Saturday, October 30, 2010

Signal Watch Halloween 2010 Round-Up

Hey, Signal Corps!

Hope your Hallo-weekend is going well!

don't forget to carve your pumpkins this evening!
I know there's been just a ton of stuff coming through the past week in honor of Halloween.  Here's a quick round-up of links for your clicking pleasure!

In general:

I am afraid this review was overlooked as it posted at the same time as several other items.  Since the initial posting, writer and editor Ryan Colucci has shown up in the comment section to describe the production process.  Its a great addendum to the post.


Jason wanted to know if he "won" the "contest" with his Halloween submission.  While this wasn't a contest, I think he's going to feel a lot better if we all just smile and nod and tell him he won, so play along, won't you?

If you have some time to kill, here's an index of all entries (and, man, we got a great turn out!) for the Halloween Monster Mash. 

Posts by the Signal Corps:

I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate the participation.  Its made coming back to writing a whole lot of fun.  After all, the best part for me is always seeing what other people have to say.  When it comes to something like "monsters", seeing your thoughts on the topic is infinitely more fun than just cranking out another post about why Superman is awesome.

Have a great Halloween!

treat yourself to some spooky stuff this Halloween!

The Admiral's Favorite Monster

The Admiral was visiting and mentioned the Halloween interactivity. He doesn't usually participate in our shenanigans, but he did bring up his favorite monster. In his words: You know, when you're twelve, that seems like just about the best monster possible.

At any rate, I'd say the apple doesn't fall that far from the tree.

How does the traffic guy on the news explain this situation?

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

Steven G. Harms chimes in with his monster of choice!

Hey!  Steven G. Harms has popped up from the wilds of San Francisco with his own take on monsters.  As always, Steven has given the topic some thought, and I think you'll enjoy.

My Least Favorite Monster

Growing up, I was not the kind of kid who easily scared from "monsters." As I reached late adolescence and began to seek out scary movies for thrills, I remember being a bit unnerved by Freddie, Jason, Chuckie, et al., but they never really kept me up at night.

"Monsters" in this "boogey man" sense weren't the thing that scared me.

What did scare me were ALIENS. Not the kind with nesting jaws that Sigourney could bitch-slap with an exoskeleton, but these seemingly peaceful faces and unclear motivations:

not Michael Jackson

 The book that most directly delivered this adrenal shock was "Communion." The book's author, Whitley Strieber, tells a harrowing tale of being in his remote upstate cabin (creepy) in bed on a dark night (scarier) when he heard strange noises ("that's not a bobcat") until he saw the face of a non-human (i.e. alien) in his window!


Aside: In a bit of quirk, Mr. Strieber refuses to call these entities "aliens" but rather prefers to denote that they are non-human and visitors. I suppose going to Streiber-con and calling the almond-eyed fellows aliens is like coming to my city of residence and calling it "'Frisco" or pronouncing that street in Austin something that is not like "Gwadaloop."

In case you don't know, "visitors" don't like hiking all the way out to our neck of the woods just to play peeping Tom to writers in cabins. Invariably they wanted to, as I recall it, communicate with Mr. Strieber and tell him about the vast world of the super-terran expanse: speak of its inhabitants, its threats (reptilian aliens), its opportunities (like Star Trek). As I recall (it's fuzzy after 22 years) there's some experimentation, some suspended animation, and some sexual manipulation (very frightening when you read this just past your decade birthday).

After reading this book I had several intense nights eyeing my window in suburban Houston. Despite the fact that it overlooked a sheer wall and was on the second story, I did not feel that spatial height or suburban sprawl were defenses against these visitors (although Win Butler of the Arcade Fire might disagree on that second point) and I had a few nervous nights pondering what I would do if I were trans-spatially peeped by these big-eyed voyeurs.

But in thinking of the Signal Watch's monster challenge, I'm intrigued by the fact that I didn't have a worst monster of the boogeyman variety. I think that's because my "monster" was nebulous in that he wasn't a proxy to a human ideal, system, or fear. Most monsters say something about the world in that they map to a world-view as a proxy. Dracula says "Beware the Hunnic bloodsman, he comes to seduce your proper (Victorian) ladies." As Lauren has reminded me often, the vampire is the polyglot, continental homme du charm, surely something to be feared. Frankenstein certainly stands in to our unnerved relationship to technology and "progress." In some way we recognize conventional "monsters" by the fact that they map to reasonable motivations that we ourselves recognize.

