Feb 19 2017

Guest List: Essel Pratt’s Top 5 Inspirations for Sharkantula

In Essel Pratt’s new novel, Sharkantula, a genetically modified tarantula finds its way into the Great White exhibit at Shark World. Frightened, the arachnid digs its fangs deep into the shark, fast-tracking an evolutionary hybrid into existence that becomes hell-bent on taking over the park, and possibly the world. Sound like a Syfy movie? That’s not accidental! In his Guest List for Flick Attack, Pratt breaks down the movies — and one TV series — that informed his monster mash-up on the page.

Sharkantula was originally the product of a lighthearted brainstorming discussion between multiple indie authors, each jokingly contributing ridiculous ideas. At one point, while discussing the plethora of cheesy science-fiction movies on television, I chose to “claim” Sharkantula as my own. The joke became more serious as I thought the concept over, wondering if a novel written in the styling of those popular movies would be possible.

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Feb 9 2017

Guest List: Thomas Kent Miller’s Top 13 Graphics Left Out of Mars in the Movies

In his wonderful new book, Mars in the Movies: A History, former NASA employee Thomas Kent Miller takes us on every cinematic journey to the red planet, film by film, from the silents to today. And now, for a Flick Attack Guest List, the author takes us on a cinematic journey of a different kind: through the photos and illustrations that you won’t find in the finished book! Its loss is our gain. Time to blast off!

A printed book is a most finite object. It has a beginning, middle and end not only in terms of its size, content and page count. It also has strict limitations in time; books have production schedules with merciless restrictions of all sorts, especially deadlines. I turned in 69 graphics with my manuscript, and 43 glorious images were used. Those that “didn’t make the cut” were rejected mainly due to resolution issues. I’m sharing here 13 pieces of art that I mourn didn’t get into the book. These are presented in chronological order.

1. From the 1918 Danish film A Trip to Mars (Das Himmelskibet), this is the spaceship Excelsior, in which adventurer Avanti Planetarios and his crew spend six months cruising to the Red Planet. As far as I can tell, this is the first Mars “rocketship” in the cinema.

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Aug 20 2016

Guest List: Roberto Curti’s Top 5 (Technically, 7) Unlikely Superheroes in Italian Cinema

diabolikaAuthor and film historian Roberto Curti is such an expert on Italian genre cinema, he literally wrote the books on them: 2013’s Italian Crime Filmography and 2015’s Italian Gothic Horror Films, both published by McFarland & Company. And he’s still writing them! In fact, Curti has two new books out this summer: Tonino Valerii: The Films for McFarland and, through Midnight Marquee, Diabolika: Supercriminals, Superheroes and the Comic Book Universe in Italian Cinema. It is the latter title — lavishly illustrated in full color with film stills, lobby cards, poster art and, yep, comic book panels — that inspires and informs his Guest List for Flick Attack.

goldface1. Goldface (Goldface il fantastico Superman, 1967)
Born in the wake of the success of the El Santo series and conceived for the South American market, the eponymous protagonist of Bitto Albertini’s flick is not the kind of superhero one would often see, especially in this era of big-budget Hollywood adaptations. In the glorious tradition of Mexican luchadores films, Goldface is a meek scientist who moonlights as a popular and invincible masked wrestler. He has no superpowers, and his outfit (pale blue leotard, red cape and golden mask) is rather ugly-looking. He has a peanut-munching black sidekick named Kotar (!) who speaks exactly like the “poor negroes” in 1930s films, and together they ride a motorbike like a cut-rate version of Captain America and Falcon.

Still, despite its obvious shortcomings, there’s fun to be had watching Goldface il fantastico superman, mostly because the titular Goldface, played by Espartaco Santoni, is regularly replaced in the action scenes by ace stuntman Attilio Severini, who performs some incredible (and very dangerous) stunts, with no special effects whatsoever. Albertini recalled filming a scene where Severini falls into the Venezuelan sea from a helicopter from no less than 100 feet high, in barracuda-infested waters … a detail neither the stuntman nor the director had been informed of prior to shooting. Nothing could stop Severini. When he got the news that filming for Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire was about to begin in Cinecittà, Severini ran to the production office in a hurry. “I’m doing that one, I’m doing The Fall of the Roman Empire!” he claimed. “By the way, how high is that fall going to be?”

