5 Terrifying Horror Stories Hiding In Superhero Films
Ah, superhero films. Tales of flying and punching and groin-fitting costumes and copious derring-do. Thanks to their consistent popularity, we can now watch someone save the world at least once a month. But for some of them, that do-gooder attitude is just a front for the horror that dwells in their cores. Yes, these five movies are about saving the planet. That is, when they're not being about ceaseless, unforgiving terror.
The Amazing Spider-Man's Terrifying Lizard-Mouse Hybrid
The Amazing Spider-Man promised to tell us the "untold story" of Peter Parker's beginnings, because everyone watched Uncle Ben die and thought, "This is nice and all, buuuuuuut ..." Before the series was cut off after two installments, I think we somehow learned less than what we knew about Peter's past in the beginning, and this indifferent approach to storytelling didn't stop with a sloppy origin tale. The main villain of the first film is Curt Connors, aka the Lizard, who regrows his arm, grows a brand-new set of lizard parts, and suddenly decides that he wants to turn everyone in NYC into lizard people. In the book of Generic Supervillain Plots, I think "Turn Everyone Into A Version Of The Villain For Remarkably Vague Reasons" is #4, just after "Giant Laser" and just before "Some Robots."
And I think it's because the main threat of the movie has all of the inspired motivation of a man eating a handful of sand that we fail to remember the most what-in-the-blazing-shit moment in any Spider-Man movie. While investigating Curt Connor's lab for clues about his parents (this is meant to tell us that there is a big connected world of evil, but it just comes across as implying how awkward the Parker neighborhood barbecues were), Peter discovers a giant dinosaur mouse feasting on a decidedly less dinosaur-ish regular mouse. Conners had been doing experiments on mice earlier, and apparently, one up and turned into something that the Flintstones would use as a footstool.
After this quick scene, the creature is never mentioned again. So one of two things must have happened:
Option one: Peter Parker stomped this thing to death in his civilian clothes. Unless Peter decided that he didn't want to ruin his jeans with radioactive rodent blood, a normal-looking teenager slaughtered this genetic abomination with his bare hands. I don't know if there's anything in history that could take away the magic of Spider-Man more than the sentence "And then Peter Parker crushed the spine of this victim of biological tampering." Then again, the famous Spider-Man theme does include the lyrics Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can. Save the day? He'll do that. And mercy kill your mutant rat.
Option two: While the hideous blend of CGI and a tired character designer is trying to lizard-ize Manhattan, there is a gigantic lizard-mouse running around. The former will become the norm. Every week, some new animal-themed megalomaniac will menace the financial district. But how does Spider-Man deal with the latter? Grab a mouse from the pet store and wait for it to come sniffing? Follow the trail of people who have been attacked by a huge lizard-mouse? That's way more horrifying than anything any other Spider-Man villain could accomplish. Doctor Octopus will rob your bank. Green Goblin might yell from the top of your bridge. But in this case, you're going to have to explain to Spider-Man what gnawed off your hands and what direction it went in.
In Logan, There Is A Wolverine Copycat Killer On The Loose
Logan is a great road trip comedy in which a cast of zany characters (He's a single, grizzled relic! She's a homicidal super child! And HE creates telekinetic shock waves whenever he has a seizure! But together, they're family) travel across the Midwest and just murder, mostly. The film tackles issues like mortality and fatherhood, and it does so through copious stab wounds. A solid 99 percent of those stabs are dealt by Wolverine and the various clones of Wolverine, and I'm sure that this fact would be easier for the general public to stomach if anyone still believed that Wolverine existed.
See, the crux of Logan is that mutants aren't a thing anymore. There supposedly hasn't been one born in 25 years, and one of Professor Xavier's seizures killed most of the X-Men. People only really know of them from comic books about them which loosely adapt their actual stories. So if there ever was a Wolverine before, he's gone now. Humans don't have to worry about blue guys teleporting through the White House, or speedy men trolling security guards in slow motion, or Kelsey Grammar. But they DO have to worry about whoever is taking their fucking six-knifed rampage across multiple state lines.
