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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Cartoon Creeps: Why Horror Lovers Are Obsessed with Max Fleischer

Don’t let Max’s playfulness or Betty’s sultriness fool you; beyond here, there be monsters.
Source: TV Tropes

Finally, I get to do something spooky for Halloween. Again, I apologize for how unexpectedly eventful this month has been, but we finally get to talk about creepy stuff that’s totally relevant.

If you’ve been following the gaming scene recently, you’ve likely been hearing the name Max Fleischer get thrown about quite a bit. You’ve also probably heard the name attached to hellish imagery and intimidating challenge as well. You can thank the dual successes of Bendy and The Ink Machine and Cuphead for bringing this man back into the limelight as both draw heavily from Max’s body of work for inspiration. So, what was that work exactly?

Well, Uncle Max, as he’s occasionally known by, is a Polish-American animator born in 1883 and one of the founding fathers of modern western animation. Today, most will recognize him for the creation of Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and possibly the most iconic animated depiction of DC Comics’ wonder boy Superman.

And when I say ‘founding father’, I mean he developed the most important technological advancements of his time including The Stereoptical Process, the classic ‘Bouncing Ball’ style sing-a-long, and – most notably – the rotoscope that allowed for more detailed movement with less effort by artists. Basically, everything you associate with the earliest cartoons you can likely remember exist because of dear Uncle Max.

That’s all well and good, but why the interest in him as a horror icon? Well, there are quite a few reasons.

Firstly, much of his early work, prior to being strictly limited by the now abandoned Hays Code, dealt heavily in dark surrealist imagery. Uncle Max was no stranger to including stories and art depicting malevolent spirits, violent demons, and occult practices. Fans of early Fleischer Studios productions – myself included – will often cite films like Bimbo’s InitiationRed Hot MammaMinnie the Moocher (yes, that IS Jazz legend Cab Calloway performing the music and providing rotoscoping for the dance moves), and probably the most cited of his works – Swing You Sinners.

You’ll notice that the way a lot of these characters move feels unsettling as well. Well, that brings us to another factor to the freakiness of Fleischer’s Films; his use of an animation technique called ‘Rubber Hose Animation.’ Named after the rubber hose-like construction of many character’s limbs, the lack of any points of articulation (wrists, elbows, knees, etc.) means almost everything moves with an inhuman fluidity. Imagine a person whose limbs and body seemed to slither around themselves while they walked and you can see why this would be so unsettling – especially if the person doing it was otherwise conventionally cute and innocent looking like most characters from this era of cartoons.

But probably the big thing that most don’t think of is the horror potential in the real-life rivalry between Max Fleischer and Walt Disney. Contrary to popular belief Disney’s Steamboat Willie in 1928 was NOT the first animated film to sync sound and film together; that accolade belongs to Max’s Good-Bye My Lady Love a good four years prior in 1924 (which I sadly could not find). Walt was also quick to jump on and use rotoscoping once Max’s copyright on it ran out. He attempted to claim credit for it while using it to finish Snow White in 1937. The Disney Company would then spend several years lobbying to extend copyright length to ensure no one could make a better version of the public domain properties they adapted (shady business practices; just one more reason for me to hate Disney).

And through all of this taking of Fleischer’s hard work and unfairly discrediting him, Disney put his studio out of business in 1942 when it was incorporated into Paramount as ‘Famous Studios.’ Max would then pass away due to arterial sclerosis of the brain in 1972.

Basically, the idea of a hard-working artist who pioneered ways to make his art “come to life” as it were getting shafted by his old business rival to the point of being nearly forgotten by history is a good back story for a vengeful-spirit-from-beyond-the-grave story. So good, in fact, that some of the more obsessive nit-pickers among us have already made that connection to some of the stuff Max did and the things it inspired.

So, whether you’re looking for a good creep show or looking to brush up on your animation history, it would be worthwhile to study Uncle Max’s early offering. Just maybe watch with the lights on.

