Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Recently I wrote a post about five modern monsters. Weather you believe they are real or weather they are from the realm of folklore the thing I found fascinating about them was that you could pretty much trace their origins. Today I am going to go over five creatures whose fictitious origins are a given. Still we see their genesis and development from an idea to full fledged creatures from the land of nightmares. To me they are no less interesting than the supposedly real monsters, just because they are creatures in a movie.
Who’d a thunk that a 1987 sci-fi movie shot in Mexico would have produced two governors? (Schwarzenegger and Ventura) Or that it would have two sequels and two cross over movies with the alien xenomorphs, as well as a slew of comics, novels and video games.
We get a bit of a back story about the Predators in the movies. They are hunters beholden to savage code of honor. We see that they collect trophies form the foes they vanquish. And that they respect strong and cunning advisories. But it is in the Dark Horses comics and novels that the race gets full back story. And a name in their own language Yautja.
Like any shared universe there are some discrepancies about the Yautja. Mainly about the difference in appearance between males and females. But these are actually pretty minor. Considering how many people worked on the EU. The whole concept of combing Aliens and the Predators comes out of the dark horse EU. The only thing that these two space creatures had in common was that DH had the comic rights to both of them. And that was all that was really needed to put them together like peanut butter and chocolate, with teeth and claws. One might ask why I only bring up Xenomorphs in context with Predators and they aren’t one of the five I talk about in their own right? Well it’s because I have written about them so much here I was afraid I would be repeating myself.
A lot that would work itself into later Predator canon came out of the Dark Horse era. The fact that they could include worthy human hunters in there horde. That they have opposing sects that fight each other. That concept that they would use other species as hunting dogs. Or that they harvest xenomorphs to hunt them.
Though the AVP EU is pretty coherent, there is one big exception. Writer John Shirley best known for his cyberpunk fiction wrote a novel for Dark Horse called Predator: Forever Midnight, where he changed the predators name to the Hirsh and made them able to change their sex. I would love to say that the book sucked, as well as flew in the face of existing canon but well actually the story is pretty good. Some fans have ret-coned the Hish as an evolutionary off break of the Yautja.
The predator itself has evolved. Originally the creature was to be played by Jean Claude Van Dam. The original concept was that he would be a shape changer that killed humans to become more human like. Van Dam would use his martial arts skills to make the creature a ninja like killer. But well Jean Claude is pretty small compared to the other actors, and it was thought that something so small wouldn’t be a challenge to an action hero/legend like Schwarzenegger and the suit was so unmovable that Claude need to a cane to hold him up when he moved. So the muscles form Brussels was let out of his contract and the creature was redesigned to the hunter we all know and love today.
OK, first of all I have to admit I haven’t seen the 2014 America remake of Godzilla. That wasn’t because of lack of desire, or interest. It is just that things come up and I usually only see about six movies a year. So I am going to leave the new remake out of this discussion for the most part.
What most Americans forget or in many cases never realized was that Godzilla is an allegory about the destruction and changes that took place in Japan after we dropped atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Godzilla is a very symbolic movie about the world we live in. His green scales are a reminder that Oppenhimier’s Jeanie can’t be stuffed back in the bottle. It’s more than just a monster movie and that is what truly makes it a master piece.
Personally besides the original my favorite Godzilla movie is Godzilla: Finial Wars. It’s got super mutant special forces, an alien plot to take over the world, every monster in Godzilla’s rouges gallery. Flying submarines, an American general with a Samurai sword that says thing like “You’ve underestimated Godzilla…and me.” What is there not to love?
Now what most people don’t love in the 1998, where Farris Buller, Leon the Professional and the guy who did the voice of Comic Book Guy, on the Simpsons, chase this big lizard around New York. Most my friends call the monster in that GINO, Godzilla in Name Only. And well the monster looks more like it owes more to Jurassic Park than King of the Monsters. I regret though missing the Riftrax roasting of the movie. That looked hilarious.
The Thing from Another World AKA The Thing.
My first experience with TfAW was the black and white 1951 movie. I watched it a couple of years ago and well it wasn’t as scary now as it was when I was eight. But in the 50’s it was seen as a master piece in terror. There is even a legend the special effects guy was driving to the studio, and he had the monster’s costume n the passenger seat. A woman in another car pulled up next to him at a red light and looked over at his car, and fainted right away.
By the way did you know it was James Arness in that custom? Yes the alien plant monster is played by Marshal Matt Dillon.