Communion is much more like a Lovecraft scenario: We're small, insignificant, and lucky something much larger doesn't come down an eat us. Heck, change "eat" to "drown" or "rip us apart by means of bear" and it's downright Biblical. I think this is what makes my "monster" so scary: it's a proxy to pure un-knowing, and that's very scary indeed. It doesn't map to a motivation we can readily grasp and if it were true there's nothing we could do about it.

If a vampire were on the loose, you could stake him; Frankenstein's monsters have a negative reaction to scalding oil, and even Justin Bieber will one day face the Damocles' sword of puberty. But what would we do about vastly more intelligent beings out there who can pop in as easily as a Ronco knife salesman? And what if they weren't, you know, groovy cats who wanted us to take up a vegan diet and join the commune of intelligent life?

This bifurcation was perfectly realized in the early seasons of "The X-Files." While the first season featured Boogeymen (The Jersey Devil, et al.) the addictive mythology arcs of the series focused on "others" with lack of intelligible animal motivation (e.g. black oil, the clones). Ultimately it was the questions of the realm of "pure unknowing" that carried the show through its 3rd and 4th years (and, uh, beyond, but I've blocked that out).

So, for these reasons, for being a portal to pure fear like Yog Sothoth himself, the Strieberian Grays are my least liked monster.

My Favorite Monster

As I said above, I'm not prone to being afraid of monsters. Consequently, it makes it hard to have a favorite monster. There's no evil scamp who can scare me like no other and I love (him/her) for that.

But I think I'm going to have to say it's Wolfman from "Monster Squad:" a movie I loved that I've heard tell is being re-made (more strip-mining of my childhood, hat tip Jamie Zawinski) and will, I'm sure, star Bieber and some Wil Smith-spawn. I like Wolfman not because he scared with impunity, but because of the impeccable comedic stylings that Carl Thibault expressed through him. Thibault made an "Ow my Balls!" moment work and make me laugh until I couldn't see straight.

Some members of the Corps will remember that I attended a screening of Monster Squad with JackBart this year. And, indeed, everything Steven says holds up.

NTT Gets Monstrous

Hey, ya'll!  NTT has pitched in!  He's got a lot to say, so let's get right to it.

Warning: This article contains massive spoilers in the descriptions for the works involved.  If you see a title that you absolutely know you wish to watch or finish in the numbered headings, avert your eyes.

My Favorite Monsters (In descending order):

Putting together a list of my favorite monsters was a much harder task than I had originally presumed.  It doesn’t help that I have through my life consumed a gigantic worth science fiction and fantasy, all of which are dripping with monstrosities from which to choose. I therefore culled my list down to those examples that expound or subvert my definitions of a monster.  These are not the obvious choices but the ones that expanded my horizon of inhumanity to humanity.  Or they’re just freaking cool.  You decide after the list.

4). THE ANGELS from Neon Genesis Evangelion (TV Series, DVD and Movies)

Anyone who has watched Japanese anime knows that there is one series that has generated some of the most controversial arguments in Otaku culture and anime. This is that series.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a work of supreme art and will be forever defined as the series that expanded anime’s reach to beyond entertainment and became an example of what can be achieved in the bounds of creative expression. It is a deconstruction of the “super-robot genre” or “mecha” of Japanese anime that subtly subverts the watcher over the course of the series from believing he is watching a rote action science fiction series to an intense examination of one’s place in humanity and the fragility of the human spirit.  It’s complicated, obtuse, frustrating, subversive and then ultimately rewarding while shattering your expectations of genre fiction. Yes it is that good.

The ANGELS are gigantic, supremely powerful beings of cosmic origin that attack the Earth and humanity, notably Neo-Tokyo.  Neon Genesis starts off like almost every other “super-robot” anime series where the Earth must be defended by a brooding adolescents that must pilot  unique high technology robots of destructive power, the EVANGELIONS, against these beings and threats to the Earth.

