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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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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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Tentacles, Ancient Whispers and Monstrous Gods

An Overview of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos on Film

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member Robert Hood

Few filmmakers have been successful in translating New England horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s dense, adjective-driven tales of Elder Gods, Great Old Ones and the Horrors That Lurk Just the Other Side of Reality into effective cinema. Or so they say. For those poor souls who are unfamiliar with Lovecraft and his arcane writings, there is plenty of information on the web. Start with the Wikipedia entries for H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu Mythos and Great Old One and followed the links you’ll find on those pages. Even better, many of HPL’s stories are available for free download through Project Gutenberg. Collected Stories is a good place to start.

Artist's impression of Cthulhu Rising in Ancient R'lyeh

In brief, Lovecraft’s highly influential stories, taken together, posit a vast cosmic race of monstrous beings that once ruled the Earth but were driven off during the dark times of pre-history. Unfortunately, however, they’re still hanging around, lurking in hidden dimensions, waiting for foolish or ambitious humans to summon them back into the world. Most of our information on the Great Old Ones comes from a book called the Necronomicon, a sort of hideous grimoire written by the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred. Those who spend too much study time with the Necronomicon end up in lunatic asylums or worse, finding themselves face-to-face with some huge ancient monster intent on re-opening a gateway back into the world. These “dark gods” take multitudinous forms, but in the popular imagination tentacles play a large part in their physiology. Descriptions within Lovecraft’s stories tend to be vague and portentous. His deific monsters live in the darkness and when they make their appearance tend to drive the observer out of his/her mind.

The evocative but indirect power of Lovecraft’s writing offers considerable challenge to those working in an essentially visual medium such as the cinema. As a result filmmakers are often accused of violating HPL’s work and failing to capture its spirit. I’m not convinced. Changes are necessitated by cinema’s demands, and often require plot threads to be added to stories that are characteristically static and internalised. Many of the Lovecraft-inspired films work well, even if their effect is different from that of the original stories.

Dean Stockwell reads from the Necronomicon in The Dunwich Horror

Despite interesting earlier forays such as The Dunwich Horror (US-1970; dir. Daniel Haller), Boris Karloff’s Die, Monster, Die! (US-1965; dir. Daniel Haller — a version of “The Color Out of Space”), Roger Corman’s Poe-styled translation of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, The Haunted Palace (US-1963; dir. Roger Corman), The Shuttered Room (UK-1967; dir. David Greene) and The Curse of the Crimson Altar (UK-1968; dir. Vernon Sewell), which was supposedly based on “The Dreams in the Witch House” though it bore little resemblance, it wasn’t until Stuart Gordon came on the scene that the movies began to feel even slightly Lovecraftian in their styling. His films, such as Re-Animator (1985, based on “Herbert West, Re-Animator”), From Beyond (1986), Castle Freak (1995, based on “The Outsider”), Dagon (2001) and most recently H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch-House (2005) from the Masters of Horror TV series, are somewhat more visceral and bloody than Lovecraft’s stories, at least on a surface level, but at their best they create an effective atmosphere of cosmic dread. The underrated Dagon in particular – despite cosmetic changes made to the setting and its conflation of several Lovecraft tales into a more dynamic plotline – reeks of Lovecraftian horror. The fact that a very in-your-face CGI Dagon appears at the end is fine with me.

An unfortunate discovery regarding parentage from Gordon's Dagon

Other post-1985 Lovecraft-based films include The Unnamable (US-1988; dir. Jean-Paul Ouellette), The Resurrected (US-1992; dir. Dan O’Bannon, based on “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”), the anthology picture Necronomicon (France/US; 1993; dir. Christophe Gans, Shusuke Kaneko and Brian Yuzna, with three stories based on “The Rats in the Walls”, “Cool Air” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”), The Lurking Fear (US-1994; dir. C. Courtney Joyner) and many, many short films.

Given Lovecraft’s prominence in the horror field, the difficulties inherent in translating his tales to the screen have meant that mainstream films based on his work have not been as common as one might have expected — and that one of the most successfully Lovecraftian films ever was not even based on his work: namely John Carpenter’s vastly under-appreciated In the Mouth of Madness (1994).

