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Beasties (1989)

Directed by Steve Contreras
Cinema Home Video VHS

There isn’t a science to success. But projects are more likely to succeed when multiple ideas converge at once. For instance, elections aren’t won because someone drives around and screams, “HI, I’M RUNNING FOR MAYOR!” out the window. Elections are won because dozens of people with thousands of ideas work together towards a common goal. The same logic can be applied to movies. If Beasties was simply a “little guys on the loose” movie, it would still be fun to watch — just like Critters and Ghoulies II. But halfway through Beasties, the focus shifts from a lil’ guy rampage to a post-apocalyptic warzone where punks, jocks, and a shaman named Osirus battle for the fate of the universe.

And that’s why Beasties is more successful than Gremlins.

The Beasties are foam hand puppets covered in K-Y Jelly that communicate with dolphin sounds while eating human faces. When people have sex in their cars, the Beasties attack! A nerd named Nelson investigates. Nelson and his girlfriend find a spaceship. They describe the ship, but all we see is a red light shining on their faces. Nelson says, “I only hope that an intergalactic war does not arise from these incidents!”

Meanwhile, some “punkers” meet up with Osirus, who is wearing a helmet with a skull on it. Osirus orders the punks to attack people because this will fulfill his “ritual of evil.” At the same time, a Beastie watches a woman named Sarah take a long shower in her apartment. Sarah dries off in front of a poster that features kittens sitting on a piano. Sarah attacks the Beastie, but it gets away. Nelson and his gal show up at Sarah’s apartment. They argue about the Beasties in her wood-paneled living room. Eventually, everyone decides to visit the sheriff. Because if anyone can stop the Beasties, it’s the sheriff. But this sheriff is fat. He’s a Fat Sheriff. And therefore, he can’t stop anything. Especially when this particular Fat Sheriff’s entrance is announced by the flushing of a toilet.

Are you wondering how all of this comes together? Well, wonder no more! Because it never comes together! Instead, Beasties borrows a page from the Godfrey Ho handbook and takes a slow boat to Dimension X. The longer you watch, the less sense it makes. Nelson gets placed in a cage by the punks and a goth-metal girl band called The Shroudettes play a song for eight seconds. Hammerhead, the punk leader, sits at a bar with Sarah and talks about how great it’s going to be to have sex with her. Osirus transforms into a demon with a voice that sounds like Robert Z’Dar. Street fights break out and two women battle to the death for Osirus’s hand in marriage. This battle involves dismembered hands. Nelson and his girlfriend end up in a cave that is also the Beasties’s house. This cave makes the jury-rigged alien garage from The Strangeness feel like the Universal backlot in 1941.

Shot in Fresno, California on Super 8, Beasties is a leisurely paced movie that isn’t boring. Because it’s fueled on heart, beautiful zero-budget effects, and anticipation. This is a 1950s alien invasion template that feels like it was alchemized with The Deadly Spawn and an episode of Boy Meets World, then filmed on Mark Polonia’s front lawn. In terms of aesthetics, Beasties is similar to Mutilations, another homemade throwback from the late 1980s. Mutilations had passion behind the camera, but it didn’t have a sense of excitement up front — we were never surprised by what came next. Beasties works in the opposite way. This movie is crammed with things that we never see coming. It’s also crammed with poor lighting, claustrophobic close-ups, repetitive monologues, and one-fingered synthesizer arpeggios. But thanks to the sincerity of the filmmakers, these elements provide charming diversions while we anticipate the joy of another ferocious Beastie attack. Or the joy of a fat guy named Chubbs making a joke about shitting his pants.

During the movie’s final scene, Nelson delivers a line that feels like it was taken from the introduction of Criswell’s book, Your Next Ten Years:

“The serious matter of this is how can we change the future? My God, for that matter, can the future be changed?!”

Who cares about the future?

We’re beast friends forever.