Night Of The Killer Lamp: 23 Ridiculous Horror-Movie Adversaries
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1. Demonically possessed bed (Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, 1977)
The title says it all, really. Made for $30,000 over a five-year period—and never officially released until it was dug up for DVD in the early '00s—George Berry's inexplicable surreal-camp-horror film recently earned a mention in Patton Oswalt's comedy album Werewolves & Lollipops, in which he suggested Rape Stove as a possible sequel. Aside from luring potential nappers and love-makers with the promise of red velvety comfort, the centuries-old "death bed" isn't terribly active, which explains why it's been starving for 10 years in a crumbling estate before amorous young people begin stopping by again. Here's how the devilish contraption works: Victims are disrobed, surrounded by a burbling yellow goo, and sucked into an acid-filled waterbed mattress that dissolves their flesh and bones. Then the bed makes itself, on the off chance that another orgy might develop within the next decade or so. Weirdest touch in a movie full of them: Though the victims are submerged in a kind of acid bath, the sound effect is of someone vigorously chomping on an apple. The bed also snores, leaving viewers to ponder the metaphysical paradox of a bed sleeping on itself.
2. Floor lamp (Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, 1989)
So far, The Amityville Horror has spawned a whopping eight sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, but surely none of them is as ridiculous as the cheapie Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes, in which Satan stops possessing a house and starts possessing bad household decor. After scaring some particularly flinchy priests, an ugly brass lamp full of evil escapes the much-filmed Amityville and winds up in a California house occupied by recent widow Patty Duke, her three kids, and her mom, Jane Wyatt. (In the process, it gives Wyatt's sister tetanus, in a particularly low-key display of Satanic might.) Even though it has the power to flash ominously, cover itself with flies, somehow stuff the family bird into a toaster oven, and activate a chainsaw and a garbage disposal at inopportune moments, the lamp makes a phenomenally inert villain, and the film's constant attempts to make it frightening border on camp—particularly in the scene where it slowly edges across a room, sneaking up on the unsuspecting Duke. Eventually, after a pitched battle, Duke, Wyatt, and a priest beat the devil—by throwing the lamp out a window.
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3. Giant tree (The Guardian, 1990)
Here's a solid piece of advice: If you're dealing with an evil tree, stay out of the forest. Not unlike the menace in Death Bed, the tree in William Friedkin's The Guardian can't really go anywhere, so it mostly relies on sexy nanny Jenny Seagrove to bring it infant sacrifices as part of a tree-worshipping druidic ritual. (For holding up her end of the bargain, the frequently naked Seagrove gets fondled by twigs.) Still, Friedkin and company come up with increasingly ridiculous reasons for potential victims to flee straight into the forest, where they're beheaded by branches, impaled by roots, and swallowed up by a trunk that bleeds the blood of the innocent. Too bad this ancient menace lived to see the birth of its unstoppable modern adversary: The chainsaw.
4. Laundry folding machine (The Mangler, 1995)
The capitalist machine may be oiled by the blood of the workers, but that metaphor was never meant to play as literally as it does in The Mangler, a supremely goofy adaptation of a Stephen King short story. Even when working properly, the giant industrial laundry-folding machine at Blue Ribbon Laundry looks like it could take a non-union limb or two. But this one's demonically possessed, fueled by virgin's blood and kept in operation by a Mr. Burns/Dr. Strangelove-like figure (Robert Englund) who convinces safety inspectors to look the other way whenever the body of another sweatshop worker winds up neatly pressed. Like many of the adversaries on this list, the machine is heavy and completely inanimate, but it's surprisingly resourceful, like when it transfers its malevolent powers to an evil icebox. Then again, it needn't be so clever, not when people keep trying to get a closer look by crawling into its hungry maw.
5. Whipped cream, (The Stuff, 1985)
The B-movie king of great ideas and so-so execution, writer-director Larry Cohen came up with a doozy of a premise for his satirical horror movie The Stuff, but the satire was only half-realized, and he seemed to forget about the horror part altogether. Found bubbling up from a snow bank like delicious, delicious oil, "The Stuff" is a whipped-cream-like substance that becomes a taste sensation, a low-calorie, ready-to-eat option for families across America. The one minor caveat? It eats people alive from the inside, turning its hosts into dead-eyed zombies. In concept, Cohen has come up with an ingenious dig at capitalism: the consumer being consumed by consumables. But he has a harder time turning tubs of whipped cream into the Stuff of nightmares.
