The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: Beasties (1991)

Posted by Damon Swindall - January 20th 2012 @ 10:56 pm

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

VHS cover

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and watched my way through the Ghoulies or Critters franchises, probably since they were originally released, but recently I bought all of them and plan on watching them again. Why the hell not? Who doesn’t love small creatures that kill and cause mischief? I’ve always been a big fan of the Gremlins films so when I read this week’s HMN pick was akin to all of these films I was stoked. Turns out that Stephen Paul Contreras’ Beasties has much less to do with the others and is beyond confusing with ideas and themes that are all over the place.

The confusing thematic issues start before the film even begins. “They’re horny little devils!” reads the film’s tagline. From that you would assume these little critters are going to by humping everything they find, but I don’t remember anyone, other than humans, trying to get their rocks off with anything. Instead you get two separate stories. One involves an underground punk/new wave club with followers of a whacked-out cult leader named Osires who is readying everyone for something special. He never really reveals what will happen beyond transforming into a zombie-like version of himself and preparing to battle one of the good guys before croaking. This is Nelson who, in the “other story”, has a run-in with the little beasts with his friends and finds their space ship. Nelson is the ultimate good guy, and total nerd, who must battle Osires for… something.

I don’t even know what the hell to say about the plot of this thing. I guess the two main stories are loosely related but the whole underground punk club thing has little to do with anything other than having a bunch of punks in the film. Friends of the director maybe. Even when the little beasties are on the screen they seem kind of like an afterthought to the plot. Nothing against their design, which I’ll get to momentarily, but they are there just to feed this Osires story that really goes nowhere and is not explored fully. Basically for a movie called Beasties they don’t get a lot of screentime, and that’s a real downer.

A beastie

- Ew, what is that shit?
- I don’t know. It looks like somebody had a snot festival.

There’s a small sample of the ridiculous dialog in the film. These characters are something else. Each one of them spews something even more stupid than the last, it’s surprising they’re all not just speaking gibberish by the end credits. And the power behind the delivery of Contreras’ masterful script is that of an elementary school play. Worst of all is the lead actor. His thick black framed glasses and plaid shirt cement him as a nerdy character but when he tries to explain these alien lifeforms to his way-too-hot-for-him girlfriend he’s as excited as if he was reading the ingredients in a loaf of bread.

Practically every actor and character in this film is a look-a-like of some other celebrity or a mash-up of pop culture icons. There are doppelgangers for a young Tony Hawk, Wilmer Valderrama and one of the more portly, hairy punks resembles Ron Jeremy dressed as Adam Ant. The head of the punkers is a total rip-off of Suicide from Return of the Living Dead, all the way down to the criss-crossed chains on his jacket and haughty attitude among his crew. The rest of the punk rockers wear tons of make-up and look very Motley Crue around the time the “Shout at the Devil” album was released. When it comes to Osires it’s hard to tell who he more reminds us of. One of my buddies, Javi (@JaviFuentes), likened him to a mix of Skeltor, Shredder and Predator, which is pretty accurate, though I like to think of him as the hispanic Rick James who is practicing Santeria. Although he also looks a little like Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat and one of the overweight female punk chicks sort of resembles Goro. What do you think?

Skeletor, is that you?

Since we’re talking about what things resemble I guess it’s only fair that I spend a few sentences on the titular characters themselves. What is really cool about the little bastards is how each one of them is designed a little differently. There are a small handful of the beasts but each one has a unique look and personality. Yes, a few do kind of resemble a penis with teeth – which would make a pretty awesome movie in its own right. Then when you go into to the spaceship you get to see the daddy of all our little critters and it turns out to be the biomechanical mutation of our hero Nelson from the future! Mind blown. He is a crazy mound of flesh with a large pulsating brain and little human look left. He sort of resembles either the monster from TerrorVision or Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Either way he’s pretty cool to gawk at and ridiculous premise aside makes for an impressive bit of FX.

The two computer generated shots of FX work are another story entirely. When future Nelson wants to communicate with his more human self and when the timecraft leaves we are treated to some amazing visual effects from that look bad and immediately dated when this originally came out in 1991. Hell, they would look bad in 1981. Poor quality aside, they are pretty amazing and made me super happy. Just watch the craft fly away and try not to smile.

CG Awesomeness

Sadly, this film was not everything I hoped. The creatures are mostly absent from a film that was supposed to be all about them and even when they were onscreen they don’t do much until the very end. It’s also filmed so dark that it’s hard to see what’s happening with the little guys. It feels like Contreras was trying to make two movies in the span of 80 minutes and failed at both of them. In the canon of little creature movies I would put this firmly at the bottom, even below Munchies – and that’s saying something.

Until next week – remember to never trust a man who sits on a throne made of bones.

Body Count: 9
First Death: 1:40
Best Death: Beasties feasting on a few punks
Funniest Non-CG Related Moment: Punk chick randomly flashing her boobs on the side of the rural road

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-1/18/12: Venom (1981)
-1/25/12: BYE Week
-2/1/12: Ice Cream Man (1995)
-2/8/12: The Evil (1978)

Heeeeeeey

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