Summer of Horror 2017: Part 5 Creature From the Black Lagoon, Beyond the Gates, The Void

Creature From the Black Lagoon

I’ll be honest, I never considered “Gill-Man” part of the Mount Rushmore of Universal Monsters (that would be Dracula, Frankenstein monster, Wolfman, and The Mummy, for the record). His visual design is spectacular, sure, but as a character he just didn’t move the needle for me. He’s a sea creature that comes out and attacks people. That’s about it.

So that’s probably why it took me so many Summers of Horror to get to Creature From the Black Lagoon. It doesn’t help that this came out many years after the Universal Golden Age of the 30’s either. But now that I’ve seen it, I can say I was – kind of – misjudging it.

It’s true that every other Universal monster has some human motivation behind it, which makes it more interesting if possibly less scary. But let’s be honest – if you’ve seen any horror past the 1950’s the old Universal stuff doesn’t cut it in the scare department. These characters have all become Halloween masks and breakfast cereal mascots by now. But the Gill-man IS just a creature. He doesn’t have the heartbreaking vulnerability of the Frankenstein monster, or the silky malevolence of Dracula, or the pained duality of the Wolfman, but as a force of nature he’s a pretty good monster. The early teases of creeping webbed hands are good old fashioned spooky fun, and the full reveals of the monster stalking underwater have a surreal beauty.

The aforementioned creature design is indeed the highlight. The fact that the whole body suit, covering the actor(s) from head to toe never looks cheesy, AND allows the actors to move gracefully, AND holds up underwater is amazing. This is one of the all-time great monster designs for a reason. My favorite part is those frog-like eyes…

As for the story, it’s an old black and white monster movie, so that means “living room scenes” – a bunch of men and one token woman standing around smoking pipes and discussing what to do about the monster – these living rooms scenes just happen to take place on a boat. The “attack” scenes in between are OK. The Creature is far scarier and more effective underwater; on land he just kind of lumbers like a zombie.

Remakes and reboots of Creature have popped up in fits and starts over the years, and rumor has it Universal will try to bring it back as part of their ill-advised Dark Universe thing. I actually think a remake is a good idea. A more aggressive, hideous version of the creature in a modern horror movie is something I’d buy into. I think real life sea creatures are scary as hell. That’s a fear not tapped into often enough.

Beyond the Gates

Maybe you’ve already heard, but 80’s/90’s nostalgia is It right now. You’ve got Buzzfeed, Stranger Things, and a Hollywood furiously cranking out reboots of every property from those two decades they can get their hands on. And while it’s easy to dismiss the use of retro novelty as shameless and manipulative, when used with restraint it can still be good clean fun.

Enter Beyond the Gates. To put the concept into a single sentence, it’s horror Jumanji, and instead of a regular board game it’s one of those “interactive” VHS games that briefly became popular in the late 80’s. Naturally, playing the game invokes ghastly real world consequences, but play you must, because you might just have a long-lost father trapped in the netherrealm that needs saving.

Besides the central gimmick and a bit of the barely-used synth score, there isn’t anything that overtly plays to the 80’s/90’s nostalgia. In other words, it’s not trying to replicate an era like Stranger Things or even remix familiar flavors like It Follows. Beyond the Gates looks and feel like what it is – a low budget independent horror movie. The tone is indecisive; one moment it wants to be a fun, cheesy throwback, other times a sorrowful character study. One minute it seems like a movie for kids, and then suddenly heads are exploding in nasty closeup. How it comes off as a whole is like a Goosebumps book, or an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but with gore and adult content.

That sounds more awesome than it really is. It’s not without its moments, for sure, and there are a handful of good scares. But I wish it had committed just a bit more to the fun and zaniness inherent in the concept.

The Void

The Void is a recent entry in the Clive Barker/Hellraiser/Silent Hill mold. Hell encroaching on Earth, twisted humanoid monsters, human worshippers inexplicably cool with all this happening… You’ll never look at black triangles the same way again.

All the action takes place in a hospital entirely staffed by one doctor, two nurses, and one nursing student. A police officer brings in a delirious, wounded drifter babbling about evil happenings. There’s also a 9 months-and-change pregnant woman and her grandpa, and a couple of gun toting locals who may or may not know what’s going on as the place is surrounded by sinister hooded figures, and monsters start to emerge. You feel the low budget in the limited cast, the single location, and to some extent the quality of the acting. However, most if not all of the effects seem to be practical, including the various unspeakable grotesqueries. These effects are┬áSOLID, yo. This should have been the team to make the Silent Hill movies. The creatures are pretty much never shown in full, and the camera doesn’t linger long – just long enough to catch a glimpse of a jaw where there shouldn’t be a jaw, or a set of tentacles where there ought to be a face. It has a real The Thing vibe, including the occasional skittering score accompaniment.

There isn’t much else to say, honestly. This is the kind of movie you watch mostly for the monster effects, again, much like Hellraiser. If that’s your particular brand of vodka, spin this one up on Netflix.

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