Monster Awareness Month–The End

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz

The monster of all monsters

And it’s over, the end of another of the awareness months and, dare I say it, the best so far?

In terms of development and work it sort of makes sense that this month should have been the best, as we are learning with each subsequent month, more and more people are interested, the team is bigger, etc. but I’m a little surprised it’s been my favourite month, due to my obsession with our ghostly friends, thinking that they would always top the bill.

I think it’s due to not only the quality of the posts for the monsters, mainly from Robert Hood and Sharon Ring but also my realising that I don’t know enough about the monsters and so thoroughly enjoying my education for the last twenty eight days, in the form of film, article and comments.

It has made me appreciate films I have struggled with (Jurassic Park), re-united me with old classics (Jason and the Argonauts and The Thing) and allowed me to waffle about those crazy camcorder films again (Cloverfield). In answer to Rob’s earlier comment about enjoying the posts, even when not always agreeing, I see exactly what he means. It’s been very easy to see that the people who have contributed to the month, have a genuine interest in the subject matter and want others to know about it too. I have loved that side of it.

We were treated to a lot of reviews this time, with many of the films being subject to at least one review (in fact some were reviewed twice). The articles on various monster themes, from monster anatomy to the mind of a monster, to slime and blob and goo, to Marvel Monsters were accompanied by wonderful reminisces about the joys of monsters. I don’t need to go through them all here, you read them already (and if you didn’t you can check them out in the archives)! I would, however, like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contributions, be it posts, comments, support (or all three!) and know that you’ve made what would have been a decent month into an absolutely brilliant month!

Of course there have been the behind-the-scenes glitches, obvious in an event of this size, with such short deadlines and it is here that I want to publicly thank those that have stood beside me all the way and made sure that this month has been one to remember. Thank you to Robert Hood, to Sharon Ring, to Orrin Grey, to Harry Markov and to KV Taylor, for your help, enthusiasm, cracking posts and for making this team so much fun to be part of.

And it is, now, with great pleasure, that I announce that four of the above names are to join me on the next event to be held in the awareness themed months, that of Zombie Awareness Month in May.

Before I leave though, you may remember that I mentioned that we were giving away a signed copy of the excellent copy of the original Daikaiju: Giant Monster Tales anthology, edited by Robert Hood and Robin Pen.

All you have to do is tell us here, in the comments which was you favourite film of the month and why (or even which film you can’t believe we put in, or left out, and why) and we’ll put you in the hat for the draw on Friday this week.

Also remember that you still have a chance to win the boxed set of Hammer films as offered on NKKingston’s site earlier in the month.

Thanks again for being part of this, and make sure you tell your friends (and enemies) about the Zombies – it promises to be a cracker too!


Filed under Article, Monster Awareness Month

Daikaiju and Mr. Hood

Interview conducted by Monster Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz

It has been my great privilege to not only have Robert Hood on the team for Monster Awareness Month but to be able to read some excellent articles by him too! Now, I get the added treat of being able to ask him some monstrous questions…



1. I was going to ask you about where it all started Rob, but I think you answered that quite effectively in Where Monsters Dwell and so I’m going to focus more on the why. You’ve hinted at a few reasons in the articles for Monster Awareness Month but why are monsters such a passion for you?

That’s a difficult question, Mark, because so much of the “passion” comes from a place that’s pretty deeply buried in the subconscious.

I’d say there are two answers to it. One, the easiest, is historical. It’s a matter of opportunity. The fact is I loved monster comics from the first time I saw them, which was probably in the form of serialised strips featuring Turok, Son of Stone published in the newspaper. Turok was a native American who discovered a “lost world” and ended up fighting dinosaurs to survive.  I remember hunting through piles of old papers in the local dump, back when you were allowed to scavenge and the dumps weren’t simply acres of mashed-up refuse, to fill out back issues of the storyline. Later I got to buy the colour versions in comicbook format, published by Dell. Other monster comics, like Where Monsters Dwell, followed. When we got a TV (and we were the first on my block to have one as my father worked for a retail company that sold electrical and other household goods and bought what was at the time a big one on the basis of an employee discount), I discovered old monster and other SF/fantasy movies, becoming familiar with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein’s monster and the like — but mostly the absolute dross of US 1940s and 50s monster flicks — on such shows as the horror-host Deadly Earnest’s Aweful Movies. I loved them all, good and bad — and even then got irate when I realised that the films were censored, often to remove close-ups of the monster. Still, beggars can’t be choosers. The challenge became getting permission to stay up late, which was inevitably when the best films were on. I nagged a lot. Cinema played a lesser but significant role. In the early days, I didn’t get to go to the cinema much. But when I did, one of the most memorable was Harryhausen’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. That would have been in 1958, when I was 7. I spend weeks afterwards drawing pictures of the various monsters from memory. Again, the experience of seeing those impossible creatures on the screen was deeply awesome.

Occasionally I’d  get hold of a copy of a film magazine like Famous Monsters of Filmland and so was introduced to all the monsters from films I hadn’t seen — some of which, though I knew them well by sight, featuring in movies I didn’t get to experience for myself until decades later. One such was Godzilla. I so wanted to see the original version, but it wasn’t until SBS showed it — the original Japanese Gojira — in the 1990s that I managed to view it and REALLY became obsessed. (Remember, for most of my life there was no such thing as home video.) I didn’t see the Americanised version until later and I’m definitely glad I saw the “real” one first! Oddly, another late-viewed movie was the other great giant monster film, King Kong. Somehow, I never managed to see it on TV, though I always wanted to. It was a bit of an obsession. Then in the 70s the local flea-pit cinema showed a weird double bill consisting of Andy Warhol’s Heat and the original King Kong. I went to see Kong — and thus actually got to experience the film for the first time on a big screen. A great, indeed an awesome, moment! I could fully put myself in the place of the 1930s audience that was terrified and awed by those remarkable images moving on the screen. There’s nothing like it.

Reading over what I’ve written here it’s obvious, I think, that a central fascination in monsters for me is visual. Purely word-based monsters — introduced to me in horror fiction, short story anthologies like the Pan Book of Horror Stories series, the works of H.G. Wells, SF magazines like Galaxy and If, the copies of Dracula and Frankenstein that my mother bought me one day — came later. At first I simply loved the look of the monsters. They were something you never saw in reality. They were products of imagination. Pure products of the imagination, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, always awesome. This in turn feeds into the concept of the Monster — the concept of not simply the non-human, but the inhuman. Monsters go beyond the natural into the world of the unnatural. I knew full well they didn’t exist in reality, even dinosaurs, but they did exist — vividly and purely — in the imagination. This brings us to the second answer to your question: the metaphysical and metaphorical power of the Monster.