Horror novels prove deadly In the Mouth of Madness

It’s strange how some films seem doomed to be devalued right from the start. Third in what Carpenter refers to as his “Apocalypse Trilogy” (the first two being The Thing and Prince of Darkness), In the Mouth of Madness is an effective exploration of communal perception and its role in forming accepted reality – and remains for me one of Carpenter’s most disconcerting films. It is also one of the best of the films based on or inspired by the Cthulhan imaginings of H.P. Lovecraft, with their vision of vast inhuman “Old Ones” intent on re-gaining command over the human world. Here, inter-dimensional conquest takes place via a phenomenally popular pulp horror novelist, whose works increasingly upset humanity’s psychic (and physical) stability and offer up a fiction that is designed to consume reality itself. Sam Neill plays an insurance investigator who is rather smugly adept at defusing the attempts of fraudsters to impose their small, self-serving views of reality on insurers and other financiers. “He’s an amateur,” Neill’s John Trent says of one such fraudster, and longs for the challenge of a true professional. In the end he gets his wish, but to an apocalyptic extent that totally overwhelms him … and, given the ending, us as well. If Carpenter’s The Thing was a study in claustrophobic paranoia, In the Mouth of Madness is its agoraphobic twin.

In recent times, production of Lovecraft-based films has been ramping up. In 2005, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society made the well conceived and executed The Call of Cthulhu (US-2005; dir. Andrew Leman), which adopts film techniques current at the time the story was written to create a strong sense of period (it’s made in the manner of a silent-era film) and evoking an effective atmosphere of dread. It proved to be one of the most accurate renditions of the famous Lovecraft story ever. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has also created a terrific radio-play version of “At the Mountains of Madness” and have been working on a second feature film, based on “The Whisperer in Darkness”. It’s due for released this year. Below is the latest trailer:

In 2007 Dan Gildark directed a modernised Lovecraft tale, Cthulhu, based loosely on Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Since 2005, the Masters of Horror TV series has featured the afore-mentioned Stuart Gordon effort Dreams in the Witch-House, as well as the pre-Lovecraftian Ambrose Bierce tale The Damned Thing (US-2006; dir. Tobe Hooper), which has a very Lovecraftian sensibility.

Other independent films, often shorts, crop up from time to time. Color From the Dark (US-2008; dir. Ivan Zuccon) is an independent feature film based on “The Color Out of Space”, which won best feature at 2009’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival — an annual festival that highlights hordes of shorts and independent features based on the Master’s work. Winning films from each year have been released on DVD; of the ones I’ve seen (which is in no way comprehensive), Zuccon’s effort is worth a look for the Lovecraft aficionado, as is Bryan Moore’s Cool Air (1999).

Meanwhile rumours of big budget Lovecraft tales have been around for some time, with features from the likes of Stuart Gordon (rumoured to be making “The Thing on the Doorstep”) and Guillermo Del Toro (with his big-budget take on “At the Mountains of Madness”) — not to mention such Lovecraftesque monster films as Altitude (US-2010; dir. Kaare Andrews). In this one, a group of young folk flying high in a small plane find themselves looking a very Cthulhan multi-tentacled creature that inhabits the clouds directly in the eye.

Saying "Hi!" to monsters in the clouds in Altitude

Meanwhile, I’ve put together a Call of Cthulhu film festival. Go to my film commentary website Undead Backbrain and you might be surprised by what you see. Well, amused at least, I hope.

  • Source note: the image of Cthulhu Rising comes from regeneratormag.com, though the artist is unknown.
  • My review of In the Mouth of Madness that appears in this article was first published on my website.

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Remake and Reboot

Written by author, James Willetts

Film fans, and horror movie fans in particular, are well aware of how often remakes occur. From Psycho to Halloween the unnecessary retread and rehash is rife.

An obligatory remake?

The sequel, reboot and remake has affected horror movies more than any other genre. Just last year ‘The Wolfman’, ‘The Crazies’, ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, ‘Survival of the Dead’, ‘Predators’, ‘Piranha 3D’, ‘Let Me In’, ‘Saw 3D’, ‘Resident Evil: Afterlife’, ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ and ‘Mother’s Day’ all lurched onto screen. That’s 5 sequels and 5 remakes or reboots.

Nothing like milking the goose that lays the golden egg...or something...

Why reboot these? In some cases it may just be that there’s a need for a fall back, a proven success that can be recycled and churned out again and again. This happens with anything; successful films become franchises, whether that makes sense or not. For some, the extraneous sequel can sometimes stand on its own. ‘Aliens’ is as good a movie as ‘Alien’, ‘Batman Returns’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ both improve on the previous instalments. But these are not remakes, they are sequels, and it’s much harder to think of remakes that have worked as successfully.

Reboot that rocks!

I guess the question I really want to ask is, is there any need for remakes, especially of classic monster movies? As far as I know, no one is clamouring for remakes of most B-Movies.

And when, for that matter does a reboot become something other than just a remake? What qualifies it to be more than just a sequel.

Let us start by trying to discern what’s what. A remake, as far as I can see, is a film that literally does what it says on the tin; an attempt to reproduce the same storyline in a new way. Adaptations are remakes, because they take an existing storyline and duplicate it in a new format.