3supermen2. The Three Supermen (The Fantastic Three Supermen, 1967; 3 Supermen in Tokyo, 1968; Three Supermen in the Jungle, 1970; Supermen Against the Orient, 1973; The 3 Supermen in the West, 1973; 3 Supermen Against the Godfather, 1980; Three Supermen at the Olympic Games, 1984; Three Supermen in S. Domingo, 1986)
The longest superhero film series in Italy, spreading over three decades with eight official entries plus a number of rip-offs, was created by Gianfranco Parolini, who later moved on to the Western with the Sabata series starring Lee Van Cleef. Parolini took the concept from his sword-and-sandal flick 3 Avengers and developed it within a spy-cum-science-fiction context.

Conceived as amiable comedies for audiences of all ages, the Three Supermen films are about a trio of unlikely heroes in bulletproof red leotard and cape, and the plots usually feature an FBI agent recruiting two acrobat thieves (one of them mute) to perform some dangerous mission, involving duplicating or shrinking devices, or even time machines. The gags mostly rely upon never-ending fistfights à la Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, and the leads are expert stuntmen such as Aldo Canti (aka Nick Jordan) or Sal Borgese; the latter (playing the mute of the trio) usually has a scene in drag in each film. Another invariable moment has the Three Supermen madly laughing and making faces in their bulletproof costumes as their adversaries vainly attempt to dispatch them via machine guns and the like.

The Three Supermen’s adventures around the world reflected the nomadic quality of Italian popular cinema and its capability of vampirizing whatever was “hot” from time to time, before jumping onto the next filone, from the exotic jungle adventure to the gongfupian, from the Trinità-style spaghetti Western to the short-lived Amazons fever briefly sparked (at least in Italy) by Terence Young’s film War Goddess (1973), for the Shaw Brothers-co-produced Super Stooges vs. Wonder Women (1974), a spurious entry in the series starring Canti. The results, understandably, were less cinematically successful than symptomatic of the decline of the Italian film industry; eventually the series was taken over by producer-cum-director Italo Martinenghi and the Three Supermen landed in Turkey, a market where the idea of adults acting silly in colorful costumes still made for profitable results at the box office. After the series’ swan song, the abysmal Three Supermen in S. Domingo (co-starring Martinenghi’s son Stefano as one of the hero trio), Martinenghi tried to revive the Three Supermen franchise in the late 1980s in a different media: comic books, with a series titled I fantastici 3 Supermen. The magazine went on for four years, with at least 15 issues, before consigning itself to a well-deserved oblivion. Born as a fake adaptation of an imaginary comic book, the Fantastic Supermen ended up in a real one, for good.

superandy3. SuperAndy (SuperAndy, il fratello brutto di Superman)
Superman’s “ugly brother,” as the Italian title states, is played by the bearded, beak-nosed Italian-American Andy Luotto, a voice actor who dubbed the English versions of Italian films in Rome and became a cult celebrity in Italy, thanks to the TV show L’altra domenica (which also featured a young Roberto Benigni), due to his lunar look and idiosyncratic behavior. Directed by the expert Paolo Bianchini, the movie is basically a spoof of Richard Donner’s Superman, with the newborn superhero being sent away from planet Trypton to Earth … and ending up in a middle-class Italian family. The film then concentrates on Andy as the unlikely superhero, by juxtaposing his superpowers with his clumsy persona and following his love story with a girl who does not recognize him when he is not wearing his costume (as people normally do with Clark Kent).

The result is an endearing, naive little film that even attempts a satiric discourse on capitalism: SuperAndy’s handsome brother, SuperKid, has become a TV personality and an advertising model in Hollywood, and is exploited like a slave by an evil agent (played by none other than Michele Mirabella, the unfortunate librarian of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond). Ten years earlier, the transition from the small to the big screen would have been something rather common for an actor (see, for instance, the Diabolik spoof Arrriva Dorellik, starring singer Johnny Dorelli). However, by the end of the 1970s, it was a risky move. True, TV’s most popular shows drew in audiences of millions, but Italian cinema was rapidly falling in a comatose state. What is more, filmgoers had become much more demanding in their tastes. No wonder SuperAndy, il fratello brutto di Superman turned out to be a flop, despite Luotto’s popularity. The actor then gave it another try with Grunt! (1983), a parody of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Quest for Fire he wrote, directed and starred, which turned out another flop.

bathman4. Bath-Man (Bath-man dal Pianeta Eros, 1982)
Here’s something that must be seen to be believed: a hardcore porn comedy featuring an alien mustached superhero (Manlio Cersosimo, Italy’s answer to Harry Reems) who wears a Batman cape, mask and costume (apparently director Antonio D’Agostino did not care about copyright) and has a female sidekick named Klito-Bell (aka Bath Baby). Their superpowers, needless to say, are of a sexual nature.

