Wednesday, April 1, 2009


How 'bout a quick lesson in sensory perception before we begin? I'm not talking about extrasensory perception (or ESP), the ability to see the future and all that crap. Just regular old sensory perception, or how the brain processes sensory input. Different parts of the brain process sensory input from different parts of the body, and, as we all know, certain parts of the body are more sensitive than others. Consider the chart above. It maps out regions of the brain, and which parts of the human body these regions process. The more sensitive parts are drawn larger, the less sensetive ones smaller. It is a pretty well accepted interpretation of sensory input in medical communities.
Over time, doctors and artists managed to work out a 3D graphic representation of the brain's sensory processing system. One version of this model is shown below. Parts of the body with a higher sensitivity are represented as larger, while parts of the body with lower levels of sensory input are shown smaller. Obviously, the hands and lips are very sensitive, right? Makes sense?
This graphic model is informally known as a "homonculus" (homo = man, culus = small, basically).

So what the fuck does all this have to do with horror movies?
I'm glad you asked. You see, the term "homonculus" can also be used to describe small, human-like creatures, from gnomes and elves to dwarves and goblins (right). Through the last couple decades (especially the mid-80's to the mid-90's), the horror genre has developed a very definite offshoot of films featuring hordes of malevolent homonculi posing a threat to a (usually) smaller group of regular-sized people.
Why? perhaps homo sapiens have a built-in fear of being confronted by an army of smaller versions of themselves. Maybe it's tied in to arachnophobia and the natural fear some of us have of bugs, rats, and other little creatures that go bump in the night. But I digress.
Here's a list of my 5 favorite films (or series of films) featuring gangs of little beasts terrorizing their human counterparts. I hope you like it.

5) DEMONIC TOYS (1992)

A classic example of the Homonculus-Horror (H/H) film, Demonic Toys was delivered to the public in the always-reliable "straight to video" format from the always-reliable Full Moon Productions (who were also responsible for Doll Man, Rag Doll, and Blood Dolls - are we noticing a trend here?). The story is standard H/H fare, with a couple of cops and a family being harassed by a group of possessed toys. Blood and gore abounds here, with the story taking a back seat to the sheer thrill of watching teddy bears and toy soldiers come to life and fuck people up. Toy Story my ass. Buzz Lightyear doesn't stand a chance against these little bastards.
Check out the D.T.'s homepage here (PS: DT2 on the way in 2009!!!)

Below: A couple specimens from the Demonic Toys toy line.


4) The PUPPET MASTER Series (1989-present)

Puppet Master and its sequels have been a mainstay in the H/H genre for two solid decades. In fact, Demonic Toys was filmed in an attempt to cash in on the P.M. craze and resulting franchise, which to date has produced no less than 9 films (the 10th, Puppet Master: Axis of Evil is due in 2009). P.M. also follows a pretty generic storyline, with a "puppet master" releasing a case full of his dummies on an unsuspecting public. Chaos, inevitably, ensues.
The success of this franchise is a testament to the public's fascination with evil homonculi. TEN films?! About PUPPETS!? SERIOUSLY?!


Puppet Master Trailer:

3) DOLLS (1987)

Another solid entry in the H/H pantheon, Dolls (filmed in 1985) told the story of a family lost in the countryside who must take cover in an abandoned house during a storm. Also trapped in the house are a kind businessman and a couple punk rock chicks. As it turns out, the dolls laying around the house are actually (gasp!) possessed by evil souls, and in turn come to life and start killing the unwelcome visitors. Sounds pretty generic, right?
Well, what makes Dolls a little extra rad is that it was directed by none other than Stuart Gordon, the same fella who brought us Re-Animator and From Beyond right around the same time. And while Dolls isn't based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft (most of Gordon's best flicks are), it's still a fun, gory ride, worth checking out if you're into dolls, horror, blood, or any combination thereof.


2) The CRITTERS Series (1986-1991)

Critters and its sequels (four films were produced over a 5-year span) plumbed the whole sci-fi element extensively, giving us a wacky tale of nefarious homonculi from space with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Although Critters (the original) is a fine film, the franchise received its most mainstream attention for other reasons, which are as follows:
A) In the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, Raphael is seen leaving a movie theater with "Critters" on the marquee, at which point he mutters "Geez, where do they come up with this stuff?" (both Critters and TMNT were creations of the New Line Cinema Production Company).
And B) Critters 3 starred a then-unknown actor by the name of Leonardo DiCaprio.

Whatever. Critters is some top-notch 80's-90's camp, horrific PG/PG-13 fun for the whole family.

Below: A menagerie of "Critters".

Critters Trailer:

Critters 4 Trailer (Critters in space! featuring Brad Dourif!!!):

1) The GHOULIES Series (1985-1994)

Ghoulies had quite a bit in common with Critters, but instead of coming from space, the Ghoulies were evil beings brought to life by Satan worshippers. Which gets them extra points. Which puts them in first place.
The Ghoulies series is often knocked as a low-budget Gremlins ripoff, but closer inspection shows that this is not, in fact, the case. Production began on Ghoulies way back in 1983 (the film was originally titled Beasties) a full year before the Gremlins made their big screen debut. Take that, Gizmo.
I truly find Ghoulies to be, by far, the best H/H franchise out there. I mean, Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College? SO fucking awesome!

Ghoulies Trailer:

Ghoulies 4 Trailer:

-Special mention must be given to the 2004 crossover film Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys. Hopefully, its massive success will set off a string of H/H franchise vs. H/H franchise offshoots. God willing.

Puppet Master Vs. Demonic Toys (starring Corey motherfucking FELDMAN!!!):

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