The Agent Reviews A Game: Teddy Terror

Can you BEAR the horrors? Source: teddyterror.com

Can you BEAR the horrors ahead?
Source: teddyterror.com

Wow, it’s actually been a while since I gave my feelings on a game I’ve played. In my defense, the budget has been tight lately and gaming is one of those luxuries I’ve had to forgo.

However, I found this early access game on Steam for dirt cheap. And with Halloween coming up fast, I felt a game about the nightmares of a small child and his attempts to literally conquer his fears was worth looking into.

Now, if my obsession with The Binding of Issac should teach you anything, it’s that I have a soft spot for the Rogue-Lite genre. I can appreciate a game that plays differently every time you pick it up. But if it’s originality we’re talking about, Teddy Terror has one of the most stand-out ideas I’ve seen in a Rogue-Lite.

Most of the games in this genre are top-down dungeon crawlers where you kick in the door, beat up the baddies, nab their loot and repeat. However, Teddy Terror mixes this up with one major change; you have no weapon.

The only thing you have to defend yourself with at the start of the game is your precious teddy bear. Teddy acts as a boomerang that can temporarily slow down the monsters but can’t damage them; a mechanic that will be familiar to my fellow old school Legend of Zelda players. Instead, you’ll have to guide the creepy crawlies into environmental hazards (which are just are dangerous to you, of course) and traps that Teddy can activate by throwing him into them. Clear out all the monsters and you’ll move to the next floor. If you’re lucky, you may even land in a treasure room where you have a chance at scoring some new gear.

This simple change in gameplay from Action RPG to Puzzle Strategy alters the entire feel of the game; you actually have to think your actions through and plan them carefully while dodging the ugly mother-hubbard’s chasing you. In other words, it recreates a horror aesthetic without most of the tropes of horror games by making you feel powerless and forcing you to Home Alone your way to safety.

That said, the game’s not without glaring issues. While the normal difficulty can be breezed through, there’s a massive spike in higher difficulties by virtue of the bosses regenerating their health over time – meaning that the game centered around careful timing and patience is now a speed run.

The game also features unlockable characters, but they don’t seem to play any differently. So unless you REALLY want to roleplay as YouTube gamer H2O Delerious (and I do), There’s no real reason to unlock them.

There’s also a recently added ‘Invasion’ mode where you fight waves of baddies and buy your stats bonuses instead of finding items, but it got very repetitive very quickly and didn’t hold my attention long.

That said, the game is still in the development stage (early access, remember?), so these issues could very likely be ironed out by the time the full game is completed. What’s more, even with its warts, I still had fun with it. I’d normally recommend waiting until development is finished and seeing how they change things before committing to purchase like this, but at five dollars, I can’t really complain about this cheap and cheerful romp through a child’s nocturnal hell-scape.

Why We Happy Few Is The First Horror Game To Actually Horrify Me

Just a quickie to make up for technical issues yesterday. :D

Sad to say that I’ve been financially strapped lately. So, with fewer resources to dedicate to my sanity-maintaining hobbies and this year being more stressful than most (thanks for THAT, Brexit and 2016 election year), I’ve been focusing more on the trailers for the movies and games I can’t see/play just yet in anticipation.

That’s when I stumbled upon this little gem that flew under my radar.

We Happy Few is a survival horror game set in a dystopian 1960’s Britain where the Big Brother-Esque figure known as Uncle Jack uses aggressive marketing and even more aggressive law enforcement to force the citizens into staying high a flying squirrel on a euphoria-inducing psychoactive drug called ‘Joy’ in order to force others to forget their painful pasts and remain willfully ignorant of the real terrors around them.

Of course, anyone caught skipping their Joy is labeled as a ‘Downer’ and will be hunted down by police and citizens alike. Basically, think the classic Doctor Who episode The Happiness Patrol (complete with criticism of Thatcher-Era politics) with significantly fewer candy-coated cyborgs.

Now, I have a history with survival horror as a genre as they seem to do neither very well these days. You aren’t exactly struggling for survival when you’re armed like a space marine and the jump scares lose their edge after the 50th time. In We Happy Few, however, you’re essentially forced to walk among the very monsters that want you dead; creating a truly unnerving experience.

