Black Sheep is definitely a tongue-in-cheek movie packed with self-aware jokes, yet it’s also bloody and gory and wonderfully disgusting. Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop did the special effects, so the menacing sheep look surprisingly convincing. The film may make you think twice the next time you contemplate wearing a wool sweater.

Jug Face – Set in a backwoods burg so remote it makes the Ozarks look like a metropolis, Jug Face is the story of hillbillies who worship a giant pit in the ground. When the pit gets hungry for blood, it provides a local potter with a vision of the person it wants sacrificed. The potter reveals the intended victim’s identity to the community by making a jug resembling his or her face. A young woman named Ada, who has become pregnant to her own brother, is chosen by the pit, but decides to try avoiding her fate by hiding her jug, which leads to a string of unpleasant complications. Writer/director Chad Crawford Kinkle carefully builds a mythology in his story, then uses it to generate a series of eerie, unsettling sequences of dread. You wouldn’t think clay jugs could be so ominous, but they are.

Q: The Winged Serpent – An enormous flying lizard called Quetzalcoatl is living in the peak of New York City’s Chrysler Building. Every so often, it takes to the skies to pluck a hapless person off a rooftop to munch on. The cops are confounded, but there is one man who knows where the beast hides: a small-time criminal (played by Michael Moriarty) who accidentally stumbles upon its nest. The serpent attacks in Q are admittedly cheesy with their low-budget “special” effects, but it hardly matters because Moriarty gives a brilliant, fully-committed performance. All twitchy energy, he uses his knowledge to extort the cops, while also leading anyone who crosses him into the beast’s path. You’ll buy into Quetzalcoatl because he does.

House – Nobuhiko Obayoshi’s 1977 cult favorite is the mother of all bonkers horror movies. It’s the story of a bunch of teenage girls who spend some time in a haunted house, only to have the home systematically pick them off. One of the young ladies is eaten by a piano, while another is attacked by a bunch of mattresses. The story is crazy, but the visuals are even crazier. Obayoshi uses every old-school optical effect and in-camera trick in the book (sometimes simultaneously) to create a hypnotically loopy fever dream of a movie. When it’s over, you think, “What on earth did I just watch, and when can I watch it again?”

These films, and others like them, deliver fresh, original ideas carried out in creative ways. They cannot be compared to anything else. There’s nothing wrong with horror movies that peddle the old standbys, so long as they’re done well. Sometimes, though, you may find yourself in the mood for a scary movie that’s out of the ordinary. When you do, go bonkers.

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