Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fear for thought.

Well, finally, a little pub time.

It's good to step back in and rest a bit, bend an elbow and an ear or two (if you have more than two ears it's your own business, but you're certainly in the right place).


While I was away, I had occasion to involve myself in a discussion about scary monsters -- yeah, I know, so surprising -- but the jist was so fun and the moment so brief that I felt like carrying it with me into the ol' S&P, to express my own thoughts and solicit yours on the topic.

Which, to you, is the scariest version of a given monster archetype? In other words, of the many interpretations of the iconic monsters, which actually scared you, or scares you still?

Not necessarily the entire film or TV program or book, etc., but the being, the character, of the given monster?

Now, I must admit that having been an avowed friend of the classic monsters since early in my childhood, I was very rarely, if ever, 'scared' by any of the famous Universal Monsters; they were my buddies, my playmates, and sometimes my confidants and comrades in adventure and fantasy.

You can't really be afraid of the Frankenstein Monster coming to 'get you' when you can see Karloff or Strange's smile underneath that heavy brow, you know? You wanted them to come 'get you' so you could go play together in the castle laboratory.

(Right? All kids wanted that, right? Right).

However, I was plenty creeped out by some non-Universal versions of the classic monsters, so here then are a few of my answers to the aforementioned question...

Now, when I was a little guy, this version of the Frankenstein Monster used to scare the yell out of me:

It is the creature as portrayed by one Charles Ogle for Thomas Edison's 1910 silent film Frankenstein. When I look at it now I see Gilda Radner or Phyllis Diller, but when I was 4 and 5, it creeped me out.

Other than that, I was never frightened of ol' Franky... until sometime in the mid '70s when KTLA 5 (bless 'em) ran the ridiculous, baffling and laughable Frankenstein Conquers The World (1966).
This thing 'coming to get me' gave me nightmares!

You'd have to see the film to know what makes this so damned creepy but I really don't want to do that to you. Let me just say that this is a kind of hybrid of the original Frankenstein Monster's heart, a Nazi scientist, radiation from Hiroshima (not kidding) and the apparent immortal-regeneration powers of the original Frankenstein Monster.

Seriously, this is a giant bio-regen offshoot of The Monster, growing bigger every day because of his intake of protein (they say it a trillion times so it must be so), lingering Hiroshima radiation and his Franken-heart.
It still makes no sense to me, but just try to look at this freak through the eyes of a suburban American child in the '70s:

He's a deformed, retarded Japanese 'boy-made-huge' with horrible teeth who looks like a Pakuni from Land of the Lost and can't speak but for the occasional grunt and roar. Not a terribly PC reason for being scared but a child's fear-trigger is rarely polite -- this utterly foreign (in concept and location) 'Frankenstein' scared me to pieces as a kid. So, personal answer #1, Chaka here is the scariest Frankenstein ever.

Now, this next part is a tiny bit dark, but needed in order to answer the question at hand. I will not be swearing or showing violent gore but little kids and sensitive grown-ups need not continue.
Next, personal answer #2: the scariest werewolf of all time is Eddie Quist (played by Rob Picardo) in The Howling (1981).

Anyone visiting the Skull & Pumpkin who is over the age of 30 has seen this film, and can't really argue. Pound for pound, human form to wolf form, there is no more perfectly evil, filthy, ravenous werewolf than Eddie Quist.

To begin, the sick freak could not be a lycanthrope at all and still be one of the sickest freaks ever -- he's a serial killer with a psycho-sexual bent and a penchant for stalking his prey in sex houses and the like... I mean, just look at 'im:
Looks like a totally messed up David Cross, doesn't he? He's drug-addled, rabid, smelly, and about to dig into his own temple with his cruddy fingers to remove a piece of his own brain (to give to Dee Wallace while delivering a most memorable bit of classic early '80s horror film dialogue)!

All before turning into... this:
Loooooook at that snarling, salivating, psychotic beast. Matted, filth-caked, wiry-haired, mangy, stinking, sweaty, bloody, beady-eyed evil that also happens to be like 12 feet tall, I swear. Okay, maybe more like 7 or 8. Point is, standing below it, you won't care about the exact height. Not for very long, at any rate.
I don't know how to put it any better -- the irredeemably evil Hell beast you see above? In his OFF TIME he's a serial rapist-killer-self-mutilator.
Can't tell me any other werewolf even comes close in pure terror. Oh, the beast from An American Werewolf In London could shred him to ribbons in short order, but for pure scariness, look no further than Eddie.
Vampires have never scared me. I take that back -- suave, intelligent, dashing Count Dracula-type vampires have never scared me.

