Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Terrifying World of Little Monsters

Isn't it funny how when we think back to movies we watched as kids, we find that almost everything we watched was the most terrifying thing we ever saw? Nowadays we are in uproar over CGI monsters and blood that looks more like Kool-Aid than the real deal, when back in our youth we were traumatized by claymation demons.

What is it about our young impressionable minds and our brain's insatiable desire to completely scar us for life?

Having gone back and watched several of the films that caused me grief, I have realized many of my errors in naming what I thought was pretty terrifying. Little Monsters, a PG gem starring Fred Savage however is one that I continue to go back to. Despite it obviously being geared towards kids, I can't ignore how certain aspects of the film remain etched in my head, and how after all these years I still find so many of the images to be scary.

For starters--Little Monsters isn't your typical hunky dory kid comedy. Fred Savage stars as Brian, who has recently moved to a new town against he and his younger brother's (played by real life brother Ben Savage!!) wishes. Their parents are often heard fighting, and witnessing the father's temper is more than a little startling. Aside from the fact that having Daniel Stern has a father would be healthy for nobody,

the life and times of Brian Stevenson are anything but pleasant. The constant over hang of parent's soon on their way to divorce seems outwardly realistic in this movie about fictional monsters.

On top of that, one of the more terrifying moments comes when we get a glimpse into what Brian's favorite sandwich is.

Yes, peanut butter and onion. I admit to never having tried it, but I'm pretty sure it would taste something like what I would imagine dysentery smells like.

When Brian first meets his soon to be best friend, Maurice (played by the always annoying Howie Mandel) I can't help but notice how terrifying he truly is. I know we are suppose to like Maurice, but I could never get past his disgusting outer image.

His constant need to burp and make gross and annoying jokes doesn't help the situation either. Still, despite how Maurice is actually on our side, there is something so scary about how monsters are portrayed here. By taking the age old tale of monster's hiding underneath beds, Little Monsters creates an entire world hidden beneath where we go to sleep each and every night.

Brian's first run in with Maurice is spine tingling in a most curious way. Shadows on the wall, and a very literal bump in the night--this scene did little to make me want to sleep with the door closed.

Once Brian enters the monster world, we are met with a steady stream of what can only be described as the most oddly terrifying display of monsters known to man.

Maybe it was my constant disgust of mismatched clothes, or the overly 80s vibe of the costumes that rubbed me the wrong way--whatever it was these monsters scared the crap out of me. I couldn't understand for the life of me why Brian would willingly be friends with such terrifying "kids". On top of that, the world of the monsters, was like a labyrinth of Popsicle stick hell, straight from one of my very darkest nightmares.

I think I may have once compared the set up of wooden ladders and steps to that of the underworld in Nightbreed, but there is something so strangely unnerving about this land of monsters.

None of these images however top the ultimate scare factor that occurs near the film's conclusion. After Brian's brother is kidnapped, he ventures to leader of the monster world, Boy's room and is met by a very alarming presence.

Frank Whaley, dons the uniform of a well seasoned school boy, and speaks to Brian and his friend's in a sickeningly sweet manner, all the while exposing his hands which seem to be an indication of Boy's true self.

Words cannot express how insanely eerie this scene is. Boy's room is at once a lair of hell and a toy store after closing hours. A place where the facade of a room filled with toys, is broken when a teddy bear tries to drill through Fred Savage's sneakers.

And then we reach a pivotal moment, when the camera focuses on Boy as he continues to deliver his attempt at convincing Brian to remain a monster, and we pan around to the back of Boy's head---his disgusting monster brain seeping out from what appears to be a mask much too small.

If we weren't already creeped out by Boy to begin with, this reveal causes a paralysis. A feeling that persists until we are finally presented with what lies behind the mask.

Even now with my highly attuned sense of horror, I find that the atmosphere in this scene is a different ball game altogether.

Sure the scene may only be scary because I judged it as so when I was little, but something tells me Little Monsters knows something that we don't. Could it be perhaps that we can try to escape the fears from our childhood, the monster's hiding underneath the beds and the threat of our parent's divorce--when really, the slightest hint of our past can send us reeling all the way back to childhood. With that smallest hint, we remember how scared we once were, and still are in some ways--because fear is more real than we sometimes want it to be. Fear, the kind of thing that is very, very hard to forget.


Thomas Duke said...

Hmmmm...I saw this in the theater when I was 9 years old and haven't seen it since, but this brings back memories. I dug his little tomboy girlfriend at the time too. Thanks Andre, this is one I should rewatch, although I can't stand Howie Mandell, but at least he's covered in makeup. I have rewatched both Vice Versa and The Wizard since seeing them as a kid, and they were both pieces of shit in hindsight, but this looks like it may be Fred Savage's "piece de resistance", or some other francy French word.

Hhhhh said...

I've seen this several times over the years, but it wasn't until seeing your "Popsicle stick hell" screenshot that I realized where the setting of my most often recurring childhood nightmares came from.

I don't remember actually being scared by Howie and the gang when I first watched this back in the day, but obviously there were enough legitimately scary elements in it to really have an effect on me.

The dream always ended with me falling off stairs or narrow ledges and bouncing around the "popcicle sticks" Plinko-style, heading off into the dark abyss... Sometimes I'd wake up before hitting bottom, sometimes not. Either way it was always horrifying.

Franco Macabro said...

I dont think this is a "good" movie, to me it has somethings that make it an annoying film to watch. Howey Mandel as the monster is SUPER annoying! The special effects, the monsters, they dont hit the mark sometimes, because you can tell they are obviously make up effects, only not very well achieved.