My next exposure was a graphic novel version of the original source material Who Goes There by John Campbell. (A short story I hardily recommend) Most people however are more familiar with John Carpenter’s The Thing, or the 2011 prequel with the same name.
The movies about a mutating alien doppelganger is now a cult classic, but it underwhelmed in the box office coming out around the same time as other sci-fi blockbusters, such as ET-The Extraterrestrial and on the same day as Blade Runner was released. Carpenter’s movie was closer to Who Goes There, and the body snatcher aspect of the movie is still creepy today. Like all versions of the original novella the isolation of being stuck in Antarctica adds to the fear factor.
In additions to the movies Dark Horse released a series of comic books in the 80’s about the TFAW. They were creepy little gems usually about try9ing to keep a thing or two from escaping to the outside world. Dark Horse so like the concept it named it retail stores Things From Another World.
The Shark from Jaws.
At the time Jaws made more money than any other movie. To me it is THE scary movie because it could happen. Or should I say did happen since it is loosely based on the New Jersey shark attacks on 1916. Although many marine-biologist now believe that the Matawan man-eater was in fact a bull shark and not a great white. But it is also scary because of the way that Spielberg filmed it just superb.
The movie Jaws is two stories. The first is a retelling of Henri Ibsenn’s classic Enemy of the People. This is the part where chief Brody tries to warn the people of Amity Island about the deadly shark as the local movement tries to cover up the events for economic reasons. The second part is what I call the ‘hunt” it where the three men on the boat hunt the shark. The scene where Quint tells the others about his experience on the USS Indianapolis is in my humble opinion one of the silver screen’s best scenes ever.
The movie leaves out a lot of excess story from the book, such as the mayor’s reason for keeping the beaches open are because he is in the pay of the mafia who invested in Amity beaches, a Mrs. Brody and Hoper, the shark expert, affair, and a bigger role of the deputy. But the biggest difference between the movie and the book (other than Hoper’s death) is that the shark doesn’t die in an explosion of a scuba tank being shot (something Myth Busters proved couldn’t happen) but dies rather anti-climatically of his wounds.
Anyone who has taken the Universal studios tram tour has heard Richard Dryfuss explain how the robot shark (nicknamed Bruce) kept sinking. They have also seen how unreal it can look up-close. This is the origin for one of the genius parts of movie. The less is more theory. The less screen time the shark has the scarier it becomes. The fact we only see its fin or a brief glimpse till the end makes the times we see the shark full on so much more effective.
The Dunwich Horror.
The Dunwich Horror is the second Lovecraft story I ever read. I was thirteen and it was just after I had read the Outsider. Many people say that its overwrought purple prose, but I was shocked when the last paragraph revealed that the sinister eerie dude was the brother of the invisible monster terrifying the town. One of few things the 1970 movie adaptation had to do with the book is that end twist. So I scratch my head at why they put the supposedly surprise ending on the original movie poster.
The movie owes more to 1950 monster movies than Lovecraft’s original story. The one and only time I ever saw it, the movie was being hosted by Elvira Mistress of the Dark that should tell you about the quality of show. It is most famous for being the only movie in which Sandra Dee appeared topless. Still it does have a cult following.
Written in 1929, Dunwich is different than HP’s later works. First off the humans win. And they beat the dark forces by playing their own magic game. The movie has an ambiguous “the end?” Ending. Though the short story predates a lot of what people often think of as the Cthulhu canon, TDH is defiantly, one of Lovecraft’s shining stars and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in his work.
Wilbur Whateley in the short story was a deformed satyr like pathetic looking creature. In the movie he is played by slick and Sauvé Dean Stockwell. And of course there were no major female characters in Lovecraft’s work, because will Lovecraft had issue when it came to the ladies, so Sandra Dee’s characters is a new invention.
It has been argued that Lovecraft just doesn’t translate well into a video medium. That the Lovecraft’s glory was his words, and any visual representation of this takes away from the story. That stories based on Lovecraft’s works, like Hell Boy do well, but direct translations just don’t work. We will have to see if Guillermo Del Torro gets the chance to break that trend with Mountains of Madness.
So here as we get closer to the Halloween and start putting on horror and monster DVD’s are five creators for the silver screen. An alien hunter, a giant nuclear fire breathing lizard, an alien shape changer frozen in ice, a real-life predator and a dark demigod. I can’t help but marvel at the wide verity that of creatures that might jump out to scare us.