Nobody move, I dropped a contact lens

The watcher is dripped subtle clues as to their existence and origin. Why are they called “Angels” and given code words like Sachiel and Ramiel, actual Biblical names? Why do the Angels manifest powers just like the EVANGELIONS piloted by the human defenders? 

    Eventually, it is revealed that the Angels are not working towards the Earth’s destruction but are trying to reunite and rescue Adam and Lilith, the cosmic beings held captive by NERVE, the organization that manufactured the EVANGELION robotic machinery. The conspiracy is that NERVE and other associated factions revealed in the series are using the biological contents of Adam and Lilith in a highly illegal and unethical attempt to change the course of human evolution and to subjugate humanity in their vision. And this is just at the end of the second arc of the series. AND then it just gets crazy. 

    Neon Genesis takes its inspiration from Judeo-Christian sources and frequently uses iconography and themes from Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism and Kabbalism, in the series's examination of religious ideas and themes. The mysterious Angels force humanity to confront its origins and in turn reveal that it is humans that are maybe the monsters, not the Angels.

3) GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System) from the videogame Portal

GLaDOS is a mysterious character in the 2007 video game Portal. She is an artificially intelligent computer system in charge of operating the Aperture Science research facility, which is the setting of Portal. She intially appears as a guide to the player in your attempt to escape the facility. Yet, as you progress through the game, GLaDOS increasingly becomes erratic, her voice modulates into something more malicious and she subtly attempts to force the player into actions that either place you in great danger or forces you to make choices that will unnerve your morality.

Equal parts HAL 2000 and the girl from the Bad Seed, GLaDOS is an imperfect creature, prone to temper tantrums, fits of jealousy, wanton destruction and manifests codependency to the player. She also is given to lying and cajoling the player into performing actions for her and then has a vindictive streak when you rebel.

I once had an angry Speak 'n Spell
Your final confrontation with GLaDOS in the game is a reflection of the entire rich game experience itself.  She threatens you, tempts you like Satan, tries to bribe you and manifests clear insanity as she admits to ruthlessly killing all others in the facility before you. Oh and her morality module is missing so she’s a sociopath, awkward! GLaDOS then finally attempts to kill you all the while making jokes and justifying her actions in the name of “Science!” Playing the game and your interaction with GLaDOS is akin to playing the movie the Cube or is like being a mouse in a human maze. You are manipulated and taunted by a robotic, cunning entity that talks like mild mannered nurse with the soul of Hannibal Lecter. Your final confrontation with her is a meeting of powerful anger and vengeance. One of the best characters ever, GLaDOS is truly monstrous.

Youtube LINK


    Priscilla is the main antagonist in the great anime series Claymore, whose main character Clare attempts to confront. The setting of the anime is that demons, termed as Yoma, exist with human beings and use humanity as their prey. Yoma have greater strength, speed, and durability compared to humans. The Claymores are created by the “Organization” to fight the Yoma and protect humanity. By implanting Yoma essence into humans, they are able to create a hybrid that is faster than the source Yoma with their original human combat training and intelligence. Clare, now a fully-trained Claymore and the protagonist, has a tragic and tortured history with Priscilla since her childhood that drives the narrative of the story to its mournful conclusion.

    Priscilla is one of the most powerful of the Yoma; she behaves as almost a demi-god in the series utterly devoid of empathy and a whirlwind of violence. She is so self-absorbed in her alien mind that she simply doesn’t even know what her actions are doing personally to Clare and her world. Humanity is a speck in her eye as she wreaks tragedy wherever she steps.

Yes, I do have an enormous David Bowie collection.  Why?

    The end confrontation between Clare and Priscilla is steeped in nuance and suspense as each character takes her own haunted steps down their spiraling intertwined destiny.



What can be said that has not been said? Godzilla is the best and ultimate monster. Q.E.D.

