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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!

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Teratography

Written by author John Langan

I

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.

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

V

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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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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Blobs, Swamp Muck and Amorphous Things That Go “Splat!” in the Night

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member, Robert Hood

Given that violation of physical norms (being giant-sized, three-headed, lizard-scaled, part-snake/bat/bear/lion/dragon/Bobo-the-Clown, you name it) is one of the defining attributes of a monster, it’s not surprising that some of the most memorable of the clan are, in fact, of indeterminate shape. Amorphous horrors and all that. Things that go “Splat!” in the night.

The Blob? Everyone knows of the big strawberry-jelly mass of space gunk that reacts badly when poked with a stick, likes to scare cinema patrons by oozing through the screen in the middle of the movie and has a penchant for eating out at the local diner.


The Blob (US-1958; dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr.) mightn’t be a great film artistically, but many of its moments have achieved cult status and it is certainly charming in its own clean-cut ‘50s way. In the opinion of many, Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake is a much better film, with good SFX, effective characters, a decent script and dramaturgically competent storytelling, while retaining (plus updating and broadening) the themes of youth rebellion and generational trust. Changing the origin of the Blob from outer-space-entity-on-the-loose to product-of-a-Government-scientific-miscalculation-and-attendant-conspiracy is very 1990s, reflecting a general cynicism that what we really have to fear might originate right here on our doorstep rather than out in the universe somewhere. Needless to say, The Blob (1988) hasn’t garnered the same level of affection as Steve McQueen’s star vehicle with its rather innocent air of ‘50s kitsch.

Dinner becomes more gruesome in the 1988 remake

In 1972, Larry Hagman (of I Dream of Jeanie and Dallas fame) directed a sequel/reboot of The Blob called Beware! The Blob (aka Son of the Blob). It’s more comedy than horror and isn’t considered a classic, as cheekily eccentric as it may be. What it does best is reflect the sort of sardonic humour that Hagman was good at.

Godfrey Cambridge gets consumed while watching the 1959 film on TV

... and never gets to see the ending...

Coincidentally, June 1958 (a few months before The Blob premiered in the US) saw the release in Japan of another “Blob”-like movie – this one by Gojira director Ishirô Honda. It’s called Bijo to Ekitainingen (lit. Beauty and the Liquid People), but is best known as The H-Man. Nuclear tests in the Pacific create mutations that ooze about like radioactive slime and dissolve human flesh and bone. The movie is a crime flick as well as a monster picture – a particular cross-genre hybrid that appealed to the Japanese film-going public in this period and worked oddly well in practice. At any rate, though not well-known, The H-Man is an interesting take that is definitely worth your time, featuring some excellent and atmospheric horror sequences, in particular one set on a ghostly ship adrift at sea during a fog-bound night.

Hedorah, aka the Smog Monster

A more famous muck monster — one made out of a mass of animated pollution — is Hedorah, better known as the Smog Monster. In the history of Godzilla films, Gojira tai Hedora (1971; dir. Yoshimitsu Banno) [aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster] is the really weird one and it tends to be very divisive. The spectacle of seeing Godzilla fly through the air, tail tucked under his body and using his fire breath as a means of rocket propulsion, sends some fans into paroxysms of scorn. Yet I’ve always thought it fits into this particular movie quite well, given its theme of pollution and its hallucinatory imagery. In this particular G world, where smog can come alive and turn into a giant monster — and where Godzilla movies can have weird cartoon inserts and hippies hang about on Mt Fuji singing and dancing and generally getting stoned while the world burns — it seems entirely appropriate that Godzie could use his fire breath to propel himself through the air. This is Godzilla seen through a chemical haze — drugs being another form of pollution, after all. What with the nightclub scene where patrons turn into fish-headed monsters under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (as in Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas) — or the scene where Hedorah sucks ecstatically on a smoking chimney as though it’s a bong — interpreting the blatant surrealism of Smog Monster as some sort of drug-induced supra-reality seems entirely appropriate!

