Sunday, March 31, 2013

Monster #12—Giant Crabs

There's lots of stories and movies out there about giant arthropods. Particularly if they're giant spiders, but other creepy crawlies like scorpions, ants, and mantids all get their fair attention as well. Including crabs! When I started this post, I had assumed that there was only a few examples of giant crabs in fiction. I wondered why. Was it because they're just not as widespread? Because you kind of have to grow up on a coastline where there's beaches to visit to have a healthy respect and fear for these creatures? Certainly crabs exhibit plenty of creepy traits that should make them as feared as spiders—they have long legs... they can pinch hard... they move weirdly... and they have creepy eyes. But then, as I started thinking and researching, I realized how wrong I was!

I remember once, as a teen, I was down at Point Arena cove with my dad, getting some quality abalone picking in. I came to a tide pool filled with sand, and on a lark I decided to dig into the sand with my hands. I dug for a few seconds, made a hole, then straightened up to watch it fill in with water. In that instant, a kelp crab reared up out of the sand precisely where my fingers had been a moment before. For those who don't know what a kelp crab looks like... check out the picture. My memory says the thing was about a foot across... it was probably closer to six or eight inches across. Regardless, I missed having my finger snatched by a spiky brown alien monster by only a few seconds. I never dug in a sandy tide pool again.


Giant crabs and their kind show up relatively often in fiction, if you know where to look. There's Ebirah, one of the various kaiju that co-stars now and then with Godzilla, although Ebirah's more properly qualified as a giant lobster. There's also the giant crab that menaces the cast of The Mysterious Island. That crab's got the distinction of being an actual crab shell that was then articulated and animated by Ray Harryhausen, and as you can see in the clip at the bottom of this post... it looks pretty awesome, even half a century later! And then there's The Lost Continent, which is about a ship full of sweaty dynamite, man-eating seaweed, the descendants of the Spanish Inquisition stranded on said lost continent, and a fight between a giant crab and a scorpion.

Of course, no giant crab post is complete without mentioning the Casablanca of giant crab movies (ha! I like doing that)—Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters. In typical Corman style, this is a low-budget movie with a high-budget plot. Not only are the crabs in this movie giant, but they're intelligent too, because they absorb the intellect of those they eat. But it doesn't stop there! They're also psychic, and can mimic human voices by telekinetically vibrating metal objects at precise amplitudes to speak to their victims. Who are stranded on an island. Oh, and the crabs are using their telekinesis to slowly sink the entire island into the ocean. Oh... and these giant mutant crabs are almost impossible to hurt due to their regenerative powers. And perhaps worst of all... the crabs know that they're better than humans, and not only try to kill them and eat their brains to absorb their knowledge... they mock and threaten humans while they do it! This movie is nearly perfect!

There's also a series of books (SEVEN!) by a man named Guy N. Smith  that features crabs. He's also written a few short stories about his favorite critter, and it's one of those that I've read—I've not yet read his novels. Come to think of it... I should do so. Huh... looks like the first of those books became a movie called Island Claws. Unseen by me—and indeed, never even heard of by me before this post. Island Claws isn't out on DVD or Blu-ray or on Netflix... but as is the case with such obscure old movies, it DOES appear to be on You Tube, and the first of the crab books he wrote is available on the Kindle... The movie (which I just watched a little bit of) looks disco-riffic—not a quality I associate with giant crabs, but skipping ahead, the giant crab itself looks not bad for a 3-decade-old movie. I can't yet put any of his books down as recommended reading, since I haven't read any yet...

Perhaps I jumped the gun on this giant crab post. Obviously, I need to educate myself more on the genre!

Recommended Viewing

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Monster #11—Mole People

Last week, we took a look at humanoids from the deep. This week, we're doing the exact same, only the deep in question this time around isn't the murky waters where all manner of slimy and scaly monsters lurk. This time, the deep is right below your feet, in the sewers below! Well, assuming you live in a city. If you're in a rural area, count yourself luck that you don't have to worry about mole people!

There's rumors they're real, of course. Entire societies of people living down below, dwelling in tribes below the city streets. Of course, if those rumors are true, they're still people. What I'm talking about here are those who've undergone transformations from human to monster.