What’s more, it’s an experience that many of us can relate to. I have many close friends who suffer from social anxiety. I can only imagine that a game like this captures the feeling of being trapped among ‘normal’ people; feeling like the outsider that nobody wants and that everyone hates.

This game also touches a nerve for those who suffer from depression. Some days, you almost wish you could pop a pill that made you forget all of your pain. But then you have to realize that the comfortable lie may be even more dangerous than the harsh truth and that disillusioning yourself may just leave you more vulnerable.

I love good horror in all of its many forms because it forces me to face the ugliest sides of the world and arms people with the cold, hard truth. But, in terms of games, this may be the first and only horror game to truly fill me with dread.

Of course, I’m saying all of this before I’ve had the chance to play it. But given what I’ve heard so far, I’m clearly not alone in thinking this.

And let us never forget the moral of this game’s story; the tired meme of, “keep calm and carry on” is a crock. DON’T keep calm; your world is being run by liars, megalomaniacs, and sociopaths.

The Agent’s En-Frighten-Ment (or “What My Horror Theme Park Trip Taught Me About Fear”)

Awww, They’re bonding.
Source: blissfulbelle.wordpress.com

It’s refreshing to know that there are others besides me for whom Halloween doesn’t end at the passing of the 31st of October. Among those people, I’m happy to count my two best friends and our state’s yearly tribute to terror, Spooky World presents Nightmare New England.

We went on the last night of their season and although it meant being exhausted that night at work, it was absolutely worth it. Not only was it the most fun I had it some time, I can also say that it was an educational experience.

As you may have noticed from the many essays I’ve written on horror, I don’t shirk away from the idea of being scared. Instead, I embrace it because I know that feeling anything – even fear – is a reminder that I still have a soul that hasn’t been completely jaded. But I was surprised by what I learned about fear that I never really thought about before during our trip. For instance…

Fear Is Shaped By Experience

According to one of my Psychology class heroes Carl Gustav Jung and his theory of the Collective Unconscious, creatures of the same species – in this case, humans – share similarly constructed unconscious minds. This means that our psyches share the same primitive instincts, identity archetypes, and – most important to this exercise – primordial emotions. In terms of emotions though, we dress the triggers for our emotional reactions based on our experiences.

For example, the base emotion of and reaction to fear is the same between my two friends and myself, but the things that scare us are radically different. One of my friends can’t stand anything to do with eyes due to a rather unpleasant accident with a childhood pet. The other is petrified by asphyxiation in a vacuum as he was raised on Sci-Fi movies and death in space was always the most nasty way to go.

I, as I had discovered that night, found my triggers to be chainsaws (I was nicked by power tools quite a few times as a kid), mirrors (I hate the initial feeling of not being able to tell if the person in front of me is me or another person), and close-ups of insects (or just bugs large enough to pass for close-ups in the case of the night in question).

Of course, this idea of fear being tied to experience leads us to my next lesson:…

Fear Is Deeply Personal

There was a moment during the trip that made me realize just how deep fear runs as I made a connection to a memory that I thought I had totally forgotten.

It was during our trip through the first attraction of the night called Carnage. The setting was that of an old car dumping lot/chop shop swarming with crazed mechanics. The actors skewed much younger – most of them males in their mid to late teens.

Like a reflex, my mind made a connection to the teenage boys that were much older than me at the time in my school days. I remind you all that I lived in a trash can of a city at this time where teen boys were among the most violent and quickest to pick a fight with/grind their ax on me.

It had nothing to do with the scene they had set; just the simple choice of the age of the actors was enough of a trigger. It was as if I was conditioned to recognize people between the ages of 18 and 21 as a threat. And I never realized it until that night.

So, why am I sharing this story with you? Well, when you get down to it…

Fear Has The Power to Bring Us Closer

The primary purpose of fear is to act as a warning sign against potential danger. For example, if your afraid of snakes, you’ll naturally avoid one when you see it. If it happened to be poisonous, than fear may have saved your life.