A reboot meanwhile is more complicated. It’s an attempt to take a character and make a new story about it. Whilst it may contain similar themes or ideas to previous works it is different enough to not be a remake.

We can try and illustrate it with two examples, ‘King Kong’ (1933) and ‘Godzilla’ (1954). Two titanic monsters of cinema, both were great movies in their own right, both are now well regarded as cult classics, and both were followed by almost immediate sequels. ‘Son of Kong’ was made and released in 1933, the same year as ‘King Kong’, whilst ‘Godzilla Raids Again’ was released a year later than the original, in 1955.

Godzilla AND Kong!

These were just the first of a string of sequels and crossovers that saw Kong and Godzilla meet in battle against each other and a string of other creatures until finally both were rebooted and released onto a generation who ignored and mocked them.

Eventually they would culminate in two films that tried to reboot and remake the franchises.

Was there any need to do that though, surely they could just have made another film instead?

Do you brave the comparisons and try and make a different film, worthy enough on its own merits to survive. Or do you simply try to remake the classic. If you’re aware that you’ll be judged against it anyway, why not make the same film with updated effects and use the audience’s knowledge of the original in your favour?

In most cases there is no need. There are very few classic monsters in the vein of Kong. Or rather, there are tonnes, but few individually recognisable ones. Kong is simply a giant creature, of the kind popularised by ‘50s Cold War films. Giant Ants, Spiders, Sharks, Bats and Crocodiles are perennial favourites to menace small town America. In many of these cases their appeal is their lack of individuality, but it also serves to make them faceless and forgettable. A giant ant, a monster that looks the same as any other giant ant, is harder to tell apart than Hannibal Lector and Freddy Kruger.

One of these ants is not like the other...

It’s easier to make a film about giant ants than it is to make a film about a monster that looks identical to Freddy Krueger. Giant ants can look the same without immediately making you think of another film. Few creature-features have a single version that they are all compared to.

But there are exceptions. Every giant shark movie will be judged by the standard of ‘Jaws’. Every giant gorilla movie is judged against by ‘King Kong’.

It’s hardly surprising that the second option happens so often. It’s much easier. No need to think up a new story, or characters or imagery. Just steal wholesale from what went before. Remake it.

Sometime this is justifiable in that there has been a long enough period of time that you are bringing the film to a new audience, or updating it to make it relevant (or improve the dated special effects).

At some point though maybe it isn’t a case of just being able to tell the same story in a new way, maybe you need a new story. There’s only so much that technological advances can do.

In 2010 Hollywood remade the 2008 ‘Let The Right One In’ as ‘Let Me In’. Those two years didn’t herald a vast improvement in technology.

Let me in (aka young vamps don't need no subtitles)

In fact, there was really only one reason to remake ‘Let The Right One In’, and that was the fact that it was originally a non-American film, in a foreign language that despite the buzz it got from horror fans was going to be overlooked by the vast majority of people simply because it had no recognisable names and required the “effort” of reading subtitles.

That and the fact that teen vampires stories are hot right now.

I actually have no problem with this. In fact, I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to try and remake a film for a domestic audience that may be unaware of the original. If the majority of people have never seen, and would not want to see, a film because they are put off by it being from Europe, then remake it.

Note though that this relies on people not having seen it. Rebooting a franchise, or remaking a film, that is already popular for an audience that is already familiar with the original does not work.

Just ask Peter Jackson.

The Kong that failed to deliver

So, yes, I do think that sometimes films can benefit from a remake. King Kong would be a case in point. The 1933 original is brilliant. On every level it works, but is it possible to make a better version? Could an updated King Kong work? Is there room for new technology to tell it in a fresh way? Well, yes.

Don’t get me wrong, the model work on King Kong is wonderful. I love that film to death. One of my first dates was to a screening of it. That’s the kind of film that works for any audience.

But a reboot could work.

So why have the two reboots, the 1976 and 2005 attempts, failed so badly?

I think most disappointing is how poorly executed Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’ was. In 2005 Peter Jackson was the hottest director in the world, with the funds, influence and technology to execute a film on his terms. Most importantly he had a love of King Kong, the film he credits as what got him into movies, which meant he wanted to stay true to the source material.

And yet what came out was a movie that ran nearly an hour too long, that dropped the ball on characters, motives and plot at every turn and which seemed more an exercise in wish fulfilment than a meaningful attempt at making King Kong relevant.

Fancy going ice skating later love?

People have said a lot about the film, and I’m not going to try and add to that other than to say that King Kong was a film that genuinely could do with a decent reboot.

Is it possible that the real problem is that you can’t remake King Kong anymore, that it’s too iconic? After all, everyone already knows the plot and the ending. It must be tough to make that fresh without turning it into a film that isn’t King Kong.