It all becomes rationalisation after the fact from this point. My fascination for monsters (in fiction, of course) doesn’t spring from a childhood trauma as I didn’t really have one of any great significance. But Monsters clearly represent something that goes to the heart not just of Robert Hood, but of human nature in general. And that thing is, I think, imagination. Human imagination is possibly the strongest force that exists in the human world, one that drives our entire civilisation, motivates scientists and molds history. Some, such as mystic poet William Blake, saw imagination as the Divine in us. It is the primal creative force, the thing that makes us transcend the rational world — and so what must God be, he said, if not Human Imagination? As I got older and began to became a writer — a writer whose imagination was thoroughly immersed in monstrous imagery — I naturally wrote about monsters, not always, of course, but much of the time. As creatures of unrestrained imagination monsters were not only liberating and fascinating, but also powerful literary tools. Their imaginative nature makes them infinitely amenable to metaphorical interpretation. They are “living” containers of complex symbolic meaning. For me the most powerful art isn’t that which most closely re-creates the external realities of life, but that which offers an imaginative structure that allows the artist to explore aspects of life that don’t translate well into rational constructs. When, like Frankenstein’s creature, the Monster becomes a vessel for expressing the irrational and ineffable realities of existence, the result is often some of the most potent imagery that mankind has produced. The great monsters contain passion as well as thought. Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Godzilla, King Kong, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, dragons, rampant robots, the living dead: these are all so much more than fictional entertainments. Their real power comes from the complex meanings that they carry within their nature — and often that meaning is so contentious and hard to pin down adequately because it goes beyond the rational. Gods and monsters: in essence they are part of the same imaginative super-complex that makes us human.

2. You mentioned about your writing of monsters in the last answer and so I’m going to stay marginally within that and talk about our exciting giveaway in conjunction with this interview, and that is the Daikaiju books you’ve edited. As a writer and viewer of monsters, how did editing them (with Robin Pen) compare?

The excellent Dakaiju cover from Bob Eggleton


The idea to edit an anthology of giant monster stories came from my own enthusiasm to read fiction featuring giant monsters and a simultaneous inability to find any, or at least none that had been collected into a single dedicated volume. Certainly, as far as I could ascertain, up to that time no one had ever edited a collection of new giant monster stories as such. Dragons, yes, but not real kaiju. Agog! Press was keen on the idea and I asked Robin Pen if he was interested in being a co-editor. I did this for two reasons: firstly, because Robin and I had bonded over our mutual enthusiasm for daikaiju eiga even though we lived on separate sides of the continent, but secondly because I wanted an independent eye to confirm (or otherwise) my choices. Having him on board also meant that I felt I could submit a story of my own. I wrote one and sent it to Robin under a pseudonym. He approved of it, but in the end I didn’t include it in that first volume as I decided it wasn’t quite appropriate for editors of anthologies to include their own work, even if independently vetted. By the third volume though, I caved in to pressure and embraced the inappropriate nature of the whole thing by putting my story into what would be the last volume. Thematically, it summed up everything that the three books had been about, so it seemed like a reasonable enough decision.

In the beginning I wasn’t sure we’d get many submissions at all, let alone good ones. But I needed have worried. Stories flooded in from around the world — excellent, good, indifferent and bad. A lot of bad, but really not nearly as many as I expected. We could be very picky, and were. I also worked quite hard with a few authors when I came across stories that contained a unique idea that appealed to me but which needed lots of re-writing to get them up to peak effectiveness. Writers were invariably (well, almost invariably) willing to go along with me, sometimes re-writing more than once and putting up with having me mangle their prose. The result didn’t always get in anyway, but in one case at least the story did get in even though it was the author’s first professionally published story — and afterwards it sometimes got singled out for praise in reviews.

In the end we had a great collection of stories — a collection that really surprised people who were expecting verbal parodies of the daikaiju films that had inspired the book. There is a huge spread of tone, approach, narrative structure, theme and storyline in the 27 stories (plus two haiku and a film commentary piece) that made it in (and made the book over-sized in terms of optimum postage rates, I might add). One of them a faux film script about giant monsters making a giant monster film (which has since been made into an actual animated film). Even the artwork proved to be special. Out of the blue I got an email from multiple Hugo Award winner Bob Eggleton, offering to do a cover. “Bob,” I said, “we could never afford you.” “Doesn’t matter,” he replied, “I just really want to do it!” So we got ourselves an Eggleton cover for peanuts. I also gained a friend in US artist Todd Tennant, who illustrated the “film script” story. We’ve worked together on other projects since and Todd has recently finished a graphic novel, It Came from Beneath the Sea… Again!, for Bluewater Productions.

Such enthusiasm was the key to the Daikaiju! project. Robin and I were enthusiastic and so were the authors, who managed to mingle enthusiasm with sheer creative intelligence. As I say, the result surprised people, who hadn’t expected the theme to allow for so much inventiveness and literary nous. I was really pleased when Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales won the 2006 Ditmar Award for Best Collection and stories from it were nominated for assorted awards. One story, a short and clever piece titled “Read It In the Headlines!” by Garth Nix, ended up in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 6. And of course there were so many worthy stories left over that we eventually produced two more volumes, supplementing stories we had retained with specially commissioned additions. The first run of the first volume sold out quickly and Agog! did a second run. That has now sold out as well. Agog! Press subsequently made a deal with Prime Books for all three volumes to be published in the US. The Australian editions might be sold out, but the books are still available on Amazon — even in hardcover, no less. Unfortunately Todd’s internal illustration couldn’t be included in the US edition for logistic reasons, but the winner of the Monster Awareness Month competition will receive what is literally the last remaining spare copy of the Aussie edition — and that only turned up by chance when I found it at the back of a cupboard when I was moving offices at work!

So, did I answer your question, Mark? I’m not sure. I love writing stories and I love watching the giant monster movies — and I loved editing Daikaiju! Sure, the lengthy reading period we set drove me mad, and the editing was time-consuming and exhausting, but it was definitely worth the trouble. I still firmly believe that Daikaiju! is the best book of its kind ever.

3. My son, Maddoc, has been obsessing a little this weekend about a certain Gojira character after seeing a couple of clips from Godzilla tributes and the remake. I remember when we visited you a few years ago you had an entire glass cabinet full of Godzilla figures. When did your obsession with them begin and how is the collection looking at present?

As I’ve mentioned, though I knew about the Big G, I didn’t get to see any of the Godzilla films until the late 1990s, thanks to SBS (Australia’s Government-funded international TV network). It was the original Japanese version — and I loved it immediately. After that I sought out other G films, though at first all I could get hold of were the (mostly) very poorly edited and dubbed US versions — you know, the ones that most people in the West associate with bad Jap monster movies, albeit fun. A lot of them simply weren’t available. This led me to what has been dubbed my “Godzilla supplier” — a fan who produced good quality DVDs and provided dubbing also done by fans. I’m not a supporter of piracy, but he couldn’t have been in it for the money as his DVDs were very cheap — and anyway once the films became available commercially, I bought them again. In fact once they became commercially available he stopped selling them. Seeing them as they are supposed to be seen was a revelation — especially in the case of King Kong vs Godzilla — though that film still isn’t available anywhere (legitimately) in its original form. The version available on Amazon is the truly insulting US edit.

