Welcome back to Horrorhead, a column where we explore the intersection of horror and scifi. Back in the 1950s, it seemed like every monster was created by radiation: giant ants, a giant tarantula, and even a giant dinosauroid thing called Gojira. But ever since the 1970s, an even scarier byproduct of human invention has been creating gloopy crawlies: pollution. These aren't your friendly Toxic Avenger "fall into a vat of waste" types though. These are the real deal, created by environmental pollutants and industrial waste dumped into the natural world. Read on if you want to take a look at movie mutants who were made by our environmentally-degraded world . . .
No list of pollution mutants could begin without first paying homage to Hedorah, AKA The Smog Monster (1971). He lands on top of Tokyo's smokestacks and sucks the smoke out to grow bigger, and meaner, and more red-eyed. He literally shits all over the city, big slimy rivers of diarrhea. But he also does nice things, like use his grody powers to prevent us from having to hear one more folk song from a bunch of psychedelically-dressed hippies playing guitar in the middle of a field. Eventually Gojira kills him by grabbing a couple of weird glowing white balls from inside his stinky body. There are also a lot of messages "from the children" in this movie, which was allegedly inspired by letters from Japanese children saying the scariest thing they could imagine was pollution.
One of the greatest filmmakers at work in the U.S. today, John Sayles (director of Lone Star), got his start writing cheesily great pollution monster flick Alligator (1980). The fact that this movie is both funny and politically-minded is entirely due to the accident of Sayles needing some money to fund his indie movies. A pet alligator flushed and released into the sewers of Chicago starts slurping up growth hormones that people are pissing and pooping out into his home. Then he grows into a ginormous, mutant alligator who eats pets . . . and people!
The best kind of pollution mutant is a rampaging, pissed-off animal, and that's why Prophecy (1979) is such a terrific flick. Bears who have been eating mercury-saturated fish in the rivers near an industrial factory have turned into massive, yucky bears who basically look like they have been turned inside-out. Rampaging and eating of humans follows, and some of the special effects are actually pretty cool. Directed by John Frankenheimer, who helmed the original (and great) Manchurian Candidate (1962), as well as a whole bunch of pretty good horror/actioners, this flick never spawned the billion cheesy sequels. Instead a supernatural movie with Christopher Walken called THE Prophecy got a bunch of awful sequels instead. That's what you get if you keep dumping mercury in the water, kids: bad sequels from a movie with the same name. It's Mother Earth's way of punishing you.
And no list of this sort would be complete without our generation's return to the pollution beastie: The Host (2007), a terrific scifi-horror-comedy about a giant thing (carp? whale? eel? combo platter?) that comes out of the waters near Seoul after a lameass military dude from the U.S. orders his underling to dump a zillion tons of old formaldehyde in the water. Bad move. Now a very angry combo platter is eating people and looking very much like the coolest special effect ever. When the mutant kidnaps the youngest girl in a family of quirky outcasts, they go on the offensive, tracking down the beastie in its lair to get their little girl back. This is the best mutant monster movie to come out in years, and like many entries in the genre it's well-written and has a social message that anybody who hates pollution can get down with.