6. Killer baboon (Shakma, 1990)
In theory, a killer baboon driven mad by experimental injections—administered by callous professor Roddy McDowall, no less—sounds like a wicked cool beastie. In practice, said baboon most often takes the form of a limp, furry doll, which its "victims" jerk about while pretending to be mauled. Shakma's few shots of a live baboon going apeshit look suitably unhinged, though more in a comic way than a scary way. As for the cast—a motley collection of TV teens and dimming "stars of the future"—they make better baboon fodder than they do likeable heroes. Absurd or not, it's easier to root for an inanimate fur-suit than for Christopher Atkins.
7. The Fouke Monster (The Legend Of Boggy Creek, 1972)
Director Charles B. Pierce takes an unusual approach to the horror genre with Boggy Creek, structuring the film like a documentary, full of grainy nature footage and "interviews" with people who survived encounters with the legendary woodland ape-man that some know as Sasquatch, some as Bigfoot, and some—well, the people from Fouke, AR anyway—know as The Fouke Monster. The Legend Of Boggy Creek is sleepily episodic, and about as intense as a bloodless G-rated monster movie can be, which means that most of the scares consist of people almost seeing The Fouke Monster before making a pretty wide escape. Whew! That was… not that close, really.
8. Goblin army (Troll 2, 1990)
There's a good reason there's a documentary in the works about the making of Troll 2 titled Best Worst Movie. This Italian production—originally called Goblin, which more accurately describes its bad guys—follows an American family trying to escape a legion of mythical creatures who turn humans into plants, then eat them. Atrocious acting aside, Troll 2's goblins are extra-ridiculous because of their costumes, which resemble potato sacks topped with Halloween masks. Frankly, they're nowhere near as scary as the ghostly grandpa who advises young hero Michael Stephenson to piss all over the family's dinner so they won't undergo "the change." Next to an old man with a pee fetish, a bunch of little people dressed in Dollar Store leftovers barely raises a shriek.
9. Killers from space (Killers From Space, 1954)
A trio of space aliens reveals to a nuclear scientist their plans to use America's atomic technology to grow giant mutated animals, destroy all humans, and colonize the Earth. And they'd be a lot easier to take seriously if they didn't make this threat while wearing heavy, hooded black tunics and flashing their ping-pong-ball eyes. If you crossbred Marty Feldman with a Muppet, you'd just about equal the level of menace of the killers from space. (Fun fact: This movie was directed by Billy Wilder's brother. See if you can spot the telltale Wilder sophistication.)
10. Semi-mobile puppets (Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare, 1987)
Canadian metal star Jon Mikl Thor scripted and stars in this low-budget, claustrophobic, batshit-insane film about a Canadian metal star who's actually an archangel called The Intercessor. He's itching to fight Satan himself, but for some reason, the Father Of Lies chooses to manifest in the form of disturbingly phallic, one-eyed puppets before showing his true form: a really big, slightly less phallic two-eyed puppet. Or half of one, anyway. The climactic fight scene displays virtually every inch of Thor's body, but only the barely mobile upper half (and feet) of His Satanic Majesty. Hey, even Beelzebub has to make budget.
11. Homicidal vending machine (Maximum Overdrive, 1986)
In 1976's Silent Movie, Mel Brooks and company hold off bad guys using vending-machine soda as hand grenades. But what if the machine turned evil? That's precisely what happens in this awful Stephen King adaptation, directed by King himself. Under the influence of either a comet tail or alien invaders, all machines suddenly turn homicidal—even a lowly soda machine. It tries to take out an entire Little League team by launching cans from its dispenser. One, naturally, nails a guy in the crotch. All that's missing is someone quipping, "I told you soda was bad for you!"
12. Vampire dogs (Zoltan: Hound Of Dracula, 1978)
Pity poor Zoltan. Once he was a peasant's happy dog. Then, after interrupting Dracula mid-bite, he was forever enslaved to the bloodsucking ways of his new master. After a couple centuries, Zoltan resurfaces in 1970s California, intent on terrorizing the family of Dracula's distant relatives, starting with their dogs. A vampire dog isn't the worst idea for a horror-film foe but there's nothing particularly scary about Zoltan, a perfectly pleasant-looking Doberman outfitted with a pair of unconvincing prosthetic fangs (courtesy of a young Stan Winston). Even less scary: Fight scenes in which the actors appear to be fighting off doggie kisses, and a final scene that sets up a sequel involving Zoltan's downright adorable Dracupup offspring.
