Suggested Audio Candy:
 Whodini “Freaks Come Out at Night”
 Claudio Simonetti “Demons Theme”
 Korn “Freak on A Leash”
The word grotesque commonly refers to someone/thing unnatural, unpleasing to the eye or flat-out bizarre. I’m fine with all the above and will take a lot of pleasure from this letter in particular as my middle name happens to be macabre. I simply adore anything repugnant, so this is my opportunity to celebrate all that is weird and wonderful with other suchlike freaks and reprobates.
Such a vast canvas is afforded me and its tough fathoming where the hell to begin so I shall start with the first grotesque VHS image that seduced my retinas, John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was mesmerized by the vision of some poor sap in mid-metamorphosis, and it was game over for me from that point onwards. Needless to say, my father was coerced into renting the film that very evening and I sat alongside him to drink in the debauchery. The moment which I will take with me into my next life occurred just before the famed blood-test scene when The Thing shifted gear and walloped us with its full might, dead centre of our kidneys.
Dr. Copper busted out the defibrillator paddles to revive his fallen comrade, who appeared to be suffering cardiac arrest. Bad fucking move Doc! As he endeavored to jump-start the ailing man, the ribcage opened into a mass of chomping teeth that Pamela Voorhees would be proud of and hapless Doc went elbow deep, at which point they slammed shut, claiming both hands and his wristwatch in the process. What transpired next was both utterly hideous and a work of sublime genius. The head of the replicated man dropped to the floor where it proceeded to sprout arachnid limbs and scurry around to everyone’s disgust. No sooner had we regained our poise, than Palmer begun convulsing on that couch and it all started once more, much to Windows’ disparagement.
We’re off to a winning start and, thankfully, there has never been a shortage of fucked up in the horror genre as proved by the next movie under my microscope. Brian Yuzna’s satirical schlock-fest, Society, actually started out reasonably stable, aside from the disconcerting moment when Bill walked in on his sibling while she soaped her breasts in the shower. Nothing too deranged right? Wrong! The glands she lathered were situated on her back. At this point it left convention way behind and, by the final act, had descended into total bedlam.
Before our disbelieving eyes was an exhibition of downright debauchery never before imagined as our socialites revealed what they really got up to at their personal soirées. Butt-face was taken to a new level of literal, bizarre concoctions of sheer insanity paraded around with arms for legs, one chap took a journey through his own internal system as he was tugged through his own asshole, but it was the notorious shunt exercise, entailing an orgy of gooey extravagance, that finally tipped Yuzna’s cult movie completely over the edge into utter depravity.
Following that is no easy feat, but when your arsenal consists of work from Canadian master, David Cronenberg, it suddenly becomes more than feasible. His body modification against social order double bill comprising Shivers and Rabid were also culpable of scarring my fragile mind. In the latter, late porn starlet Marilyn Chambers gave an excellent turn as Rose, a motorcycle crash victim who developed an uncanny ability to transmit her sickness via underarm schlong. I shit you not, Rose would seduce and tantalize before lubing up her bonus-gland and getting her jollies. As previously with the marvelously off-its-trolley Shivers, it culminated in a mass free-for all whereby Rabid lived very much up to its mantra. Consequently, I never did get that dirt bike.
Apologies in advance but I simply cannot discuss the grotesque without a nod to Harry Bromley Davenport’s ludicrous masterpiece Xtro. This fantastical piece of B-Movie spam featured a particularly unhinged denouement for Bond girl-in-waiting Maryam D’Abo, who could have done with James as she morphed into a gargantuan alien phallus cum reproductive production line which manufactured what could only be described as E.T.’s extra testicle. If that sounds unhinged, then don’t get me started on the life-size Action Man, agorophobic panther, or home birthing of a man in his mid-forties who I’m pretty sure was wearing Doc Copper’s Casio wristwatch. If that isn’t sufficient to make you watch Xtro, then it also starred queen of the MILF, Bernice Stegers.