Blob monsters were rather popular in the creature-feature comics of this period, whether or not they were “inspired” by The Blob. One that comes to mind is “The Glop”, in a story from Journey into Mystery Vol. 1 #72 (September 1961). “The Glop” features a dripping humanoid mass that “lives!” after an artist is hired to go to Transylvania to paint a monstrous statue using mystic, life-giving paint — something he hadn’t known when he started. Another is “Taboo! The Thing from Murky Swamp” from Strange Tales #75 (June 1960). Taboo is an alien muck monster, which, though destroyed at the end of the story, returned bigger and ever more adjectivally inexorable a few months later (in Strange Tales #77, October 1960).

Amorphous monsters like these soon became part of the pantheon of monstrous villains that superheroes had to contend with, once the superhero genre took over in comics. In 1958 when The Blob began production, the film was being called “The Glob [That Girdled the World]”. In 1969 Bruce Banner/the Hulk was forced to battle a murky sludge creature known as the Glob in The Incredible Hulk #121. The Glob makes several subsequent appearances in the Marvel universe.

A shapeshifting creature made of sand called The Sandman first appeared in Journey to Mystery Vol. 1, #70 (July 1961). Though an alien here, he proved to be a prototype of William Baker (aka The Sandman) from The Amazing Spider-Man #4 (Sept 1963), who accidentally acquires the ability to shapeshift via his sandy nature and uses this ability to harass our friendly neighbourhood webslinger. The Sandman appeared in Sam Raimi’s live-action movie Spider-Man 3 in 2007, rendered via spectacular CGI.

Swamps are a fertile breeding ground for amorphous monsters, as witness Taboo’s tagline: “The Thing from Murky Swamp”. The most famous comicbook swamp monster — either a man integrated with a mass of swamp debris following his “murder” or an elemental spirit, depending on which incarnation you’re reading — was DC Comics’ Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing featured in several comic series, two live-action films, a live-action TV series (directed by Tom Blomquist and Chuck Bowman) and an animated TV series. He also crops up briefly in the superlative animated series Justice League Unlimited. The first Swamp Thing film was directed by Wes Craven in 1982 and though uncharacteristic of Craven’s most famous work, proved reasonably successful. The Return of Swamp Thing (US-1989; dir. Jim Wynorski) followed, but wasn’t so well received. Swamp Thing is very much a “monster-as-hero” story, as the title character rises from the swamp to seek revenge on those who murdered him, but ends up pursuing a life of sometimes conflicted do-goodery.

Marvel’s Man-Thing series was very similar (at first), with a similar back-story involving swampy death and murky revenge, though the monster-hero is generally less sentient. The character originated in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971) — several months before DC’s Swamp Thing appeared (in House of Secrets #92, July 1971). There were murmurings of legal action (especially as the two creators were room-mates at the time), but it all came to nothing — and the two Things diverged considerably in tone and storyline as time went by. There has only been one film version of Man-Thing, a made-for-TV movie directed by Brett Leonard (2005). Much to the chagrin of fans of Marvel comic writer Steve Gerber’s surreal and rather tongue-in-cheek rendition of Man-Thing (which teams the tangle of swamp debris with Howard the Duck at one point), Leonard’s film is more a standard B-film creature feature, though it actually runs fairly close to the monster’s original appearances in comic format. If you can live with that, Man-Thing is an okay monster film, lurking somewhere midstream in the swampland hierarchy of Hollywood genre filmmaking.

The low-budget Swamp Devil (Canada-2008; dir. David Winning), on the other hand, is somewhat mired in a stagnant backwater of that particular tributary. It works a very similar scenario to those of Marvel and DC’s monster-heroes, though the titular beast is pure monster here. At any rate, there’s murder and backwoods secrets and swamp-monster violence involved. Some things never change: murder and swamps don’t mix. I must remember that — for next time.

Other types of amorphous monsters abound in the film world, often offering little more that a hive mentality in place of a single focus. The interesting monster of The Bone Snatcher (UK/Canada/South Africa-2003; dir. Jason Wulfsohn) consists of weird alien ants that swarm around random collections of bones to form into a larger, more coherent creature. In this they are rather like Grey Goo, the nano-machines that we’re often warned about by the scientifically pessimistic — tiny out-of-control robots that eat matter and sometimes form into whatever shape takes their fancy, usually monstrous (see the Justice League Unlimited story “Dark Heart” and the Gort-spawned nano-machine swarm that erupts across America in the climax of the 2008 The Day the Earth Stood Still remake).