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13. Rapping leprechaun (Leprechaun In The Hood, 2000)
By the time Leprechaun In The Hood hit undiscriminating video stores in 2000, original star Leprechaun star Jennifer Aniston was long gone, the titular diminutive badass had weathered a trip to space in the franchise's fourth entry, and the brain trust behind the series had more or less given up on even trying to be scary. Like Seed Of Chucky, Leprechaun In The Hood—which co-stars such paycheck-hungry rap luminaries as Ice-T and Coolio—trades in bad horror for leaden camp as Warwick Davis busts rhymes and menaces a trio of rappers who've come into possession of his magical flute. Yes, magical flute. Cause honestly what's more terrifying than a rapping leprechaun? Oh wait, just about everything. That nevertheless didn't prevent a return trip back to the hood for Davis and the gang in 2002's no doubt grindingly essential Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood.
14. Fetus in a bottle (The Jar, 1984)
Eraserhead was a cult classic, but it understandably didn't prompt a lot of knockoffs. An exception can be found in the 1984 shocker The Jar, a bizarre psychodrama about a hirsute, sullen loner (Gary Wallace) tormented by a mysterious, bottled embryo-like creature that gradually tears his life apart and induces ostensibly frightening hallucinations involving crucifixion and the Vietnam War. Wallace shifts the jar's location around, but he can't outrun its extremely silly, abstract evil. The titular fiend ultimately drives Wallace to kill in what can only be described as the apex of storage-unit-based horror.
15. Tree-monster thingy (Wendigo, 2001)
Larry Fessenden makes thinking people's horror movies, which is a nice way of saying his movies are metaphorically rich but not terribly frightening. That certainly holds true of 2001's Wendigo, an atmospheric would-be scare fest about a big city family that encounters a half-man, half-deer shape-shifting creature that can transform into anything. Unfortunately, in Wendigo, the title beastie transforms into a weird tree creature that's ultimately more silly than scary. Fessenden followed up with this year's Last Winter, another metaphor-heavy, scare-light allegory about global warming.
16. Robot monster (Robot Monster, 1953)
Often mentioned alongside Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space as a science-fiction movie so incompetent that it's charming, Robot Monster was made in four days for $16,000 with mainly amateur actors, and it shows. The cheapness and lackluster production design is epitomized by the bizarre appearance of the movie's title villain. Director Phil Tucker cast veteran stuntman and actor George Barrows as Ro-Man the robot monster for one simple reason: Barrows already owned his own gorilla suit. Because that's what a robot looks like, right? A diving helmet was added to give Ro-Man at least some semblance of actually being a mechanical creature, but as Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson quipped, "I've seen Salvador Dali paintings that made more sense than this." Even weirder: Ro-Man talks like Frasier Crane and speaks in sentences that sound like Donald Rumsfeld wrote them: "I cannot. Yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do 'must' and 'cannot' meet? Yet I must. But I cannot."
17. Rug/slug thing (The Creeping Terror, 1964)
Unlike Ro-Man, the alien beast in The Creeping Terror actually is kind of creepy. And in fact, the same basic concept—an amorphous, amoeba-like creature that eats and eats and eats—was handled well in a similar movie, The Blob. What dooms The Creeping Terror to laughability is a combination of general filmmaking incompetence and legendary bad luck. The story goes that the filmmakers' original alien costume was either stolen or destroyed only days before filming. The replacement they were forced to build in order to finish the movie is, well, not great. Intended to be a giant slug-like creature, the monster looks like it was sewn together from carpet remnants and tarp. The crewmembers' feet are often clearly visible underneath, and the whole assemblage moves so slowly that the actors playing its victims literally have to stop and wait for it to catch up to them.
