Saturday, October 30, 2010

The League's Favorite/ Least Favorite Monsters Part 2

I thought I'd participate at the beginning with Part 1, and then come back here at the end for Part 2. 

This has been remarkably difficult.  1)  Some things I considered I had to get a gut-check from Jamie as to whether it actually qualified as a monster.  2)  Naming your favorite monster can be like naming your favorite child.  3)  I didn't really want to just name the same monsters that everyone else had named (when it comes to monsters, it is still true that variety is the spice of life).

Here's on to Part Deux:

3)  The Mummy - Least Favorite

I admit this with some disappointment.  I'd like to say that Karloff's performance in 1932's The Mummy was even the issue.   Or that it was the "re-imagining" of The Mummy from 1999 was at fault.

this is not a Peter Murphy album cover

Nah.  Mostly, its that the iconic 1932 movie is about 90 minutes.  In the first 9 minutes its archaeologists yapping at each other, then about 1.5 minutes of really great, really scary stuff, and then about 78 minutes of people yapping again and not much happening (and Karloff in a fez).  There are a lot of things I'll forgive in a genre movie, but...  man, when you reanimate a mummy, you kind of raise the stakes for your movie.  You cannot drop the ball once you've put the undead in motion.

Here's The Mummy springing to life and one of my favorite scenes in classic horror.  You can probably skip to the 2:00 mark.

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn't even begin to try for this level of creepiness. 

I suspect I'm the only one who has seen this movie, so:  basically, after reanimating, The Mummy, Imhotep, scares the bejeezus out of a dude, then disappears for a decade only to resurface as a normal Egyptian guy that looks remarkably like Boris Karloff.  Imhotep doesn't tear up Cairo.  Instead, he's just sort of being pervy around a perfectly sweet girl.

"Baby, this is totally a monster movie.  I think."
But the Mummy part?  With the bandages, et al.?  Pretty short time frame in the movie.  There's just not much in the way of straight-up monstering in this flick.  Sure, Karloff gets to act a bit and deliver lines, and, frankly, the story itself is fairly creative in its abuse of Egyptian culture, lore and history, and set all kinds of precedents for genre media, right up to and including 2000's-era DC Comics, but...  the original movie and its monster are just sort of odd in the cold light of day.

There's just never much happening.

I'm Imhotep.  I'll be your monster tonight...
That said, I still love the iconography of the movie, and I want to like horror movie mummies, but there's a reason I think they just don't pop up all that often in modern horror movies.  "Slow moving guy in bandages" just doesn't read well as a good villain.  Nor does "middle aged guy in a fez" read as terribly menacing.  The 1999 remake featured some enhancements, making The Mummy a sort of evil wizard with all sorts of kooky magical powers and a limitless army of beetles at his command.  Also:  Rachel Weisz.  But it also led to two bad sequels and somebody greenlighting Van Helsing.

Truly, it seems the Mummy does carry a curse.

Of the Universal Monsters, I have to rate The Mummy as sub-par.  But I love that scene, and I can always hope for a new, interesting Mummy flick.

4)  Ghosts/ Haunted Houses (like in 1963's The Haunting or The Shining) - favorite

I was never terrified of monsters under my bed.  I did go through a brief period in second grade where I was convinced there was a headless guy with a bloody axe standing at the foot of my bed, but if I didn't come out from under the covers, he didn't know I was there. 

To the point, I was mostly scared of sounds and bumps in the night that I didn't think should be there.  This included this one time in 3rd grade when I was quietly playing with Star Wars figures in my room and suddenly a Batmobile rolled off the shelf and onto the floor.  I still remember sprinting down the stairs.

It's not just that ghosts are things around you that you think are sharing space and you have no control over them, but that ghosts are supposedly perpetually unhappy dead people.  And they are in the room with you.

I want to be clear:  I'm what TAPS would call a "skeptic".  Or what I would call "noises in the dark are just noises".  Call me a concrete thinker, whatever.

But there's also a fight or flight mechanism built in, and its hard to ignore a billion years of evolution that tells you that when air pressure, smells or sounds suddenly change, something may be up.  Folks may have once blamed things they couldn't sort out of goblins, leprechauns, and whatnot... and while a huge portion of the world no longer believes that, say, goblins run around your house when you aren't looking, we're still watching Ghost Hunters in 2010.

I get it.  When Jamie and I got married we stayed at Austin's Driskill Hotel, a building rumored to have a few ghosts, I went wandering the hallway in the wee hours to go get ice.  Its not too hard to see how sound traveled in that place in some deeply eerie ways (I could hear a party somewhere, as if on the floor, but I could never figure out where it was), and how people get some funky ideas, especially when they are alone.

The TV shows and movies (and almost every ghost story you stumble onto) rely on the idea of "place" as the issue at hand far more than any specific ghost/ person or personality (even The Haunting, which gets kind of specific).  At the end of the day, its our knowledge that we aren't supposed to be somewhere, and the sensation that the place is pushing back.  I get it.  I lived in Jester Dorm for a year, and in 1994 I would have gladly told you that building was alive and breathing and trying to kill me.

While there are a dozen ghost shows on TV of people trying to prove there are ghosts (and not doing a very good job of it),  I guess the question movies like The Haunting, The Shining and Poltergeist try to answer are "so what are we exactly afraid the ghosts might do if we didn't leave the room?  What do we think is going to happen?"

To this day, the scariest movie I've seen was the original The Haunting

You can't see it, but you can hear it...
In that movie, the ghosts are most definitely the very angry spirits of a miserable, gothic-style family, and they are loud and they are really, really mad.

At least in The Shining, the ghosts are willing to give Jack a drink...

Hair of the dog that bit me, Lloyd
but then the ghosts get too into it and go and pull this sort of stuff...

Hey, we were having fun here, and you ruined it.
And its exactly that.  I don't know what the heck ghosts are going to do.

By the way, yeah, The Shining was the creepiest movie I'd ever seen until The Haunting.  Go figure.

I suspect the "oh, I thought maybe someone touched me in the dark" thing is pretty creepy, but its our imaginations that make this stuff really work.  And when you have guys like Robert Wise and Kubrick trying to freak you out?  Well, it kind of ups the ante on movies like The Mummy.

that kid just loves being dead

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