Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. So to celebrate the release of THE MUPPETS this week, I decided to dig up some extra special horror films about frogs, pigs, bears, geeks, and what’s a Muppet release without mention of Peter Jackson’s classic MEET THE FEEBLES? So let’s celebrate this Thanksgiving and the release of THE MUPPETS the AICN HORROR way, shall we?
(Click title to go directly to the feature)
LUTHER THE GEEK (1990)
MEET THE FEEBLES (1989)
And finally…Alice & The Muppets sing WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE!
FROGS (1972)Directed by George McCowan
Written by Robert Hutchison, Robert Blees, Starring Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark and Lynn Borden
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Horror films aren’t afraid to be redundant, especially when it came to the sixties and seventies when there was an inundation of nature gone wild films or films with the theme I like to call “Don’t fuck with Mother Nature!” In these films, usually some kind of pollution or intervention of man overturns the delicate applecart of nature and nature bites back. A veritable zoo of animals had films dedicated to this phenomenon, but you’re not likely to find one more outrageous than the 1972 film FROGS. In this film, nature is hoppin’ mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore!
Though this film has an abundance of the croaking amphibians, FROGS would have been more appropriately titled REPTILES, in that it’s all forms of reptile and amphibian that rise up and attack the island of a Southern aristocrat and his family. I believe the main reason for using all forms of cold-blooded creatures in this films is that frogs aren’t really that menacing and don’t really have a means to attack someone. One could argue that they do stage an aggressive assault on a wheelchair bound Ray Milland (DIAL M FOR MURDER, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES) in the film’s climax, but I attribute his passing to a heart attack rather than the hoppers’ direct involvement.
FROGS is an often redundant snoozer for most of the film because of the lack of ferocity of the title monsters. Scenes of frogs slowly descending on the giant mansion follow more scenes of hopping frogs. Occasionally, snakes, lizards, and alligators are injected to liven up the stew. But ultimately, scenes of animals swimming through water or walking through grass aren’t really that scary.
This film is worth checking out, though, for the performances. FROGS is extremely well acted, and though they are dealing with a ridiculous menace, Ray Milland adds a lot of class to this film and a young and beefcakey Sam Elliot serves as a better than typical macho leading man. The film plays on Elliot’s hunkitude by requiring multiple de-shirtings, reminiscent of the fetishistic bare-chestedness of the recent TWILIGHT films. Joan Van Ark and Lynn Borden add some more acting weight here in key supporting roles.
The aforementioned final sequence as the frogs break into the house Milland resides in is by far the highlight of the film. Fish eye lenses and forced camera angles amp up the uneasiness as the frogs break through the windows and climb all over Milland, who falls out of his wheelchair. This harrowing scene almost makes up for the tedious and laughable scenes prior of frogs hopping closer and closer to the house. Director Goerge McGowan seemed to have a lot of fun with the frog motif, tossing everything from frog paintings to frog statues all over the island. In the end, I had a lot of fun rediscovering FROGS. Though it takes patience to sit through some outrageous death scenes and an overly clunky message of animals rising up due to pollution of the swamp, the climax of FROGS proved to be worth the wait.
Newly re-released on DVD from Troma!
PIGS (1972)AKA DADDY’S DEADLY DARLING AKA DADDY’S LITTLE DARLING AKA DADDY’S GIRL
Directed by Marc Lawrence
Written by Marc Lawrence
Starring Toni Lawrence, Marc Lawrence, Jesse Vint, & Paul Hickey
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
Wow, this is one messed up movie. Oozing grindhouse, this exploitation/horror film is all kinds of wrong, which means in this column it’s all kinds of right. PIGS aka DADDY’S DEADLY DARLING mixes rape, murder, cannibalism, bad music, bad acting, and pigs all into one insane hodge podge of madness and bad taste.
And I loved every second of it.
The film stars and was written and directed by Marc Lawrence, whose film credits are FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, MARATHON MAN, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, and THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. Here he plays Zambrini, the owner of a diner and a pig farm which catches the eye of some snooping neighbors who question what Zambrini feeds his pigs to make them so big and aggressive. When a woman arrives at the diner out of the blue, it’s revealed that the suspicions of Zambrini’s neighbors were pretty spot on.