Anyway by the time I had all the G films in original Japanese versions with English subtitles (and a whole lot of other Japanese kaiju and SF/fantasy films to boot), my interest was fairly ingrained and I purchased some of the monster sculptures and models out of sheer fannish glee. Also out of an appreciation of their inherent beauty. The collection hasn’t grown much since you saw it — no room and they ARE expensive — but I still love looking at them. And so do visitors.

The one I REALLY wanted was a working model of Godzilla I saw in Chinatown in Sydney that was about two foot high, beautifully made and robotic. Yes, it had a supposed repertoire of 48 movements, with sounds effects and everything! But it also cost $3000. At the time we were considering buying a house — so the choice was between somewhere to live and a robotic Godzilla. Sensible logic pushed me toward the house. Pity really.

Room in the cabinet?

$3,000? Oh my! Well Maddoc has now switched from Godzilla to Rodan, so I’d better not be thinking of surprising him with gifts like that, especially with his fickle moods…

Rodan: The Samurai of the Skies


4. There’s something very exciting and fun about the Kaiju but what about a subject that you and Sharon Ring have been tackling regularly during this month, that of the man as monster?

In many ways, monsters are an incarnation of aspects of humanity that we are perhaps reluctant to admit to, but which horror fiction throws in our face and makes us embrace. Some of the greatest monsters make this explicit — such as Mr Hyde, and endless killers such as Hannibal Lector, Jack the Ripper (real but fictionalise) and even supernatural foes like Freddy Krueger.

Other monsters display the connection between man and monster more symbolically, in terms of human responsibility in creating them — Frankenstein’s monster is one such, but so is Godzilla, though in a different way. Many (if not all) kaiju and other giant monsters are products of human greed, ambition, folly… or are awakened by our careless actions — some deliberate, some unintentional. Such monsters become symbols of responsibility (or our failure to recognise it) as well as the negative consequences of our civilisation, our scientific striving to gain power over the environment or even simply our deepening understanding of the world and what makes it tick. In this latter aspect, they shouldn’t be understood as propaganda against the pursuit of science (as they are often portrayed). But they are a recognition that with increased power over nature and with greater understanding comes heightened risk, greater danger and deeper responsibility. After all, it was the gaining of hitherto forbidden knowledge that caused Adam and Eve to be driven from the idyllic safety of the Garden of Eden out into a world of death, violence, failure and striving. With ambition comes the potential for evil. With understanding comes the loss of innocence. That is the monster … and it is as human as it comes.

Then again, Forbidden Planet‘s monsters from the Id are a direct representation of the dangers we face from the repressed forces that dwell deep within us — dangers that will destroy us unless we face them, understand them. This is something that many monsters are made of. In essence, of course, the Monster is the Other — that which is not us, or which we choose to disown. Often it becomes a monster because we disown it, deny it, let it grow hateful and bitter. So if in one way monsters are a product of the striving for knowledge, they are also the result of ignorance and denial.
Malicious ghosts are most often the result of murder or injustice (another failure of responsibility), or tasks unfulfilled. Vampires are those aspects of humanity that feed on us, drain us of the ability to live, even though their own origins are human. Werewolves are the beast in us, the passions we can’t control. All these are related, but it’s not hard to see the human aspects of them all.

The mystic poet Blake saw monsters as the result of division and self-delusion, our denial of humanity. In the end, we can’t simply destroy them — because that gives them power over us and as the endless resurrections of Godzilla, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees etc. illustrates, they just return stronger than ever. It’s recognition they want.

But it’s a complicated business, this monster-hunting, and what I’ve said barely scratches the surface in terms of the meaning of this particular product of our cultural imagination. You could write a book about them — and many people have. But that’s what’s great about them, what keeps us fascinated with them. They are the Other, yet they are Us. Whether we are conscious of doing it or not, monsters make us question our world and ourselves — and the love-hate relationship with have with them is part of the love-hate relationship we have with ourselves.
Mind you, sometimes, it’s enough that the monsters are simply fun!

Cover for Daikaiju 3 by the talented Nick Stathopoulos

5. What have been your highlights of the month, Rob?

Just thinking about all things Monster under the guidance of interested and well-informed folk has been a great pleasure. Reading the views of others — even if you disagree with particular statements and judgements — makes you query and refine you own point-of-view, and helps to remind you why you love the Big Ugly Brutes (the monsters, not the writers). In particular I enjoyed Sharon Ring’s perceptive and detailed examination of Clive Barker’s view of the Monster in his work — though of course there are many other entries that could be highlighted for praise. And being forced to write my own articles — and hence think about and delve into films (and, as it happened, comics) that I love is a wonderful impetus to both renewed enjoyment of them and inspiration for my own writing.

Godzilla and son

6. There have been 28 films showcased in the month too, and I think the team has given those coming along a good sense of the monster in film. Are there any other films you would recommend as a follow-up for those thoroughly caught up in the monster films?

As anyone who read my Ultraman article might have guessed, I’d suggest seeing some Ultraman — the original series if you must, but better for the uninitiated would be one of the recent movies. Ultraman (2004; dir. Kazuya Konaka) [aka Ultraman: The Next] would be ideal, and it is available on DVD in the West. While I’m on all things Japanese, I’d strongly advise people to seek out Shusuke Kaneko’s 1990s Gamera trilogy, especially the third — which I would rate as probably the best single daikaiju eiga ever:

  1. Gamera daikaiju kuchu kessen [trans. Gamera: Giant Monster Midair Showdown] (1995; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera: The Guardian of the Universe (US, 1995; dir. Shusuke Kaneko and Matt Greenfield)]
  2. Gamera 2: Region shurai [trans. Gamera 2: Attack of Legion] (1996; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera 2: Advent of Legion, Gamera 2: Assault of the Legion]
  3. Gamera 3: Iris kakusei (1999; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) [aka Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris and Gamera 3: The Awakening of Iris]

Also take a glance at the recently released Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone (Japan-2007; dir. Masayuki Yamaguchi, Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno), which is the first of four animated films remaking Hideaki Anno’s influential anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. It offers an intriguing, and quite unique, take on the Monster, from many angles. Check out my recent review here:

Leaving giant monsters for a moment I’d add the superb Hammer version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit [aka Five Million Years to Earth] (UK-1967; dir. Roy Ward Baker). Kneale had a unique approach to the monstrous that is at its peak in this film (and in the serial that originated it). Here, in a way that isn’t all that predictable, the Monsters are indeed us.

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Filed under Interview, Monster Awareness Month

Cloverfield – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member, Mark S. Deniz

[Part Two of Mark’s ‘Handheld Cinema Classics’ trilogy]

Something has found us…

So reads the tagline of one of the most powerful films of its type so far. Being as several of the monster obsessives I know have dismissed the film (for various reasons) and seeing as I, much as I am a lover of monster films, am not a monster film devotee, I am aware I may well be treading on thin ice in praising its quality. However, as I’m not known to easily shy away from making a fool of myself in defending a beloved movie, I take to the stage once more…

I agree the film starts quite badly, even though I understand why. There’s a distinct lack of personality from the protagonists and the hand-held camera action is hard work at times, even for me. I usually don’t have a problem with the camcorder effect but in the early stages of Cloverfield I really struggle.