Around the same time as Xtro there was another delightful low-rent sci-fi horror doing the rounds. Whilst not as unhinged as Davenport’s movie, Bruce D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror was still pretty outlandish. The standout scene featured a gloriously offensive molestation initiated by a giant space worm (okay, only marginally less unhinged). Dameia was oiled up and ready for a pounding but struggled with the girth, thus ending coitus with dignity obliterated and life-force well and truly banged out of her. Poor lass! One of a string of superior early eighties oddities to splurge from the invincible Roger Corman assembly line, Galaxy of Terror proved, along with stablemates Forbidden World and Humanoids of the Deep, that a bloated kitty isn’t necessary to make a decent movie.
Frank Henenlotter has always been one of the more extrovert filmmakers on the horror circuit and two of his finest films arrived in a flush period for him…the eighties. The first of this deadly duo, and a true cult classic, was Basket Case. This was the tale of Siamese twins with a difference. One was pretty ordinary, suffering no noticeable defects, just your regular everyday nobody. However, the less fortunate twin really drew the short straw! With a face for radio, Belial resembled a large mound of John Merrick’s plastic surgery off-cuts. This hideous man-womb was far too deformed to lead a prosperous existence. It’s hard to woo the ladies when resembling spat out bubble gum. So Duane contained him in a picnic hamper but didn’t disregard his bro. No, the bond between brethren is a sturdy one, and so he was obliged to lug around his excretion and act as Belial’s chaperone. I’d really be narked If I was dealt that cruel card and Belial was, after all, only humanish.
Speaking of which, Henenlotter’s 1987 head-trip Brain Damage followed a similar thread. Brian played unwilling host to a brazen turd-like acquaintance named Aylmer (you know, the one that achieves splashdown whilst still mid rappel), who nestled in behind his collar barking its instructions to its personal biotch. At least you can shut the lid on a basket! Anyhoots, it wasn’t all bad as Brian was a tad partial to a certain narcotic produced by his personal pusher and the equivalent of LSD was jacked-in via intravenous means in the ultimate hook-up.
No money changed hands, as Aylmer didn’t possess them, and perpetual supplies were guaranteed. Instead the payment plan entailed numerous extras being offered for sacrificial purpose. Fair do’s if you ask me. Demanding little bastard just kept on, and as any parties who have ever dropped acid will confirm, eventually your body builds up a resistance to a drug such as this. Going cold pheasant proved a thorny endeavor as the little piece of crap was holding the needle, Brian simply carrying the can.
Lamberto Bava followed in his legendary father’s rather hefty footsteps and carried forth the baton, hitting pay-dart with Demons and, on a marginally lesser note, Demons 2. The original revolved around a mask, stylishly crafted and full of sheen, which sat in the lobby of a lock-in cinema just waiting to be pimped. Just so happened, Bobby Rhodes was in town that evening with a brace of bitches coked-up to their foreheads and preparing to go off the leash. Upon donning the visor, skank #1 took a nick from the metallic face-crest and, from there, it slid downhill for the trapped patrons with the velocity of an eel on a flume.
Rosemary then let herself go and got that new manicure she’d being blowing dicks all month for. Spewing greenish gloop from her vast oral cavity, she tormented the fuck out of Stevie Wonder’s swing ball partner and his daughter. Our strumpet also decided that the best way to play Cupid was to strangulate both parties mid-rendezvous, locking them together in eternal embrace while she chortled to herself like a woman crazed. Evidently, everyone from that epoch went to the movies merely to get their kinky kicks and my presumption would be that most of the ladies in Demons were on Bobby’s books too, just not his “bitch of the week” like Rosemary.
Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs had forged a solid alliance after the critical and financial success of Re-Animator and worked together once more on From Beyond in 1987. Like The Thing, the box-art sold it effortlessly with its candid depiction of what lurked inside its box. Horror’s kindest juggernaut, Ken Foree, came to a somewhat sticky end as he rued ever using honey extracts to moisturize with, while mad scientist Combs once again stole the show as he got balls-deep in equal amounts of phlegm and mucus. Barbara Crampton also made a return trip from Re-Animator, once again showcasing her ample endowments although this time through the vessel of S&M. Although it has aged considerably, From Beyond still holds up after all these years.