Gort as a destructive nanotech cloud of destruction in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still

But such group monsters needn’t be so hi-tech. The Ruins (US/Germany/Aust-2008; dir. Carter Smith) does it rather effectively with virulent, psychic plants. From the psychotic avian menace of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) through to the mass African bee entity of The Swarm (US-1978; dir. Irwin Allen), nature in films has willingly formed itself into an amorphous object of mass terror, inflicting clouds of death and mayhem on humanity for its sins. In The Naked Jungle (US-1954; dir. Byron Haskin, based on the story Leiningen Versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson), Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker battle a 20-mile-wide, 20-mile-long column of army ants — millions of individual ants subsumed into a mass consciousness. That’s the point here. In these cases the characters are not dealing with lots of individual creatures but a single amorphous monster made up of millions of individual units acting together.

Charlton Heston vs the ants

And that’s not to forget the totally shapeless monster of the Aussie film Long Weekend (Aust-1978; dir. Colin Eggleston) and its 2008 remake, which is simply nature turning en masse against the careless vacationers. Talk about The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955). You can’t get much more amorphous than that.

  • Note: In my speculations here about Godzilla vs Hedorah I’m more-or-less quoting my review of the film on Undead Backbrain.

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Mishapen

Written by author, RJ Barker,

Mark,

I was about to start my article for you when I heard something scrabbling at the front door. I went to have a look and found an envelope containing the following and a threat to burn down my house if this isn’t published. I’ve annotated it so we don’t run into any copyright issues and called the police but could you run this instead of my article?

Thanks,

RJ.

A Plea for Sanity.

Rain, the kind of rain the roared out of the sky turning the road from a flat, hard and trustworthy surface into a treacherous river capable of unseating even the most careful driver. Water had been lifting up either side of the hired minibus in two furious white waves as they drove. Then, as if angry to be denied a return to the sky, it found its way under the bonnet to drown the labouring engine.

The five of them left the leaking old minibus and sought refuge in a nearby house. No one answered their knocks but the door had swung open as if inviting them in. Then, caught by a gust of howling wind, the door slammed shut behind them, becoming stuck fast in the old frame.

Soon after, the noises started. Grating, screaming, howling.

The Five split up to investigate: Two to the upper floor where they intended to ignore their responsibilities and have pre-marital sex. Two to the ground floor where, despite their differences and lack of confidence, they would find an unexpected well of inner strength that allowed them to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

That left Trevor alone and if everyone else was exploring he was damned if he would hang around like a spare part. He hated being treated any differently to the rest of them because he was disabled. Sure, getting his wheelchair down all those stairs into the cellar was a pain and he wished he’d checked the batteries on the torch more carefully when it flickered and died. And yes, it was a bit weird that no-one’s mobile worked but this was the twenty-first century. It wasn’t as if monsters really existed.

Besides, he had a shotgun, he’d be fine.

Trevor’s thoughts were torn away from the unnerving situation he and his friends had found themselves in when something scrabbled menacingly in the depths of the cellar. He sighted down the shotgun barrel, scanning it from side to side in the stygian darkness. The noise became louder, more threatening, a mixture of slobbering, laboured breathing and irregular, heavy steps.

With the noise came a stench of dampness and moulder almost strong enough to make Trevor vomit.

‘Whoever you are, stop there or I’ll fire!’ gagged the plucky wheelchair bound disposable character.

A moan came from the darkness and the heavy steps and foul, laboured breathing sped up as the THING in the darkness approached.

Trevor aimed the gun at where he thought the noises were coming from. ‘I’m not going to die in a stereotypical and lazy opening chapter,’ thought Trevor as the shotgun roa…

STOP!

Have you been enjoying “Monster Awareness Month”, reader?

Have you been GAWPING at your screen like a Victorian at an ‘Instructive’ show of medical curiosities?

Have you been enjoying the CHEAP titillation?

Or are you one of those select few who can see “Monster Awareness Month” for the TAWDRY CIRCUS it really is?

