Horror Ten Spot: Experiments Gone Horribly Awry!
As summer crawls to a close, we're sadly only left with a few PG-13 horror shows on the theatrical docket. A prime example is THE APPARITION, out today, about a couple who becomes increasingly tormented by a paranormal presence in their new abode. Under the guise of a haunted house film, apparently a college science experiment is what actually springboards the curse in question. Makes sense, as scientific experimentation gone terribly awry has long been a staple of the horror and sci-fi genres. As such, we thought, why not take this opportunity to examine the sickest of the sort. You down with that?! Good. Then get out the Walter White lab-coat, the beaker, the Bunsen burner, the goggles...and take a hard look at some of the Top Ten Most Horrific Experiments seen in film.
Can't get more OG than 1920 German expressionism. And since many attribute Robert Wiene's THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI as integral to the founding of the horror genre (many say it's the first real horror film ever made), I'll use its relevance here to educate all you youngsters about a true masterwork. Make no mistake, the 92 year old silent film - about a cryptic doctor with hypnotic and deadly powers of suggestion - lead the technical charge of surreal atmosphere by using contrasted light and shadow, canted angles and the like to create a dizzying sense of dread.
Can't say I've closely followed the unnecessary sequels churned out yearly, but the original RESIDENT EVIL is a pretty solid effort. And if we're talking apocalyptic zombie outbreaks as a result of a failed lab experiment, based on a video game or not, RE:1 respectively holds suit. The smoldering star-power of Milla Jovovich certainly doesn't hurt, neither do the modest budgets that turn tidy profits. I just wonder how much life Alice has left in her, how much passion her hubby/director Paul W.S. Anderson has left in the tank. Remember, RE:5 opens September 14th. Will it be the last?
It was such a swell idea, wasn't it? Why not usher in droves of curious tourists and let them peer into the lives of regenerated dinosaurs. What could possibly go wrong? Michael Chrichton writes, Steven Spielberg directs a bona fide blockbuster about such a topic. Fossilized DNA found in a mosquito is used to clone prehistoric beasts, and before long, the results of the experiment turns ghastly. Oddly enough, I feel that when the franchise persists through a 4th entry, the technological experiment from animatronic to CGI could prove just as horrendous. Stay practical Steven!
The great Ken Russell? The peerless Paddy Chayefsky? The always interesting Bill Hurt? Ah yes, it must be ALTERED STATES! Perhaps our most obscure of the bunch, if you haven't seen the flick - about a Harvard professor who subjects himself to a series of sensory depriving experiments - I suggest doing so ASAP. You see, the more malefic the experiments prove, the more the mind of Hurt's character devolves into a hallucinatory state of horror. Mind altering drugs help bare the subject's isolation, but ultimately suggest alterations in the body as well, ones that indicate biological regression. A trippy film.
Props to Stuart Gordon for carving dual-spaces on this here celebratory list. You can probably guess the other Lovecraft title he's responsible for, but until then, let's pay homage to the great 1986 splatter-zone FROM BEYOND, starring Jeffrey Combs and Ken Foree. The action kicks off when scientists open a parallel dimension by stimulating the pineal gland (6th sense, 3rd eye, whatever). Of course, a hellish underworld of over the top gore and darkly comedic evil is unearthed, and an oh so entertaining chain grisly mishaps and golden triumphs ensue. Not quite on par with RE-ANIMATOR, but not far behind.
Who wouldn't want a sibling like Bilal? No really, who wouldn't die for a 40-pound-mound-of-mutated-mass quartered in a picnic basket? What dreams are made of, really. Duane Bradley sure feels that way, even willing enough to kill for such brotherly love. And that's precisely what he does when, in a fit of vengeance, he seeks to serve justice to the quack doctors that forcefully separated the two Siamese twins. BASKET CASE is pure trash cinema, bereft of resources but bountiful in spirit, directed by Frank Henenlotter with great energy and panache.
F*ck I love this movie! I mean, what's not to delight in watching a failed experiment make a school of - giant, horny, slimy, violently perverted mutated fish-men - plunder and pillage a village of unsuspecting women? Seriously. How's that NOT the best thing ever? Throw in Vic Morrow in an equally foul blond Jew-fro...straight heaven! The fondest memories I have of watching this flick with my pops, ear to ear grins on both our mugs, giggling like schoolgirls at the sheer absurdity. Interesting to note that a woman directed the film, until Roger Corman fired her after refusing to insert more gratuitous footage. Corman was obliged.
A decollated dome dives for clams. Need I press on? Fine, if I must. If merits beyond having a decapitated head perform cunnilingus are in order, I'll speak to them. Just know, a head giving head is kind of epic. Really. But okay, instead I'll extol the unabashedly trashy entertainment of H.P. Lovecraft's story molded through the demented lens of Stuart Gordon. Hell, Gordon brings more Bad Taste than Peter Jackson! Add the inimitable Jeffrey Combs, the off the wall humor, the solid 80s FX, and of course, the bonkers scientific setup...RE-ANIMATOR's experiment gets an A for effort.
Any number of early Cronenberg works could have been cited for our purposes here (RABID, SCANNERS, THE BROOD, etc.), but in the end, is there a more seminal example of experimentation gone horribly awry than his remake of THE FLY? Kind of the perfect movie for this list, no? And what elevates it above the original? The gag-inducing makeup and FX work as we witness Seth Brundle devolve into hideous half-man/half-insect mutation. Shite's well over 25 years old and still causes me to avert my eyes from the screen at times. F*ckin' gnarly. Interesting aside, both Tim Burton and his pal Michael Keaton turned down a chance to do the movie.
Don't look so surprised! Frankly, Frankie's the OG. The progenitor. The mack. Who else was I going to award the gold to, his f*cked up bride? Please. Nope, when it comes to the king of monstrous laboratory mishaps, it's bolt-head every damn day of the week. It's been over 80 years and we still sympathize with the title character, partly because of his childlike innocence and inability to measure his own strength. We don't feel he's malicious, certainly not intent to kill, but at the same time, he can't really help but look and act the way he does. And so we're conflicted, as we can tell he is when he launches that poor little girl into the sip. Simply the best!