The Deadly Spawn were renowned for crashing parties. They knew how to put it away too, enough to digest Audrey II as just a light snack between courses. Chomping was where they were at their most contented and chomp they did, in glorious grue-sopping Technicolor. Tooth decay was only ever one meal away and their chronic halitosis was enough to sting your nostrils, but they cared not. They were happy bless ’em! And when they were happy, we were too.
The Incredible Melting Man was one of those grand ill-fated B-movies which has never made the transition to a modern-day audience. It’s a crying shame as William Sachs’ feisty little number was always good value and featured some decent splatter. Just like Cropsy and The Toxic Avenger, Steve West had to abandon his underwear modeling career (I’m not convinced Toxie ever gave it up), after a routine space exhibition went a bit Cheech and Chong and he was exposed to some malicious rays which, in turn, caused him to meltdown faster than a sun-bound stalagmite. Messy, very messy, and it got particularly messy for a reclusive fisherman who ended up catching carp with his teeth after a brutal decapitation.
Douglas Cheek’s C.H.U.D. means nothing when not called by its full title. Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller had a far more interesting ring to it and, despite never quite living up to its grand title, it made for a quaint diversion. This was due, in no small part, to John Heard and Daniel Stern as George and The Reverend, and some delicious dark comedy running through its spine. I never did care much for hanging out in sewers, perhaps it’s being up to my knees in human feces that dissuades me, and C.H.U.D. did absolutely nada to change that.
Another affable obscurity was Philippe Mora’s The Beast Within, which simply melted into oblivion. Deserving of the tagline “they don’t make ’em like that any more”, Mora’s film featured a teenage boy who steadily metamorphosed into a cicada after his mother was raped by…a giant randy cicada, many years back. Some guys have all the luck and Michael MacCleary was never one of the guys. However, he could boast to be the only were-cicada in cinematic history so there were reasons to be cheerful. Tom Holland’s tight script, brooding tone, and a wonderfully OTT transformation raised this well above the silage.
Speaking of which, how about those Muck Men? Shuffling atronarchs of gassy omission; these uncouth wind-bags farted more than a gassy pensioner, as they ambled around Genie Joseph’s amiable hotchpotch Spookies no wiser to what the plan was than the director. It endured a troubled shoot after the original directors were released from their duties, which invariably harmed the end product considerably. Nevertheless it had its charms; no major felonies were committed, and its SFX was praised, garnering awards along the way. No award for coherence, but worth a look if you’re so inclined. As for the Muck Men; regrettably they struggled to find work afterwards. Marty Muck went on to film a couple of commercials for Anusol and Meredith got hooked on Meth, blew a bell boy in Turin, and died in his mid-forties through Typhoid. There are many shrines in his memorial, notably on sidewalks and blazing on front doorsteps around Halloween.
Uzumaki! I can’t forget Uzumaki! At the turn of the millennia, when our oriental friends were at the summit of their horror insurgence, Higuchinsky came up with a plainly preposterous piece of tomfoolery which focused around spirals. Also ingeniously known as Spiral, Uzumaki explored the concept of hypnosis and came off as an Eastern cousin to Bigas Luna’s Anguish. Whilst not being gifted with ensemble actors of Zelda Rubenstein and Michael Lerner’s caliber, it did provide evidence of the Japanese at their most visceral.
Whereas Anguish channeled its hypnosis into an interlude format, Uzumaki just got progressively more mesmerizing as it wore on. It drew you into its nightmarish netherworld and danced on your retinas until you couldn’t help succumb. Higuchinsky also wasn’t averse to frightening the hair from your scalp (not a positive when you consider how unpleasant oriental hair can really be). Think Oliver Stone’s The Hand then drip-feed it opiates and there’s your ballpark right there.
Evil Dead Trap, on the opposing hand, derailed completely with a conclusion which the first two acts never so much as hinted at. Sometimes narrative isn’t requisite, Lucio Fulci’s work wasn’t exactly known for its logic, and The Beyond wasn’t nominated for any screenplay awards now was it? For the most part, Toshiharu Ikeda’s film stuck to the tested slasher template and did so admirably, but something tells me was in a dark place by the close of the film and just thought “Fuck it! I’m going to throw in a curveball and really mess ’em all over”. That’s when he introduced Hideke, a parasitic telekinetic mess of a child and the rest is best experienced first-hand as words just couldn’t do it justice.
