Three Legendary Monsters That Deserve Their Own Major Horror Movies

So, with Halloween nearly upon us, I find myself thinking about some of the great monsters of Horror cinema; from the all-destroying titans of Japanese Kaiju films to the mind-bending terror of Lovecraftian inspired shoggoths like in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Still, I can’t help feeling that, with the wellspring of folklore and mythology we’ve built up around the world over the years, we have a lot of missed opportunities.

Now to be clear, I’m aware that there are some smaller horror movies (and non-horror movies) made about some these guys and I will try to touch on those that I’m familiar with where applicable, but that’s not what I’m talking about as a whole. I want to see these guys have big, successful, and legitimately AWESOME movies about the giant swaths of blood, death, devastation, and fear they tear through wherever they travel. Because let’s be honest, you kinda want to see a big budget, special effects gore-fest about…

The Manticore

It isn’t often you see a mythological creature you could buy as an apex predator.
Source: Villians Wiki

With a human face, a lion’s body, a tail of poisonous thorns, and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth, the Manticore – derived from early Persian meaning ‘man-eater’ – is exactly what one might think of when you think of a creature built only for the hunt; combining some of the deadliest natural weapons with a cruel intellect that surpasses most people.

Now, I’m aware that the Manticore was featured in Percy Jackson and The Olympians (A.K.A. discount Greek mythology Harry Potter) but there, he was more of a brutish pet than the cunning predator that legend built him up to be.

My personal take on the Manticore would be more of a Cheshire Cat-like villain (imagine the smile on that beast) who, like most cats, enjoys playing with and tormenting his prey. You could have him set up his victims in an elaborate hunting ground full of puzzles and riddles ending in death traps (alluding to his possible inspiration from the Egyptian Sphinx) in a mythological take on the Saw franchise.

Failing that, you could just make a campy Horror Comedy and get Ninja Sex Party to do the theme song for you.

The Wendigo

There’s something about crimson red on pale white that’s naturally unsettling.
Source: Ancient Origins

Probably among my favorite of North American folklore creatures, many native tribes of the northern U.S. and Canada speak of a violent spirit that would stalk and possess humans during the winter when the threat of starvation and famine loomed. Those possessed would become a Wendigo – an insatiable, cannibalistic monster overpowered by the need to feed on human flesh. Its endless state of starving pain leaves it with a gaunt, wiry frame that gives it a ghoulish appearance.

There have been attempts to make the Wendigo mainstream – most notably the Marvel comics interpretation and their appearance in the game Until Dawn. But I feel the best use of a creature such as this would be to place our heroes in an isolated area with no escape (easy to do given the Wendigo’s association to winter weather) and build tension among them by leaving them accusing each other of being a Wendigo while finding a way to fend of the spirit that continues to possess them one by one and flee back to civilization.

The Jersey Devil

How do you come up with something that can be described as ‘demonic horse-headed velociraptor?’
Source: Weird NJ

Up to now, the creatures I’ve described have been from ancient mythology and folklore. But this one may have been the first MODERN folk monster I’ve ever heard of.

The Jersey Devil, named for its native home of Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey, is one of the most unsettling creatures I could imagine. In addition to its unearthly appearance looking like a bipedal goat-like demon with large wings, horns, and a forked tail, it’s also known for it’s blinding speed and a “blood-curdling scream” that I can only imagine sounds like the Witch King from Lord of the Rings.

Ever since I saw this guy in The Wolf Among Us, I’ve wanted a proper horror interpretation for this generation of horror fans. I’ve said in the past that the secret of good Horror is to capture a basic human insecurity or fear common with the modern zeitgeist and make a monster based around it. And I think Jersey captures a fear we don’t often see – the anxiety of parenthood.

See, the oldest tale of the Jersey Devil cites him as the thirteenth child of a woman named Deborah Leeds in 1735. She cursed him in her frustration after birthing so many children. When he was born, he butchered the midwife immediately before racing up the chimney and – according to some stories – began slaughtering the children in the area.

Rework that myth a bit so that the unborn child could sense his mother’s aggression towards him and, fearing for his life, made a Faustian bargain to gain the beastly strength to defend himself and take vengeance on all unloving parents by murdering their children and you have the makings of some great nightmares on screen.

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“Exterminate All Rational Thought”: The Horror, Tragedy, and Weirdness of Naked Lunch

That guy on the left… That’s Mugwump. He is the most normal thing in this movie.
Source: Austrian Film Museum

So, lately, I’ve been getting a lot of love from fans of Horror movies. And honestly, I’m glad. I’m one of them. I’ve discussed in the past why Horror is so important to art and society, so it’s no surprise that I’m a fan.