As a latch-key kid, I remember walking home every day from school and WFAA-TV in Dallas Fort Worth would show “monster week” specials in the afternoon matinee. Here, I was exposed the greatness that is Godzilla, Mecha-Godzilla and King Ghidorah. I was hooked. Godzilla was the god of destruction, equal parts a monster to humanity’s nuclear science hubris and the defender of the Earth. I always thought it was incredibly humorous that Godzilla gets to wreck Tokyo but if aliens tried to invade the Earth, by golly Godzilla wasn’t going to let that happen!!

Although he has been misinterpreted many times, the essence of Godzilla is as intriguing and cool as ever; he is a force of wrath, a metaphor for humanity’s global ambitions and sin, and the vengeance of nature. Most of all, he is the KING OF MONSTERS.

My Least Favorite Monster:

1) EDWARD CULLEN, from the series Twilight Saga

So simmeringly sexy...

Let me see…Bella is seventeen at the beginning of Twilight. Edward is at least one hundred years old, yet he stalks and seduces Bella, isolates her from her family and threatens her with violence. In the name of love. Nevermind the fact that his character is a borrowed amalgamation of Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and White Wolf’s Vampire the Masquerade role-playing game. His creation and Twilight is a monstrosity.

Witches, man: JAL talks monsters

I've known JAL a long, long time.  I don't know exactly when we started hanging about, but I do remember he had a lot of pictures clipped from Fangoria in his locker in middle school.  I can also say our first collaboration was a 9th grade video for English class wherein we discussed different kinds of horror movie characters.  I have no idea what the assignment was supposed to be about, but I do know we called it "Psychobabble".

Anyway, dude knows his scary movies.  He was the first one to show me Halloween (I could not believe Jamie Lee Curtis had played a high schooler.  For some reason, that was mindboggling.).  In college, we saw movies together like Dead Alive and Lynch flicks.  So I am, of course, thrilled that he participated.    The boy knows scary flicks.

Witches - I don't think it gets any scarier. I don't like them one bit, with their incantations and eyes of newt. I think what gets me the most is that the result of their ill deeds always seems to be very much linked to the visceral. Witches seem to revel in pain, be it vomiting cherry pits or finding cameraman's teeth in a bag. No one ever when quickly under the spell of a witch and what they're doing to you is seems to come from the darker corners of imagination.

Speaking of corners, they make you to things like this, which for my buck, is one of the most unnerving images committed to film.

A few favorite witchy films

Witches have fantastic decorators...

The Blair Witch Project:
...just not this one.

Halloween III:
gather round and watch the magic pumpkin

Rosemary's Baby:
In the service of the dark one and lookin' fly!

Drag Me to Hell:
one of the best films of 2009

On the flip-side, they also come in this form, which doesn't hurt a darn thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

15 Years

Jamie and I started dating 15 years ago on this date.  Or, most accurately, this is the date Jamie says we started dating.

I wasn't wearing tights, but otherwise fairly accurate

AmyD joins the Monster Mash!

AmyD is new to our Signal Corps, and I am delighted she's decided to participate, and I think you'll be glad, too

Least Favorite: Chucky

Why nobody ever just drop kicked this monster, I could never understand
As a fourth-grader, I had an irrational fear of Charles Lee “Chucky” Ray of the Child’s Play movie series fame. I couldn’t look at him, think about him, see him in a commercial, or hear other people talking about him without sensing indescribable dread and crying. Since he actually frightened me (and still does a little to this day), he is my least favorite monster. I have no idea where this fear came from because I have never even seen a single “Chucky” movie, and I had nothing but positive doll experiences growing up. It made no sense to anyone at the time. I couldn’t even go to the cheesy video store in my neighborhood, “Movies Galore” (yes, that really was the name), without dramatically avoiding the “Horror” movie section. If I even caught a glimpse of the demonic red-headed doll on the movie box by accident, my heart would race and I would start sweating profusely.

Unsurprisingly, my family had no idea how to deal with my strange behavior, but that fact has never stopped them from trying before. While my sister delighted in exploiting my fear, my parents decided to employ two different approaches to try to calm me down. My psychiatrist dad decided some sort of “thought experiment”/mental exercise was in order. He instructed me to lie down, close my eyes, visualize putting Chucky in a jar, twisting the lid on tightly, and putting the jar on a shelf somewhere in the recesses of my elementary school mind. I am not making this up. So, as I stretched out on the couch trying to put Chucky in a mental memory jar, all I could think was, "what if he gets out?" Cue panic.

