Creature Features

By Lana Alattera

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Now that I’m getting older I’ve noticed that every year I celebrate my holidays in a routine with the one I love, gluttonous eating and distracting myself watching movies. I’ve always been fanatical for exploitation, B movies and horror films, that started back when I was a youth watching Bob Wilkins’ Creature Features in the 70s and 80s (Oakland Channel 2) and Night Flight. Though Bob Wilkins was hardly a Ghoulardi, it was the only show you could see obscure, unusual films of horror and suspense. Though some of those teen, latch key kid afternoon and made for TV movies were pretty scary like Trilogy of Terror, Bad Ronald, Burnt Offerings, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Salem’s Lot and Monster Club. The last 10 years in film making seems to lack original ideas, especially with horror, so Hollywood has been paying homage to the old greats with remakes of films like Wickerman, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn of the Dead, Stepford Wives, Departed, Oceans 11, The Producers, Hairspray, etc. I don’t go to cinemas much anymore because there really hasn’t been any movies worth succumbing to the tortures of the public theatre for and I prefer the old versions of the films myself. I also can’t stand the extremely loud and unnecessary Surround -Sound that penetrates the ears and body, possibly inducing cardiac arrest or eardrum damage, making it counterproductive to the enjoyment of the film itself. For me, the film experience should be more intimate and personal, without the shouting commentary from the crowd. The reactions of the general public tend to be off from my own perception, where they laugh or gasp at wrong moments or moments I do the opposite. So I generally go to smaller theaters or art houses here in San Francisco, like the Lumiere, 4 Star, Balboa, Roxie, Red Vic and Clay theatres.

In the last 12 months, the only films I found worth the uncomfortable experience of the theatre to witness on a large screen are Pan’s Labyrinth and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. As well as the upcoming releases, the British film Control, about Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Original members of the band claimed it was spot on. Also, the greatly anticipated finale to the trilogy by the grandmaster of horror and suspense; film maker Dario Argento; The Mother of Tears. This trilogy, written by both director Dario and Daria Nicolodi, is largely Daria’s creation, taking inspiration from her own life and Thomas De Quincey’s Suspiria De Profundis. The films are about three women who form a trilogy of witches: Mater (mother) Suspiriorum, Mater Tenebrarum and Mater Lachrymarum. Together they are Our Ladies of Sorrows. The first film Suspiria, the second Inferno, the last, Mother of Tears, is set in Rome and focuses on the awakening of Mater Lachrymarum. 

With the remakes and sentimental attitudes of Hollywood there seems to be a trend of chronicling the best films in these genres. So I’ve decided to make a list of my own top favorite recommended films for the holidays. Though these films aren’t your traditional holiday movies, they’re more for those who like me, appreciate black humor. If you own a copy of the Psychotronic Guide to Film or Something Weird Video catalogues, chances are you’ll recognize these bizarre cult classics. I’ve consulted Lisa Petrucci, film archivist and co owner of Something Weird Video to add her own list too. I had also interviewed Lisa about Something Weird Video, which should be printed in the next issue of the Herald.

This enormous list is just some of my top films for the holidays but remember, these are not recommended for children unless you can afford the therapy bills. I’d say over 18 only. So my list is pretty themed on campy theology, questionable families and holiday eating.

Exorcist (great for theological debate)

Rosemary’s Baby (alternate version to the birth of Christ)

Coffin Joe goes to Hell (another theological thriller in Technicolor!)

Bubba HoTep (you’ll learn to appreciate grandpa even in his senility. Great if you’re an Elvis and Bruce Campbell fan!)

Last House on the Left (a great film about family closeness)

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (corpses aren’t toys, OK? You won’t be getting a zombie for Christmas no matter how popular they are)

Die Die My Darling (what can happen if you’re too enthusiastic with the Bible lessons)

Village of the Damned (can you really not afford to get Johnny that present he asked for?)

Gruesome Twosome (another family bonding gem)

Carnival of Souls (a love story for the hopeless romantic and proof you don’t choose your family)

Lisa and the Devil (options if you don’t have family for the holidays)

Cannibal Holocaust (you’ll be grateful for whatever’s on the table this year!)