The first rule of remakes is not to give an audience the same film they’ve seen before.

This means not remaking films for an audience that know the original very well. One of the big reasons Horror remakes fail so often is because your core audience (horror fans) have ALL seen the original. Horror films have such a niche audience anyway that remakes are trying to sell an audience that already knows the original. It’s always going to fail. The audience will either hate it for being different, see ‘Halloween’ (2007), ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ (2010), ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (2006), or hate it for being too similar see ‘Psycho’ (1998).

Where ‘King Kong’ fails is that for all the technical invention, all the added scenes and new and improved sequences there isn’t enough new and worthwhile in remaking it. It ultimately doesn’t do enough differently to justify its own existence.

American Godzilla does a lot differently.

Godzilla gets rubbish

Unfortunately, it’s terrible.

It’s a nice idea. Take a cult 50’s film that was big in Japan and remake it for a modern American audience. It’s got enough brand recognition that people will go see a reboot, without people having seen anything like it so recently that it’ll be something they’ve seen before.

The thing about ‘Gojira’ is that it’s SO Japanese. In the same way that ‘Akira’ makes almost no sense to a Western audience, so Godzilla is all about the Japanese psyche at the time.

In 1954 Japan was still recovering from World War Two. Their way of life, their very society had been rewritten by outside forces. They had fallen from the position of regional power to abject defeat, all symbolised in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So you have a combined sense of the terror of what the future holds, fear of the outside world and its power over Japan and horror at the effects of the nuclear age.

All of which were combined into an unstoppable atomic monster bent on destroying Tokyo.

None of which made it into the rebooted ‘Godzilla’ (1998).

In 1998 America isn’t afraid of nuclear power, or outside forces, or anything. So the remake ditches the subtext in favour of more action. We go from a monster movie about how Japan sees itself to a monster movie about … well, about a monster. There’s not much subtext there at all. It’s just 90 minutes of a monster rampaging around modern day America*.

Which is fine, it just isn’t a fitting remake. It’s been seen before. In fact, it had been seen in 1997 which is where Godzilla smacks into its greatest problem: it doesn’t want to be a remake of Godzilla. It wants to be a remake of the last 20 minutes of ‘Jurassic Park: The Lost World’.

The impact and influence of ‘Jurassic Park’ runs throughout Godzilla. From the T-Rex inspired redesign of Godzilla*, to the Velociraptor-lite baby ‘zillas.

It’s as though the people behind Godzilla couldn’t push past the success of the JP films. Rather than remake the original Godzilla, they decided to remake something simpler and more accessible. Everyone loves dinosaurs. So instead of making a monster movie, make a movie about a fire breathing dinosaur! Genius.

Or not, because what you end up with is just a mess. All those changes detract from a movie that never really discovers its own identity. It’s too keen on aping other (better) movies to decide what it wants to be.

Overall, we end up with a movie which doesn’t work as a remake (it doesn’t stick to the essential ingredients of plot or characterisation) or a reboot (it doesn’t take an existing character and do anything interesting with it).

It’s easy to forget but in 1998 expectation for Godzilla was running high (Armageddon, the blockbuster success of the year, even pre-emptively hit out at it’s perceived rival with the scene of the dog attacking a Godzilla toy in New York).

Somehow though it managed to pull a Batman Forever and kill the franchise for the next decade.

I think maybe the problem is simple. Remakes and reboots can work and should be attempted, but too often they are done for the wrong reasons for the wrong people. The Star Trek, Bond and Batman reboots worked because they took familiar characters and created a new, relevant situation for them. But crucially they were all franchise reboots. None were an attempt to tell the same story again.

King Kong and Godzilla failed because they took characters that, in the end, were never intended to be franchise starters. They were characters in self contained stories. You can’t tell a different story with King Kong. When they tried it with Godzilla, it failed.

Still, maybe the next one will be better…

Maybe.

Godzilla 2012 - Maybe it will rock...

*Something which ‘Cloverfield’ managed a lot better, in part because by 2008 America has something to fear. ‘Cloverfield’ is a film about ordinary people in New York being attacked by a monstrous version of Terrorism and Biological Warfare.

**Something that brings great sadness to me is how the astonishingly iconic design of the upright T-Rex has been replaced by the sleeker modern interpretation made fashionable by Jurassic Park. Watch any film with a Tyrannosaurus in from before 1995 and you will see its tail on the ground and a straight back. When JP went with the more modern interpretation it moved away from depictions in King Kong (1933), ‘Valley of Gwangi’, ‘The Land Before Time’ and every other film starring a T-Rex. With it went the design of Godzilla, as producers turned the atom powered ‘gorilla whale’ into a spiny dinosaur.

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