My mother, the more practical of the two, took it upon herself to “tease” the fear out of my body. She was convinced that I was far too old and smart to be afraid of Chucky. Clearly, she did not understand that age and a high Brain Quest score were totally irrelevant to the matter. So, (again, I am not making any of this up) she would follow me into a room at night, turn off all the lights, and then whisper "Chucky, Chucky, Chucky" to me in the dark. Immediately the tears would well up in me and the guilt would set in in her. The tagline to all of these experiences as I would run out of the room was always the same, “Amy, I don’t even know what a ‘Chucky’ is. It’s just some pretend creature!”

I think these experiences only proved that my folks were well-meaning but ill-equipped to battle a little doll in overalls. Eventually, I outgrew my fear, was able to sleep again, and could rent as many Sega videogames from “Movies Galore” without any panic attacks. However, no one in my family has seen a “Chucky” film since he was banned from our household for so long. I doubt the ban and his “least favorite monster” moniker will ever be lifted.

Favorite: Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed (1956)

Wow.  Just..  I need to see this movie.
Rhoda Penmark is the greatest mean girl there ever was. As both a child and a monster, this makes her all the more compelling. Children naturally don’t understand complex morality, and Rhoda flaunts this in the most grotesque manner. You really can’t help but empathize with her poor mother when she discovers her little brat killed grandma. My parents were big fans of “The Bad Seed,” so anything my sister and I ever did was dwarfed by Rhoda's growing body count. In fact, her evil nature worked to reaffirm our (mine, especially) own angelic goodness.

Jamie's Favorite/ Least Favorite Monster

Hey, everybody! It's time for Jamie's entry! I've known about Jamie's love of this monster for many years, and I am happy she finally gets to share this with you.

I should also add: Jamie actually provided her own captions for the pictures, so kudos to her

Favorite Monster: “Nessie”, The Lochness Monster

In no way is this picture fake

Although I do not believe in any mythical creature, I wish with all my heart that somehow Nessie could be real. I love that she is this huge sea (lake?) monster that so far no one has been able to decisively capture on film. That means she is stealthy. And smart. Or maybe she has a cloaking device, which would only make her even cooler. She also seems relatively harmless and I am a fan of friendly monsters.

Terrifyingly adorable?
Least Favorite Monster: Trashsquach

When I was around 7 years old, my mother thought she would play a funny funny trick on me and had my brother hide in a trash bag to scare me. When I went to take “the trash" out like she instructed, “the trash” moved and started following me down the hall. My 7 year old brain could not process this and to this day that moment is the most scared I’ve ever been in my life. In exchange for coming up with the name for this entry, I formally and publicly forgive Doug for his hand in this incident.

Trashquach could be the next SyFy original

Jamie, I wasn't sure if the picture you provided provided the real terror of Trashquach, so I fixed the picture for you.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Horus Kemwer presents his Favorite/ Least Favorite Monster!

Our own Horus Kemwer of of Against the Modern World sends in his picks for Favorite and Least Favorite Monster!  My, but these entries are diverse, and I have to give Horus extra points for style.

Tetsuo, The Iron Man, at his angriest

My Favorite Monster: Tetsuo, The Iron Man

Tetsuo is star of two classic cyberpunk movies by visionary Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto, Tetso: The Iron Man (1989) and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) (all screencaps from the latter).

[Note: the name is a pun in Japanese as the prefix "Tetsu-" can mean "iron" and the ending "-o" can mean man, though these are not the characters with which the common name "Tetsuo" is usually written.]

Tetsuo is a mild mannered (nay, downright wimpy!) Japanese "salaryman" who is one day mysteriously harassed by strange techno-punks. He discovers that when angered, his arm turns into a gigantic gun which he then fires at his antagonists in blind rage.

In typically perverse Japanese fashion, Tetsuo is tricked into slaughtering is loved ones by this strange ability (in the first movie, his wife, in the second his son—essentially the second film is just a larger budget retelling of the story in the first rather than a sequel proper).