18. Octopus-man (Octaman, 1971)
Makeup artist Rick Baker has won six Oscars for his work, which includes highly praised creature designs on An American Werewolf In London and Star Wars. But everyone's gotta start somewhere, and Baker's first movie was inauspicious, to say the least: Octaman, a cheapie horror-thriller about a deadly man/octopus hybrid mutant terrorizing a Mexican town. It was written and directed by Harry Essex, who basically rehashed the major ideas from his considerably more successful 1954 screenplay, Creature From The Black Lagoon. The monster in Black Lagoon is an iconic classic; Octaman is just a guy in a very unconvincing rubber suit. To fake the appearance of eight limbs, Baker simply suspended two extra arm-tentacles by wires attached to the actor's real arms, and attached two pathetic-looking rubber legs to the back of the real legs. Just how bad was the movie? Here's Baker himself, from an interview with the website revolutionsf.com: "The very first film that I did was Octaman, with [actress] Pier Angeli. Don't ever watch it. You'll lose all respect for me. I was like, 'I'm making a movie!' It was shot in 10 days. Pier Angeli killed herself immediately after Octaman was filmed. Can't blame her."
19. Evil brains (The Brain From Planet Arous, 1957)
Earth is invaded by an extraterrestrial evil criminal mastermind—a literal mind. The inhabitants of the planet Arous are brains—giant, disembodied brains with glowing eyes, who can take over human bodies and use them for nefarious criminal purposes, including leering at their host bodies' girlfriends. In practice, though, the brains from planet Arous look more like helium balloons with lightbulbs for eyes.
20. Bulldozer (Killdozer, 1974)
Based on a 1944 novella by celebrated science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, the TV movie Killdozer has one of the weirdest premises—and most awesome titles—of its era. A group of construction workers on a Pacific Island accidentally strike a meteorite with the blade of a bulldozer, releasing a malevolent alien made out of blue light that possesses the earthmover, creating a rampaging, driverless mechanical killer with no apparent need for gas, but plenty of bloodlust. Beyond the premise and title, though, the movie doesn't have much to recommend itself—it's a fairly lackluster made-for-TV blandfest, though it does boast an early credit for future TV star Robert Urich. And it inspired the name of the influential 1990s-era punk band, which counts for something.
21. General proximity to nature (Frogs, 1972)
Frogs just aren't very scary. In theory, though, a whole swamp full of poisonous snakes, alligators, spiders, lizards, scorpions, and leeches, with some frogs thrown in as garnish, might be kind of frightening. George McCowan's Frogs seems to get this—in spite of the title and the poster depicting a particularly pop-eyed frog with a bloodied human hand poking out of its mouth, the freakin' frogs in Frogs never actually kill anyone. They just hang around and try their damnedest to look menacing while cranky billionaire Ray Milland insists his poison-and-pollute anti-nature policies are right and just, no matter how many members of his extended family fall prey to vengeful nature. Unfortunately, their deaths are laughably choreographed, and usually involve shots of victims rolling around screaming in mud or water, interspersed with close-up shots of animals swimming or sitting around peaceably. Some of the better sequences involve death by looking at a zoomed-in shot of a snapping turtle, death by repeatedly grabbing and rolling around on top of an alligator whose mouth is clearly banded shut, and Milland's apparent death by just generally being freaked out by all the frogs in his vicinity. Moral: don't get within 50 feet of nature, or some Spanish moss might fall off a tree and bury you to death while tarantulas watch nearby.
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22. Rabbits (Night Of The Lepus, 1972)
The trailer for William F. Claxton's Night Of The Lepus is all about the mystery: What hideous creature is haunting the night? What's killing all those people? What the heck is the adversary in this film? Answer: bunnies. Giant carnivorous mutant bunnies. Which look suspiciously like perfectly normal bunnies hopping around in slow motion, with scary roaring and snarling noises superimposed on the soundtrack. Hey, at least they're more ferocious than those frogs.
23. Elevator (The Lift, 1983)
Elevators conjure up two very real fears: being trapped in a confined space, and falling hundreds of feet to your death. But making an entire movie (two movies, actually, since director Dick Maas remade his original Dutch production as 2001's The Shaft, with Naomi Watts) that revolves around a murderously sentient lift takes a certain amount of chutzpah. There's only so much it can do to kill people, though it does somehow develop the ability to empty itself of oxygen to suffocate its passengers, and it gets the drop on an unwitting victim by descending unexpectedly, cutting his head off. Next time, we'll take the stairs.