Five Underrated Flicks by Zack Clopton Author of Last of the Monster Kids

The Monster and the Girl (1941)

The premise – of a wrongly accused man having his brain placed inside a gorilla and seeking revenge from within his new, hairy body – isn’t particularly different from any apesploitation flick. However, “The Monster and the Girl” features several surprisingly eerie sequences. The gorilla’s escape from a laboratory happens off-screen, the camera panning around the damaged, empty room. A memorable moment focuses on the ape stalking a guilty gangster from the rooftops while another has the human-minded monkey visiting his sister while she sleeps. The first act is a bit slow but Ellen Drew gives a great performance as the titular girl and the actor in the gorilla suit conveys some surprising quirky qualities.

4D Man (1959)

Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., right after “The Blob” and before “Dinosaurus!,” “4D Man” is a great late fifties sci-fi thriller. The story revolves around two scientist brothers, one more reckless and one more serious, attempting to create “4-dimensional objects,” allowing them to pass safely through solid walls. Subverting era expectations, the stable brother is the one caught in an experiment gone wrong, becoming the murderous 4D Man who can kill with a touch, while the wilder brother winds up courting the Lee Meriwether-played love interest.

While focusing on science fiction concepts for the first half, “4D Man” solidly becomes a horror film in the latter half, as Robert Lansing’s mental state deteriorates and becomes more revenge crazed. Lansing stalking his unfaithful fiancé is appropriately suspenseful while a moment between the monster and a little girl is classic Kindertrauma stuff. The oddball jazz score further cements this as a unique multi-genre classic.

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County (1998)

Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County” came along just as the nineties fascination with alien abduction stories were starting to wane and right before “The Blair Witch Project” started an explosion of interest in found footage films. The story – about a family’s Thanksgiving dinner being ruined by pesky extraterrestrials – is common place now. The movie doesn’t avoid the pitfalls of the found footage format, as the teenage son holds onto his camcorder long after he should have dropped it.

At its’ best, “Incident in Lake County” is a surprisingly creepy flick. The lack of any music has the audience listening carefully for sounds off-screen. Similarly, the handheld camera-work has the viewer watching the corners of the frame, on the look-out for half-seen aliens. An encounter with an alien in a bedroom is drawn out very nicely. The premise proves too thin to sustain a 93 minute story, as the middle section drags and inserted talking segments don’t add much, but the ending is chilling. I’d still pick the full-length version over the edited hour long cut that aired on UPN back in the day.

The Clown at Midnight (1998)

An obscure entry in the post-“Scream” slasher boom, “The Clown at Midnight” has more to offer then its lame box art might suggest. Its opera setting intentionally recalls “Phantom of the Opera” and several other Lon Chaney references are sprinkled throughout. The wildly overqualified cast includes James Duvall, Margot Kidder, and a giving-it-his-all Christopher Plummer. The characters are a refreshingly quirky lot and include a horror fanboy, a queer drama kid, and a paranormal obsessed geek girl named Walnut.

The movie’s low-key gore might disappoint some but the kills are surprisingly creative. Someone is garroted with a necklace, theatre props are used extensively, and an obviously fake head bounces down a flight of stairs. Yet the likable cast/characters and moody setting makes this a reliable late night snack for slasher enthusiasts.

Midnight Ride (1990)

Essentially a sleazier, lower budget take on “The Hitcher,” this late period Cannon action/horror hybrid is most notable for casting Mark Hamill against type as a hitchhiking serial killer. A few years before his career reinvention as the Joker, Hamill laughs manically, sucks on an eyeball, screams, quivers, bites, and subtly threats. He’s certainly more entertaining then Michael Dudikoff, who seems out of his element playing a non-ninja (though presumably still American) cop.

Midnight Ride” still packs in the crazy, action set pieces. The ‘Dude gets tied to the roof of a careening car’, a moment that ends unexpectedly. A chase scene between a bus and several police cars is powered by a goofy synth score. The hospital set finale features a cameo from Robert Mitchum, Hamill jumping on a motorcycle, overly spacious ventilation shafts, and big machines in a dark basement that produce nothing but atmosphere-enhancing sparks. In other words, “Midnight Ride” is perfect for fans of eighties camp action, road set thrillers, and low budget, half-baked dementia.

Zack Clopton’s short story collection, “Last of the Monster Kids” – available now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace – features several Kindertraumatic scenarios. Like a little boy haunted by nightmares, kids in peril, southern werewolves, otherworldly trick r’ treaters, a haunted house attraction that’s actually a gateway to hell, a pet dinosaur, killer robots, a suicidal Dracula, time travel, the end of the world, and so much more! Give it a look, write a review, and tell your friends!

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7 years ago

Nice to see another mention of Incident in Lake County, which I myself have mentioned on these pages. I find it’s a nice compliment to Ghostwatch.