As tense situations (and correspondingly, Tetsuo's degree of anger and stress) increase, he discovers that more and more of his body is able to sprout guns.

Tetsuo's chest is now a barrage of firing cannons!

Although the source of Tetsuo's strange "ability" (curse?) is eventually revealed, I'll leave the curious reader to discover it via netflix . . . (hint: it's not pleasant)

The appeal of Tetsuo is the usual man down fights back taken to extremes. First, Tetsuo the salaryman is so pathetic and beset upon that he takes the beleaguered victim syndrome to a new level. When he turns badass, though, he turns so badass he can't even control himself.

Tetsuo's become a full on mecha for his final battle

Unfortunately, none of the screencaps really do Tetsuo justice. And this is another big part of what makes him so cool: Tetsuo really only exists in the mind of the viewer. Tsukamoto "creates" Tetsuo out of a barrage of crazy imagery, fast cutting, frenetic industrial music, and bizarre atmospherics. At no point do you really get a clear view of him, but in your mind you build up a whole construct of crazy machinery. Tetsuo isn't just a costume, he's a whole music video, limited only in its cyberpunk badassery by your own imagination!

Baixo Astral talks to his TV set
My Least Favorite Monster: Baixo Astral (aka "The Down Mood")

Baixo Astral is the villain from the Brazilian children's (?) movie Super Xuxa contra Baixo Astral (1988), which I've seen most convincingly translated ("Baixo Astral" sure does not mean "Satan" in Portuguese) as "Super Xuxa vs. the Down Mood." And "Down Mood" really seems to sort of fit the character of Baixo Astral, who is dedicated to bringing war, destruction, corruption, vandalism, and anything that's downbeat into the world.

SXCBA stars Xuxa Meneghel, the single hottest children's show host ever to talk the face of the earth (oft parodied by ignorant Americans, jealous that none of the children's shows they grew up with had hosts anywhere near as hot). Nevertheless, the movie is inventive, with crazy scenes and catchy music.

Except when Baixo Astral and his dopey sidekicks are on screen.

The lamest sidekicks in any children's movie ever
Frankly, Baixo Astral himself wouldn't be that bad if his supposed evil hadn't been set up as being so intense. Frankly, he just can't live up to it. Add to that the fact that he has the lamest sidekicks in the entire universe and every moment with him just sucks.

Even the climax sucks. Baixo Astral tries to keep Xuxa's mood down by "shooting" her with his TV gun which shows sucky downbeat things like violence. The gun itself has actually a kinda cool cyberpunk design, but somehow, wielded by Baixo Astral, it just turns to suck.

TV guns could be cool, but not this one
But really, the worst thing about Baixo Astral is that whenever he's around, fun things like this aren't happening:

Final note: if you bear in mind that Brazil is a country that dealt with its homeless street urchin problem by simply shooting them, then the appeal of someone like Super Xuxa coming along and painting everything like a rainbow so everyone can just live happily together seems a lot more understandable . . .

If you haven't ever Googled 90's-era Latin-American children's TV host, Xuxa, I highly suggest you do so.  I still remember stumbling across her while in college, and remember wishing I knew more Spanish.

JimD's favorite monster: The Banshee from "Darby O'Gill and the Little People"

This I find fascinating.  I've never seen this movie, but people who have seen it love this thing.  I honestly expected JimD to send in lots of stuff about Zombies, so this was a bit of a surprise!

Without further ado, here's JimD's entry:

I remember seeing this movie as a young child and being scared of the Bansee, the ominous figure in the film who arrives to creep out everyone.  Much ado is made of the arrival of the Banshee, and I've never forgotten it.  Decades passed, and when I learned the film had arrived on DVD, I had to rent it, and of course, it's all spectacularly silly to watch now. But back in the very early 1980s, not so much.

Yeah, I can see how this is creepy as heck

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The League's Favorite/ Least Favorite Monsters Part 1

So now its up to me, I guess.

Let's start with the obvious.