The warning

There’s the shaky camera work, party gossip, revelations of flings at Rob’s leaving party and the wonder at this point is possibly why you’re watching the film.

And then…a little over eighteen minutes in, the film begins in earnest. We did need the intro for the characters but it was all leading to this, to the monster.

The film picks up in action, pace, intensity, and even though I adored the early pay off in The Host, where we see the monster in no time at all, I feel that the delay in showing us the Cloverfield monster was done to perfection.

I completely jumped out of my seat when the Statue of Liberty’s head came flying down the street[1], just before we caught our first glimpse of something big, something monstrous near a skyscraper.


The monster

A sense of panic builds as the party goers, along with half of New York, try to make their way out of the city before we see a massive tail take half of the bridge (and Rob’s brother Jason along with it).

This is where, like The Blair Witch Project, that Cloverfield stands out, as the filming feels real, you can’t understand why someone would keep filming at a time of such distress and faced with something so unbelievable but you also understand why it happens. It almost becomes an extension of ‘Hud’.

We then get a glimpse of the monster from another ‘screen’ as people in an electronic store stop to see the monster’s companions, the smaller beasties, grabbing a few civilians from the street before the best shot when the four protagonists flee down a subway tunnel to get away.

It’s here when I think the early stages of the film are justified, as we see Rob’s insistence on tracking down Beth, (which we would have had no feeling for otherwise) and Rob’s telephone call from his mother, where he has to explain that his brother, Jason, is dead.

They’re all running in the same direction. It’s like they’re running away.

From what?

And then we meet the little beasties, who are not actually so little, and where, unfortunately, the film loses a little again. As much as we want the camcorder to follow the action, we want it to be as believable as possible, to strengthen our suspension of disbelief. As ‘Hud’ is attacked by the monsters, there is no way he’s going to keep that camera running, or hold it while his companions are attacked. Again this is where The Blair Witch Project shines, as there is never a moment in that film where the camera action doesn’t gel, doesn’t fit.

The film blends the pace well, the direction keeping the dialogue within reasonable frameworks, before handing over to the action, which in turn is sharp and punchy.

After leaving the subways and the smaller monsters, we move into, what I consider the most disturbing part of the film, where Marlena starts to show symptoms from the attack and they are surrounded by the military, before Marlena is taken into quarantine. I’m not so sure whether this is disturbing because of what is actually happening to Marlena or due to the whole military involvement and what that usually results in in these kinds of situations. That they are befriended by an army officer, who helps them to get out of the building helps to counter this trope, but serves more to dilute than to diffuse.

We then follow Lily, Rob and ‘Hud’ as they make their way to the apartment block where Beth is, and here is one of the most gripping and enjoyable scenes, as they travel between collapsed rooms, at dangerous angles to get to their destination.

During the trip to Beth and the ensuing reunion, between her and Rob, we are witness to a cacophony of sounds, both from inside the apartment (as ‘Hud’ is forced to put the camera down to help them rescue Beth) but also from the battle outside between the monster and the military.

What’s that?

Something else, also terrible!

Leaving in the helicopter gives us much more scope, as instead of seeing everything up close and personal we get an overview of a section of the city and our up-to-now, best glimpse of the beast.

And for a beast he’s rather impressive, first as he razes the city, before knocking the helicopter (carrying Beth, ‘Hud’ and Rob) out of the sky.

We then get a couple of minutes of camera stasis, as we hear about ‘Hammerdown’ and how it is due to be initiated in fifteen minutes – we know now there is not much time for our gang.


The monster meets 'Hud'

‘Hud’ then ‘meets’ the beast, in the most gruesome and well delivered of scenes before we are left with Rob and Beth in a tunnel, understanding the gravity of their situation. Rob decides the best thing to do is document what has happened from their perspective, and for those that may find the video afterwards.

The film then ends and we return to the past, and Rob and Beth’s date at the funfair, before the camera dies and the credits roll.


There’s a lot packed into 85 minutes, and it shocks me every time I watch it that it is actually less than an hour and a half. In fact the 85 minutes refers to the whole film from start to ten minute closing credits and the wonderful ‘ROAR (Cloverfield Overture)’ by the excellent Michael Giacchino, an accepted tribute to Ifukube’s Gojira theme. The film is actually 73 minutes long, the length of a DV tape, giving a greater authenticity to the piece.

Not only is there much within the story to feast your eyes on, with reviewers using superlatives like “chillingly effective”, and with a “whip-smart, stylistically invisible” (script) but there is so obviously a reaction to events, such as 9-11 and subsequent terrorist attacks that give the film a little bit more of an edge for the US public.

I’ve read an equal number of reviewers damning the film for its over-the-top in your face approach to the subject of terrorism as those praising its use. Referring back to James Willett’s Remake and Reboot article I can’t help but agree with his sentiments about why Cloverfield succeeds and why the Godzilla remake fails, as the former follows the themes and feel of previous monster films, those that look at society and the human persona, whereas the latter is a merely a big monster going around trashing New York, a pale shadow of its 1954 original. Whether it is less subtle than other films is, of course, up for debate, I merely state here that it at least falls into the same category of the greats, in terms of intention.

J. J. Abrams stated that he wanted to create a monster for the US, a monster that could rival Japan’s Godzilla and here I think he failed, more for the fact that less than five years after Cloverfield’s release we are getting ready to witness another remake of Godzilla. Why I think he might have failed is that he wanted to give the US filmgoers a monster that they could call their own, not entirely realising that they had already bestowed that title on the Japanese behemoth. It doesn’t matter that he is not from the US (the ultimate irony is that he was created as a response to the atrocities inflicted on the Japanese by the US) for he is already part of their cinematic make up and will remain so.

But, Cloverfield is a great monster movie, it works on all the right levels: the tension builds up superbly, once the monster appears, the monster itself is fabulous, especially with its smaller cousins/friends/offspring, the idea for the videotape length sublime, etc. It’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed the first, second, third…around and will, I suspect, enjoy more the more I watch it.

Exquisitely placed to end Monster Awareness Month, I leave you with Cloverfield!

[1] The head of the Statue of Liberty was actually inspired by the poster for Escape from New York


Filed under Film, Monster Awareness Month, Review


Written by author John Langan


Family tradition has it that, when I was born, my father was watching a monster movie. He’d been watching one on the home TV when my mother had told him it was time to go to the hospital and hours later, by the time I was making my squalling entrance into this world, he’d found another such film on the waiting room TV. My mom, no fan of these movies doesn’t know what either movie was. Their names are another of the things I never asked my dad before he died. I suppose I could try to research TV schedules for upstate New York in 1969, but I don’t really need to know the movies’ titles. What matters is that my birth was attended by monsters.


