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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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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Pan’s Labyrinth–trailer

And del Toro is back, and this time with a veritable army of monsters…

Is your dropbox ready for tonight’s screening?

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Hellboy – review

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Orrin Grey

Guillermo del Toro is my favorite director. This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following along, since I talked about his Cronos for Vampire Awareness Month and his The Devil’s Backbone for Ghost Appreciation Month. And later this month I’ll be finishing off my hat trick of his Spanish-language films by tackling Pan’s Labyrinth.

But long before I was a fan of Guillermo del Toro, I was a fan of Hellboy, and Hellboy’s creator Mike Mignola. When it was announced that del Toro was going to direct a movie version of Hellboy, I knew that there wasn’t anyone else more perfect for the job. Much like the oft-repeated story of Mignola and del Toro sitting down to discuss the movie and both saying “Ron Perlman has to play Hellboy,” I don’t think there’s anyone else who could get behind the camera and make this movie work as well as it does. That said, and while Hellboy is one of my favorite movies for a lot of reasons, as a fan of the source material first my relationship with any adaptation of it is always going to be somewhat troubled.

While del Toro’s Hellboy is closer to the comics than anyone could reasonably have hoped, it still deviates from them in innumerable ways. Some are things that I wish had been handled differently, others are ones that I understand the necessity of in translating the material from the comic book page to the big screen. Some, like the expansion of Professor Bruttenholm’s character, are probably actually an improvement. (The professor is now a major character in the comics, albeit only in “flashback” stories, but at the time the movie was made his presence had up ‘til then been fairly minor.)

What del Toro does achieve, though, regardless of my feelings about any of the changes, or his interpretations of the characters, or whatever, is to take a weird property that almost anyone could screw up and bring to it all the same love and attention to detail that highlights his Spanish-language films. In his commentary track (which, as always, is well worth listening to) del Toro says that Hellboy is the movie that merged his own artistic sensibilities as displayed by films like Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone with big-budget (comparatively) Hollywood filmmaking.

But this isn’t Hellboy Appreciation Month, nor even Movie Appreciation Month. This is Monster Awareness Month, and there’s no better movie to appreciate monsters in than Hellboy. In the commentary track for The Devil’s Backbone, del Toro says that he thinks horror is important because it teaches you to love “the Other,” the monster. And del Toro’s love for monsters is obvious in every inch of Hellboy. Not only are most of the main characters technically monsters, but in this movie the monster actually gets the girl!

The enemy monsters are at least as impressive as the good guys, though, from the beautifully executed Sammael (one of the most impressive monsters in the history of film) to a clockwork Nazi zombie to the giant Lovecraftian Behemoth at the end. (I don’t think I’m giving too much away here, it’s in the animated menu on the DVD.) The influences of Mike Mignola’s designs are certainly evident in the creatures, but so is del Toro’s unique vision. And of course there are plenty of scenes where Hellboy fights one or more of the above. Del Toro says that they wanted the monster battles to be Harryhausen-esque and, in fact, that they asked Harryhausen to be a consultant on the film, but he declined because he perceived modern movies as being “too violent.” What he did leave del Toro with was a nugget of wisdom that serves the movie’s monsters very well, that “most people animate monsters acting like monsters; monsters should always be thought of like animals.” This Harryhausen-esque approach gives the monsters (both good and bad) a sense of character that such creatures have rarely had since the days of stop motion, and also makes for some of the most satisfying knock-down, drag-out creature action ever put on film.

Whatever its imperfections, Hellboy is a big, boisterous celebration of monsters of all stripes, and about as perfect a movie for Monster Awareness Month as could be asked for.

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