Characteristics, monster movies, or whatever you want to call them, are old defining staples of the horror genre that were just as loved in the 50s as they are today. Many of the movie’s most memorable villains are creatures; therefore, many of history’s greatest horror films can be considered “creature features.”
There is no limit to what a killer creature in horror can be, and filmmakers are always finding fun, inventive ways to villainize animals and objects.
There are the obvious movie monsters, such as vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies. There are the most common creatures such as vicious sharks, deadly crocodiles and even deadly insects. Then there’s the laundry list of classic, less menacing creatures that still leave a carnage in B horror history, such as snails, cockroaches, and bats.
While monster movies have been hot ticket items since the early days of the movie, genre aficionados aren’t tired of wreaking havoc on screen aliens, rodents, mutants, and the like. The 80s proved to be a significant decade in the resurgence of creature feature, as the monster madness of the 50s met camp, practical effects, and high blood levels. 1980s filmmakers tried to revive the 1950s movie magic in a new way; often while shamelessly trying to recreate more recent blockbuster hits like Jaws and Alien, leading to a plethora of funny creature traits ranging from surprisingly awesome to pleasing nonsense.
You would say the 80s brought some of the best monster movies in horror history, namely The Thing, An American Werewolf in London or The Evil Dead. They also brought with them a long list of less appreciated endeavors, some of which gained cult following, while others fell completely through the loopholes. We look at the latter in this list of characteristics of sleeping creatures.
Short content: Man-eating slugs are terrorizing a Midwestern town.
Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon blessed exploitation aficionados with 1982 slasher cult classic Pieces – a particularly crude, obscure slice ‘n’ dice film that would develop a devout following for its gruesome murders, nonsensical story, hilariously bad acting, and generic gory slasher goodness.
Years later, JP Simon followed much the same formula with Slugs. Along the lines of Pieces, Slugs features a story just passable enough to work, a cast of unremarkable characters, exaggerated acting and hilariously bad dubbing. Luckily, like Pieces, Slugs also features violent murders, an abundance of blood, and a pleasantly annoying tone.
While in the 80s many horror / mini monster movies featuring creatures in the crazy camp grounds started to wander, Slugs keeps his terror brutal and crude. The concept may sound like a silly setup for light kid horror – Killer snails terrorizing a Midwestern town – but what follows is anything but kid-friendly (and shockingly disgusting, for that matter!)
In one remarkable scene, a slug crawls into a gardener’s glove. Slapping his hand on a table to take off the glove, he trips over chemicals and overturns a shelf, which falls on top of him. He resorts to sawing off his hand. His wife enters the greenhouse and sees her husband lying on the floor, missing a hand, in a pool of blood. Shocked, she knocks over a lamp, causing the entire greenhouse and their house to burn up.
This level of Simon’s ruthlessness is not specific to that one scene; In fact, the movie as a whole is surprisingly bloodthirsty. It’s fun, inappropriate, and unbelievably bloody. Don’t write this off as a mediocre, mostly stupid creature. It’s silly, and not far from cinematically bad, but it’s a crowd pleaser for gorehounds and too riddled with murders to be boring for even a moment.
Humanoids From The Deep (1980)
Short content: Residents of a small coastal town, led by a fisherman and scientist, fight back against half-human creatures from the sea who attack women.
A scruffy tribute to 50s monster movies, Humanoids From The Deep follows Roger Corman’s blueprint he laid in his earlier years, but wedges into the graphic carnage and vulgarity horror aficionados would expect as the 80s progressed.
Humanoids From The Deep can control a lot of horror fan boxes: weird calamity hitting a coastal town, splashy fun, copious murders, lots of nudity, and murderous fish creatures trying to mate with human women. The latter is a bonus.
The story is kept simple, as befits an outing with a deadly creature, and the crew of “fishin ‘town” characters are fun to follow. Humanoids From The Deep is far from the best in Corman, but it’s a terrifying pleasure in terms of creature characteristics, and pleasantly creepier than the norm. Water horror fans will be in their element with the film. Weird lovers will too. Those who crave blood will not be disappointed either. There’s something for every horror fan in Humanoids From The Deep, including accidental comedy and fantastic effects.
The Nest (1988)
Short content: Carnivorous cockroaches overtake a small island. A scientist, an exterminator and the daughter of the island’s mayor team up to stop them.