So today, in honor of our monster mash of new Field Operatives here at The Archive and the approaching Halloween (the holiday starts for me when the coffee shops break out the pumpkin spice), I’d like to share my love for one of my favorites in the genre; a psychedelic, drug-fueled, semi-biography turned Body Horror exploration into the symbiotic nature of creativity and addiction called Naked Lunch.

Now before anyone gets up in arms about me labeling this film based on the book of the same name by beat poet legend William S. Burroughs as Body Horror, let me explain my thinking.

Body Horror is defined by Collins English Dictionary as an entry in the horror genre, “… in which the main feature is the graphically depicted destruction or degeneration of a human body or bodies.” Firstly, this is absolutely a Horror film; its goal is to depict a terrifying situation and how our hero copes with it. Secondly, while no one gets mutilated (well, ALMOST no one), the imagery centers around people and objects morphing and mutating into psychotropic hallucinations that are unnervingly inhuman. In that regard, it’s not that much of a departure from director David Cronenberg’s other works – The Fly comes to mind in particular thanks to Naked Lunch‘s insect fixation.

So, why do I love this film? Well, it comes down to the goal of all horror – to depict the terrors and anxieties of the real world in an artistically exaggerated manner so as to make a social commentary on the topic. These terrors take multiple forms throughout the film as our hero – former exterminator turned writer William Lee (Peter Weller) – copes with addiction, guilt, and pressure to create. We can identify with many of these fears and they humanize his character more when you realize that he’s meant to be an analog for Burroughs himself.

Almost everything Lee experiences through a drug-induced haze happened to Burroughs including the murder of his wife (Burroughs accidentally shot his wife during a drunken game of William Tell), his adventures in the country of Interzone (Burroughs spent several months in the Tangier International Zone), getting advise from his fellow writers (Lee’s friends Hank and Martin are stand-ins for Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg), and his penchant for breaking out into improv routines during conversations (my favorite is the infamous ‘Talking Asshole’ routine).

There’s something creepily familiar to me about Lee/Burroughs and the joint nature of creativity and addiction. I’ve never done drugs before, but I can attest to the fact that writing is a lot like an addictive drug to me. It takes an infeasible amount of effort to come up with what I’ll say – to get my fix if we’re using the drug analogy. But, If I don’t get it in time, I start feeling lethargic, depressed, and even physically weak; like a junkie suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Basically, to sum up an essay of over 600 words into a single sentence, I like this movie because it’s a love letter to a great writer that I admire, has some of the most amazing special effects animatronics I’ve seen in film (courtesy of Jaime ‘Yes, THAT Jaime Hyneman‘ Hyneman in part), made me think, and because I – as a writer – identify with the notion of being in the grip of a deadly muse (he says mere minutes to midnight the night before publishing as he finishes his second cup of coffee during the writing/editing of this article).

Horribly Good: The Importance of Horror and How To Do It Right

“Before I kill you, I’d like have a serious conversation about the importance of fear in human society…”
Source: Comic Vine

Summer has only just started and my mind is already on Halloween – mostly due to the happy news that my cousin is getting married on All Hallows Eve and everyone is going to be in full costume.

Of course, when my mind goes to Halloween, it also extends into thinking on horror stories. As such, I’ve been enjoying some campy horror films and playthroughs of horror-themed games and pondering the nature of the scariest form of entertainment.

You see, back in my day (or at least among my circle of childhood authorities), horror had a bad reputation owed to the quickly improving field of special effects in films making for more realistic violence and the stories becoming more brutal in their subject matter to compensate. This always struck me as an odd reaction that some people had. It left me asking, “Why are so offended by a horror story that manages to ACTUALLY be horrifying?”

Because, my beloved Field Operatives, that is the point of horror stories; to put a less than savory aspect of life on display and make you understand why you need to be afraid of and/or despise it.

Every good horror story, or at least the best remembered, works by making a monster out of a major aspect of daily life that the creator feels needs to change or a social issue that they feel needs addressing. For example, there are plenty of propaganda films from the Cold War era that attempted to be direct about “The Red Scare” taking over the world, but most were quickly forgotten at best and laughed off at worse. But do you know what story inspired by the fear of the loss of self in that era has survived the test of time? That’s right, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

All good horror stories employ this philosophical symbolism; Eraserhead‘s mutant baby and the fears of parenthood, The Cenobites from Hellraiser being the manifestations of human vices, Jason Voorhees and the debate on premarital sex, and so on.

Sadly, it’s this formula that also causes a lot of tension with detractors of the genre. These films have to hit very close to a cultural nerve to be effective – so close that they are often accused of being guilty of the very evils that they preach against. This was the case with the 1978 film Day of the Woman (better known as I Spit On Your Grave) which was meant to be an accusatory finger pointing at male chauvinism and rape culture but was criticized for being chauvinistic itself.