The earliest memory I have of being scared by a movie involves an adaptation of Frankenstein I’ve never been able to track down, despite rather extensive investigation. My father watched it one weeknight on the TV in his and my mother’s room, which was the family TV; he sat in his easy chair with the lights out. (I can’t recall him doing this for any other movie, which makes me think he really must have wanted to see this one.) My mother was not interested in viewing the film; she sat at the kitchen table with my brother and sister, gluing popsicle sticks together for some type of project. (Making little men?) I may have been six or seven; whatever age I was, dad considered me old enough to watch this version of Frankenstein with him. My recollections of the film itself are fragmentary. The screen had a red tint, which I don’t recall with anything else we saw, so I guess that shading was particular to this film, or the print of it. The monster was pale, thin, dressed in a (hairy?) vest, pants, and tennis shoes. At one point, he was chained to a paper-maché-looking rock. Whatever scene that was took place on what might have been a theatrical stage. Could this have been a stage version of the story being televised? Maybe. I kept moving, staying a minute or two in the darkness with my dad, then exiting to my mom and the brightly-lit kitchen. Each time I appeared, mom urged me to stay with her and my siblings. I did not. What was it that I found so compelling about the film? I don’t remember. What was it about this version of Frankenstein that was so frightening it would leave the monster the figure who would chase me through my nightmares? I don’t know; if I saw something, some terrible act committed by the monster, I’ve buried it too deep in my subconscious to retrieve.

Perhaps, though, it wasn’t anything worse than what remains in my memory: my father sitting in the dark, in his easy chair, the TV screen red in front of him. Perhaps it wasn’t anything worse than him telling me this was a movie about a monster.


When I was maybe in third grade, I was off school sick for several days with a stomach bug. In addition to the pleasures of crisp, cool sheets and cups of cool ginger ale, not to mention, my mom’s attention, I was allowed to watch the black-and-white TV in mine and my brother’s room. This was pre-cable, and during the long hours between the early-morning and mid-afternoon cartoons, there wasn’t a great deal of interest on offer. The station out of Secaucus filled the late morning with old movies, and sometimes, one of these was worth a look. The film I wound up watching that day was set in a mining camp somewhere in the American southwest. At its beginning, a round of blasting uncovered a perfectly-preserved Allosaurus egg, along with a deposit of radioactive material which both caused the egg to hatch and rendered its former inhabitant invisible. It also may have accelerated the dinosaur’s growth; within a few scenes, he was stalking and attacking the members of the mining team. In the lead-up to each attack, there may have been three-toed footprints advancing across the desert sand, but during the actual event, the camera shifted to the Allosaurus’s point of view, the screen filled with the screaming face of his victim, their hands flung up to defend themselves, long slashes opening up and down their cheeks while the dinosaur’s oddly-distant, almost warbling roar swelled the soundtrack. I’m reasonably certain the beast was destroyed with fire, a conflagration during which its silhouette became briefly visible.

At the time, I didn’t think this movie a triumph of low-budget filmmaking. I was frustrated not to have been able to see the Allosaurus, because I loved dinosaurs as only a small boy can, but rather than striking me as ridiculous, the idea of an invisible, carnivorous dinosaur on the prowl made me deeply uneasy. That night, when it was time for my brother and I to go to sleep, my unease had progressed to out-and-out fear. My father answered my calls for parental aid, but once he’d heard the reason for my anxiety, his concern soured to irritation. If the movie was too scary, I shouldn’t have watched it. I tried to explain that it hadn’t been too scary while I was watching it with the lights on and the sun shining and mom bustling around the house; it was only now, in the dark and the night and the quiet, that it had become frightening. My explanation did not win me any more of my father’s sympathy.

You might assume I had learned some kind of lesson from this experience, but the next day, when I was off sick again, I begged my mother to let me watch another weird movie on channel 9. (If anyone had learned from the previous day, it had been mom, who subjected me to a rigorous round of you-re-sure-this-won’t-be-too-scary-for-you questioning before consenting to my viewing the film.) This movie took place at sea; I’m reasonably sure it must have been somewhere in the Sargasso Sea. The survivors of a shipwreck (or maybe their ship was torpedoed?) (were they English? I recall one actor at least having an English accent) drifted into a part of the Sea that was inhabited by a group of people who had been living there for a long, long time—centuries, I think. These people lived in huts built on stilts and connected to one another by a series of narrow walkways set close to the water’s surface. The Sargasso-dwellers may have had a king, or leader, who was an old man hobbled by bad counsel from his trusted aide(s). What made the film stand out for me, though, were its monsters, these great, seaweed-covered mounds taller and wider than any of the characters; they shuffled forward with a motion that shook the plants draping them. These things might have been the allies of the Sargasso-dwellers, their pets or something analogous, or they may have been an ever-present menace. Whatever their status at the movie’s beginning, by its end, they were a definite threat, and this film, too, ended with fire. I wish I could convey how strange this film felt to me, how different, not just due to the seaweed-heaps, but due to the sheer oddness of its setting.

I must have guessed the night to come would not be a pleasant one. But lying there in my bed next to the bedroom door, which was open ever-so-slightly to the kitchen light streaming down the hallway, I knew the darkness of my room to be immense, full of shapes like great black boulders. This time, I did not call for my father. I knew what he would say, and I suppose he would have been right. I had earned this.


Halloween of my junior year in high school, one of the local malls rented some unused store space to a haunted house troop. Located directly across from the movie theater, the place, whose name I’ve forgotten, had an unassuming design: basically, a long rectangle with the entrance on the right side, the exit on the left side, and the ticket-window roughly equidistant between them. The front wall was painted with seasonally-appropriate graveyards and ghosts, spiderwebs and skeletons, all under a sky full of a fat, white moon. Some kind of music, or a sound-effects record, the noises of wind and creaking floorboards, played faintly; at regular intervals, someone inside the haunted house would scream, or laugh, or scream then laugh. I can’t imagine it was that laughter that convinced me this was something I had to do; I know it wasn’t my younger brother, whom I’m pretty sure I had to browbeat into joining me. My father was surprisingly amenable to the plan, and in short order, my brother and I were passing through a heavy drape into a short, dark hall that turned to the left, becoming an almost-pitch-dark tunnel. At the opposite end from us, a figure sat under a faint light that looked as if it were shining down through a grating. Most of its face was in shadow, but I knew right away the cavernous eyes, the slab of pale brow, the flattened cranium, of Frankenstein’s creation. My legs stopped moving. All the air went out from the hallway. “Hello, boys,” the monster said in a low, pleasant voice. My jaw was quivering. “Why don’t you come down here?” the monster continued. “I’m not gonna scare you.” I have been frightened since that moment, but that is the last time I can remember being so overcome with fear, my joints locked and I could not move. To his credit, my brother did not abandon me. “No one’s gonna scare you,” the monster said, and I started babbling, a flood of words bursting forth from my mouth: “I know you’re not you’re not going to scare us because you’re not scary you’re my friend,” and then something gave inside me and I rushed my brother out the way we had come in, past a pair of girls somewhere around my age who favored us with glances of disgust.

My father hadn’t realized we’d never made it past that first corridor. When we told him what had happened, he was annoyed at our wasting money.