It’s important to note that The Nest is nothing to write home about – unless whoever is in your house absolutely loves cockroaches that are too big. What starts off slow eventually builds up to real nausea, and staying with The Nest for your own sake won’t let you down.
The first act of the film drags on as we wait for The Nest’s fanciful characters to find out exactly what is happening. Tip: carnivorous cockroaches take over a small island. Once the mystery is out of the way, however, the coarseness is driven up to high voltage. Things get into high gear around Act 3, and The Nest becomes a captivatingly dirty little track with gruesome action, beautifully revolting hands-on effects on display, and a memorable conclusion.
Why The Nest stands out so impressively to me is simply this: what very well should be a dumb bug movie is a shockingly effective and crisp low-budget guy vs. natural horror. Like Slugs, as described above, The Nest stuffs vicious butchery and heavy amounts of blood into a standard monster movie vehicle, making for a delightfully disgusting watch. If you’re more scared of ‘gross’ than ‘creepy’, you might find some anxiety here too.
The Terror Within (1989)
Short content: After an apocalyptic chemical warfare fails, 99% of the world’s population is wiped out. Those above ground who survived the experiment have mutated into hideous gargoyles. A team of scientists beneath the Earth’s surface must fight for their lives and find a solution.
At first glance, The Terror Within is an entertainingly wicked Alien rip-off. Below the surface, it’s still an amusingly bad Alien rip off, but that’s enough for some of us.
This post-apocalyptic, alien brutal gorefest follows a team of scientists in an underground laboratory tasked with fighting for their lives against large humanoid creatures known as gargoyles. As cheesy as these gargoyles may seem, they have a menacing quality that works, and the rubber suits aren’t half bad for a shlocky B movie.
Acting ranges from gruesome to pretty bad, although you have to appreciate a George Kennedy role, and the script isn’t more impressive. There is not much atmosphere to notice. The Terror Within could certainly benefit from something palpable in the mood that sets it apart from the laundry list of alien knock-offs littered in the 80s and early 90s, but where the mood is lacking, a low-grade creature trait springs into action to bring the day. We’ll put these under “bad but thoroughly enjoyable,” with an abundance of gore and fun monsters carrying the show.
The Stuff (1985)
Short content: A tasty blob seeping from the earth is being marketed as the latest sensation in desserts, but it turns consumers into zombies who will do anything to get more of this blob.
Larry Cohen’s The Stuff should really no longer fall under the “sleeper” umbrella, as it has built quite a following in recent years thanks to the ‘net. Fans of horror comedy, monster movies, and general ’80s treats have found something to love, and this title seems to be mentioned more than ever. Still, a look at the characteristics of 1980s creatures wouldn’t be complete without it.
Part satire, part silly eco-terror, all Grade B shlockfest, The Stuff takes an idiot premise as “killer yogurt” and runs off with it, haphazardly in heavy shtick. Comedy outweighs horror, and how can it not be when your villain is a goopy substance? The acting is atrocious in places, the editing slows down the flow a bit, and any kind of astute social message is muffled by sheer bizarreness. To that I say: great! The Stuff is pure cheese and prefers the compelling ridiculous to real horror. It may not have a real scare or a thrilling dread pervading all over the place, but The Stuff offers enough gruesome bits (aided by excellent effects) to keep any horror dog busy.
Between hilarious dialogues, wacky murders, and non-stop insanity, anyone looking for crazy monster action can’t go wrong with The Stuff. Cohen has made better horror (see: It’s Alive,) but this movie is a real quirk that holds great value in its willful silliness.
Short content: A baby alligator is flushed down the toilet in Chicago. After feeding on sewer rats injected with growth hormones, the reptile grows enormously, breaks out of the sewers and rages against the city of Chicago.
Take your Blockbuster water monster masterpiece and go elsewhere, Steven Spielberg, Lewis Teague’s Alligator will swim out of the sewers.
In fact, I go so far as to argue that Alligator has at least a watered-down version of everything that makes Jaws or Joe Dante’s Piranha great: a bloodthirsty villain who draws a LOT of blood, characters attentive enough to keep our attention, and a really witty script full of funny rules. It’s not Jaws of course, and it’s not Piranha, for my taste, but Alligator is about as good as big crocodile variety movies.
Thanks to the excellent script by John Sayles (who also wrote Piranha), this bargain basement, sewer monster kill show is smarter than it should be. Our heroes David (Robert Forster) and Marisa (Robin Riker) are captivating characters for this kind of thing, and the two have a funny chemistry. Acting across the board in Alligator is surprisingly good. The movie only falters in its dated effects and somewhat hilarious miniatures, but for cheese aficionados, such shortcomings are an advantage.
