I know I should be working on my top 10 for the Sixties but Cthulhu makes it impossible to work during this time. Every October he gets antsy, he whines, he rattles his cage, he urges me to sacrifice my dog, and it really slows my work process. The only way I can survive October is if I watch things that just do not require me to think. So thank the Great Pumpkin for monster movies because they are just as fun to write about as they are to watch.
The “them” in the Fifties monster movie classic Them! are giant ants. Terrible grammar aside, Them! is arguably one of the better monster movies of its time. I think it was because the producers were ashamed of the giant ant robots they paid for because they are never seen in the first act. Them! actually begins as a very thrilling murder mystery. In fact, the mystery itself is so suspenseful that the film could have worked without the ants, but serial killers are not as cool as giant ants.
The reason why this switch from mystery to sci-fi works so well in Them! is what was missing in Cowboy & Aliens, it provides focus. Unlike Cowboy & Aliens, which juggled between two different genres until it looked like two mediocre films stitched together, the use of genre in Them! is structured around the ants. The mystery set up provides suspense and presence of the giant ants, similarly to Mrs. Bates in Psycho, and when they are revealed the film just explodes. The film just refuses to lose momentum, there is fire, ant guts, they even sink a friggin ship! This movie is pure silly fun, but more importantly it shows that even a silly idea can work if structured carefully... most of the time.
Night of the Lepus
Lepus is the Latin word for hare, as in bunny. Night of the Lepus is about giant killer rabbits terrorizing Middle America, and it is not a comedy. Now if there is one thing the world of cinema has taught anyone, it is that anything can be terrifying, bunnies are the exception. Yet the worst part is not the embarrassing concept of man-eating bunnies but how it is executed.
The filmmakers could have easily made the man-eating bunny film into a comedy, but no, they had to make into a serious realistic drama. Such realism created by having real bunnies hopping around in tiny replicas of the set, and it is adorable. Now I do not want to be subjective, but there is nothing in this world that is cuter than dozens of bunnies that are the size of bears, how am I suppose to be afraid of them? For all I know this movie is a huge conspiracy. I never see any rabbits eat people, what I did see is footage of a guy in bunny costume beating the tar out people, was he the true killer? Yes! Night of the Lepus is actually about a serial killer taking advantage of massive bunny outbreak and the government is covering it up. What I’m trying to say is that I fell in love with the bunnies and the ending made me cry a little bit.
Like Plan 9 from Outer Space, the beauty of Night of the Lepus comes from how absolutely incompetent it is as a production. During the yearlong process of creating Night of the Lepus, from writing the script to printing the film, nobody thought that this was an awful idea. If you are not sensitive to anything that looks like animal abuse (everything is fake but the shrieks are disturbing) then this film is a blast to watch.
Monsters movies are cool, no exceptions. Sure, they are nothing more than cinematic carnival spook houses, but they are just so charming. Even the awful ones are so crazy that they transcend its faults and become delicious cheese. Besides, it is not like art filmmakers have the cojones to put giant killers bunnies or ants in their works.