However, as I discovered, fear has a secondary function; it can coax us to grow closer to others.

There are two ways it does this. The first and most direct way happens when a group is unnerved. A smart group will instinctively become more receptive to the others in their party knowing that protecting them will insure that they will be more likely to return the favor.

The other method that, in my opinion, creates much stronger bonds comes from sharing your fears with others. Most people view their fears as an exploitable weakness and will keep them as closely guarded secrets. By sharing your fears with someone, you show that you trust them enough to not take advantage of them.

I felt that the three of us grew much closer by the end of the night as we shared stories about and faced our fears together. If you have someone you care about and you want the two of you to open up more to each other, go to a haunted house. You may be amazed at what you learn.

One Bad Movie Night: The Agent Watched The Company of Wolves

So, with Halloween quickly coming up, I wanted to talk about some horror/monster movies that I’ve seen. But, as I got ready to do so, I realized that most of the movies I’ve talked about here end with me being very charitable and positive afterwords.

Let’s not kid ourselves; I’m not the kind of person that gives praise blindly. I’m merely human and, as a human, I’m very much capable of dislike. And one of the things that I dislike is The Company of Wolves.

Giving a plot synopsis, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it would be a fantastic movie. A young girl named Rosaleen is dreaming about living on the edge of a dark wooded area and living with her grandmother(played by Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote fame of all people) as she spins yarns of supernatural tales with a distinctly lupine focus to them – specifically tales of wolves disguised as men and how she needs to be wary of them. Oh, and in case you couldn’t catch the more subtle hints, Rosaleen’s most distinguishing feature through most of the film is her red hooded cloak.

Yes, this is a British, horror/fantasy re-telling of Little Red Riding Hood with werewolves. That should be AMAZING.

But, in one of the most frustrating moments in my life as a film lover (second only to counting the number of times I writhed in my seat in rage every time Star Trek: Into Darkness referenced and ruined a line or moment from the original series/movies), what could have been a great example of a fairy tale getting back to it’s darker roots through the art of horror cinema devolved into a pretentious, messy jambalaya of amateur metaphors and grade-school symbolism that would make even the most stuck-up art snobs hang their head in shame.

The plot moves at a snail’s pace as we spend most of the movie with Rosaleen’s go-nowhere, cutesy, burgeoning romance with a young boy that adds almost nothing to the film. Also, bare in mind that this and every other major event in the film is happening via dream sequence (which we are reminded of by occasional cuts back to Rosaleen in bed in modern times) thus removing their sence of agency.

Instead, the main focus is on the short stories that Granny tells which, while absolutely the most interesting parts of the film, seem to happen too far and few between the filler and just make me feel like the writers just really wanted to make a werewolf anthology film rather than waste time with the Little Red Riding Hood plot points.

Besides, the movie finds a way to ruin those moments as well by the end.

Turns out (spoilers for 30+ year old movie), Granny’s folk tales were real and were meant to be warnings to keep Rosaleen away from men in an effort to protect her womanhood.

Yep, they went with the single most annoying interpretation of the classic story; Little Red Ridding Hood as an allegory for female sexual awakening. Trust me on this; if you ever want to piss off an English major, just bring this up.

I hate this interpretation of the story and especially in this form. It’s incredibly sexist to men and women alike – painting all men as sexual apex predators and all women and their virginity as something frail and sacred to be coddled and protected.

To the movie’s credit, it is visually interesting. The sets and costumes are well designed, the wolf transformations are the best I’ve seen outside of Hemlock Grove, and I’ll be damned if Angela Lansbury doesn’t give it her all given what she had to work with (seriously, she’s the best performer in the whole movie).

That said, it simply wasn’t worth sitting through a 95 minute artistic depiction of puberty (Get it. Werewolves. Hair growing in weird places. Hurr hurr hurr) just to get there. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase “The Cinema Snob” Brad Jones, if I want to see Angela Lansbury in a tale of the supernatural, I’ll stick with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, thank you very much.

“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).