Brief mention must go to Peter Jackson who proved he’s man, not Muppet with his off-the-wall homage to Henson’s thriving workshop, namely Meet The Feebles. I grew up with The Muppet Show, so the emission of Beaker, Bunsen, and the Swedish chef plus poultry, was a bitter pill to swallow. However, with Jackson at the helm, the replacements were every bit as fascinating. These included a strangely alluring plus-size burlesque hippo, a shit-chomping gutter press paparazzi fly, and a whole host of real Feebles, with real issues, addictions and psychotic undercurrents.
The Kindred was another overlooked horror from the epoch. Rod Steiger popped up in Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow’s curious sci-fi which centered on John, another poor schmuck left cursing his bloodline after he learned more about his mother’s bizarre experiments and discovered he had a brother. As you would imagine, he was presented with a rather large shit sandwich to tuck into upon introduction to his elusive kin. Alas for John, a picnic hamper just wouldn’t cut the mustard on this occasion.
More recently, Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage shoehorned as much grotesque imagery as its modest kitty afforded (and more that it clearly didn’t). Andrew Divoff took centre stage as a deranged scientist who transmogrified into something only a Mother could tuck in at night. Borderline ludicrous, Kurtzman’s B-Movie was undeniably happy in its lunacy and was difficult to chastise just for its audacity and Birdemic-like CGI if nothing else.
Clive Barker is always good value for some good old grotesque fantasy and it is Nightbreed that I wish to gush over next. Development hell ensured that we wouldn’t be exposed to the director’s cut until recently and it was a little too ambitious for its own good but there were too ingredients nobody could take away from Barker: the outstanding make-up effects and a menacing turn from no other than Cronenberg as the ominous Dr. Dekker. Each creation had care, affection, and expertise, lavished upon it and the resulting film benefited infinitely from this committed approach. If ever a work has merited the mantle “flawed classic” then Barker’s near-miss is that movie.
There’s a story behind our final entry into this vile smorgasbord of the unsightly. Some of you will be aware of Lucifer Valentine’s Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, a flick never fashioned for a mainstream audience. It plopped into fetish horror/soft porn categorization, which was all well and good, but the prospect of upchucking undesirables was a touch too unappealing, even with my generous boundaries. What possible appeal could there be to witnessing unremitting ralphing, no matter how erotic its styling? The wrong ‘un who subjected me to this repugnant curate’s piece possesses no discernible filter and we keep him shackled up in the vaults, allowing visitation only to present his daily giblets. He grunts, snarls and occasionally howls at the moon, although if you tickle the balls of his feet with the Crimson Quill he has been known to nuzzle your leg.
On first exposure, S.V.D., which sounds decidedly contagious, came across as amateurish and wretch-inducing. However I have since had the tentative pleasure of viewing the Nekromantik films, numerous films from Vogel, Ittenbach, Buttgereit and Schnaas, not to mention the exclusive honor of enduring the Violent Shit quadrilogy (if ever a slipper fit). After all that, it comes across as…amateurish and wretch-inducing, although should you have a penchant for drinking puke from a pint glass, then go ahead and knock yourself out…you sick puppies.
On that note, and with a twinge of acid reflux rising in my esophagus, I bring this entry to a close. That should be plentiful appetite-depletion to illustrate my fascination with the grotesque, so many other examples of “the sickness” have not made it into this piece but that’s the intimate beauty of The True ABCs of Death sequence; there’s twenty-six letters to catch them all which means I can run this shit like Henson. Now, if you will excuse me, I have tickets to the hippo burlesque. Bobby Rhodes has lent me three bitches and one of them offered to carry my wicker basket. Bless.
Witness The Sickness
Have you not left yet? Okay then, I suppose I can throw in a gallery. Fuck yeah I will. How could I possibly pass up another opportunity to loosen the lunch from your digestive tracts? The following imagery may well rob you of I.Q. points but it will make up for that with a faint itching sensation around your genitals. Apply some creme and you should be good in a few days.