Bath-Man’s enemies are also liberally drawn from Bob Kane’s comics: The movie features a Catwoman whose raygun turns straight people into homosexuals, a Poker (sic!) who wears a jester’s costume and hat and has two Catwoman types nicknamed “Pussy-girls,” and a flamboyantly gay Penguin lookalike. Speaking of rip-offs, there are even “homages” to A Clockwork Orange and a music score that “borrows” from Serge Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime, moi non plus. Needless to say, it was shot on a shoestring: Instead of a Batmobile, the hero has to make do with a battered bycicle. How could the result be even remotely exciting to the raincoat crowd is anyone’s guess; however, Bath-man dal Pianeta Eros is so awfully bad, it demands a viewing from all fans of weird cinema.

jeegrobot5. Enzo Ceccotti, Jeeg Robot (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot, 2015)
Gabriele Mainetti’s debut – a surprise word-of-mouth commercial and critical success in its home country, and the winner of seven “David di Donatello” awards, Italy’s equivalent to the Academy Awards – tells the story of an “accidental superhero” with a realistic approach (a bit like in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), but immersed within the problematic Italy of the new millennium, and does so with wit and irony.

The protagonist (played by Claudio Santamaria) is some sort of a modern-day Accattone (like the petty thief in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film of the same name) who acquires superpowers after jumping into the putrid Tevere River to escape the cops. He lives in Rome’s disreputable Tor Bella Monaca district, full of pimps and drug dealers, and the first thing he does after learning about his super-strength is rob an ATM machine; only with time he will develop a social conscience, thanks to a slightly retarded girl who believes he is Jeeg Robot (the protagonist of Go Nagai’s manga and anime Steel Jeeg, immensely popular in 1970s Italy), and even knits him a wool mask to wear during his exploits. His antagonist (played by the talented Luca Marinelli, an astonishing cross between a young Tomas Milian and Night Train Murders’ Flavio Bucci) is an ex-talent show contender, who uploads his criminal deeds to YouTube and is after popularity rather than money.

Despite its title, Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot is deeply Italian in the way it depicts the country’s malaise (the social angst among the lower classes, the widespread criminality in the suburbs, the younger generations’ superficiality and narcissism), and yet for its narrative and spectacular qualities, it can be savored abroad as well. On top of that, it is something that cannot be seen for the previous entries in this list: a truly remarkable movie, and an instant cult item that proves how Italian cinema still has vital blood in itself. —Roberto Curti

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May 7 2016

Guest List: Jeff Kirschner’s Top 5 Kills Too Conventional to Make It into Our Book

deathbyumbrellaIn our book Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons, we sought to chronicle some of the weirdest, wackiest, most creative, strangest and sometimes just plain silliest implements used in horror movies to snuff out a life. Writing and researching the book allowed us to revisit some of our favorite movies as well as to discover hidden gems in what we consider to be one of the most malleable and creatively fertile of all the genres. It also allowed us to luridly wallow in all those viscerally exciting deaths!

It’s not all about the morbidity; please don’t think that. Horror is more than just cheap thrills. That’s not to decry cheap thrills, mind you. Cheap can sometimes be good! On certain occasion, a fine wine is required. At other times, a bottle of bottom-of-the-shelf plonk will fit the bill quite nicely. Depending on the film, horror is either a fine chateaubriand or a greasy takeout bag full of Mickey D’s. But at its best, horror serves a higher function. The genre forces us to own up to our absolute mortality (last we checked, still 100 percent for humans). Horror also holds a mirror up to the darker elements of society, which, like it or not, exist. And by exposing ourselves to the darkness, we can then better appreciate the light. Horror allows us to adjust ourselves accordingly to the world we live in, which, let’s face it, is often more horrific than the umpteenth slasher sequel unspooling at the local multiplex (or supernatural spookfest because, really, there hasn’t been a good mainstream slasher made in at least the last 20 years).