Although I feel sure I must have watched it at some point before this, the first time I can say for sure that I watched James Whale’s Frankenstein was the summer of 1999. After having been away from writing horror fiction for most of the past decade, I had plunged back into it, and, as part of that immersion, was viewing and re-viewing whatever screen classics the local video store had. I have to confess, Mel Brooks’s inspired Young Frankenstein was more clear in my memory than Whale’s original, and it was difficult to the point of impossible not to watch scenes in the earlier film through the lens of the later. There was one moment, however—after the monster’s creation, when he has been locked away in the castle dungeons, where he is being tormented by Fritz, Frankenstein’s assistant—when we look down a long hallway at the monster standing quietly, his head tilted forward, his dead eyes looking out at us. It can’t be any more than two or three seconds of film time, but it seemed much, much longer. For the length of that shot, I was back in the haunted house with my younger brother; I was in that dark room with my father and the red screen of the TV.

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Clean up in Aisle Five: The Mist – review

Written by author, Sonia Marcon


The Mist will surprise some viewers because it’s not directly a scream-fest horror. In fact, the only thing that makes this film considered to be horror is that it’s based on the novella by Stephen King, who everybody knows as “that horror novelist”. The story of The Mist can be considered as more of a comment on human nature rather than a horror story. Sure, it has big scary monsters as the thrust of the story but, in my opinion, the monsters are not the point. This film contains much scarier things than a bunch of monstrous animals. The Mist is a film that really can’t go wrong for me. To begin with, I am a huge Stephen King fan and when King’s story ideas are adapted for the screen by Frank Darabont, there isn’t much room for a wrong turn. Everyone has to have seen, or at least heard about, The Shawshank Redeption, an amazing film adaptation by Darabont based on the equally amazing novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by King. The Mist is, in my opinion, a very close second both as a novella and as a film.

Seeing that The Mist is a creation by Stephen King, I think it pertinent to talk about this story in relation to him whether you’re a fan of his writing or not. Something that I truly feel is a gift of King is his ability to create, be it story ideas, character relations or plot developments. There are many people who don’t like King as a writer, and that’s fair enough. Each to their own. But I think a gift of King’s is to bring the unbelievable and unimaginable right outside your front door. Film adaptations of King’s works, however, can be very hit and miss. Frank Darabont gets it right because his story adaptation and screen direction add a whole new level to the story idea. Even though a story in itself can contain brilliant characters and story nuances, things like emotion can easily be missed by both a writer and a reader. Frank Darabont brings this emotion to the forefront where the viewer cannot help but notice it.


There are two parts of this story that greatly benefit from the visual medium of film, which are the approach of the mist toward the shopping centre where this story is mostly set and the reactions of the townsfolk to the monsters. The scene where the mist comes in and envelopes the supermarket is terrifyingly brilliant and it is made even better by the sound effects of the film. As a viewer, you really do share the reactions of the townsfolk, who think that everything they hear can be easily explained. The thudding heard must be earthquakes, the mist itself must be a poison gas cloud from the military base on the neighbouring hill. This is the talent of King at work; they are normal people with normal reasoning who don’t immediately jump to extraordinary conclusions. Darabont works with these ideas to create a feeling of utter fear and despair by keeping the normality of the characters; he really utilises the whole ‘seeing is believing’ mindset. He also makes sure, in his adaptation of the story to screenplay, that there are no heroes because in this situation there is too much confusion for heroism.

the mist

One of the most fascinating parts of this story is, in my opinion, the fact that the monsters are just animals trapped in an unfamiliar place. They are not there to destroy the humans, they are just trying to survive. This works with the idea that there is no room for heroism because whenever any of the characters hurt or kill the ‘monsters’, it creates a real sense of sympathy for them because the ‘monsters’ are just acting in the only way they know how to when in a strange environment with hostile inhabitants. When they manage to get into the supermarket where the humans are, they are not there to kill the humans. They are just chasing the smaller monsters for food, which is obviously what they do in their home place, and if they do harm the humans, it is purely out of defence and fear. I personally find this scene the hardest to watch because I can’t help but feel sorry for the monsters. To me, it’s the humans in this story who act more monstrously than the apparent monsters.

Being regarded as a monster film means that it must contain something that is monstrously scary. To me, the animals that are regarded as monsters are nowhere near as fearful as Mrs Carmody, the religious zealot character who rounds up followers in the supermarket. This character made me realise that The Mist is not precisely a monster film. The Mist is ultimately a character drama that happens to feature monstrous animals. I truly feel that the character driven element of this story, initiated by Stephen King but enunciated by Frank Darabont, is what creates the most interest. The Mrs Carmody character is there to show how despicable and selfish human beings can be when placed in a situation of peril. I don’t think her presence in the story is a comment on religion by either King or Darabont, but more a comment on the ways in which human beings are ultimately not very nice. This film seems to be one of the many I like because it has believable characters in unbelievable situations.

The Mist - Face Off

I honestly could not think of a better director for this film than Frank Darabont. His adaptations of Stephen King not only make great films (admittedly The Green Mile is very long, but still) but also memorable narratives in their own right. I think The Mist is a necessary addition to Monster Awareness Month because it adds a touch of variety to the mix with its character driven story. If you like Stephen King stories, that’s one reason to watch. If you like Frank Darabont films, that’s reason two. If you like a film with some of the most imaginative monsters that look like bugs with big teeth, that’s a big reason three.

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Pan’s Labyrinth – review

Written by Monster Awarness Month team member, Harry Markov

Celebrating the monsters in cinema can’t be complete without mentioning the monsters in our mythology. Pan’s Labyrinth is the perfect example of how the monstrous in our folklore can be assimilated in the cinematic format, creating a modern, dark fairy tale for adults. Unlike a lot of the entries in the Monster Awareness Month, Pan’s Labyrinth is far from being a horror, while at the same time it displays a horrifying reality that has nothing to do with cheap scares.

I consider the setting a post-Civil War Spain in 1944 to be a dark ghastly land, where people are the true monsters as soldiers are wont to become during wars. It’s the inhuman that contrasts with the spark of innocence and humanity, though there are real monsters among their ranks. As a whole Pan’s Labyrinth impresses with how well it dances on the line of being startlingly real and tangible, and incorporeal and surreal. Yes, CGI remains a tool to bring the special effects to life. The fairies that aid Ofelia during her tasks, the sentient labyrinth that guards her from the Captain as well as the mandrake root Ofelia puts in a milk bowl to heal her sick, pregnant mother, all exist because of CGI. Yet, they are small creative touches compared to the Pale Man, who wants to eat Ofelia, or the Faun, who is Ofelia’s task giver. Guillermo resorts to older techniques such as animatronics and latex foam makeup, which transform the actor Doug Jones into both creatures.