If you haven’t seen the city of Chicago terrorized by a toilet crocodile, Alligator may be your only chance to do that (until things really hit the fan.)
The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Short content: Aliens arrive on a meteor and terrorize a small town, forcing four horror-loving teens to escape.
As campy as camp can get, The Deadly Spawn comes across as a group of inspired teenagers with minimal resources who have decided to put together a sci-fi monster movie. And that is not very far away.
Made on a shoestring budget of $ 25,000, The Deadly Spawn pits a group of strangely intelligent (for ’80s horror) teenagers against a horde of monsters who crashed into Earth by means of a meteor. Said monsters are, in fact, creepy for a near-budget-less early 80s venture. While some filmmakers follow the path of bodysuits or miniatures, director Douglas McKeown and team prefer the puppeteer, and with success. The “creatures” or wormlike things of the Deadly Spawn look terribly good.
The plot doesn’t leave much to think about, although it is handled well, and there is enough neatly designed blood to sustain viewers. As mentioned, the teenagers of the movie are smart and adept, as horror fans themselves, which makes The Deadly Spawn one of the earlier “meta-horrors”. Of course, an ’83 sci-fi horror mess should never get that rightful credit, but let me know!
The term ‘gem’ is disgustingly used in entertainment writing today, although it applies here. The Deadly Spawn is a bloody little treasure with cool creatures and a great cast. It won’t surprise anyone, but it’s a hoot.
Short content: A killer boar attacks and kills several people in the Australian outback, including a journalist. Her husband vows to investigate.
Beautiful cinematography is not normally a factor in exploitation films, nor is it often seen in horror B movies, but picturesque shots are very much present in Russel Mulcahy’s Australian creature film Razorback. The Australian outback offers a beautiful, truly isolated environment. Let me tell you, this is a huge nightmarish and fascinatingly atmospheric for a movie about a deadly pig.
While most of the movies of the sub-genre, including the ones I’ve written about, don’t pay much attention to building tension or creating a tense feeling, Mulcahy takes a slow approach that gets you stuck. Razorback is creepy all over, which is more than what can be said for almost any comparable movie, and damn fun just when and where it’s supposed to be.
Beautiful views, gross hillbillies, a hilarious deadly boar and strong performances combine to provide entertainment in this glorious, gore, sun-drenched ride.
The Brain (1988)
Short content: A psychologist / self-help guru uses an alien organism to brainwash people through their televisions.
As my grandfather used to say, “You can’t go wrong with an ambitious’ 80s sci-fi horror about a brain that eats people, bitch.” I don’t know why he called me a bitch.
One of the great facts about Ed Hunt’s The Brain is that based on the plot alone, you can measure whether it’s for you or not. If you like the idea of a psychologist storing a deadly brain in a mind control institution, then you will spend the time with this favorably.
An imaginative creature feature that ticks all the necessary boxes, The Brain is everything a dumb low-budget horror movie should be, with added weirdness and a powerful surreality. You won’t be hiding under the covers on this trip, but you’ll be laughing quite a bit and probably recommending it to other ’80s cheese lovers.
After watching The Brain once, you’ll never look at angry brains in gelatinous blob the same way again. You will also have a little less faith in self-help gurus, which is correct.
Short content: A group of deep-sea miners take on a mutated creature that was the result of a genetic experiment that went horribly wrong.
Leviathan clearly borrows from The Thing and Alien, so it can’t be amazingly original by any means, but it’s a fun underwater monster mania anyway. With what could be considered the all-star line-up of standout B-movie actors, Leviathan has a fun cast, hackneyed but entertaining premise, great creature effects and moments of exceptional physical horror. In fact, all of the monsters are pretty impressive until the last one shows up, which temper things a bit. Either way, there’s joy to be had between grotesque effects and fine performances, and the aura of deep-sea doom is powerful enough to make a viewer feel something.
Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Richard Crenna and Ernie Hudson are all great in their roles, and Daniel Stern is always great to watch. The acting might be better than the movie itself, and that’s a rare feat for the 80s creature feature. Where most actors in these kinds of movies feel out of place or have no idea, put the cast of Leviathan on this expo. That may not match the topic at hand, but it’s all fun. If you’ve ever been curious about how The Thing would play out underwater, you might be looking for Leviathan.