I bet you’ve not even thought about it while you’ve been happily oppressing what is, lets be frank here, a group that has been unfairly vilified, hunted and MURDERED by humanity for millennia? And there you are carrying on in that long-standing tradition. Well, I hope you are PROUD, Reader. Really I do.

I am of course not without pity for you. Since YOUTH you have been BRAINWASHED by writing like the excerpt[1] at the start of this article and that is partly responsible for your UNTHINKING acceptance of the status quo. For too long we’ve presumed darkness is the aim of the Monster just because they look, act and often have dietary requirements that are a little different from the rest of us.

Well, that stops here!

It’s about time we started trying to understand rather than hate. Time we celebrated our Differently-Civilised friends for their differences rather than making them objects of repulsion. Why not hug a Horror? Try to remember that just because something is a gelatinous mass devouring all before it doesn’t mean it is without feelings. If you cut it, does it not ooze?

Every creature has a backstory[2] we never think about and has often been forced to overcome obstacles we never even have to consider in order to achieve their goals. We don’t give them enough credit and sadly it has always been this way, even in antiquity.

Think about the unfortunate, misunderstood Minotaur. The poor mite never stood a chance. His bulls head was a constant reminder to his Father, King Minos of Crete, that his wife had been unfaithful. And not only unfaithful but that his inability to satisfy her fetish for hairy men had caused her to seek satisfaction in the loving hoofs of a bull.

But maybe, just maybe, if instead of rejecting his cow headed boy-child King Minos had forgiven this innocent for the sins of his Mother the boy may not have developed an unquenchable thirst for human flesh[3]. Think about that, Reader, next time you’re watching a bull headed man get stabbed to death in a video game and see if you’re quite so comfortable with your own depravity then!

Really, is locking a child away alone in a labyrinth really the best way to encourage social skills? I’m pretty sure it would engender a call from social services today. However, despite these setbacks young Minotaur still managed to perform a useful task for his Father and let’s remember before we vilify: Murdering and eating fourteen youths a year is actually pretty tame behaviour for a Bronze-age Prince.

It is even possible that something as simple as a name change could have helped. Why must he be minor? Why not the Majortaur? A small consideration such as that would have helped with his self image and boosted the young things self esteem no end.

Medusa is another Greek that gets a hard time. Think about this, she was so quirky and interesting looking that she turned people to stone. Can you imagine what school with all its cliques and casual cruelty must have been like for her? Hell. That’s what. Instead of calling Medusa a monster we should be holding her up as an anti-bullying hero. The It Girls tried to hold her back but she got out there and grasped hold of life. Admittedly, it was other peoples lives she grasped but we shouldn’t let that detract from the excellent example her go-getting attitude gives the youth of today.

Also if you have unruly hair imagine what it was like for Medusa. In the days before mousse can we ever truly understand how stressful getting ready for a hard day slaying heroes must have been. ?

The Chupacabre is a creature UNJUSTLY hated and feared throughout Latin America. But THINK ABOUT THIS it kills a few goats and people call it an – ‘evil alien goat sucking creature bent on murdering them in their sleep’. Yet a Lion kills all manner of doe eyed beasts of the plain and everyone’s all ‘King of the Beasts’ and ‘let’s make a Disney film,’ about him. There are a lot of double standards surrounding the monster issue, people. An awful lot.

In Thailand the Phii Krasue is a vampire/ghost in the form of a flying head with guts hanging from it’s neck. The Phii Krasue’s detractors will tell you it drinks blood and eats intestines but STOP for a moment. Can you imagine how painful, not to mention unhygenic, it must be to have your entire intestinal tract hanging from your neck? The Colon alone weighs an average of seven pounds.

Instead of running away screaming or trying to kill it maybe if someone just stopped to think about how the Phii Krasue feels and offered it a bag (possibly with some sort of strap arrangement so it hangs comfortably from the ears) things could be different.

What I’m saying here is that with a little bit of THOUGHTFULLNESS it’s possible we could all rub along together quite happily.

The Satyr, half man half goat. The worst that’s going to happen there is it makes you an ugly mohair jumper from its own wool.[4] There is no threat. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE.