The genuine interaction between Ofelia and the creatures is what imbues the movie with the power it has. If all the monsters were done with CGI, then the viewer would be aware that he is watching a movie. Instead, del Toro reinforces how real for Ofelia the fairyland is even if she is the only one that can see it, as is shown near the end, when the Captain captures her in the labyrinth talking to herself, when a moment prior Ofelia pleaded with the faun. Through the whole movie I wondered whether Ofelia really was the long missing princess Moanna or whether the tasks and the faun constituted her coping mechanism with a cruel step-father, a sick mother and civil unrest surrounding the Civil War.

Questioning in Pan’s Labyrinth runs as a central theme. The viewer questions the validity and the reality of Ofelia’s quest. Ofelia questions the motifs of the faun. The Captain questions the loyalty of his people, though really his questioning is far from being sympathetic. Mercedes questions the safety of her position in the house and her invisibility given by her social status in the Captain’s eyes. Guillermo del Toro has written one of the most depressing and dramatic movies about the monsters that hide within the shadows and our hearts.

Pan’s Labyrinth draws from known fantastic tropes and watching it feels as though you have been transported back into your childhood. For instance, Ofelia’s crossing in the otherworldly world, populated with giant frogs and shapeshifting insects, evokes an Alice in Wonderland atmosphere, which progresses throughout the picture. The constantly shifting labyrinth throws back to David Bowie and Labyrinth from the 80s. The magical number three resurfaces as the tasks Ofelia has to perform amount to three. Blood sacrifices, innocence and purity of the soul function as central themes.

Shedding the mortal self in order to return to the otherworldly as royalty is Ofelia’s quest in order to become Moanna again. Unlike other journeys of chosen, magical children Ofelia doesn’t return to her own world like Alice or the heirs of Narnia. The happy ending for her comes, but in the form of a bullet to her chest and her blood draining in the otherworldly king’s portal. What makes this ascent and claiming of one’s heritage as hard hitting is the uncertainty as to whether the world exists or remains Ofelia’s fabrication, a tool to escape. Yes, Pan’s Labyrinth falls into the fairy tale genre, yet, it’s a fairy tale geared for adults. Ofelia doesn’t always make the right decisions during her quest and faces the consequences of her actions.

Despite Pan’s Labyrinth’s strengths, the movie is far from perfect. Guillermo del Toro weaves three stories within the movie. First, the complex family dynamics between Ofelia, her sick mother and the Captain. Then comes the Captain’s hunt for guerilla fighters, where Mercedes supplies the soldiers with medicine and provisions. Third, Ofelia’s quest. While well acted as separate storylines, there is not much cohesion between them, in the sense that one distracted from the other two and created the effect of watching three distinct short movies pasted into one two hour extravaganza.

Even with its shortcomings, Pan’s Labyrinth remains a powerful movie, where the monsters are saviors and protectors. Where the inhuman extends a hand in order to preserve innocence in an era, where innocence died on the front line.

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Something is amongst us…and the last film of Monster Awareness Month is happy to show us just what….

Is your dropbox ready for tonight’s screening?

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Pan’s Labyrinth – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

While movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy had already put Guillermo del Toro in the geek movie spotlight, it was Pan’s Labyrinth, with its six Academy Award nominations and three wins, that really gained del Toro the worldwide critical acclaim and industry clout that he now possesses. And with good reason. Del Toro himself has many times said that Pan’s Labyrinth is one of his favorites among his own films, and it’s certainly the surest, most confident, and most accomplished entry in his filmography to date.

Listening to one of del Toro’s commentary tracks is always a fascinating pastime, and it always leaves me with a renewed sense of awe at his commitment to detail and the material. Listening to the commentary track for Pan’s Labyrinth takes this to a whole other level. The amount of care that went into the film is mind-boggling, as is the control that del Toro had over the material. Del Toro’s films are all carefully color-coded and stylistically controlled, with motifs that echo and repeat, but, again, never has any of his films felt more intricate, on close inspection, than Pan’s Labyrinth.

It’s a movie that del Toro himself has said is a “litmus test” for its viewers, with an ending that appears, at first glance, to be ambiguous. So as to avoid spoilers for those who maybe haven’t yet seen it, I’ll refrain from talking about the themes of the movie, or the objective reality of its fantastical elements, and simply say to watch the movie for yourself, and then treat yourself to del Toro’s commentary track, where he spells out his feelings on the film and its themes pretty plainly.

Instead of that I’ll talk about the monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, since that’s kind of what we’re here for. As I’ve already said when talking about Hellboy, del Toro is a director who loves monsters more than just about anyone else I can conveniently think of. He’s been quoted as saying that “if there’s not a monster on the call sheet, I don’t show up for work.” And while the two Hellboy films are his most monster-filled movies to date, Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t far behind.

For a movie with a reported budget of around $19 million, Pan’s looks amazing. The creatures are almost entirely brought to life using practical effects. The most famous monster to come out of Pan’s Labyrinth is the incredibly creepy Pale Man, but the Faun deserves equal attention (especially the effect of his legs, which is only heightened by learning how it was achieved), and the movie also boasts fairies, a giant toad, and a mandrake root. Both the Faun and the Pale Man are brought to life by veteran creature actor Doug Jones, who previously played Abe Sapien in Hellboy.

In a lot of ways, Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy are two very different movies, one quiet and emotional, the other broad and pulpy, but they both show a visionary director working at the top of his game, bringing his considerable love of monsters to two very different tables.


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Barker’s Monsters – Part Three

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member: Sharon Ring

Before I began writing these posts I asked a few genre-friendly people to name monster / bogeyman icons from the last decade or so of mainstream horror cinema. The only two candidates who came up with any degree of regularity were Jigsaw from the Saw movies and Ghostface from the Scream films. This wasn’t particularly surprising. Horror movie tropes have gone through a good many incarnations since the early days of cinema: each generation has brought its own fears and troubles to the screen, each generation endeavouring to create new monsters that best illuminate the human condition at the time. The past decade has seen far fewer monster icons, the trends being more inclined toward unseen fears and a particular liking for more voyeuristic, surveillance and documentary-based  film-making.

When Barker’s early films were hitting the cinemas, however, the slasher and stalker sub-genre was hugely popular. The modern trend for this kind of film had begun with Black Christmas (1974), though it was not the first acknowledged slasher movie; as far back as 1932 movies would occasionally take on the theme, more often than not attempting to tackle socio-political issues of their time concerning race and class. The turning point for slasher cinema came with the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978. From here on in, horror cinema was rife with stalker bogeymen armed with hooks, knives, chainsaws and any other tool capable of delivering the killing blow.

This craze for deranged killers was, in part, the reasoning behind Barker calling Nightbreed a troubled movie. Though the novella had been primarily about its protagonist Boone and his relationship with Lori, and the film was directed to be more about the inhabitants of Nightbreed, much of the actual marketing for the film concentrated on Cronenberg’s character, Decker. Morgan Creek’s attempts to turn Nightbreed into a slasher film, with one executive at the company saying, “If you’re not careful, some people are going to like the monsters”, showed a distinct lack of understanding of Barker’s unique vision of the world of monsters.