But back to the kills! Sometimes it’s just plain fun to watch some annoying prankster or nubile coed going to that great gig in the sky. Stephen King likens it to “lifting a trap door in the civilized forebrain and throwing a basket of raw meat to the hungry alligators swimming around in that subterranean river beneath.” And who are we to argue with the King? So to keep those gators fed, we watch horror movies. In our book, we examine some of the more outré kills, but not every satisfying kill in a horror movie is unconventional (although can being ripped apart by zombies really be described as conventional?) What follows are some favorite horror kills that, for the fact that they were deemed too orthodox, didn’t make it into our book. They may be more workaday than, say, death by eggbeater (as seen in Pledge Night), but that doesn’t make them any less awesome. Back into the depths of a coroner’s nightmare we go!

tenebre1. Tenebre (1982)

Dario Argento, in his prime (beginning with his first film, 1971’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and ending, arguably, with 1987’s lush Opera) was nigh untouchable. The director, dubbed “The Italian Hitchcock,” was famous for his giallos, ostensibly murder mysteries featuring a black-gloved killer. Argento’s best films were meticulous, virtuosic, painfully gorgeous manslaughter masterpieces which elevated horror to something more akin to fine art.

Tenebre was the first Argento film I saw, and immediately, I knew that I had found my new favorite director. The film tells the tale of American book writer Peter Neal, who, on a promotional visit to Rome, has to contend with a serial killer both stalking him and offing others along the way. All the Argento hallmarks are present and accounted for: the aforementioned black-gloved killer, a pounding musical score by Goblin, impeccable camerawork and without-peer transcendent murder set-pieces. One of those kills, “Death by Abstract Metal Sculpture,” made it into our book. But it was another particular kill that blew me away during my first rendezvous with the master — and you always remember your first!

Argento was never a director known for his gore. True, his films could never be described as “tame,” but for the real juicy, squishy stuff, one would be better served with the oeuvre of Italian contemporary Lucio Fulci. But Tenebre does feature one of the maestro’s goriest kills. Late in the film, Neal’s estranged wife, Jane, who has made her way to Rome, is distraught and suicidal when speaking with Neal’s assistant Anne. Anne tells Jane to stay put so she can come over to assist. Unfortunately for Jane, Anne does not make it in time. As Jane is sitting at the kitchen table, an ax breaks through the window and hacks Jane’s wrist and hand clean off. Jane clutches her arm as an arterial spray paints the kitchen walls a beautiful shade of crimson. A few more swings of the ax and the song is over for poor, sweet Jane.

horrorhospital2. Horror Hospital (1973)

Who doesn’t like a good beheading? Other than Marie Antoinette that is. Films as diverse as The Omen, The Evil Dead, High Tension, Re-Animator and even Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God have featured memorable instances of people literally losing their heads. But it’s the double decapitation in this 1973 British import which, for some odd reason, has always stayed with me. (I guess you can say, to quote ELO, I can’t get it out of my head. Okay … that’s it for head humor. At least in this paragraph, that is.)

The film begins with a luxury vehicle parked in the pastoral English countryside. In the back sits the nefarious, black-clad Dr. Christian Storm (played by the wonderful Michael Gough). Next to him sits his dwarfish companion, Frederick. Suddenly, the agrarian serenity is broken when two youths, covered in blood and holding hands, frantically break through the bush. “Now make a clean job of it, Frederick. The car was washed this morning,” implores Storm. The car goes into gear, Storm cries “Now,” and Frederick pulls a lever.

A large blade then protrudes from the side of the vehicle, which stops the two runners dead in their tracks as their domes are cut clean off and fall into an awaiting basket. The would-be-escapees are next seen lying on the ground, but two bloody stumps where their grey matter used to reside as the car makes a quick getaway. So much for the young trying to get ahead in this world. (Sorry! Couldn’t resist.)

3. The Prowler (1981)

A somewhat unremarkable slasher released right in the thick of the stalk and slash boom, 1981’s The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer, aka Pitchfork Massacre) still earns points for two successful shots on goal. First, it introduced director Joseph Zito to the gatekeepers of the Friday the 13th franchise, who then hired him to helm 1984’s superlative Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Second, it features stellar (as always) work by makeup and FX wizard Tom Savini.

The Prowler is in our book for the incongruousness of a killer dressed head-to-toe in military fatigues using a pitchfork as his weapon of choice. Thankfully, at times he eschews the tined implement that would seem more at home on an episode of Hee Haw or depicted on Grant Wood’s famed painting American Gothic for something more befitting of the garb: a bayonet.