But before Zambrini is introduced, we are told the backstory of the woman, Lynn Hart (played by Lawrence’s real life daughter, Toni Lawrence). After killing her rapist father, Lynn is committed to the most poorly guarded insane asylum I’ve ever seen. Of course, Lynn escapes and makes her way to the Zambrini farm. So on top of the murderous butcher owning the diner, now an escaped man-killer is hired as a waitress there. When customers and the local sheriff start asking questions, both Zambrini and Lynn start offing folks in their own different ways, making the threat in this film double.
Though the plot is somewhat convoluted, PIGS turns out to be a pretty straightforward tale of revenge, madness, and secrets. Zambrini and Lynn are seemingly drawn to one another, respecting each other’s secrets and trying to cover for one another when outsiders pry too much. The tone of this film is dour to say the least, and like many grindhousers, there is an air of sleaze especially that this is a story about a father raping his daughter being played out by a real life actual father and daughter. It’s even creepier that Lynn is in ill fitting and scantily clad clothing for most of the film. The scene where Lynn dreams that Zambrini is attacking her with a straight razor is given another level of ookiness as well given the relationship between these two actors.
Though the production value and acting in this film leaves a lot to be desired, I have to give Lawrence credit for making PIGS an absolutely creepy vibe from start to finish. As with FROGS, Lawrence uses fish eye lenses and bizarre camera angles to cause a palpable sense of unease, claustrophobia, and paranoia. Even though this is less about PIGS and more about fucked up people, I’d recommend this freaky little number to any fan of twisted grindhouse theater. PIGS has been rereleased by Troma, who seems to be dusting off quite a few lost gross out gems. Though the gore is low in PIGS, the shear perversity at play makes up for it in spades. And the title song, "Somebody's Waiting For You" sampled in the trailer below, is horribly catchy and is sometimes scarier than the film itself.
GRIZZLY (1976)AKA CLAWS AKA KILLER GRIZZLY
Directed by William Girdler
Written by Harvey Flaxman, David Sheldon, & Andrew Prine
Starring Christopher George, Richard Jaeckel, & Andrew Prine
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
“If ya feel a wet snout in ya face, whatever you do, don't move. And don't kiss it back 'cause it ain't me.”
Guess the movie…a predator makes its way to a well populated area. A lawman tries to shut down said populated area, but the leaders of the community don’t want to lose money, giving the predator the perfect opportunity to sink its teeth into unsuspecting human prey. A trio of men set out to take on the beast in an ultimate battle of man vs. nature.
If you guessed JAWS, you’re wrong, Boo Boo. It’s GRIZZLY. But the folks who made this one certainly have seen Spielberg’s classic a few times, because this is basically JAWS WITH CLAWS AND FUR. Directed by William Girdler, who also directed DAY OF THE ANIMALS, SHEBA BABY, and THREE ON A MEATHOOK, GRIZZLY is a rip-off, but a pretty fun rip-off mainly due to some charismatic acting from Christopher George (from one of my personal faves PIECES, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, ENTER THE NINJA, and MORTUARY) playing the Roy Scheider role and Richard Jaeckel (from THE DIRTY DOZEN, AIRPLANE II, and DAY OF THE ANIMALS) doing his best Richard Dreyfus. The majority of the budget seems to have gone toward the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London, who slum it here to provide a pretty fantastic score to a less than fantastic movie. Treading in the wake of JAWS, the film was a pretty successful rip-off and it was even adapted into a prose novel at the time.
The film starts off with the mauling of a pair of scantily clad women (one of whom looks a lot like Penelope Cruz) in a sequence that is actually pretty gory for the time with a lopped off arm and a few slashes from what looks to be a man’s arm covered in fur with a bear claw on the end. Instead of the usual “Duh-nah! Duh-nah!” cellos from JAWS, each attack is prefaced with the bear’s POV accompanied by some bear breathing. The breathing gets a bit incessant at times, leading one to think we not only have a man-eating bear on our hands, but an asthmatic one as well. Our heavy breather seems to have a preference for young ladies, especially hot ones who go off on their own to go swimming in mountain streams or sleeping in their tents.
The story pretty much follows the same plot of JAWS beat for beat, even down to a trio of nature men going out into the wild for some male bonding. There’s even a Quint-like story told by a campfire, though not as harrowing as Robert Shaw’s monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis, delivered by Andrew Prine (THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, AMITYVILLE II). As with JAWS, there’s also a park commissioner who seems to want to populate the scene with beer-swilling weekend hunters, nosy reporters and moronic tourists despite our trio of heroes’ attempts to close the area and hunt the beast themselves.
