The Phantom of Regular Size (1986)

Industrial-sounding mayhem, and did I hear a Psychic TV song? Nervous guy is attacked by a Freddy Krueger type in the subway, transforms into a scrap-metal mutant-man who kills his girlfriend with his giant spinning drill cock. A psychically linked rival appears, they face off and travel in stop-motion like The Wizard of Speed and Time. Looks wonderfully cheap and frantic, even the titles are scrawled Brakhage-style in rapid partial title cards.


Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988)

Guy goes to a workshop, cuts his leg open and shoves a metal rod in, but only seems to realize the horror of this after it becomes infected, then he runs down the street until hit by a car. Our new guy, who turns out to have been the driver in that last scene, finds metal in his cheek while shaving, woman next to him on the train station touches metal thing on the floor and it becomes her hand, she chases him down and they battle… he defeats her but his feet turn into rocket shoes.

Between Maniac and Tsukamoto, subway restrooms are gonna be a theme this month. This is also my second movie in a row where the male lead is butt-raped, but this time it’s by a Doctor Octopus lady in a possible dream sequence. It’s a semi-remake of the short, but in this version the girlfriend does stab him a bunch of times with a kitchen knife and burn him with a hot pan before he drills her while unconscious. Tetsuo’s off the hook, if not the filmmaker.

See Also: Haze

Girlfriend (who helped dump the guy from beginning in the woods) is dead in the tub until the metal guy outside infects the house through its pipes and she attacks again, then transmogrifies into him, and they go speed-and-timing through the streets.

I’m sure the director had a good idea of what was happening in the last ten minutes, two metal-encrusted mutants in an extreme stop-motion battle, but I didn’t. Most of the movie is very watchable, which is only surprising since I’ve seen this before on VHS, and remember it bring a spastic, plotless, ear-piercing nightmare. In either event I wouldn’t have pinned this filmmaker to direct a prestige remake of Fires on the Plain, looking forward to that one.

Lavinia is introduced by the lake, doing a wiccan ritual to cure her mom of cancer and get herself out of this town, when a wandering hydrologist interrupts – it’s convenient that a hydrologist is on-site exactly when an alien color-force lands via meteor and gets into the locals via the well water. Lavinia’s cancerous mom is Joely Richardson (of a movie-royalty family, previously of Drowning by Numbers and the Ken Russell Lady Chatterley), her dad is Nic Cage (toned down from Mandy, and better), doing his damnedest to inform America that alpacas are the animal of the future (they are!).

Lavinia and little brother Jack-Jack:

Cage vs. The Color (Purple):

Soon the mutations begin. Mom reabsorbs Jack, stoner brother Benny and his buddy Tommy Chong see otherworldy visions, the alpacas fuse into a many-headed blob, and Cage takes care of business with a shotgun. I think Lavinia helps bring about the apocalypse! Stanley is beloved for some 1990’s cult films… good music by the composer from Hereditary… shot by a music video vet (Grinderman’s “Heathen Child”). The first major Lovecraft feature since Beyond Re-Animator and Dagon in the early 2000’s (RIP Stuart Gordon).

Hydrologist, Benny, Tommy:

Hi, mom:

Ex-soldier returns for a secret mission with a small group of new teammates who get picked off one-by-one… sounds like the usual, but it’s got some neat twists that make it play more like a prequel to Under the Skin. Natalie Portman is a scientist (unsubtly reading the Henrietta Lacks book in flashback) who volunteers to go into the “shimmer,” an alien-comet-infected zone of lifeform transformation and combination, searching for whatever has freaked-out and half-killed her soldier husband Oscar Isaac.

“Very few of us commit suicide, but we all self-destruct” – musings on life and death and states in between, as they pass beautifully mutated flora and flee from horrific bear-creatures that imitate human screams. The second half of the film has the trailer music, themes played on a sampling keyboard programmed with the Inception Sound, but the first half is surprisingly full of acoustic guitar, as the team struggles to make a plan when some want to turn back and their sense of time and direction is disoriented. The white girl with the weakest distinguishing characteristics (Tuva Novotny) dies first, fortunately. Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) gets paranoid and ties up the others before her face is ripped off by a screaming bear. A very young-looking Tessa Thompson gives herself up to the transformative space and becomes a tree. Team leader Jennifer Jason Leigh and Portman carry on, and Portman discovers a shimmery humanoid that learns how to imitate her before the real Portman dies from a fire grenade, same as her late husband, and the Alien Portman joins the Alien Husband outside the zone.

One of the key films leading to my lifelong horror fascination, and a movie that it’s now obvious I should never have watched in theaters at age nine. Fun to rewatch now – it holds up beautifully. The dialogue is funny and well-written, and the leads are charismatic, which should immediately place it near the top of any 1980’s horror list. The horror element itself is interesting too, as Jeff Goldblum examines his transformation scientifically then slowly loses himself into Brundlefly, killing nobody and only threatening his journalist girlfriend Geena Davis at the very end. Creature effects are top-notch – it deservedly won a makeup oscar over Legend. The only unfortunately dated element is slimy John Getz (McDormand’s man in Blood Simple) as Geena’s boss, who saves her from Brundlefly at the end.