1)  Frankenstein and his Monster - favorite

"What's up, party people?"
Shelley's Frankenstein hit me over the head like a ton of bricks when I read it as assigned reading in high school, and the character of Victor Frankenstein and his unbridled ambition, followed by his inability to take responsibility for what he'd created...  pretty good stuff.

While there's no question the Monster is murderous, Shelley also infuses him with a craving for understanding and a humanity that Frankenstein himself may have set aside.

The movies, of course, turn the monster into an invulnerable, inarticulate beast, but the first three in particular explore much of the same themes, and are a lot of fun in their own right.

Is The Monster actually scary?  Well... yeah.  I mean, he's a hodgepodge of parts of various people sewn together and brought to life through artificial means.  He also kills folks both accidentally and intentionally (and just to make a point - that's gangster).  In the movies the Monster is more or less a superhuman, immortal walking weapon with quite a different personality.  However, I think we can look at Victor/ Henry* Frankenstein as us, and he, of course, is far scarier than the Monster.  After all, he dreamed the creature into being, and he failed to contain what he'd made.

but for my dollar, I'll take The Bride...

Baby, you can re-animate for me anytime
Of course, the portion of the novel featuring The Bride and the movie follow two entirely different trajectories.  I think the pursuit of The Bride (or a mate or whatever) for The Monster is so terribly tragic and part of what makes the story so haunting, that longing for contact and love that humans can grasp, and the lengths the Monster will go to for fulfillment of that need can read as the horrible act of a murderer, but that's a pretty dim reading of the characters.

Of all the monsters, its the understanding forged between The Monster and his creator that's the most fascinating aspect to me (more so in the novel than in the movie, but the movie doesn't shy away from this, either).  Having to face down the monster you've created and abandoned, who you've rejected and whose one dream you've torn apart?  Well, that's a pretty tough conversation to have.  In the sequel, Dr. Pretorious certainly adds a whole new aspect to the proceedings as Whale was making a movie completely separate from the novel.

Curiously, its Young Frankenstein that seems to be the one version of the story we can see that bridges the gap between the monster and its creator. 

The original novel is the template for a thousand more stories, movies, comics, whatever... but in my book, the original is still the best in both novel and the first two movies, and its a template for a reason.  The story says something very interesting about us as a creative species, and its a lesson you hear reflected and rebounded throughout science-fiction. 

As per The Monster, he's the avatar of that creation, and one that is entwined hopelessly with its creator.

*that's what he's called in the movies

2) American Remake Godzilla - Least Favorite

I like a good Godzilla movie from Toho studios.  Man in Suit is where its at, if you ask me.  And I love how Toho always makes sure there's some reason Godzilla is rampaging across Japan, be it an anti-nukes warning, people not loving one another enough, or as a reminder to recycle.  Whatever.  Godzilla is sort of a nation's conscience and psychic backlash stemming from guilt writ large and with atomic breath.

With total sincerity, I contend that this is a metaphor.  Also, its @#$%ing awesome.
In the summer of 1998, Roland Emmerich (I assume, I can't remember) got his hands on a high-grade CGI crew (well, 1998 good) and went about making an American version of Godzilla.  I went opening day, popcorn and Diet Coke in hand, and was naively quite excited to see what a couple hundred million thrown at a Godzilla movie would get me.  The answer: an absolutely horrendous movie featuring a CGI Godzilla that made me long for the days of Man in Suit.  And it featured a complete waste of Vicki Lewis.

This version of Godzilla is so reviled by true-blue Godzilla fans that the creature and the movie is referred to online as "GINO" or "Godzilla in Name Only", which I fully support.

While Godzilla in this movie was also created by nuclear tests, Americans get off guilt free as the tests were French atom bomb tests.  And, of course, we were just hapless victims in our version of the story, which...

Anyway, there's my social commentary quota for the month.

Yes, the monster looks a little like a squatting mime playing dinosaur
The monster-as-emblem-of-psychic-punishment-for-national-shame angle is completely missing from this Godzilla, but...  that's of course not quite enough.