In the background of Logan is a serial killer mystery the likes of which North America has never seen. It could be avoided if Logan took the time to sweep up a little, but as we see when he abandons the bodies of the guys who tried to steal his limousine tires, his bottom priority is tidying up. More people are killed by clawed mutants in Mexico, Oklahoma City, a farm in the middle of nowhere, and North Dakota. And if people still believed mutants were around, they could easily pass this off as "Aw, not again! Those damn mutants and their melee tactics!"
But mutants aren't supposed to still be around, so all people can think is that a serial killer is murdering people with a very specific gimmick. Or if they remember that at one point there was a pretty famous mutant called Wolverine, maybe they think someone must be dressing up as him and slaughtering folks at random. I'm no expert in mutant PR, but "They influence people to go on murder sprees" is not the message you want to be sending to your potential audiences.
It pretty much pulls the plug on any chance that those mutant kids Logan was trying to save ever get to start their own X team on the right foot. The minute they step out in their matching spandex outfits, people won't even give them the benefit of a quick "Maybe mutants are nice. Maybe they're a nice metaphor." They'll think about the last known impact of mutants, which was pushing some poor cosplayer over the edge.
Superman III Painstakingly Creates A Robot Woman Out Of Nowhere
Imagine you're watching a Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I know, comfy, right? Evil is gonna be conquered, Reeve is going to be incomparably charming, and everything is going to be alright. Seeing the Christopher Reeve Superman movies is like putting on your favorite sweater. Sure, it might get a little too cozy in there and you might accidentally take a nap, but that's literally the worst thing that can happen. I always recommend napping through Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, anyway.
And then, all of a sudden in Superman III, a screaming lady has robot parts welded into her face. Yes, this is a movie wherein Superman fights a machine. This is a movie in which Superman gets comically drunk and ends up wrasslin' another Superman. This is a movie that features Richard Pryor doing a supporting comedy role which can only be described as a cry for help. This is not, however, a movie where the last seconds of an unsuspecting scientist's life are spent with her screaming in agony as metal is burned into her skin. But there it is. To give yourself a reference point for this kind of bizarre tonal shift, tell your spouse that you love them and then take a shit in one of their shoes.
You'd expect Superman, and more specifically Christopher Reeve's Superman, to approach this newly created robot lady with some kind of forgiving "Maybe we can save her" attitude. Nope. Robot lady attacks Superman, and Superman kind of halfheartedly blocks her laser until she falls into a crevice. So the next time you watch Superman III, pay very close attention to the movie, and then even more attention to the short film near the end where a machine turns a helpless person into a robot that Superman is more than okay with murdering.
The Sad Monster Movie In The Background Of The MCU
When it comes to most Marvel Cinematic Universe side characters, you can probably expect to see them again. Whether they're James Rhodes or the Warriors Three or Michael Pena, they'll pop up to wave before the camera instinctively goes back to following whatever the hell Robert Downey Jr. is doing. But not Samuel Sterns. Samuel Sterns was Bruce Banner's only friend in The Incredible Hulk. He got his villain origin story and was then promptly forgotten about by everyone. The least the Hulk could do was shoot him a text. "Hey, Sam. It's Bruce. Sorry about your crazy fuckin' head."
For those who don't know, Samuel Sterns is the name of the guy who eventually becomes the Leader, a Hulk villain with a massive cranium, because only a forehead the size of a desk could fit all of his intelligence. The lead-in was right there in the movie. Sterns was a scientist who was a little too willing to get himself involved with a monosyllabic green man the size of a Hulk Hogan and a half. He flew too close to that particular sun, and ended up grinning as we assume a high volume of smarts entered his noggin. But the Marvel movies, which are far too concerned with villains that only have the motivation of "It should have been mine!", dropped him. You don't just drop Tim Blake Nelson like that. You ease him away gently, and probably with a parting kiss on the cheek.
