This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were giving money to bad people.
The ghastly villains in Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) are authentic grotesques rendered in mountains of what appears to be rubber and latex. They’re also not in the same league as actual clowns, who, for a variety of reasons, strike much deeper fear in our hearts. One assumes the filmmakers didn’t use human beings in greasepaint for Killer Klowns because they were trying to create something “wacky,” not the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of harlequin invasion movies.
Yes, we see these monsters land their giant intergalactic carnival tent somewhere in California, where they start shooting people with popcorn guns and entombing them in cotton candy. The thirty-somethings playing the teenage couple who witness all this don’t know what to do because the script never gave them parents. Our heroes, Debbie and Mike, go to the cops and convince Deputy Dave Hanson to help them investigate all this clown malarky. A bit of drama is squeezed out of the fact Debbie and Dave used to date. That’s the emotional component of the space clown movie.
Despite a fertile concept and some very unique special effects, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a middling affair. The actors can’t commit to playing this as seriously as Jaws or as broadly as “Mr. Ed.” This lack of conviction deflates the humor like last week’s birthday balloons. Soon we’re trapped in our own figurative glob of cotton candy.
At least the clowns look good. That’s where all the money went, which we know because the producers cancelled a Soupy Sales cameo after learning the price of his plane ticket. Imagine being Soupy Sales and getting that phone call. Hey, imagine having to make that phone call. On par with death by alien circus jerks.
The chilling climax of Assisted Living Dracula, which did not make the list.
Since I wrote a book about a horror punk band maybe people care to know my favorite horror movies. Emphasis on “maybe.” It’s understandable if you’re only here killing time until the next dumb cat video.
AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
So close to perfection you can barely talk about it. Seems like the most accurate portrayal of what lycanthropy might be like (see: uncontrollable gore, psychological fraying, corpse humor). David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are genius together, the Hope and Crosby of onscreen bloodshed.
THE BAT (1926)
Bob Kane copped much of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego from this story, and it’s not hard to see why. Such striking imagery, thick atmosphere (particularly for a movie that takes place almost entirely in one house). The Bat is the best pre-Burton Dark Knight, though this flying rodent has no heroic intent.
THE BLACK CAT (1934)
Lugosi. Karloff. A torturous secret. Great suspense. Delicious turns from two spook masters. Should be up there with Dracula, Frankenstein, et al.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987)
Gonzo horror at its finest. Could you breathe the first time you watched this one? Bruce Campbell delivers a career-defining performance. Makes Elm Street look like “Sesame Street,” Friday The 13th look like Nancy Drew.
Bonkers carnival movie that also succeeds at skewering our country’s sick tabloid culture. Funny, sardonic, but I can’t stand to even glance at Alex Winter in that mutant bat makeup. Also, those giant sentient eyeballs with arms and legs (that are also Jamaican for some reason) wig me out.
The ultimate power trip: harnessing the fury of the atom to capture evil spirits for profit. Only bureaucracy stands in our heroes’ way. Even when it does, they still have that boss car and an endless stream of wisecracks.
The first time we realized William Shatner’s pasty visage could be an instrument of evil. What’s more horrifying, though: the anonymous killer hunting teenagers or the fact these teens have no grasp of local history?
Frightening beyond belief because there is no supernatural element. Sharks are real, and there’s nothing fantastical about them nibbling on a human.
Max Schreck’s makeup is amazing and his movements are hypnotizing. On top of that, Murnau’s direction is wonderfully feverish. None of it seems real. Sticks in your craw like the best kind of haunting.
It’s a testament to this film’s genius that so many decades and parodies later you can still watch it and hope against hope that Anthony Perkins is innocent. The score might be the greatest in horror history. The entire score, that is, not just the “ei ei ei ei!” part.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Everything is sort of romantic and intriguing until Lon Chaney’s mask comes off. Then the fur starts flying. Unlike most modern horror movies where the titular evil is allowed to escape in case of sequel, here we get to watch a zealous crowd beat their ghoulish tormenter to death. Cathartic.
“The Simpsons” made a joke out of “can’t sleep, clown will eat me,” but in Poltergeist that terror is all too real. Ground zero for the movement against all grease-painted jesters. Not that I’m downplaying the movie’s bigger theme: manufactured communities are evil, as are those who develop them.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
Not traditionally in this genre but sneaks in thanks to its bleakness. Two robots fighting over the seed of the only woman who has foreseen the apocalypse. Of course no one believes her, so they have her committed. Also, one robot is comprised of an indestructible liquid. Any way we can downgrade to evil clowns?
Please feel free to bombard me with angry comments and angrier e-mails concerning the lack of Leprechaun movies on this list.
I mean waking up in a room where you only have Jaws 2 and Jaws 3-D posters and not an original Jaws poster.
Jaws, the popular Universal Studios Orlando theme park attraction based on the 1975 film of the same name, will die on January 3, 2012, after over two decades of frightening tourists with a mechanical polyurethane shark. Universal announced the ride’s closure this morning, citing the need to “make room for an exciting, new attraction experience.”
“Jaws has been an amazing attraction and an important part of our history,” said the company in their public statement. “But we must always work to provide new, innovative, entertainment experiences for our guests.”
The Jaws ride and its surrounding Amityville area (modeled after the fictional town from the film) will last be open to curious theme park visitors on January 2, 2012. While there’s no word yet on what will replace Jaws, rumor has it Universal bosses plan on expanding their immensely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction. Insiders claim the idea being bandied about would involve the construction of new Potter simulations in the current Jaws location and using a train system (the magical “Hogwart’s Express”) to connect it with the original Wizarding World in neighboring theme park Islands of Adventure.
