Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day, and in addition to traditional activities like getting blind drunk and pretending that “Koczinski” is an Irish name, we here at Mania use the day as an excuse to ponder the baffling success of the Leprechaun horror franchise. The six-films-and-counting series features Warwick Davis as an evil purveyor of breakfast cereal menacing the likes of Jennifer Anniston and Ice-T in his relentless pursuit of... well, we’re not quite sure. He racks up a rather impressive body count in the course of the series, which beggars the question: is there anything more humiliating than being done in by a leprechaun?
Turns out there is. The horror genre has produced a seemingly infinite number of menacing creatures to slaughter the unwary. For every King Kong or Jason Voorhees, there are dozens of other movies featuring somewhat less frightening creatures. And by “somewhat less frightening,” we mean “goofy beyond the human mind’s ability to grasp.” We can buy a lot in the name of good scares, but sometimes you’ve just gotta throw up your hands and say, “what the hell are they thinking?” Don’t believe me? Here are eleven of the silliest movie monsters in history: some unintentionally so, others delivered with a wink and a smile from their fun-filled creators.
Before we get to the meat of this, we should note that we’re discounting the legions of daikaijū – rubber Japanese monsters – from the list entirely. Not because they don’t belong there, but because they totally screw up the curve. Our friends across the Pacific have elevated silly monsters to an art form: how else could one explain Guiron, who looks like a sentient Swiss Army knife; Gigan, who carries a buzz-saw along the front of his body; or the immortal Gamera, who is friend to all children? We just can’t compete with that and, since we’ve covered daikaijū in an earlier article (check it out here), we will simply admit defeat and then carry on.
Note the word “bunnies” in the title; we chose it carefully. For the producers of 1972’s Night of the Lepus could have salvaged some tiny shred of dignity by at least using wild jackrabbits as their signature beasts. These are not they. These are fluffy, snuggly, floppy-eared purveyors of destruction: grown to monstrous size by the scientific accident du jour and set loose on the whims of an adorable child. The film bends over backwards to convince us of their menace – to the point of casting genre legends Janet Leigh and DeForest Kelly in key roles – then sabotages it with images that make most six-year-old girls squeal with joy. At one point, the filmmakers actually deliver a guy in a rabbit suit to duke it out with the hero. It makes Night of the Lepus one of the greatest bad movies ever made … and all it cost was the dignity and self-respect of everyone involved.
Do you miss Garey Busey? Me neither, but thanks to The Gingerdead Man, we won’t spend any sleepless nights wondering what he’s been up to all these years. The film entails the single most convoluted origins story in movie history, as Busey’s mad killer is executed, cremated, mixed into gingerbread spice, baked up by an innocent dupe who inadvertently spills gallons of blood into the mix and ultimately emerges as… the Gingerdead Man! It’s played for laughs; they don’t work. Also, despite Busey’s inherent creepiness, his edible monster can’t come up with a single decent way to kill anyone. He’s actually reduced to using a pistol at one point: as sure a surrender to The Goofy as you will ever find.
Speaking of culinary terrors… The Stuff is one of those movies that should have been brilliant, but fell way, way short in execution. It parodies the eternal diet craze – and the notion that you can have anything you want in foodstuffs without paying for it – with the titular frozen treat. The Stuff is tasty, addictive, and eventually turns you into a mindless flesh-eating zombie. The film attains some basic creepiness in shots of people scarfing up the dessert, but we’re still being threatened by what amounts to sentient Ben and Jerry’s, and thus can dispatch it by leaving it out on the counter for an hour or so.
We gotta hand it to Warwick Davis: he takes advantage of his opportunities. It’s not every day a small actor can anchor his own franchise, especially when said franchise involves an Irish sprite more known for rainbows and pots of gold than creative disembowelments. Yet anchor it he does, despite the fact that his kills involve feeble visual gags like bong impalements and gold materializing in someone’s stomach. The deaths stray further and further away from the source myths the more the series goes on, which only compounds the fact that we’re essentially watching Wicket the Ewok perform it all. Warwick’s game, but there’s only so much a guy in a magical green hat can do to put the fear of God into us.
Ro-Man is a Ro-Man from the planet Ro-Man which, as someone once noted, is like saying you’re Human, a Human from the planet Human. In point of fact, he’s none of those things. He’s actually just a guy in a gorilla suit wearing a diving helmet. With the help of his sinister bubble machine, he intends to conquer a de-populated Earth… while sending the audience into stiches in the bargain. Sixty years of ridicule have made quite a dent in it, but it’s hard to imagine even 1951 audiences being terrorized by the sight of these prop-room leftovers running rampant.
This concept could only come from New Zealand, where the sheep outnumber the people by an exponential amount, and the notion that they may rise en masse against their cruel overlords likely keeps government officials up for weeks on end. But the combination of sheeps’ woolen snuzzliness and intelligence on par with the average hermit crab leaves much to be desired in the scary department. The filmmakers innately understood the ridiculousness of it, but even with tongue firmly in cheek, they needed to spice up their scenario with a “were-sheep” hybrid in the closing act. It still doesn’t work… at least as horror. The kiwis found it pretty darn hysterical, however, and who are we to say otherwise?
Nature-run-amok films often focus on singularly creepy qualities about the monstrous animal in question. This works well for, say, insects or frogs, which inherently give a lot of people the willies. Shrews, on the other hand, are pretty darn cute… and even the most ardent shrew-hater would settle for “odd-looking” before moving onto more frightening adjectives. The most they have going for them is that they eat about a zillion times their own weight every day, a fact that serves as the basis for an entire horror movie. Grow them big, set them loose… instant scares, right? No so much. Even giving a pass to the shaky logic behind the film’s monsters, the onscreen beasts are dogs dressed in what appear to be mangled carpets. Also, the “terror” takes about an hour to get going, meaning that the big money shots at the end achieve the exact opposite of their intended effect.
Horror movies have made bank on the idea of a serial killer returning from the dead in a new form. A Nightmare on Elm Street, for instance, has become a celebrated classic and even Child’s Play managed to make it work thanks to the inherent spookiness of children’s dolls. But Jack Frost pushed the envelope past the breaking point and into the inky void beyond when its dead murderer comes back in the form of a mutant snowman. Besides the obvious fact that he can be thwarted with a functioning hair dryer, his various holiday-based methods of execution appear to have been conceived in a drunken rant outside the local liquor store the night before the shoot (the carrot rape is an especially choice example). Two years later, Hollywood produced a heartwarming comedy with the same name… which ironically proved ten times as frightening as anything seen onscreen here.
Mr. Stay-Puft gets bonus points for being written by guys who actually understand funny, instead of half-assed b-movie makers using in-jokes to forgive their sloppy workmanship. But be that as it may, he’s still a giant, beaming pile of sugary fluff, something (to quote one of his nemeses) “could never ever possibly destroy us.” Yet he heralds the end of the world, and he crushes a church beneath his evil marshmallowy foot just to prove the point. Say what you will about dread Cthulhu; at least he let us die with dignity.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was originally conceived as a comedy, putting it closer to Ghostbusters than Leprechaun on this list. And I myself experience a paralytic fear when confronted by even the smallest of these squishy red salad foundations. But the film’s effort to satirize nature-run-amok movies ends up devouring itself with inadvertent sleaze (including a real chopper crash in the footage) and faux outrageous jokes (dressing a black man up like Hitler). Beyond that, the image of people fleeing from giant papier mache tomatoes loses its charm after a while… even when you spot the skateboard wheels on the bottom to make them roll.