Sterns was set up to be in an Incredible Hulk 2, or at least an episode of Agents Of SHIELD which your one friend who watches Agents Of SHIELD keeps telling you to check out. Instead he was relegated to The Avengers tie-in comics, where he shows up to spout some standard supervillain babble and is immediately shot by Black Widow and captured by SHIELD. That's the climax of his whole life.
Before they're restrained, most freaks, be it Frankenstein's creation or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, get to perform some kind of monster mash around town. Even the Hulk got to Hulk out before the military descended on him. But not Sterns. He emerges from the rubble of his old life, meets Black Widow, and that is all he will ever do. It's the superhero equivalent of me waking up, taking a shower, and then burning my face on the toaster.
SHIELD takes Sterns and does experiments on him. The last time we see him, he's floating in a big tank and called "PROJECT MR. BLUE," referring to the pseudonym he used in his correspondence with Bruce Banner. Imagine you had a shitty instant messenger name, and then you were in a terrible accident. Then, before you even had the chance to do anything with your new powers, a secretive organization kidnapped you and did invasive procedures on you for years. And you never even got to have your own monster nickname. You just had to stare at "PROJECT FALLOUTBOYFAN93" all day. That's the life of Samuel Sterns, the world's most depressing movie monster.
Batman Has A Subplot About The Joker's Insane Human Art Piece
A common observation is that superheroes and their respective villains have only gotten grimmer. The colorful costumes and optimistic aspirations have been replaced by bloodstained jackets and themes like "What if bad guys ...are bad?" So people look at things like Tim Burton's Batman the way you'd look at a child proclaiming that they want to be the world's first astronaut / president / sentient taco. "Oh, those knuckleheads. They thought comic book stories could be mostly positive. Little did they know that superheroes mostly suck, and the world sucks, and it's not a real movie unless it all goddamn sucks."
But if you somehow find Burton's incarnation of the Caped Crusader to be lighthearted entertainment, you must have missed a lot of the movie. Because in the midst of all of the "You wanna get nuts?" and parades, Jack Nicholson's Joker is pulling some heinous stuff. By that I mean he's using his former girlfriend as an experimental art piece. In the beginning of the film, Jack Napier has an assistant to the regional manager position in the Gotham mob. He does a lot of work, but he's never gonna be promoted by his boss, Carl Grissom. However, he is parking his wonderful toy in the Batcave of his Grissom's girlfriend, Alicia. Eventually, Jack becomes the Joker, kills Grissom, and when Alicia sees Jack in his new, umm, face, she faints.
The next time we see Alicia, she's wearing this Eyes Without A Face-esque mask and being led around as an example of the Joker's work. It's the Joker's version of that guy at the party that carries around a guitar, hoping that someone, anyone will ask him about it. When he reveals Alicia's "new" face to Vicki Vale (who Joker is also hitting on. Read the room, dude), she's got a huge scar and whitened skin.
Long before Harley Quinn ever leapt into pop culture, the Joker was going full Sander Cohen and attempting to make his own clown-faced henchwoman. Only, instead of getting this whimsical, lovable gun moll, we got pitiful Alicia, whom the Joker seems to be trying to recreate in his own image. We later learn that Alicia throws herself out of a window, and the Joker responds to this with, "Well, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs." That's certainly one way to put it. Another way is "Oh my god. I know that you're poisoning all of the shampoo in Gotham and starring in goofy commercials, but that torture art project thing was soooo much worse."
That's way heavier than anything in The Dark Knight or Batman v Superman. So no, superhero films aren't getting darker. They're just desperate to catch up with how messed up Burton's Batman is.
Daniel has a Twitter, where he mostly talks about Pokemon. Sorry about that.
Even the most devoted superhero fans can get a little tired of--j/k if you like looking for interesting easter eggs and comic books check out Alan Moore's Top Ten, Judgment Day, and his underrated classic Superman tribute Supreme.
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