We all know it’s true that if you keep telling someone they’re bad and they will become bad. This is true for monsters as well.

Where is the love?

Ah, I hear you say, but you’ve avoided mentioning the big ones. The ones that eat worlds or wish to destroy the Human race entirely.

Which brings me neatly to Great Lord Cthulhu.

Don’t hate him for being true to himself. After all, that’s the subject of every aspirational film you’ve ever seen or any show made by Oprah Winfrey – ever. Is it Lord Cthulhu’s fault that being true to himself means being an unknowable evil polluting the minds of men with madness even from within the sunken ruins of lost R’Lyeh where he lies dead, but dreaming? Of course it isn’t. If anything, we should feel proud and glad that an extragalactic being and his friends choose to acknowledge us.

So, reader, if you are lucky enough to be in receipt of the Necronomicon when you open its human hide bound pages and amorphous, undiluted evil takes hold of your brain sucking you into a formless, miasmic maelstrom of gibbering insanity: Use those last moments of lucidity before unspeakable horror takes you to give a little thanks and think – ‘of all the galaxies in all the universes you chose us.’ And feel good about yourself my friend, you’re special!

Humanity: because they’re worth it.[5]

I hope, I’ve opened your eyes a little with this. Why not take a moment and use the comment facility to let a little light into the lives of others. If you know of a, so-called, ‘monster’ that’s been misrepresented then put things straight. Or if you know of something “Differently-Civilized” that you think is irredeemable then put forward your case and I’ll be glad to have send over one of my friends from Innsmouth to explain the errors in your thinking.

Yours Sincerely

Rick Pickman.

President.

Allied Institute of Friends of Horrors, Terrors, Abominations, Gargoyles and the Nonconforming.

(A.I.-F.H.T.A.G.N.)

1. The Hellish House of Hell IIVXIIIXVV: The Re-Helling of Hell House in Hell by Trebor Rakreb Jr. (Pub. 2003. Lacklustre Books.)

2. Excluding creatures created from nothing with no memory of any prior existence.

3. 99.99% of children who are loved and cherished by their parents will never knowingly devour human flesh outside of a life or death situation such as a plane crash in the Andes. (Statistic provided by the Office of Invented Facts.)

4. My Wife has asked me to point out that for people like her with an allergy to Mohair this is, in fact, quite unpleasant behaviour.

5. This was Abdul Alhazred’s subtitle for his original ‘Necronimicon’ manuscript. It was removed by his editor for, ‘not really being in keeping with the overall tone.’

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Marvel Monsters

Written by reviewer Jeff Owens

One of the common threads I’ve noticed running through the articles and reviews during Monster Awareness Month is that of childhood memories. The love we develop for our monsters at an early age is something that seems to stick with us throughout our lives, more so than other passing interests. It’s a blinding love with the miraculous ability to transform our memories into something far different than would be revealed if there realities were exposed today.

I’m guessing that 10-years old is a reasonable average age where lifelong impressions are made. Indeed, in the years including and surrounding 1973, I was regularly spending time with my monsters in four ways. First, I was reading my bible, Famous Monsters of Filmland. Second, I was going to bed early on Friday nights, and then waking up at midnight to watch Universal monster classics with local late-night horror host, Count Gregor. Third, my parents were taking me to the drive-in theater to see the latest Hammer Dracula and Frankenstein sequels. Finally, I was following monthly adventures of my favorite monster characters courtesy of Marvel Comics and their sister imprint, Curtis Magazines.

It is the childhood memory of this final activity that I wish to share today; specifically, a memory of a magazine called The Legion of Monsters. In this instance, my memory does not stray too far from the reality: the cover of issue number one does indeed feature Frankenstein’s monster and a Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster walking through a swamp while Dracula stands on shore, raising his arms to the lightning-filled night sky.

The title of this magazine, as well as the cover art, might indicate that it contained stories about some kind of monster team-up, iconic figures working together. In actuality, it was just an anthology, one of many black and whites being published during the early to mid-1970s, free from the Comics Code restrictions on violence and bloodletting to which their color counterparts were subject. This particular issue (Vol. 1, No. 1) included a standalone tale starring Frankenstein’s monster, the latest chapter of the comic adapatation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the origin of the Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster, Manphibian. (A true superhero-like team-up would later appear in Marvel Premiere #28, when Ghost Rider, Morbius, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing joined forces to battle a mystical being, Starseed.)

