Not long ago, I had a bit of a health scare. It started while I was on vacation in March enjoying the Horrorhound Weekend while also embarking on a zoo tour with the other Dave. I started feeling sore on my left chest and, after investigating, discovered a lump. I started getting scared as breast cancer is not a disease relegated to women (just ask Peter Criss from KISS) but also runs in my family. My mother successfully fought it back in the 90’s and last year my grandfather on my dad’s side was diagnosed as well.
I ignored the problem hoping it would go away if I just focused on more positive things but, weeks later, it still hurt and I had no choice but to see the doctor. He, too, found the mass and immediately ordered a mammogram (or as I preferred to call it, a Man-ogram). For the next several days I was a nervous wreck worrying about the test. I kept remembering my mother puking her guts out from the chemo and thinking about my own young children having to do the same. Of course my family and friends rallied behind me but they couldn’t be there 24 hours and there were many dark, lonely moments when I felt like breaking down in despair.
I began thinking of the lump as an invader, and it brought to mind some notable horror films that dealt with this type of creature. In many ways, the idea of some unseen menace, devouring you from within, is the ultimate terror. Whatever my future held, I found solace knowing my fate could be no worse than those offered by The Silver Screen.
ALIEN (1979) – When someone starts choking at the dinner table, the medical handbook states a confident bystander should perform the Heimlich Maneuver. But what procedure do you enact when the same person leans back and an alien bursts out of their stomach? If you’re the crew of the Nostromo, you stand there and look horrified while your new ship mate scurries across the floor! ALIEN is one of, if not the, BEST example of an organism using humans as hosts. From the moment the “facehugger” attaches itself to Cain’s face, the audience is sufficiently unnerved and never permitted to relax until the film’s final moments when Lt. Ripley blasts the adult alien out into space. Being a host to any creature is never pleasant but, in this film series, its downright agony. The crustacean-like face-hugger positions itself over the victim’s face while wrapping its whip-like tail around their necks (see photo at the top of this piece). Any attempt to remove it incites the creature to tighten its slimy noose placing the victim’s life in further jeopardy. A couple days later (or ten minutes if you’re watching an AVP film) the creature removes itself and then, its life mission fulfilled, dies…leaving an embryo inside the host’s body. The expecting “parent” is anything but proud when the monster is ready to emerge with painful and gory results. Trust me, when an impregnated host pleads “Kill me!” they ain’t kidding!
SLITHER (2006) – SLITHER definitely captures the “gross” factor of having an organism feed off of you, but presents it much more humorously than ALIEN. A small “Americana” town is invaded by aliens of their own in the form of large, reddish slugs (similiar to those seen in SLUGS or NIGHT OF THE CREEPS). They find their way into one of your orifices and, from then out, you’re destined to spend your remaining days devouring raw meat while slowly transforming into a tentacled menace! During this time, your friends and loved ones aren’t quite sure what to make of you as you become ravenous, not to mention irritable as hell. Such is the case with Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) who becomes the film’s first victim. Aside from feasting off of neighborhood pets and clearing out the meat isle at his local store, Grant’s worst legacy is left to his love-starved mistress. After a night of anything but romantic shared excretions, she eventually finds herself an immobile, gigantic blob impregnated with millions of slugs!
I do enjoy this movie (the other Dave lists it as one of the films he “can’t live without” which you can revisit HERE) but, unlike the characters, the LAST thing I can think about while watching this flick is food!
THE RUINS (2008) – When people think of parasites, they rarely equate them with plants. In the Australian/American feature THE RUINS, however, this is never the less true. The film deals with a group of young people vacationing in Mexico who find themselves unwanted hosts, and not because they drank the water! After discovering some Mayan ruins, these would-be archaeologists soon learn that they come complete with actual Mayans who won’t permit them to leave. That’s because they know, unbeknownst to the travelers, that they have been infected with a previously unknown flora that brings new meaning to the term “clinging vine.” These wild, carnivorous plants suffocate, kill, and infest their victims. If you’re lucky, they end your life quickly. If not, you find yourself a walking greenhouse as they prolong your death while growing inside you.
Not my favorite example of this type of film but definitely worth a gander!
THE THING (1982/2011) – THE THING (and I am going to focus on the John Carpenter classic of which I’m a mega fan) is another example of an organism from space that finds subtler ways of invading our planet. An isolated American research camp in Antarctica finds itself caught up in paranoia and gruesome deaths after a renegade from a neighboring Norwegian camp breaches their perimeter while shooting at a seemingly innocent dog (see THE THING 2011 for the events leading to it and our reaction to that film HERE). In this instance the invader is microscopic (contaminating the host’s blood) but leads to monstrous results. Once you’ve been consumed, every cell has a life of its own leading to an old school Special Effects extravaganza (the newer one, not so much)!
If you’ve ever wanted to see a human head sprout legs and walk carb-like out the door, this film is for you! Younger fans reading this who may only have seen the latest entry, I beg you to check out the 1982 original remake (I know that appears an oxymoron, but that’s what it is).
THE TINGLER (1959) – I gotta go “old school” here and bring up a movie I wish I could have seen “back in the day.” William Castle was one man who knew how to turn a visit to the local theater into a true experience. He was known for his clever gimmicks that encouraged folks to come out and see his low budget shockers in ways I wish they’d employ today. In the case of THE TINGLER, this was via his special “Percepto” feature which meant that select seats in the movie house would vibrate during key moments in the film. With the bootleg film business currently booming, the movie industry would be wise to try and come up with William Castle-like gimmicks such as these. This film deals with an invader that we, apparently, have all been born with. That’s not too far fetched in the sense that all animals have their own internal house guests, something none of us want to spend too much time thinking about. I remember visiting the animal hospital at Brookfield Zoo and seeing an intestinal worm, sitting in a glass jar, that is specific to polar bears. Let me just say that that thing could have starred in its own horror film! Of course it was nothing compared to a “Tingler!” This centipede-style creature is wrapped firmly around our lumbar spines and, when you’re frightened, it “tingles.” When you’re REALLY frightened it kills you and the only way to alleviate its grip is to let out a big scream – something theater goers were encouraged to do.
As for my own “invader,” I am happy to report that the mass in my chest was composed of fat and not cancer (something I’d be ashamed to admit if not for being so relieved). Still it was a definite wake-up call that being in my 40’s means I have to start taking better care of myself and be more quick to act when a symptom reveals itself. For a while there, my spine was tingling a bit too close for comfort!