Opened with Universal Studios Orlando itself on June 7, 1990, Jaws was an expansion of the brief Jaws segment added to Universal Hollywood’s famed Backlot Tour in 1976. Initially, Jaws was the most technically plagued ride at the park, so much so that it had to be evacuated nearly every day during its first summer. On September 30, 1990, Universal shut the ride down and sued the engineering company that built it for faulty design. Jaws limped along for the next two years as implemented corrections failed to bring the experience to life correctly. Universal eventually hired another contracter for a complete overhaul (removing complicated elements such as the robotic shark biting the tour boat) and reopened the ride in the Spring of 1993.
Jaws entertained Universal attendees after that without major incident until 2004. That year Florida was ravaged by several hurricanes in succession, inflating the price of petroleum and thereby making the gas-reliant seven acre shark attraction too expensive to operate on a daily basis. Universal closed Jaws that year but reopened it on a seasonal basis in late 2005 after a heavy cloud of fan protest. The complaints didn’t stop, though, and eventually the park relented by reopening Jaws full in February of 2007.
I’ve mourned various theme park attraction closures before, but this one really hits me where it hurts. Jaws has always been my absolute favorite non-science fiction film, and being afforded the opportunity to enter that world via Jaws the Ride—no matter how phony it kept looking to my ever-maturing eyes or how thick the malaise was through which all the teenage skippers read their lines—was something I truly relished in life. In 1994, when I was a mere lad of fourteen, my parents decided to move our family from New England to the greater Orlando area; part of the reason I didn’t throw a huge stupid sucky baby fit over this development was because I knew I’d be that much closer to Jaws. Forget oranges and the beach and goddamn Mickey Mouse. I needed that creepy shark recreation.
That Jaws the Ride will be murdered on my thirty-third birthday is just pouring salt on the wound. At least I’ll be down that way next month visiting my parents for Christmas, so I’ll ostensibly be able to putter around Amity Lagoon one last time before the Fake Shemp Bruces are carelessly tossed in Universal’s backyard to make room for Brand New More Popular Film Franchise Simulation. Not that I’m against progression. It just stings us old timers on occasion.
Paying my final respects to a robotic shark at Christmas. That sounds like a Beck lyric. I wish it weren’t real.
Since 1996, New York City’s Turbo A.C.’s have been peeling out gloriously in the parking lot of rock n’ roll, laying down addictive grit-sucking anthems about loose women, fast cars, and primo ’70s kitsch. Last June the band released their seventh album, Kill Everyone, a slightly more reflective, emotional effort that also retained the throttle choke of their previous work. Affable lead Turbo Kevin Cole recently granted JG2Land a few minutes to discuss his band’s sampling practices, the now-defunct L.E.S. pizza parlor he used to run, and Blag Dahlia’s penis.
JG2: Your band has sampled a lot of recognizable film dialogue over the years. Do you clear the stuff you use, or do you just say, “Fuck it?”
KEVIN COLE: We just say, “Fuck it.” Our lawyer told us we should get them all cleared, but we don’t. I think they do realize, these people that we’re sampling, that it brings attention to the original work of art being referenced, and then people go and seek it out.
JG2: So Spielberg hasn’t come after you for the Jaws thing that opens up Kill Everyone?
KC: Not yet. That was kind of a big one. I tried to mask it a little bit, cover up the [John Williams] music, so I don’t think they can’t come after us about that. We were gonna try and recreate it, but the clip is so perfect. So we just used it. We don’t care. Let ’em come after us.
JG2: Spielberg’s probably got bigger fish to fry.
KC: Yeah, probably. [laughs]
JG2: The Turbo A.C.’s have a song called “Fried Chicken.” What’s your favorite fried chicken place in New York City?
KC: Well, I’m not that much of a fried chicken…aficionado? Connoisseur? I go to Kennedy Fried Chicken, I’m not opposed to that. You know, I don’t want to get into this with you if you’re coming from a foodie perspective.
JG2: I’m no foodie, but I know people in New York get a little touchy about their chicken. Like, “Oh, I’ll only eat at Pies n’ Thighs, or I’ll only eat at Dirty Bird…”
KC: Nah. I could deep fry my shoe and it would probably taste good. [laughs] Actually, we used to deep fry slices at my pizza place.
JG2: Was that your shop’s specialty?
KC: Well, pizza in general was [our] specialty. [Deep fried slices] were just one of those things we discovered, taking a cold slice, throwing that fucker in the deep fryer…it was great. The cheese would get this crispy shell on outside, but it would still be all gooey on the inside.
JG2: Do you have any future restaurant plans?
KC: There’s talks of doing another one, another pizza place. I’ve got some guys in Hamburg who are interested in opening a New York-style pizza place over there. The German government apparently gives grants to people bringing in exotic foods. So, maybe. I’m still bummed the shop here didn’t work out. I was hoping I could have a spot to chill out after coming home from tour, you know, have a job and hang out and eat pizza. We thought we could share a liquor license with the bar next store, but we couldn’t, and that was that.
JG2: Are you related to Gary Cole?
KC: No, I don’t think so. Maybe Gary Cole-man. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I really know who Gary Cole is.
JG2: Oh, he played the boss in Office Space.
KC: Yeah, okay, I’ve seen that. That’s funny.
JG2: How many times did Dwarves singer Blag Dahlia show you his penis when he produced your band?
KC: Not too often, not too often. I definitely saw it a couple times. I was guitar tech-ing for the Dwarves for a while, though, and as you can imagine I saw a lot of penises, because [guitarist] He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named…you know. Blag’s didn’t come out that often. He was pissing in a garbage can after a show once, and I saw it. That time, I went to hold his drink or something as he was pissing, and he said, “We’re holding hands while I pee.” He seemed pretty happy about that.
– photo by Ian Lozada