Today marks the official first day of spring. As the temperatures rise – even if just a little bit – and the snow recedes, people will be outside washing their cars, waling their dogs, and barbequing. Just don’t start raking your lawns or tending gardens yet. Experts warn that it could have a disastrously effect on insects we rely on for pollination. But humanity has always had a bad habit of ignoring warning signs and meddling with nature. So as the ice and snow thaws, we should be wary of what lies beneath. For this week’s edition of The Chopping Block, I give you a quick look at six horror movies that remind us to take care as the ice starts to thaw.
The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms (1953)
Here it is, the B-movie that kicked off the ‘atomic monster’ era that characterized 1950s horror and science fiction. Like many of the movies that followed it, and 1970s eco-horror, The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms is warning about man’s interference with nature. Atom bomb testing in the Arctic Circle releases a frozen dinosaur from hibernation and sets it on a path of destruction all the way to New York. What sets this movie apart from other 50s B-monster movies is the master Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation effects. No matter how much time passes, the dinosaur’s attack on a Coney Island roller coaster still impresses. Younger horror fans may take a pass, but if you have an appreciate for classics, The Best From 20, 000 Fathoms should be on your ‘must watch’ list.
The Deadly Mantis (1957)
And here is one of the many 50s monster movies that The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms influenced – The Deadly Mantis. This time it’s a South Seas volcanic eruption that breaks apart polar ice caps in the Arctic, releasing a 200-foot Praying Mantis. In addition to lacking the message of its better predecessors, The Deadly Mantis misses Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation effects. This is pure ‘Midnight Movie’ stuff here that’s not likely to make anyone’s ‘best of’ lists. For horror fans who enjoy older movies, The Deadly Mantis is light, harmless fun.
Horror Express (1972)
You’d be forgiven for mistaking Horror Express for a Hammer Film. With both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing on board, there’s a distinctly British feeling to this Spanish-produced horror movie. Like something right out of a Scooby-Doo episode, renowned anthropologists transport a frozen primitive humanoid – a missing link – on a Trans-Siberian train. By the 1970s, Hammer Horror movies were looking quaint next to Night of the Living Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And while it’s technically not Hammer, Horror Express bares all the same trademarks. Nevertheless, Lee and Cushing together is always worth the price of admission. And for an older movie, the pacing is quick and the action well-filmed.
The Thing (1982)
What’s there to say about John Carpenter’s The Thing that hasn’t already been said or written. Simply put, The Thing is one of the best horror movies ever made. A remake of a 1950s horror-sci/fi movie, Carpenter’s story of an Antarctica research team that discovers an alien lifeform frozen beneath the surface has lost none of its ability to shock. Haunting atmosphere, eye-popping practical effects, Kurt Russell, and one of the most nihilistic endings in horror, The Thing is a stark reminder that some things should be left frozen beneath the ice.
Alien vs Predator (2004)
Everyone loves a good monster movie mashup. Too bad AVP: Alien vs Predator wasn’t it. Now AVP isn’t a bad movie, per se. Rather it’s probably more accurate to describe it as underwhelming. Deep below the Antarctica surface, a team of scientists and mercenaries find themselves caught in the middle of an ancient feud between Xenomorphs and Predators. Despite the rich backstories of both franchises, AVP is just kind of there in a completely underwhelming package. Though the visual effects are worthy of both franchises, everything else about the movie is just middle-of-the-road. Murky lighting, frantic editing, paper-thin characters, and a lack of drama are all culprits. If half as much time had been into crafting a compelling story as was put into the creature and set designs, AVP might have been worth the hype. As it stands, this movie probably was best left frozen in the ice.
The Last Winter (2006)
The Last Winter, which premiered at Toronto International Festival, defines what is meant by ‘hidden gem’. Writer and director Larry Fessenden’ The Last Winter is a low-key, small budget thriller that embodies the same themes of 70s eco-horror. An American oil company drilling in the Arctic unleashes some type of oil-based humanoid creature, or ‘Last Winter’ that could wreak havoc on the Earth. As a allegorical story of the dangers of global warming, The Last Winter literally casts nature as taking revenge on humanity. In spite of its low budget, The Last Winter boasts a good cast and delivers the kind of slow-burn atmosphere that gets under your skin.