The main problem with the film is that once the bear is seen, he’s really not that scary looking. So whenever the camera pulls back to see the real bear, it just sort of looks like it’s doing tricks taught to him by a trainer…mainly because that’s exactly what’s going on. To top it off, the bear awkwardly walks on its hind legs most of the time, which looks more goofy than scary. Director Girder does a much better job with the tighter shots earlier in the film, amping the intensity level with quick cuts and special effects. And the director deserves props for going the real bear route; otherwise it may have looked like this...
A little research shows that comic book artist Neal Adams did the sweet art for the poster with a bear looming over a distressed damsel. Digging a bit deeper I found that a sequel to the film was supposedly shot in Hungary called GRIZZLY 2: THE PREDATOR starring George Clooney, Charlie Sheen, Louise Fletcher, John Rhys-Davies, and Laura Dern. Apparently, additional scenes were filmed in which the bear attacks a concert and it was to be renamed PREDATOR: THE CONCERT, but it was never released. Recently I had a chance to see an unreleased workprint of the sequel. Though the unfinished print turned out to be pretty hokey, it does make use of a limited budget by keeping the bear off screen most of the time and letting actors like Louise Fletcher and especially the scene chewing John Rhys Davies in full Davey Crockty garb go nuts in their roles. The much publicized roles of Sheen, Clooney, and Dern are mere cameos as a trio of campers who quickly end up occupants of the bear’s lower intestine. The bear in the sequel is twice the size of the one in GRIZZLY and doubly less believable. Bigger is most definitely not better when the budget is low.
GRIZZLY is far inferior to JAWS, but there are some nice scenes of gore (there are lopped off appendages galore—a horse head, arms, and a legless kid) and a few scenes that are cut effectively to make for some chilling moments such as the tent scene. The ending is a bit ludicrous with the bear burying one man for some reason, then just killing him, and the way the bear is taken out in the final minutes caused me to laugh out loud more than shiver. While I’m averse to doing anything as trite as having a categorical ratings system for this column, this movie is one of those films you can sit and watch with your friends whilst drinking beer or booze or other drug of choice and going all MST3K on it.
Newly re-released on DVD from Troma!
LUTHER THE GEEK (1990)Directed by Carlton J. Albright
Written by Carlton J. Albright
Starring Edward Terry, Joan Roth, Stacy Haiduk, Jerry Clarke
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Man, LUTHER THE GEEK is one crazy hoe-down. Luther, referred to as the Freak (played by Edward Terry), witnesses a sideshow geek bite the head off of a chicken and then is accidentally shoved to the ground by the crowd and bites his lip. The taste of blood excites the Freak and he grows up to murder a few folks which leads him to an institution. Despite the fact that he is carving a metal set of teeth in his cell, the parole board decides Luther is fit for early release. After a whimsical scene at a grocery store where Luther gruffily tries on sunglasses and eats eggs raw, Luther kills an old lady in front of the store who accidentally drops an egg he offers her, thus beginning a new rampage.
If you’re looking for depth of story, there’s not much to be had here with LUTHER THE GEEK. It is a surface level slasher film centering the action mostly on one lone locale--a farmhouse. But there are quite a few things that make this little gem worth seeking out.
First and foremost, I’d be wrong not to say that the best part about LUTHER THE GEEK is the casting of Stacy Haiduk in the role of lead heroine. Haiduk (best known as Lana Lang in ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY and as the enchanting Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Hitchcock in NBC’s SEAQUEST reboot) is mesmerizingly beautiful in every scene she is in and even graces us with more than one nude scene showing every little thing (and two big things) that her momma gave her with careless abandon.
Hot lead actress aside, the other thing worth noting is that much of this film is without dialog save for the lead character clucking like a chicken. At first, this is goofy as hell, and one might dismiss Luther’s clucking as asinine. But as the story goes on and the damage Luther has done to this family plays out in gory and brutal fashion, those clucks become more and more sinister. The final sequence as Luther’s final victim has gone completely off the reservation after a night of being chased by Luther is a good indication that director Carlton J. Albright’s decision to have the camera follow the characters silently was a deft move.
Though the effects artist chose to take his name off of this film in the credits, the gore in this film is over the top while being grounded in reality. It’s pretty gruesome seeing Luther dig into the throats of his victims, clucking all the way, and the effects after the fact seem more authentic than most fright films of the time. Albright rarely flinches at the gore, zooming the camera in just enough to hint at the mess Luther has made of these victims without lingering too long to lose the shock value.