Of course, the "Casablanca" of mole people movies is C. H. U. D. I'm pretty sure that's the first time anyone's ever compared those two movies, too. C. H. U. D., as most folks know, stands for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. And those of you who've seen the movie know it also stands for Chemical Hazard Urban Disposal. That acronym, although it's less cool, is more accurate, especially since the chuds in the movie aren't strictly cannibals; they don't eat each other, just humans. But who am I to argue with the brilliance of C. H. U. D?

On a more serious note, while there's certainly a giant dose of campy fun in the movie, there's also some pretty spooky stuff in C. H. U. D. Similar to how zombie movies present us with our own selves, transformed into deformed monsters that want to eat us, the chuds are, after all, us. With a heavy dose of mutation-causing chemicals, of course.

One of the top three things I'd rather not see on a city street at night...
But if C. H. U. D. is too corny for you... then there's always the Japanese movie Marebito. It's as much a vampire movie as a mole person movie, but it's also not corny at all. Very spooky, and with some Lovecraft stuff as well!

Over on the reading side of things, there's the obvious mole person story, "The Time Machine." There's also Clive Barker's Midnight Meat Train, which made for a rather good (if very gory) movie in my opinion.

But my hands down favorite? T. E. D. Klein's short story "Children of the Kingdom," which combines some creepy mole men shenanigans with a blackout in New York City. Klein's actually one of my favorite authors, even though he's only ever written a handful of short stories and one novel. They're all brilliant, though. Hmm... it's also been way too long since I've read those stories. Might need to fix that tonight!

Hmmm... Just realized. C. H. U. D., Midnight Meat Train, and Children of the Kingdom all take place in New York city. Maybe there's something to those urban legends after all?

Recommended  Reading

Recommended Viewing

Movie Review—Hypothermia

Hot on the tail of my fish person post, here comes a movie about... you guessed it... a fish person! Hypothermia showed up out of the blue on Netflix, a movie that I hadn't heard about (and I like to think I'm pretty good about keeping an ear to the ground about upcoming horror movies, be they big releases or indie releases.

Hypothermia is a strange movie. Not strange in that it's a weird plot—it's got a pretty normal plot as far as monster movies go. A family goes out for some ice fishing, is frustrated to find they have to share the remote frozen lake with an obnoxious man and his obnoxious son, then they all get trapped on the ice by something monstrous that lives in the freezing waters below.

No, the weird part is the fact that the movie's got some really well done camerawork and directing when it comes to establishing mood. The shots of the monster swimming under the ice are actually pretty effective and spooky, and there's some pretty good gore effects, and the music is nice and spooky.

That said... the acting's all over the board. The main family's dad is played by Michael Rooker, and seeing him play a pretty decent guy when what I know him best as is Henry from "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" and Merle from "The Walking Dead" was a bit disconcerting. He does a great job in the movie... and his acting is made all the more excellent by the fact that everyone else in the movie is various shades of mediocre to terrible. Especially the other father and son.

But that's not the worst. Because, eventually, the monster comes out of the ice.

I've seen some pretty unconvincing monster suits in my time on this blue and green rock hurtling through the cold vastness of space, but I really don't know if I've seen one more ridiculous and unfortunate than this one. The fact that the monster's shown in full daylight makes things worse, even if the director tries to hide the shame by using jerky camera moves, quick edits, and lens flare type effects.

We can still see it's a guy in  wetsuit with a rubber mask on his head.

This is a perfect example of less being more. Had they left the creature in the shadows, I might have been frustrated by the lack of a good look at it... but I'd rather be frustrated by that lack than boggled by the worst monster costume of the century.

  • ... would have us believe that fish see in "lava vision," where everything is seen through an orange filter. And if you get slashed by its spines... YOU see in "lava vision" too.
  • ... was executive produced by Larry Fessenden, who also apparently has a cameo as a fishing show host. I didn't recognize him, which kinda startles me. He's a bit memorable looking, after all.
  • ... one ups its crappy fishperson costume by capping the movie with what may just be the goofiest and silliest ending a monster movie's had in years. I'm tempted to spoil it, but it kinda has to be seen to be believed.
  • ... still avoids getting an "F" grade because despite its failings... has some good qualities in there... if you're charitable enough to notice them and not forget them when the fish person shows up for the first time in hard, unforgiving focus.
Grade:  D+