It would be easy to explore many tangents within a topic as broad as “The Marvel Monsters”, but let’s take a step back and focus on the basics. How in the world was Marvel Comics able to take classic icons like Frankenstein’s monster, a werewolf, a mummy, a zombie and, yes, a Creature from the Black Lagoon-like monster and translate them into comic book characters that exist in the same universe as Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four?

Within the Marvel Universe, Frankenstein’s monster first appeared in September of 1953 in Menace #7, which was actually published by Atlas Comics, an imprint that would later become Marvel. It was a one-issue appearance and only five pages long, but it was written by comic book legend Stan Lee. A robot replica appeared in 1963 in Uncanny X-Men #40 and the actual monster appeared in a flashback in Silver Surfer #7 in 1969, but the character first gained significance with his own title published in January of 1973. Technically known as Frankenstein, the cover logo for the first five issues read The Monster of Frankenstein and for the remainder of its 18-issue run, Frankenstein’s Monster.

The first four issues contained a re-telling of the original Mary Shelley novel, the next seven continued his adventures through the 1890s, and the final seven revived him in modern times after being placed in suspended animation. It was a long road getting him there, but you have to admire Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Roy Thomas, and his master plan for integrating a classic literary icon, albeit one in public domain, into the current universe of costumed superheroes. Indeed, throughout the 70s he guest-starred in Giant-Size Avengers #3, The Avengers #131-132, Marvel Team-Up #36-37, Iron Man #101-102 and Thor #282.

Simultaneously, Frankenstein’s monster regularly appeared in Marvel’s magazine, Monsters Unleashed, an anthology also featuring Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night, as well as guest-starring in the magazine, Dracula Lives. It is in these magazines that I think the character is most memorable. Regardless of the number of movie versions of the Frankenstein story, the original Karloff version remains the definitive one. Therefore, even though the Marvel character purposely does not resemble Karloff, his black and white adventures more closely resemble the mood and tone of the classic Universal movie.

Although it’s debatable that bringing Frankenstein’s monster into the 20th century was a “good” idea, there’s no doubt that doing it was a lot of fun. For example, look at “The Monster and the Masque” from Legion of Monsters #1. In this story, written by Doug Moench with art by Val Mayerik, Dan Adkins and Pablo Marcos, the monster, now in current time (1975), follows a “princess” into an old mansion outside the city. It turns out he has wandered into a masquerade ball where its inebriated guests pay little attention to someone they assume is wearing an elaborate costume.

This story also makes perfectly clear where the character comes from within Marvel continuity. This is Mary Shelley’s literary creation as much as it is Dr. Frankenstein’s. The monster exists in a world much like our own, where “we” are aware of the novel “Frankenstein” and all its subsequent adaptations. However, little do we know that the monster actually exists. To demonstrate this point, at the masquerade ball, a man in a werewolf costume “attacks” the monster, who proceeds to give him the smackdown. The man responds, “Say… that was real good… just the way Karloff woulda done it.” It’s a multi-level wink to both the original character and the iconic representation, as well as an attempt to keep the story grounded in the reality of the Marvel Universe.

The other classic monster icons that Marvel incorporated into its universe are a little different in that they are not adapted characters like Frankenstein’s monster. There are no fundamental literary works from which to draw a werewolf, mummy or zombie. Neither is Werewolf by Night Larry Talbot from The Wolf Man (or Leon Corledo from Curse of the Werewolf) nor is The Living Mummy Imhotep from The Mummy nor is Manphibian The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Therefore, Marvel had to create its own characters who could assume the roles of these other monster icons.

In terms of publishing longevity, Marvel’s most successful attempt to do just that was Werewolf by Night, created by Gerry Conway and Mike Ploog. Jack Russell (yes, as in Jack Russell Terrier) was first seen in Marvel Spotlight #2-4 in February of 1972 as he became aware of his inherited lycanthropy. His own title began seven months later and ran for 34 issues. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Jack Russell, aka Werewolf by Night, crossed over into various superhero titles and black and white magazines. However, while some of the other monster icons later suffered from periods of dormancy, Werewolf by Night maintained a more consistent presence.