Of course, even the films and games that lack this sort of philosophical storytelling, though terrible for the most part, can still have some merit for the creator if not for the audience. Movies like Street Trash may just be a parade of melting bodies, but it was a chance for the creator to explore new special effects. Games like Five Nights at Freddy’s may just be a string of jump scares, but it was a successful experiment in using the Uncanny Valley effect to create unsettling character designs and audio.

So, if you’re an aspiring horror film/game maker, here’s my advice to you; find something you care about, something that you think is a serious problem in the world today, and build a Frankenstein Monster out of all of the worst parts of it to show your audience how terrible it is and make sure it stays in their minds for the rest of their lives. Not only will you create a memorable story, but it will be a story that helps guide your audience against the evil it represents.

Sharing the Love and the Screams with Screaming Soup!

For those of you who never thought you’d see a skeletal cowboy, a humanoid catfish, a werecoyote, and a native american toilet paper mummy riff on bad movies over their favorite drinks – here you go.
Source: screamingsoup.com

 

As those of you who follow on Facebook and Twitter know, I’ve been getting a lot of love lately and I try to give it back with my #ThursdayThanks posts. But I wanted to give a special thanks to someone with big aspirations whose work I really enjoyed.

Not long ago, I got a message on Twitter about a horror movie review show called Screaming Soup! that seemed interesting. Normally, I ignore these door-to-door tactics, but I decided to check it out on a whim to see what it was about. I was not disappointed with the results. So, to show my appreciation and spread awareness for a fellow enterprising creative talent on the ‘net, I’m going to give a constructive critique in as close to the style of the show as a literary medium will allow.

Screaming Soup! seems to get it’s name from the now canceled show Talk Soup that spun off into simply The Soup. Just as those shows recap and review talk shows and general pop culture respectively, Screaming Soup! does the same with B-grade horror and monster films.

So what sets this show apart from other horror and schlock film critics? How about the fact that it features an animated cast? In other words, imagine The Soup revamped for horror films with a format akin to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and hosted by Deadwest -a man that’s equal parts Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex, and Svengoolie. That’s Screaming Soup! in a nutshell.

Looking at the negatives of the show, or “the sours” as Deadwest would say, most of them fall on the show’s opening title sequence. Don’t get me wrong; the theme song is catchy as hell and I will catch myself headbanging to it if no one’s watching. But I do take some objections with it in some places.

For example, there’s one lyric in the theme that refers to “gay-ass monsters made of clay.” Really, dude? You’re using gay as an insult in 2015? I get that most of the humor of this show revolves around immature comedy that spoofs the man-childish glee of bad horror cinema, but there’s a fine line between immature and borderline insulting. I don’t think anyone involved with the show has a “God Hates Fags” sign in their closet, but it does make defending otherwise brilliant work that much more difficult.

Also, as awesome as the rest of the theme is, I feel it runs a bit too long. Episodes tend to run five to nine minutes and the title sequence takes up about a minute of it. If it was trimmed by half to make room for one or two more clever jokes and the lyrics were changed from “gay” to “lame”, I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest.

Those jokes are a good jumping-off platform to the good parts of the show – “the sweets” if we’re still using Deadwest’s terminology.

As stated, the humor is very similar to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast tinged slightly off-color to reflect the nature of the types of exploitation horror that tend to dominate the line up. Recurring gags of this nature include the “Pissing Time” clock that counts the seconds and minutes of time where nothing happens in the movie and you can safely run to the bathroom, the “Bogus Scares” counter that tracks the annoying jump scares, an end movie body count, and a “Tit Counter” that tallies up the number of times the actresses go topless.

Another awesome thing about this show is how well characterized the cast is despite having just one guy, one girl, and a text-to-speech program for one lady to do all the voices. Everyone comes together to bring color to the setting of the Howl Inn. From Deadwest’s lovable invisible specter girlfriend Mandy to the urban hipness of the blaksploitation throwback monster Eb’nstein to the house sad-sack and Creature from the Black Lagoon parody Catfish, all of them add character to the show and help to keep things fresh (Sidenote: my favorite character so far has to be Peyote; the werecoyote trucker).

I mentioned before that the episodes run significantly shorter than the average review show, but I feel that works to it’s benefit. Animation, even simple animation like this, takes a lot of time and effort and you need to cut corners where ever you can. Screaming Soup! takes advantage of shorter running times by cutting out the plot-point by plot-point analysis style of other shows and removing the spoilers that they would have contained as a result.

Now, I’m not in the business of rating the films, games, and shows I talk about like Deadwest. But if I were, I’d have to say that Screaming Soup! is a solid four out of five that, with a little polish, could become a five out of five in future seasons. It’s inventive enough to stand out as welcome addition to the world of online film critics. I recommend this show to fans of Count Jackula and Diamanda Hagan who want something new, want fewer spoilers, or are just looking for something to enjoy during their lunch break.

But what do I know? Like Deadwest himself, I also like Killer Tomatoes.