Monday, March 18, 2013

Monster #10—Fish People

There's something creepy about fish. Sure, they're delicious, but look at their faces! Those big staring eyes... the gasping mouth filled with teeth... the scales... yeah, they're creepy. So it's no big surprise that there's been quite a lot of horror stories about fish people over the years. I've grown up with fish all around me—my father's a retired commercial salmon fisherman, after all, and in those years I've seen plenty of the strangest and scariest fish the Pacific has to offer. Sharks, eels, lingcods, cabazones, eels, hagfish (puke!), sunfish, flounders... the list goes on. All of them are creepy in their own way

Of course, it's to H. P. Lovecraft that we must go to for the classic story about fish people. The concept of icthyic humanoids appears numerous times in his stories, but never to the extent of the deep ones in one of his best tales, "The Shadow over Innsmouth." Since then, there's been a LOT of entries in the genre... some great, like "Creature from he Black Lagoon," some fun but not so great, like "Humanoids from the Deep," (a movie that was filmed in the town of Noyo, about 45 minutes north of where I grew up), and some that are just plain awful.

Like "Screamers."

Back in the day, my dad and I would rent movies every Friday to watch on the VCR. Invariably they were horror or science fiction movies. As the '80s continued to barrel head first into the age of video, more and more choices came up. I'd seen the box for "Screamers" (no, not the Peter Weller movie of the same name, although that one's kinda bad too) several times. The image of a man who'd been turned inside out was certainly eye-catching, and so eventually I rented it, eager to see all sorts of horrific reverse-zombies.

Now... the movie starts out fine. With some folks looking for pirate treasure, only to run afoul of zombies... but then WHAT? They're kiled by a fish man? How are there fish men in my inside-out zombie movie? Turns out, the movie's NOT about inside-out zombies, but about a mad scientist who wants to turn people into fish-people slaves to loot Atlantas. Which, now that I think about it, is a pretty rockin' movie plot.

Not Pictured: Inside-out Zombies
But I was looking for those reverse zombies. And in the end, the movie itself was bad. Maybe I would have liked it better had it been advertised under it's original title, "L'isola degli uomini pesce." Or maybe if it'd not promised me inside out people.

Not "Blood Waters of Doctor Z" bad, but close.

Yeah. We need more good fish-person moives! There's a remake of "Creature From the Black Lagoon" in semi-permanent development out there at Universal, but looking at all their other reboots of their classic monster movies over the past decade or two... I'm not holding out much hope.

Recommended Reading
Recommended Viewing

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Monster #9—The Wendigo

The concept of being lost in the woods and freezing to death is pretty scary. So is the idea of being eaten by wild animals when you're lost in the woods. What could be worse than that? How about being lost in the woods AND eaten by wild animals? Or worse than that? Being eaten by cannibals.

Now... what if you were the one lost in the woods... but YOU were the cannibal? That's pretty frightening too.

The wendigo is a monster that embodies these fears. From the original Algonquian mythology, the wendigo was described as a bloody-lipped gaunt person that reeked of death. Worse... humans could become wendigos if they were overpowered by greed.

From those myths, a number of more modern incarnations of the wendigo have evolved, but the core elements remain the same—there's something out there in the frozen woods that wants to eat you. One of Algernon Blackwood's greatest short stories is called "The Wendigo." From there, the story impressed H. P. Lovecraft and others in his writing circle, notably August Derleth, and as a result, the legend infiltrated the Cthulhu mythos in the form of the Great Old One Ithaqua. The wendigo would go on to show up in Marvel comic books, in video games, modern fiction, and of course in RPGs. I got to be the one to put the wendigo into 3rd edition D&D when for my monster assignment for the 3rd edition Fiend Folio I was asked to stat up some mythological monsters of my choice for inclusion. One of the ones I picked was the ahuizotil (a cool critter I might do in a future monster day entry), but the one I was the most proud of was the wendigo, which was a template you could put on a person or wild animal to turn him or her or it into a ravenous monster. My friend Greg Vaughan got to stat up the Pathfinder version of the wendigo for Rise of the Runelords, but I developed that adventure ("Spires of Xin-Shalast") so I got to get some work in on him there as well.

And, of course, the wendigo's been showing up more and more often in film and TV as well, with appearances in movies like Ravenous and The Last Winter and on shows like the X-Files and (according to Wikipedia) My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

Perhaps scariest of all, though, is the fact that, in a way, this monster's for real. "Wendigo psychosis" is a very real mental disorder that causes one to be overcome with an urge to eat human flesh when other sources of food are readily available. That's right. There could be a little bit of wendigo lurking in someone reading this blog at this very moment. Maybe... even in someone WRITING this blog!

