Mayoween is going on right alongside Annie Walls’ second annual May Monster Madness, so in participation of that awesome blog-a-thon, part of my contribution to Mayoween is this essay about what I feel makes a good movie monster. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the tons of other monster movie posts other bloggers have written up!
It’s 1997. Little Ryne – that’s me in the past – has just gotten off the school bus at his father’s work. It’s a movie store, aptly named “The Movie Store” by me after my parents unfortunately entrusted me with titling duties. I’d like to say that it’s also a rainy and stormy day, a day fit for sitting back with horror movies and a heaping glass of hot chocolate, but I can only ever remember it being sunny in my memories.
Anyway, I burst through the door of the store to greet my father, and after the common exchanges have finished – “How was your day at school?” he would ask, and the bubbly “Good!” would be my reply – I would let my dad do his duties while I explored the shop. What’s changed since I’ve been in here? I would ask. Has someone checked out the new movies? Did we get a new standee for the store?
The cool thing about your dad owning a video store in the ‘90s was that there were so many awesome movie covers to look at, and they were all VHS tapes. Not only that, but since my dad had contacts with movie distributors, we’d get the latest merchandise for the store as well. He used to have comics, movie posters, and a giant display of John McClane brandishing his gun in a poster for Die Hard With a Vengeance. Sure, he also had some of the more boring stuff, too. I remember staring at the stand-up he had for How Stella Got Her Groove Back and wondering why anyone would want to see that over Die Hard.
But the major draw for me wasn’t the standees, but the horror section. Every cover looked so interesting because it was something I’d never seen before. All of the monsters were so creative; everything had eerie lettering for a title, and the people always looked so scared. This is where I made my home in the movie store, and I spent hours perusing the shelves just staring at what I could only imagine were the best movies ever made. And I couldn’t wait to watch one myself.
One that attracted me most was Pumpkinhead II. The cover features Pumpkinhead, a wrinkled monster that looks as though his brain is protruding from his skull, reaching up through a doorway, with light emanating from underneath him as though he’s just climbed from the shores of Hell. The scrawled text also help, and since I’m a hopeless fanatic for Halloween, I guess the word “pumpkin” also attracted. But overall, it was the monster that did it.
By the age of 6 or 7, I already wasn’t really interested in reality. I had already begun writing scary stories for myself, or reading whatever I could pick up at school book grabs. I’d already imagined what creepy was, made up monsters on the fly. I wasn’t afraid of the Boogeyman, but I also didn’t really have a reference point for him. But once I saw Pumpkinhead, there was something frighteningly real about him.
That’s why when I saw that May Monster Madness was coming, I thought I’d try to discuss what I feel makes a good monster. You know those times in a movie when the film’s been ducking you the whole time, making you miss out on the monster just before it attacks? Those are the times I like the most because I know what I think the monster should look like. But when the monster is actually shown, there’s something frustrating about how it looks – it’s not like what I thought it would be.
My vision of the perfect monster requires weird angles and spiky textures. Monsters shouldn’t have rounded features – they should be awkwardly shaped, totally unlike the human form. Their bodies shouldn’t look snuggly or comfortable; I envision even the monster feels pain as it walks, like it’s in just as much agony as it’s causing its victims.
And slime is even better. The skin should be slick and wet, with a thick coating of gunk on the exterior. There’s nothing more grotesque than seeing something strangely slimy walking toward you, and that’s something that’s a must for me. I mean, I even hate touching a slug, so if I had to battle something coated in a green-yellow runny yolk, I might just give up right then and there.
I’m very much interested in how monsters work. I highly doubt that they have the same functions as you or I. Maybe their weakness is their organs, which are housed on the outside of their bodies? Or maybe the monster’s feet are only stumps and it has to crawl around for the most part. There’s no need to think of monsters as finished creations – perhaps they were experiments gone wrong, and now they’re on the loose looking for blood.
Some of the most effective monster movies have explored the boundaries between what’s normal and what’s not. A monster is certainly not realistic; it cannot be, or else there’s nothing to scare the audience. Gooey monsters are the best, as well as those that have bodies that couldn’t possibly be human. They capture an imaginative side for audiences, and hopefully, some of them will be grossed out by how weird and different the monsters are.
I was recently reading the new Swamp Thing comic, and noticed that artist Yanick Paquette creates his monsters with veiny, slimy aplomb. All of the monsters have loose appendages, gruesome bloody slime, or spiky points on their bodies, sometimes all three at the same time. For whatever reason, I was instantly attracted to the designs.
But then I thought about it, and it made sense. In life, we already have enough monsters disguised as people. When we read about them or watch them or even think about them, it’s not only more interesting to think about monsters as something that simply couldn’t possibly exist, it’s also ironically more relieving that these monsters are only figments of our imaginations. The best monsters are the ones that stay inside horror movies and books, the ones that don’t threaten to crawl out of Hell like that Pumpkinhead movie cover.