Since he was a completely original character, Marvel must have had more freedom to develop his story. Indeed, Jack Russell’s history seems to become more convoluted with each subsequent appearance. That, along with the fact that Russell is only a part-time monster, probably widens the range of possible stories and increases our human identification with the character.

A lesser known monster icon in the Marvel Universe, yet one that I think was used in interesting ways, is that of N’Kantu, The Living Mummy, created by Stever Gerber and Rich Buckler. N’Kantu was first seen in Supernatural Thrillers #5 in August of 1973. He never received his own title; however, he remained the featured character of Supernatural Thrillers for the remainder of its 15-issue run and, like the other characters we’ve been discussing, guest-starred in other comic and magazine titles.

The origin of The Living Mummy is not that different from the standard tale, with the exception that N’Kantu originally came from Africa (his tribe was captured and taken to Egypt as slaves). Cursed by an evil priest, N’Kantu was mummified, only to be awakened 3,000 years later to rampage through Cairo. Renedered unconscious at the end of his rampage, N’Kantu was transported to a New York City museum where he could be integrated into the heart of the Marvel Universe.

Since zombies are usually a collective monster, Marvel was quite clever in introducing this icon into its universe through the character of Simon Garth. Garth was created by Stan Lee and first appeared in Atlas Comics’ Menace #5 in July of 1953. In modern continuity, Garth was revived by Roy Thomas and Steve Gerber as the star of the black and white magazine, Tales of the Zombie. Unlike the other characters we’ve been discussing, this one did not cross over to any other titles during the 70s.

Victim of a voodoo cult’s human sacrifice, Simon Garth’s corpse was mystically transformed into a zombie. Controlled by those who possess an amulet, Garth nevertheless retained his soul, which added a new twist to the term “tortured hero”. His virtual disappearance from the Marvel Universe after the mid-70s may be due to the fact that Garth was peacefully laid to rest in Tales of the Zombie #9 in January of 1975.

And what of Manphibian? I speak lightly of him because he had no other comic appearances in the next 30 years following Legion of Monsters #1. But I’d like to present him as an example of missed opportunity. Sure, he probably resembled too closely Marvel’s other monster creation, Man-Thing; however, he was of different origins entirely. He was extraterrestrial, unearthed over 1,000 years later while digging for oil. (Man-Thing was of human origin: science gone wrong.) With the ongoing question of our dependence on foreign oil, as well as the ecological disaster of exploding offshore oil wells, could Manphibian be any more relevant? Let’s hope for a reboot!

The Marvel Universe has always been firmly grounded in reality. For example, most of their stories take place in real places, actual cities such as New York City, rather than fictional ones such as Metropolis or Gotham City. Being a stickler for continuity, I appreciate the effort spent to logically bring icons I love, like Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf, mummy and zombie into a modern reality. And if Frankenstein’s monster should from time to time team-up with Iron Man or Thor, that’s awesome, because in a reality where Iron Man, Thor and Frankenstein’s monster coexist, why wouldn’t that happen?

Any way you look at it, the early to mid-70s was a special era. The proliferation of monsters in all media was unique, particularly in comic books and black and white magazines. For a pre-teen during this time, a Marvel Universe that included my favorite monsters– the very monsters we’ve been appreciating this month – was an alternate reality to which I was a frequent visitor. I cannot imagine a time when I’d rather have been a kid. I am grateful not only to have experienced it, but also to be able to look back on it today with such fondness.

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Barker’s Monsters – Part Two

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member: Sharon Ring

Clive Barker’s next outing as a director was with the movie Nightbreed (1990), based on his novella, Cabal. In Hellraiser Barker had loaded the film with morally ambiguous characters, getting them to commit monstrous acts but leaving the viewer with nagging doubts about just who was the real monster in the film. With Nightbreed there was no ambiguity: Barker knew exactly where he wanted us to place our sympathy; with the creatures living under the cemetery at Midian, the Nightbreed.