You've come a long way, Mr. Wendigo! Don't ever change!
Not a good time to be unable to run...

Recommended Reading
Recommended Viewing

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Movie Review—Dark Skies

I've been going to see the vast majority of my theatrical movies at a local theater called iPic Theaters lately in the Redmond Town Center. The tickets are quite a bit more expensive than normal—they can get close to 30 bucks for a single ticket depending on the time and other circumstances—but what do you get for that? You get reclining seats, in-theater food and beverage service (including beer and cocktails if you're so minded), a pillow and a blanket, complimentary popcorn and soda, and most important to me... fellow moviegoers who are there to see a movie, not to chatter or be chuckleheads. The fact that it's a 21 and over only theater (due to the booze availability) helps to limit the chucklehead factor as does the price.

The problem is that now and then, they don't get the movies I want to see. So when they didn't get Dark Skies... I decided it was time to test the waters of a normal theater again. And I'm happy to report that spending 30 bucks on a movie ticket is still worth it!

I went to see Dark Skies with 2 friends at 7:30 PM on a Tuesday night a week after its release. There were only four other people in the theater... and of those four, half of them were chuckleheads who talked during the movie.

Heavy sigh.

Anyway! The movie itself? It's not completely disappointing. In fact, it was relatively entertaining. The central concept is a family being tormented by greys—you know the ones; the aliens who supposedly abduct people to do experiments on them. The greys in Dark Skies are actually really well presented and SUPER creepy; the first appearance of one of them in the film is easily the best part of the movie and is in and of itself a great reason to see the movie. The rest of the movie is competently done, yet brings pretty much nothing new to the genre save for the fact that it's really pretty interesting to see a movie about greys that's paced and edited and presented as if it were a haunted house movie. Also? It's a slow burn horror movie, and I appreciate those. Give me time to get to know the characters, and build up the horror slow so that by the end of the movie it's super intense. Good times. Dark Skies doesn't do the slow burn nearly as well as The Innkeepers, House of the Devil, Paranormal Activity, Lake Mungo, Sinister, or the like... but it does good enough.

And that first shot of the alien doing its thing... yikes!
If Cave Johnson can't cope with the aliens... what hope do the rest of us have?

Dark Skies...
  • ... has a delightful cameo by J. K. Simmons.
  • ... could have benefited from an edgier, more modern script, rather than one that was too timid to wander from many of the cliches of horror movies.
  • ... spoils the coolest scene in the movie in one of its trailers... the one I posted below does NOT spoil that scene.
Grade: B–

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Monster #8—Killer Plants

I ran my Serpent's Skull Pathfinder game today for the first time in several months—had to take quite a few games off due to various vacations and deadlines and the like. It was great fun, especially the point where the party's alchemist blundered into the clutches of a giant flesh-eating plant.

Which brings me to Monster #8—the killer plant.

There's something creepy about the real-world carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap and the sundew and the pitcher plant. They're plants... they shouldn't be doing things like biting and grabbing things with glue-tipped tentacles and luring prey into what is essentially a pit full of acid. They're supposed to just grow and give us oxygen and look pretty.
This is what happens when you use science to splice Godzilla cells into a rose.

But since so many things eat plants, I guess turnabout is fair play.

Human-eating plants don't get enough play in movies or books, I think. It's one thing to be attacked by a wild animal or even a monster, but the plants? They're supposed to be neutral parties, aren't they?

Of course, it's easy to get the killer plant story completely wrong. "Little Shop of Horrors" has a cool killer plant, but then the thing has the gall to turn into a musical. No thanks. An even GREATER affront to the genre, though, is the most recent one—"The Happening." At its core, the idea is cool—plants suddenly start producing some sort of toxin that kills people by making them commit suicide. At least... I THINK that's what the movie was about. Like so many M. Night Shyamalan movies, the longer you watch them, the less sense they make.

Fortunatley there are some good killer plant movies and stories out there that more than make up for "The Happening." My favorites are "The Ruins" and "Day of the Triffids." I actually enjoyed the movie of "The Ruins" so much that I went out and bought the novel the same day... and ended up devouring the novel in about 2 days. Super creepy stuff! In both cases (movie and novel) I think I actually like "The Ruins" better, but both stories are more or less about the same thing... the plants getting the better of us, the people.

So next time you go outside, think twice before you walk on the grass!