But their less civilized, more barbaric, animalistic brethren have always been frightening to me, and even now, the idea of some lumbering, groping night thing casting about for warm blood (human or otherwise) in the dark forests of eastern Europe is unsettling... especially this late at night.

Vampires, Zombies & Monster Men (1975) was a book my cousins had when we were young. In it resides a painting whose subject is, to my way of thinking, a nigh-perfect example of the latter type of vampire. I give you personal answer #3, my scariest Vampire, The Phantom of Croglin Grange:
Now, this is a UK legend, not eastern European, but still... to a kid it all wraps into one. Besides, the bald, pocked, pointy-eared thing reminded me so immediately of another terrifying vampire:

Yes, Nosferatu (1922)'s Count Orlock might have been a 'Count' but he was no Lugosi lover man; Orlock was an animal, a fiendish plague rat on two legs, whose infectious bite destroyed not just your life but your soul.
This look was borrowed (some would say simply ripped off) and enhanced for the classic teleplay of Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1979)...

Here, Reggie Nalder plays the big-fanged, balding, berobed bastard bloodsucker Barlow. His demonic eyes and craggy, ancient features are nearly as terrifying as Orlock's.

So, what say you? Which versions of classic monster archetypes have ever scared you?

I'd love to discuss... next round's on the house.



  1. What versions of classic monsters scare me?

    Vampires. Always vampires. Modern incarnations of Dracula in particular. Even Universal's Dracula scared me a little. <:O

  2. I also was terrified of both Nosferatu and the scary Frankenstein child with the weird heart thing (yeah, I kinda understand it now, but as a kid it was beyond comprehension). But, if we're talking about "Monster Movies"- then I have to say that the Peanut Twins from "Mothra" have given me more nightmares, shudders, and sleepless nights than any other. And they weren't even the bad guys.
    And any shambling corpse.

  3. We'll probably agree on most of the choices, (but since you're supplying the tonsil varnish who am I to argue?)

    I know what you mean about Frankenstein's creation being family, as it were. I always looked on him as my bigger and somewhat slow brother. Being the oldest brother in the real world, it was nice to have a bigger sibling in my fantasy life. The closest analog to my friend Frankie appeared when Fred Gwynne's Herman hit the TV screen.

    Of the classic Universal Monsters, most were my friends--I was a somewhat strange kid. And for some odd reason, I could see some of my real family in my cinematic kin. Dracula (Lugosi) bore a remarkable to my grandfather on my mom's side. My paternal grandfather could have been Lawrence Talbot, and my grandma resembled the bride of Frankenstein--in a nice way- she had dark hair with gray streaks. My dad taught shop in school and he was always wearing a shop coat like Dr Frankenstein. The metal shop was in the basement of the school, and resembled a dungeon like no other classroom. And when he was welding, sometimes the mad labs illusion was complete.

    As far as the scary monsters are concerned, they were all post- Universal critters. I agree that The Frankenstein monsters became really creepy and weird in the post World War II. The Frankenstein Conquers the World era monsters were just too creepy, and few had any shred of humanity. However, for my money one of the creepiest man made monsters was Whit Bissell’s creation “Bob” in I was a Teenage Frankenstein. Man! The first time his face was revealed, I about lost it. Talk about acne from hell!

    Wolf men were a bit more sympathetic. Most of them could not control their urges. And even Michael Landon’s version was just a guy with raging hormones--albeit his raged more than those of most guys!
    The totally creepy Eddie Quits was frightening before he started getting hairy. He was only augmenting his own sadistic self.

    I’ve rambled on enough for one sitting. I’ll turn the time back to you!

  4. The only classic monster to frighten me as a child was the Karloff and Strange versions of the Frankenstein Monster, as seen in photos of the mag FAMOUS MONSTERS. Both men had unusual features that were perfect for putting the monster makeup on, and I was haunted by them. Yet at the same time THE MUNSTERS and MILTON THE MONSTER were my favorite shows on tv! I was enthralled and fascinated with the Universal incarnation of Shelley's immortal creature, seeing it as both a suffering, friendly but unpredictably dangerous being. From those early years to today, this version is to me "The King of All Monsters." (I never took Godzilla--who some call "King"--all that seriously, because of the floppy suit, though I liked all monster movies, including the Toho output.)

  5. Thanks Max!

    Now I've got the Milton the Monster theme going through my head!

    "And now for the tincture of tenderness, but I must use only a drop . . . ."

  6. "... only a touch. For without a touch of tenderness, he might destroy me -- oops! -- too much!"

  7. It has been about 45 years since I've last heard that song. I guess a few words have come loose! I know my brain has . . .