A town with a very long memory decides to reinstate an annual collegiate dance which had been put on hold 35 years earlier because of an unfortunate double homicide. One of the beaus, however, is going to have to wait just a little longer still as his comely coed escort (who soon will get a good pitchforkin’ herself) is taking a little too long in the shower. As he sits down on her bed, a hand grabs him from behind to muffle his screams while the assailant’s other hand plunges the bayonet in through the top of his skull and out through his lower jaw. The victim struggles, but it’s of little avail. Blood drips down the unfortunate’s face, and when his eyes open, his pupils are deathly opaque.

dayofthedead4. Day of the Dead (1985)

If The Prowler is an exemplar of some of Savini’s finer work, 1985’s Day of the Dead has to be his finest.

The third in George A. Romero’s Dead cycle, Day may be an acquired taste for some, but it’s Romero’s favorite film of the bunch, and I have to side with ol’ Georgie on this one. Some spotty acting aside, Day is the most complex, intelligent, exciting and just plain goriest of the Dead films. Plus it features Bub – the most memorable zombie in the history of zombie films and certainly the most tragic.

In Day, Savini takes bloodletting to a whole new level. Scenes such as a zombie getting up from a table and spilling his innards out like a dumped over bowl of raspberry Jell-O, another zombie’s head getting cleaved in half with a shovel and a soldier’s re-animated severed head are just the tip of the unsavory offerings on display. The final act is a gorehound’s delight; a bountiful cornucopia of blood, guts and viscera. To wit, Captain Rhode’s last stand, when the blowhard soldier is descended upon by dozens of the living dead. They rip him in half and tear his torso open as easily as opening a bag of potato chips. His lower extremities are dragged away while his insides become his outsides. Simply one of the best gore scenes in horror history.

texaschainsawmassacre5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The whack of the sledgehammer heard ’round the world!

What can be said about Tobe Hooper’s 1974 uber-classic that hasn’t already been said? Like Night of the Living Dead before it and Psycho before that, TCM redefined what horror could be. Tense, unnerving, gritty and the complete antithesis of a safe “Hollywood” horror movie, TCM inspired director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) to say, “When you’re watching a Hitchcock movie … you are in suspense as the direct result of being in the hands of a master … whereas in [The Texas Chain Saw Massacre] … you’re watching it and you’re not in the hands of a master – you’re in the hands of a maniac!”

TCM’s kills are harrowing, but the most shocking of the bunch is so effective because of how bloody (although, surprisingly there’s very little sanguinity in the original TCM) quick and matter-of-fact it is.

Young Kirk had no idea what grisly fate would soon befall him when he decided to trespass and enter into the abode of the Slaughter family (later renamed Sawyer in subsequent sequels.) He was just looking for a little gas and maybe wished to satiate a bit of curiosity. He went through the unlocked door and inquired as to whether anyone was home. Perhaps the animalistic noises and ungodly squeals emanating from the room just steps ahead should have convinced Kirk to reconsider going further. Unfortunately, they didn’t. Kirk pressed on, and in a flash, was besieged by href=”http://www.flickattack.com/2013/10/reading-material-chain-saw-confidential-how-we-made-the-worlds-most-notorious-horror-movie/” target=”new”>a hulking monster of a man clad in a filthy, bloodstained apron who was wearing a mask stitched together from human flesh. Kirk barely had a chance to register any sort of reaction before the sledgehammer came down. Kirk collapsed in a heap, a twitching, gesticulating mess. Another whack for good measure and Kirk was done for. The beast then dragged Kirk into his personal abattoir and ferociously slammed the heavy door shut.

The entire scene described above lasts all of 27 seconds. Perhaps the most grueling 27 seconds in the annals of the genre. —Jeff Kirschner

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Jan 21 2016

Guest List: Anders Runestad’s Top 5 Movies Tangentially Tied to Robot Monster

icannotyetimustAll hu-mans, rejoice! Perhaps due to an error in calculation, someone has acquired the temerity to write an entire book about 1953’s Robot Monster, one of cinema’s legendary creative calamities. That someone is Anders Runestad, and that book is I Cannot, Yet I Must: The True Story of the Best Bad Monster Movie of All Time, Robot Monster. At nearly 700 pages, it tells all there is to be told of the film’s production and legacy, and here, in his Guest List for Flick Attack, Runestad tells us about his favorite films that — believe it or not — have ties to his book’s Golden Turkey classic.

Robot Monster in my view is the greatest bad monster movie of all time, and thereby an essential cult film of any kind, but why should this be the case when there are so many other contenders? Well, the contenders sadly lack a gorilla wearing a diving helmet who speaks to himself about his conflicted emotions.