Candyman and Helen Lyle

Far more sympathetic to Barker’s vision was the writer and director of Candyman, Bernard Rose. Rose approached Barker with a view to shooting one of his short stories, The Forbidden being a particular favourite of Rose’s. He was keen to highlight the social issues Barker had put into the original short story and, where the story was set in a rundown Liverpool housing estate, Bernard, in order to gather the required funding to make the film, changed the setting to a housing project in Chicago, Cabrini Green. This wasn’t an invented housing project, either. Cabrini Green was (most of it has now been demolished) for many years one of the most feared housing projects in America and at one time had the highest murder rate per square foot of land in the entire world. Almost all the exterior shots and stairwell scenes at Cabrini Green were shot on the actual estate; the production team had to negotiate with the project gangs in order to film at the location and many of the extras you see milling around the hallways and stairs are the gang members of that time.

Urban myth is a major theme in both the short story and the eventual film. Rose’s choice of location for Candyman allowed him to document both his interest in disenfranchisement and urban decay, and also the fundamental need of people living in such communities to create myths and mores which serve to bind them as a community and act as a warning to those from outside their environment. The film’s protagonist, Helen, and her friend, Bernadette, are studying urban myths for their doctorates. Helen’s husband, Trevor, has one scene where he is teaching a roomful of college students about urban myth, calling them, “our unselfconscious reflection of the fears of urban society”.

Candyman / Daniel Robitaille

After Helen and Bernadette hear about the Candyman story being linked to Cabrini Green they travel to the project to check out stories of a local murder attributed to him. Again, Rose took elements of Cabrini Green history to push the Candyman myth. In the film the murder of Ruthie-Jean is said to have happened as part of a design flaw in the building of the apartments. By removing the bathroom cabinet and pushing through the cabinet in the adjoining apartment, the murderer was able to climb into Ruthie-Jean’s home and kill her. This was an actual design flaw in the real Cabrini Green buildings, a flaw which had allowed a murder to take place some years before the film was made.

As with all the best urban myths there is a back story to the world of Candyman. Before he was Candyman the killer mythologised by the Cabrini Green tenants was known as Daniel Robitaille, the son of a slave who had grown up in polite society. Working as an artist, creating family portraits, Daniel met and fell in love with the daughter of a landowner. When the woman became pregnant with Daniel’s child, the landowner paid a group of men to torture and kill Daniel, the final act of Daniel’s punishment for crossing the boundaries of race and class to scatter his ashes across Cabrini Green. Everything needed to create the Candyman myth is present in the telling of Daniel’s story: a tragic love tale, the breaking of ‘the rules’, the sawing off of his right hand (to be replaced by a hook, essential slasher tool), being covered in honey (‘Sweets to the sweet’), being stung to death by bees (bees feature prominently in later scenes between Candyman and Helen), the funeral pyre and, finally, the scattering of his ashes to cement Candyman’s eternal connection with the land on which Cabrini Green stands. Candyman revels in his own mythology, telling Helen, “I am rumour. It is a blessed condition, believe me, to be whispered about at street corners, to live in other people’s dreams, but not to have to be.”

The three films I’ve covered in these posts are all strong love and seduction stories. In Hellraiser we have the story of Frank and Julia; in Nightbreed we have Boone and Lori’s story; and in Candyman we have the legend of Daniel and his original lover plus the seduction tale of Candyman and Helen. The theme of seduction is, perhaps, most overt in this last film. Daniel becomes a mythical killer, the slasher monster of the movie, because of love but he must be invited into the world of each victim for that killing to take place. The empty apartment covered in graffiti, the razor-laced candies, the stories of death and fear are all the means by which Candyman is both reviled and revered by of the Cabrini Green residents.  Several times he asks Helen to surrender to him, to be his victim. Asking for surrender is his means of asking for complicity in the act, reflecting his desire to be worshipped by the residents of Cabrini Green, and especially by Helen, who has lessened him in the eyes of his “congregation”.

The religious subtext is equally strong in Hellraiser and Nightbreed. The ascetic qualities of the Cenobites, who are all a part of the Order of the Gash, and the lost tribe mentality of the Nightbreed, who worship a deity called Baphomet, are comparable to Cabrini Green’s worship of Candyman. The Cenobites are governed by rules set by The Engineer, chaining them to the machinations of the Lament Configuration. The Nightbreed have survived into modern times because of their adherence to laws set down by Baphomet. The residents of Cabrini Green have, through over a century of rumour and fear, created a minor deity of their own, complete with his own rules of reverence and summoning, transforming a murdered lover into an eternal bogeyman.

Transformation is at the heart of much of Barker’s fiction. In a South Bank special on Barker, aired in 1994, he said, “I usually paint people in some transformed state or other. Either they’re on their way to being transformed or they are transformed.” I’d say this is true no only of his written work but also of the adaptation of his work from prose to cinema.

In Hellraiser we have a quartet of transformed creatures whose calling is to transform the flesh of pleasure-seeking humans. We also have Julia transforming from unhappy wife to love-struck killer as well as Frank’s transformation from flesh to a beating heart under the floorboards then back to flesh. In Nightbreed many of the Breed are able to transform at will, showing their more human faces at times, turning to smoke or demon at others, their protean flesh unbound by the laws of the naturals. There is also Boone’s transformation from natural to Breed and Decker’s seesawing between trusted doctor and messianic murderer.

In Candyman the transformation takes the form of deification. Rather than leave the viewer hanging on until the end of the film to discover the history of Candyman, it’s only thirty minutes into the narrative when Daniel’s brutal torture and murder is related to Helen. The creation of the Candyman myth is the story of how both gods and monsters (entities with far more similarities than differences) are made and it is told with the unhidden pleasure of making us, as with the Nightbreed, care about the monster. Candyman, in turn, transforms Helen, making her both monster and legend as he tells her, “Our names will be written on a thousand walls, our crimes told and retold by our faithful believers.”

Sweets to the sweet.

These three films, and the original stories on which they are based, represent much of what makes Barker’s take on monsters so very special. Starting with Hellraiser he creates confusion over who we are meant to see as the monster, even creating a sense of ambiguity and alluring mystery around the flesh-tearing Cenobites. In Nightbreed we move on to a more open siding with the monsters; our sympathies are deliberately steered in their favour as we are shown that sometimes the real monsters exist in our own world, in the very people we believe we can trust. Finally, in Candyman, we’re shown that not only do monsters exist in our own world but we act as their creators through our own monstrous behaviour; we give birth to the very things we fear the most and then feed those fears through myth and storytelling.

We are, perhaps, a little bit in love with monsters, even jealous of their abilities and dismissal of the usual rules of society. As one of the Nightbreed says, “To be able to fly, to be smoke, or a wolf… To know the night and live in it forever, that’s not so bad. You call us monsters but when you dream, you dream of flying and changing and living without death. You envy us and what you envy…”

[With thanks to Phil and Sarah Stokes. Their website has proved an invaluable resource for the writing of these posts.]

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The Mist–trailer

What’s in the mist? Dare you find out?

Is your dropbox ready for tonight’s screening?

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Filed under Film, Monster Awareness Month, Trailer