LUTHER THE GEEK is unlike many slasher films of its time because of the limited locale and odd characteristics, but also because of the sheer ballsiness of the character. Edward Terry plays a miscreant very well. One can believe this creepy bald man is capable of these unspeakable acts. There’s a scene where actress Joan Roth is unpacking her groceries and sees the odd man outside in her farm through her kitchen window. Luther charges the house and there’s no creepy hiding in the shadows or thinking at play here. Luther is a random monster that loses focus easily, but once he sees his victim, he is like a shark. His assault on the farmhouse in this film is something one might see in the more recent “home invasion” films and less like the slasher films which were the fad in the late eighties/early nineties.
Uber-hot leading lady, gruesome effects, a unique killer, and an off kilter tone makes LUTHER THE GEEK stand out above most low budget slasher films of its time. This little gore great is something worth seeking out and thanks to Troma, which seems to be making a habit of blowing the dust off of long forgotten nuggets of cool, it’s available to purchase again.
MEET THE FEEBLES (1989)Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Peter Jackson, Danny Mulheron, Stephen Sinclair, & Fran Walsh
Starring Donna Akerston, Stuart Devenie, Mark Hadlow, Brian Sergent, Peter Vere-Jones, Mark Wright & Danny Mulheron
Retro-Reviewed by Ambush Bug
Covering MEET THE FEEBLES was a given when the subject of a Muppet-themed column popped into my bald-head housed brain. Peter Jackson’s second feature film doesn’t try to by sly with this sleazy Muppet parody. Before GREG THE BUNNY, the FEEBLES took the themes only hinted at in Jim Henson’s MUPPETS series and amplified them to gory, sleazy, and often offensive dimensions. If you are the sensitive type, stay as far away from MEET THE FEEBLES as possible. You will be most definitely offended and I believe this was Peter Jackson’s intent upon making it. I don’t think in any way Jackson was trying to degrade, diminish, or make fun of Henson’s accomplishments with the Muppets. I think, in his own way, Jackson was paying sick, gruesome homage by depicting a version of The Muppets that no one had ever seen, honoring many of the themes found in abundance in Henson’s work.
There are shocking scenes throughout. Feeble threeways sex scenes. Suicide attempts. All kinds of inter-species sex graphically depicted. AIDs. Drug addiction. Murder. Innocents are taken advantage of sexually and females are seen as objects. If there is a sensitive subject, MEET THE FEEBLES wallows in it bare-assed and balls-deep. In many ways, though, Jackson goes the shocking route intentionally, basically holding a warped and twisted mirror up to Henson’s THE MUPPET SHOW which was all about show business. Show business and the corruption, catastrophe, and dangers that goes along with it was the theme of many a MUPPET SHOW episode. Characters like Miss Piggy exemplify the ugly side of fame and vanity. Kermit the Frog and Fozzy are all about insecurity. Jackson’s take on these characters is similar; he just takes things a bit further into the grotesque with MEET THE FEEBLES.
Some of Jackson’s perverse reimaginings of these characters are inspired. I especially like the nosy fly investigative reporter who grossly dines on shit while causing all kind of chaos in the name of journalism. Casting the role of reporter as a fly circling shit is a statement that doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to piece together. Characters such as this show more than a little depth compared to what would be a one note gross-out character in less capable hands. But there are times throughout the film where Jackson goes for the easy laugh, when just a little more thought would have made the scene more worthwhile.
Watching this film, one can see a blossoming filmmaker on the edge of greatness. But there is a lot wrong with the pacing of this film and the convoluted and over-complicated intersecting plots. Dingily shot, the character designs (when you can make them out) vary from genius to uninspired, and the songs are downright awful. I wish MEET THE FEEBLES were made a little further down the line in Jackson’s career so that it could have been handled with the more wizened hand of the soon to be master of cinematic craft he soon became. After this film, Jackson did DEAD ALIVE, which is miles better in the handling of the story, camera, and even the gore department. MEET THE FEEBLES is a film with potential for greatness, but it needed to be left in the oven a little while longer to make it all the way. As is, MEET THE FEEBLES serves as an oddity--something hardcore horror and cult film fans must see, but hard to digest if you’re just an occasional viewer because of the not-yet-ripe genius it splurted from.
And finally…let’s check out one of my favorite episodes of THE MUPPET SHOW: Alice Cooper sings “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Enjoy!
Go see THE MUPPETS! It’s a lot of fun and have a great Thanksgiving holiday!
See ya, next week, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees) You can pre-order it here! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!
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