The Blob (for Flan enthusiasts)

Jan Svenkmajer’s Food (over eating nightmares pale)

Pumpkinhead (pumpkin pie will never be the same)

In the Realm of the Senses (escapist appetites sometimes require more than food)

Spider Baby (family fun and togetherness plus creative dining)

Christmas Evil (Christmas, evil? Wait till you get that credit card bill)

The Last Supper (come on, was your Christmas dinner with ‘family’ really that bad? ‘Cause it could be worse)

Passion of the Christ (what’s more appropriate? And you thought this was an Easter film)

Evil Come Evil Go (watch out for Christian hippies)

Christian Scare Films of the 50s (why watch mere entertainment when you can learn something in the process?)

John Waters XXXmas (the man with extraordinary taste has laid it all out for you)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Santa is a super hero too)

Hellraiser 1 & 2 (if you weren’t Christian before the holiday, watch these, you’ll most likely convert. Good films if you can’t make it to Bondage a Go Go!)

Bride of Chucky (a tale of toys, love and lessons learned, what’s more holiday than that?)

The Hellfire Club (a whole other kind of celebration)

The 9th Gate (a really fun puzzler, beats scrabble and bridge with family)

Silent Night Deadly Night (Is it too quiet? Or is it just me? That’s not a mouse!)

Succubus- with William Shatner (romantic religious comedy in Esperanto)

Freaks (you’ll never complain about your difficult family again)

Night of the Hunter (great movie to watch with step parents)

The Bad Seed (again, can you really afford not to get Johnny or Suzie that gift for Christmas?)

Parents (family feasts on a budget, think twice about that turkey or ham, vegetarian anyone?)

The Wickerman (learn about alternative holidays)

Silent Night Bloody Night (Don’t make ‘Santa’ angry!)

Mark of the Devil (tender film about the enduring relationship between Catholicism and women)

Devil’s rejects (being bad won’t just get you coal in your stocking)

Left Behind (be good this Christmas or this could happen to you!)

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (classic and fun, unless you’ve ever been tormented about your appearance in youth, otherwise it could trigger some buried resentment)

Gordon K Murray’s Santa’s Fantasy Fair (Don’t drink too much before this film)

Care Bear’s Nutcracker Suite (again, cool it on the anti depressants and alcohol before watching this one unless you want to risk a psychotic break)

Black Christmas 1974 (alternative to your average Christmas gathering)

Dellamorte Dellamore (good for those without family, if you think you feel lonely...)

A Christmas Story (the sentimental irony of Christmas. “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”)

Miracle on 34th Street (about mental illness and Christmas. Is he a Schizophrenic Pedophile? The Real Santa? Or both? )

It’s a Wonderful Life (I haven’t been able to watch it since I saw Exorcist 3)

And for New Year’s Eve -Rudolph’s Shiny New Year!

Penny Serenade (for music lovers, pun intended)

Honeymoon Killers (if you’re considering getting hitched on New Year’s)

200 Cigarettes (longest New Year’s Eve ever)

New Year’s Evil (does having a crappy Eve mean you’ll have a good year following or a bad one?)

Lisa had these recommendations; “Something Weird video recently put together a two hour volume of campy holiday-themed shorts that includes: A Christmas Story, A Present for Santa Claus, Max Fleischer's Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Night Before Christmas, A Visit to Santa, Santa and the Snow Fairy, The Three Little Dwarves, Santa in Animal Land, The Spirit of Christmas (re-enacted by marionettes), Christmas Rhapsody, and trailers for the films: Santa Claus, The Snow Queen, and Santa's Christmas Circus.” Some of Lisa’s pick for holiday viewing, which is very similar to mine are (now out on dvd): Santa Claus (1959), Female Trouble (1974), Pee Wee Herman's Christmas Special (1988), Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), Santa Visits the Magicland of Mother Goose (1967), Santa's Christmas Circus (1966), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Don't Open Till Christmas (1984), Jack Frost (1997), The Gingerdead Man (2005), Elf (2003), and scariest of all; Jingle All the Way (1996) with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hopefully these movies will keep your mind off the year’s most costliest holidays.###

All contents © 2006 by Gene Mahoney