The creature just looks stupid and does stupid things.  Its a 30-story monster that sneaks around between sky scrapers, runs so quickly in the middle of Manhattan that it ditches military helicopters, and slithers through the New York subway line.  It has a bizarre and almost lithe body for something of its scale, including oddly human limbs.  Its just really perplexing to see on something of that scale that's just so off that your brain knows it and sort of sends you signals about how this just doesn't look right at all.

Godzilla has really been hitting the gym
American Godzilla is supposed to be a mutant iguana, I think, so the filmmakers decided that while a 30 story iguana with shoulders* isn't a stretch, apparently giving us some nuclear-fueled fire breath is just getting silly (although they do give it a sort of "air blast" thing, which...   @#$% you, American Godzilla.  Your dumb fake fire breath via exploding gas line isn't going to cut it here!).

I recently watched this movie in its entirety, by the way, convinced it couldn't be as awful as I'd remembered (I took Jason to see the movie because he wouldn't believe it was as bad as I'd said).   It may have been worse.  Just.... truly...  an horrendous movie in so many ways, from scripting to acting to derivative creatures and scenarios to the worst love interest in a movie I can remember...  and it will make you very glad we escaped 90's big-budget movie-making alive and intact.

What's stunning is that so many people had to have worked on that GD iguana, and apparently nobody pointed out that this thing just made no sense, and wouldn't it just be better to redesign based upon the Japanese version rather than start from scratch?  And didn't anybody talk to a biologist or even a high school anatomy student while figuring out what a 30-story animal would look like if they were going to walk away from Gozilla classic?

Anyhow, this movie has largely been forgotten, and gladly so.  I wouldn't mind another American remake or Japanese/ American remake where it seemed like everyone wasn't so busy patting themselves on the back and second guessing 50 years of awesome movies that they wound up with a boorish movie with a crummy looking monster.  Sure, go CGI and do some mild redesign, just so long as Man in Suit never goes away...

UT is hosting an informational seminar on the bio-mechanics of  Kaiju (Giant Monsters) on Wednesday.  Be there or be square.

*btw: an anatomical difference between lizards and dinosaurs?  Lizards have splayed legs vs. how dinosaurs have hips that place the legs under them.  Think how monitor lizards get around versus how triceratops stands.  See, you learn important stuff here all the time.

Emergency Superman Post: Earth One "redesign"

Tomorrow sees the release of Superman: Earth One from DC Comics.

The book reimagines Superman as if he is starting his career in 2010/2011 as a 20-something (and without any of the baggage of 10 years of Smallville).  The book is written by J. Michael Staczynski and drawn by Shane Davis.  As an attempt to reach the library, bookstore, Amazon and general audience that isn't too keen on dropping $4 for a floppy comic (or finding a comic shop), DC is launching the Earth One line as a series of original graphic novels.

This comic arrives in hardcover (which I think is an iffy call) and is priced at about $20 USD.

Apparently there's been some confusion and some odd press from major/ non-comics-related press being written that suggests that Superman is not wearing a cape and tights, but a hoodie or something.  Apparently, these writers literally never opened the book or looked beyond the cover.

This is not the costume
This is 20+ Clark Kent becoming Superman in America.  I know its very confusing that he's not a middle-aged guy in a suit (which, really, who wears suits anymore?  Let alone 24 year olds.), but that's his street clothes, not his Superman costume.

And, press: all kinds of people wear hoodies. Who does not?  Twilight vampires. I don't even know where that's coming from.  Having seen those movies, nobody wears a hoodie despite the fact they live in a rainforest in Washington and probably should if they want to keep their hair nicely gelled.  But...  is everything featuring a 20-something with a sci-fi or fantasy bent to it going to have to be compared (unfavorably) to the Twilight franchise? 

This, by the way, is the Supersuit:

You do not @#$% with the Super
So, there's your wild reimagining of the costume.

DC isn't stupid.  Nobody likes it when you mess with the costume and basic look of Superman.  Oh, sure, everyone will say they want to update it, but at this point the costume is an icon.  Anything you do to "fix" it will be a modernization that reflects current fashion or design, and that's not really what makes the Supersuit.

I'm picking up my copy of the comic tomorrow at Austin Books.  Hopefully a review is forthcoming.
Thanks to Bleeding Cool for the very specific links.