But I do agree that the film has this really strange aura to it and that that ending is maybe a bit too scary for little kids. This movie tanked at the box office, and Im willing to bet it was because it was too scary for kids and too silly for adults. In this way the film almost completely eliminated its audience.

A similar fate fell upon Monster Squad.

I watched this one as a kid with great interest, because I had read the novelization for it, but I imagined a waaay better film in my little mind way back then. I was ultimately dissapointed.

Anonymous said...

This film was very dark, surprisingly so, for a movie for children!

deadlydolls said...

Neato. Used to watch this on USA all the time as a kid and agree pretty much wholeheartedly. Howie Mandel is obnoxious (and ironically playing a monster with bad hygiene when of course he's got all those obsessive cute). The Savages are adorable. The head monster is terrifying. REALLY terrifying. I forgot just how much so until I saw that picture. Ugh.

Oh, and if I recall, wasn't Savage's lil girlfriend played by the redhead from Troop Beverly Hills?

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

I watched this at my aunt's house many years ago and while I enjoyed it, a part of me was intensely scared by it! I should watch it again to see how my adult self feels about it.

Emily said...

I love Little Monsters, and even though it has it's terrifying parts, I had the greatest dream even one night when I was young after watching this movie, where there was an entrance to the monster world underneath a rug in my kitchen- it was one of those dreams that I never wanted to end, and I actually woke up from it at one point, and willed myself back to sleep, and back to the same dream. I'm pretty sure that Boy did not appear in the dream though!

AbbyNormal said...

This movie always creeped me out, even now thinking of it Im a little unsettled. The scene that really gets to me is one where they are all gathered around scaring something laying in a bed, it all seems "normal" until the camera pans back a bit and we see that its a baby laying in its crib. *shudders*

Would you believe that the original script was way more dark in terms of story? I think that Brian had actually begun to turn into a monster at some point, and the monsters themselves were, along with the under the bed world, alot more sinister.

Andre Dumas said...

Emily C- I LOVE those kinds of dreams! I had one once where I was eating a giant stack of pancakes. I woke up before I could start eating and I was so mad that I willed myself back to sleep and picked up right where I left off. They were delicious.

Abby that scene is pretty unnerving. The monster's are all terribly excited about scaring this baby and Brian points out how wrong it is, gets angry and leaves--leaves the door open so they all become clothes. He DOES start becoming a monster in this too. He starts shrinking and his hand became clothes when he went outside. Nothing overtly dramatic, but watching it now sort of chilling when you realize all the little monsters were just kids at some point.

Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Actually, I remember having a sort of dream about this movie too. I saw it while visiting my aunt's house and my mom and I were bunking together on the sleeper sofa. I dreamed that we were lying there and I looked over at her, and her face looked like the blue monster and it freaked me the fuck out. Maybe that's why I haven't seen it since then.

Andre Dumas said...

That would make sense! I had a dream like that after watching Killer Klowns when I was 5. It's one of my most vivid memories and it's a dream.. All my family had turned into Killer Klowns. It was very traumatic.

sppunx said...

i think seeing this movie as a kid is what made me think punks are cool dudes just like maurice, now im 22 and i look like maurice

Anonymous said...

I always wondered what the origin of Boy was. How he ended up in the Monster World. If he ended up there like Brian and just got trapped forever and eventually grew to be the ruler or if something else happened.

Anonymous said...

Probably the most F-up'd movie for kids ever. Still can't believe they showed the dude's brain like that. The sets and wardrobe always seemed cheap to me, like the went to a thrift store and randomly grabbed the worst clothes off the racks. IE: That atrocious jean jacket Howie wore. As if the plot wasn't creepy enough, we're subjected to the comedy stylings of Mr. Mandel. I'd rather chew glass for 48 hours than be subjected to this freak. Hard to believe the writers wrote DeJa Vu and other hits. Though the movie's odder than my grandfather in heels, you have to revisit it for it's macabe cult status.

Unknown said...

I liked Howie, & as for boy it didn't get no creepier.Obviously you were the wrong person to judge this film cause clearly you do not get 80's flicks.Scared was one of the emotions you should have gone through & the costumes were right for the time, knowing & living the fashion of that period probably would of helped.I have no complaints of this flick in fact every one I kniw who's seen it has enjoyed it.

Kaity said...

I watched this movie when I was a kid and it scared the hell out of me. I had a dream about maurice being in my house and snakes coming out of his mouth and the memory of that dream is stuck in my brain to torture me forever. Though a couple years ago I watched this movie for the first time after realizing who the monster was in my terrible dream and since then I've watched it a couple of times, each still giving me a deeply unsettling feeling in my gut. I honestly dont know if I'll ever be able to watch it without feeling genuinely scared, no matter how many times or how old I am.

Anonymous said...

This film legit freaked me out as a kid. I must of suppressed but I vaguely remember seeing this film- I remember The Underworld, the monsters and that spinning wheel.
I've had nightmares for years! I'm 23! At least I know where these dreadful panic inducing nightmares have come from now.

Anonymous said...

I also want to add, at least I wasn't the only person traumatised by this film.

Anonymous said...

The Popsicle stick areas are very Freddy Krueger-esque. I thought this movie was too cool to be scared by anything it. As another poster commented though, I also saw Killer Klowns at a preschool age and am still scared to use toilets sometimes to this day.

Anonymous said...

Had to comment, had the EXACT same experience as you, EXACT! Amazing, I am 34 years old now. Both Boy and the big tough bully monster scared the begeezus out of me as a child. I have to go back and watch this film soon. The one difference, I didn't even recall the undertone divorce story line! Funny how as a kid I didn't even pick up on that.