Reccomended Reading
Recommended Viewing
*This movie has EVERYTHING. Killer plants, martians, rat-bat-spiders, giant blobs... hmmmm... giant blobs... that might be a good Monster #9!
**Technically, this features killer fungi, but I already kinda did that with the Mushroom People, and so the mi-go get to be featured here!
***Granted, the rapist plant in this one doesn't actually kill its victim, but she probably would have been better of if it had...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Movie Review—The Slender Man

I've mentioned the Slender Man before on this blog; he was monster #2 on the Monster Day articles, after all. Not only is it a really creepy story, but I'm endlessly fascinated by the fact that this whole thing was, essentially, an entire and rather complex mythology created entirely online by all sorts of different people, resulting in something realistic enough to fool others into believing it's real. Very impressive.

So, when I was looking around over at Bloody Disgusting (one of my favorite horror-themed websites), and saw an article about a Slender Man movie being free to view on the internets, I immediately relocated from my home office to my couch, fired up You Tube on my TiVo, and after a bit of frustration finding the right movie (it's tough searching for long titles when you have to spell them with a TiVo remote!)... I was watching a movie that 3 minutes earlier I didn't know existed. Technology, for the win!

"The Slender Man" is a true child of the internet. Not only is the movie based on something created on the internet and distributed on the internet... it was FUNDED on the internet over at Kickstarter. I totally missed it... otherwise I would have certainly kicked in some cash, but they made their goal and made a pretty fun movie as a result. The fact that you can make a movie like this is pretty exciting as well, needless to say.

Now, all that said... how is the movie itself?

Really quite good! Several of the scenes were so thick with tension that I was afraid to blink, for fear of missing something—the Slender Man myths are all about barely catching glimpses of the faceless, tentacled, suit-wearing child-abducting monster, after all.

The movie is not a true found-footage film—while it's filmed in that style, with all of the on-screen footage being from in-movie cameras that are in most scenes being carried by the actors, it has some musical cues and doesn't involve a "this footage was found" element to it at all. It's a subtle difference, but it absolutely works.

The idea that the Slender Man can only be seen through video footage or photographs or works of art is also fascinating and super creepy. The movie isn't content to just scare us with the threat of Slender Sightings, though. The plot follows three different people:

1) A young woman who's father just passed away. While she and her brother sorting out his estate, she finds a huge amount of files on her father's computer—collections of articles about kidnapped children and a file called "Slender Man," clues that send the two out to try to determine what it was their father was researching.

2) A detective hired to track down a missing child many years ago who became involved in the Slender Man's machinations peripherially, and who is now involved in a fresh spate of missing children cases that have a disturbingly similar theme.

3) A father who's child goes missing in the first scene of the movie, a really chilling long shot of the two playing catch with a ball. The ball rolls into the woods at the edge of the yard, the kid goes into the woods to find it... and doesn't come back.

It's a low budget film, but it's really effective and quite well done. Some of the scenes drag on for a bit too long, and one scene in particular has some really unpleasant sound work on someone screaming that could have been handled a bit by some post sound work to make it less painful on the ears. But the tension that builds as the footage shot by the three primary characters starts to slowly weave together as their involvement with the Slender Man inexorably draws them into each other's fates is VERY well done. And while the Slender Man himself doesn't show up often... when he does, it's always effective. The first shot of him (which is done with, alas, some pretty dodgy CGI work—the rest of the shots with him aren't quite as ambitious and are all done quite well with costumes and make-up that's enhanced by CGI and video distortion), is shocking... but the last is one of the scariest things I've seen in a movie in a while!

The Slender Man...
  • ... has a satisfying conclusion to the movie, but then adds a coda that completely blew me away with how well done and how disturbing it was. Yikes!
  • ... doesn't even have an IMDB page yet!
  • ... isn't alone out there; there's quite a few other Slender Man movies on the way, including at least one with the same name that DOES have an IMDB page.
  • ... made all its money via Kickstarter, and the movie's creators have simply unleashed it onto the internet for anyone to watch. Not only that... they're encouraging folks to spread the word and repost the movie. Which is a refreshing bit of non-corporate, non-greedy modern thinking.
  • ... works best if you watch it with a sound system that includes a sub-woofer, since like Paranormal Activity and Jaws, the approach of the horror is broadcast by low, ominous tones.
  • ... has not a trailer below... but the ENTIRE MOVIE! Although you really should watch it on a big TV with the lights out and the sub-woofer and all that.
Grade: A–