Working with the make-up and effects team who had brought Frank Cotton and the Cenobites to the screen in Hellraiser, Barker created a spectacular grotesquerie for the inhabitants of Midian. This was imagination unleashed, with Barker and his team enjoying the process of creating these characters so much that they continued to come up with new ideas and creatures right through the film shoot.

Shuna Sassi

 

When the film’s protagonist, Boone, arrives for the first time at Midian we’re left in no doubt that he is viewed as an undesirable, a natural. He’s not wanted and is, as a natural, considered by one of Midian’s residents to be nothing more than meat. Boone has journeyed to the cemetery in the hope of finding somewhere he can belong, with people who will accept him for the killer he believes himself to be. To discover he has no place here, among this most dispossessed of communities and more, to find out he is not even a murderer, places him between two worlds. Shunned by the world of monsters, hunted by the world outside Midian, Boone’s death at the cemetery gates comes hot on the heels of his rejection by the Nightbreed.

Though the shots which kill Boone are fired by police officers, the man behind Boone’s death is his psychiatrist, Dr Decker (played by David Cronenberg). Decker is a serial killer who has been grooming Boone to take responsibility for the murders he has committed. The life he leads in the public eye is of a charming and sophisticated doctor, concerned for his patient and attempting to bring Boone to justice with no further bloodshed. Behind this façade is Decker’s other personality, one which comes fully to life when he dons a mask to commit his crimes, Ol’ Button Face.

Decker’s rage at the world leads him to kill indiscriminately, slaughtering entire families in his desire to rid the world of those he believes have no right to exist, “I’ve cleaned up a lot of breeders. Families like cesspools: filth making filth making filth.” Although Decker is the real monster in this film there are plenty of other characters who fit the role of monster quite neatly. The lynch mob mentality of the local police and the brutal condemnation of Boone as an abomination at the hands of a priest set them apart as the modern embodiment of what the Nightbreed have had to deal with throughout their existence. The world is conditioned to trust what it knows, the institutions of civil society such as the medical profession, the police, the priesthood: it’s also conditioned to revile and destroy that which is not known or which doesn’t fit the norm, hence the Nightbreed’s withdrawal into a subterranean sanctuary of its own making.

 

Dr Philip K. Decker / Ol' Button Face

As an aside, in the novella, the priest, Ashbery, was actually a transvestite being blackmailed by the local police chief, Eigerman. The studio was adamant that this be changed and so Ashbery became an alcoholic, as this was deemed more acceptable to US cinema audiences. It proves the point somewhat that we condemn what doesn’t fit our idea of what makes for a normal person and refuse to allow it in our society. Alcoholism is just fine because “everybody loves a drunk” but to depict a priest with a penchant for wearing ladies’ lingerie was a step too far in a film containing a crazed serial killer?

In the short documentary, Raising Hell, Barker says Nightbreed was “a very troubled movie even though it’s a movie I actually kind of like.” I couldn’t agree more. It is deeply flawed but, for all its imperfections, it ties in beautifully with Barker’s innate ability to make us take a fresh look at the mythology of monsters. You can’t help but think of Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932) when you watch this film: the deep-seated capacity for cruelty demonstrated by humanity in the face of what it deems undesirable and unwanted runs riot through the movie and it is plain to see that Barker wants to evoke project a similar atmosphere in Nightbreed.

“In the Thirties you felt sympathy for King Kong and the Frankenstein monster, but there haven’t been many movies like King Kong and Freaks and Bride Of Frankenstein lately. There’s no trace of that earlier, much richer tradition and that’s what the inhabitants of Midian represent.”

So, we began with Hellraiser and the issue of just who is the monster here. The Cenobites, Frank and Julia all took on the monster moniker to some extent but their monstrosity was questioned at every turn in the narrative leading us to contemplate the boundaries between love, death and the limits of human experience. In Nightbreed Barker took his audience a step further, showing us a darker side of ourselves as a species as opposed to the individual cruelties of Frank and Julia. The history of the human race teems with persecution and genocide: what we cannot tame or neuter we will always seek to destroy.

In part three I’ll be talking about Candyman and the politics of transformation.

[With thanks to Phil and Sarah Stokes. Quotes in this article from Clive Barker can be found on their website.]

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