It’s not really a diving helmet, of course. Familiarity with other science fiction films of the era shows a resemblance to the kind of helmets seen in Destination Moon (1950). But the urban legend of the movie being about a gorilla wearing a diving helmet never seems to die anymore than a good movie monster does, and that over-sized urban legend is the best way in which to sum up this bizarrely great and greatly bizarre experience.

What makes this monster so special? He’s a disturbing image of organic and mechanical conjoined, absurd, irrational, surreal, in a word — dreamlike.

So the best way to understand Robot Monster by way of comparison is to not so much compare it to other cheap monster movies, but to other mesmerizing and dreamlike cinematic experiences. For the surrealism of dreams can be funny, terrifying, beautiful, or just plain bewildering. With that in mind, here are five films that in one odd way or another connect to Robot Monster:

eraserhead1. Eraserhead (1977)

David Lynch’s debut is the cliché surrealist movie of recent decades, but that is only because it lives up to its reputation. In my book I Cannot, Yet I Must, I touch on how cheap monster movie directors sometimes without intending it did the same things that arty surrealists do. And Eraserhead shares with Robot Monster the sound of howling wind over an inhospitable landscape, physical abnormality, sequences that are difficult to fathom, and a self-destructive main character who can’t quite deal with all the demands being put upon him. And both films can seem alternately funny and horrifying.

leopardman2. The Leopard Man (1943)

Speaking of horror, it is never appreciated enough how much horror often depends on the surreal. And for all of Robot Monster’s reputation as a ridiculous B movie, it commonly weirds out younger viewers. Among them was a young Joe Dante, who admits finding it then to be “surreal and scarifyingly bleak.” There are plenty of iconic examples of horror drawn from surreal effects (like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining), but I’m especially drawn to Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man. Even among Lewton’s followers this is an often ignored example of the low-budget thrillers he produced, but it is one of his eeriest. The film never quite crosses the line into overt surrealism, but the irrational is always lurking and frequently invades the fabric of what seems possible. Set in a desert town with great atmosphere, it also features such Robot Monster motifs as a monster on the loose, a ravine, and (again) the mysterious sound of the wind.

wildworldbatwoman3. The Wild World of Batwoman! (1966)

What happens when a comedy is not funny in the slightest? In the case of Jerry Warren’s no-budget attempt at cashing in on the Batman craze, it becomes an all-out assault of surrealist lunacy. Warren’s movies are mostly not that great (reportedly because he wanted to save time and money by making them badly on purpose) while also not that entertaining in all the wrong ways. Batwoman is a major exception, as one attempt at humor after another falls flat, in combination with a nonsense storyline and a menagerie of bizarre characters whose purpose in the story is not always clear. The truly surreal thing is that it is supposed to be funny while it is not funny at all, and yet it is funny because the fact that it was meant to be funny makes it hilarious on another level entirely. And that makes it almost as odd as the monster’s introspective speeches in Robot Monster.

forbiddenplanet4. Forbidden Planet (1956)

The only color film on this list demonstrates how a ’50s monster movie plays when done on a big budget with a good script. Many of the same tropes of other such films are here, while they are given the treatment that all makers of movies like Robot Monster wished could have been theirs. Forbidden Planet has a mystery at its center, and the power of the dreamlike image manifests itself over and over. The movie’s beloved Robby the Robot even looks much like how Robot Monster was intended to look in the script before becoming a gorilla wearing a diving helmet on screen for budgetary reasons.

beastyucca5. The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

And this list closes with a movie that, like Robot Monster, puts all aspects of the surreal together in an amazing no-budget package. The opening sequence is horrifying in content while ridiculous in execution, and the remainder just gets weirder as Tor Johnson wanders around the southern California desert attacking people while an omniscient narrator drones on about a flag on the moon, thirsty pigs, and characters who are caught in the wheels of progress. It is difficult to know if director and actor Coleman Francis had some serious idea behind the strange, haiku-like narration he recites over the endless landscapes of this movie, or if he just had to connect all the footage somehow and unleashed his unconscious poetic side without intending it. Phil Tucker, Robot Monster’s director, was a practical and hardworking guy who became a very talented editor, and did not intend anything but an exploitable low-budget monster movie. So I don’t want to assume anything about Francis’ intentions with The Beast of Yucca Flats. But it doesn’t, in the end, matter all that much. As has been said before by others: Trust the tale, not the teller. —Anders Runestad

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