Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Many Faces of Godzilla

Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond have each been portrayed by several actors and with vastly differing styles but to me Godzilla stands above all as being the most varied movie icon of all time. So today we take a look back across the ages at the many incarnations of Godzilla to see what makes him The King of the Monsters.

gojira2 
Gojira (1954)

In answer to the popularity of such creations as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Japan gave us Gojira (Godzilla for American audiences) but this Toho monster movie was of a much darker tone than its predecessors. This move was a nuclear fueled allegory for the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki focusing on man’s responsibility when it comes to creating weapons of mass destruction. The film is full of haunting images of people fleeing from the creature’s atomic fire or later dying from radiation poisoning. Such bleak elements are pretty much abandoned in the later films.

Picture 3 
Don’t cry, we’ll be with daddy soon, just a few more minutes and we’ll be with daddy again.

Unable to match the effects budget of films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Toho Studios decided to forgo the costly stop motion process in favor of the man in a suit technique and this is probably the weakest element in the 1954 film as even though the rampaging action is great some of the shots of Godzilla’s head are a bit goofy in its puppety way.

gojira 
“Hey, you guuuuuys!”

The Shōwa series (1954 -1975)  With but a few exceptions the Godzilla films of this era are as divorced from the original as one can imagine. Gone is the dark shadow of Hiroshima and is replaced with a Godzilla who though still a rampaging monster that causes untold destruction he has become a bit more light-hearted and up to a point even reaches anti-hero status. In many cases he is a savior of mankind as he battles creatures such as Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster an alien menace and a greater threat to the world. If you thought Godzilla looked a bit goofy in some shots in the original those moments are nothing compared to his “Victory Dance” after defeating King Ghidorah in Invasion of the Asto-Monster.


It’s hard to tremble in awe and terror before a giant behemoth if said behemoth is doing an Irish jig. Now I’m not saying there were no dark moments during the Shōwa years as some of his battles got down right bloody with arterial spray going everywhere, and in films like Godzilla vs Hedorah (aka The Smog Monster) we see toxic sludge killing countless people including babies, yes babies! Of course moments like that are kind of undercut by shots of Godzilla holding his tail and rocketing through the sky.

Godzill Vs Hedorah 
“Dignity, always dignity!”

In 1977 Marvel Comics got the licensing rights to publish a Godzilla: King of the Monsters comic and in this 24 issue run pitted Godzilla against various foes from the Marvel Universe with “Dum Dum” Dugan Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D. tasked with bringing him down. In most cases Godzilla is portrayed as the lesser of two evils and as in the case of the Shōwa years he is more a reluctant hero than a villainous monster. It also leads to one of the greatest moments in the history of Godzilla where everyone’s favorite atomic lizard is shrunk and sneaks around New York City in a trench coat and hat.
Godzilla shrunk 
“Leapin’lizards!”

Godzilla: The Animated Series (1978-1981) was co-produced by Toho and Hanna-Barbera Productions and pushed Godzilla even further into full on good-guy status. The show followed a group of scientists who travelled around the world via a hydrofoil research vessel, investigated strange events that were usually monster related, and whenever they got into a jam the Captain would press a button that would summon Godzilla.
This cartoon is most known for bringing the world Godzooki who is basically this shows Scooby-Doo as he’s a smaller version of Godzilla but there mainly for slapstick comedy. Godzooki was for those who didn’t think Godzilla’s son Minya was annoying enough.  Watching the show one wonders if they called Godzilla for anything else but rescuing, I know that if I had a button that called Godzilla I’d be using it all the goddam time.

The Heisei series (1984–1995) It is in 1984 that we get his first big reboot in which we are told to ignore all the sequels that came before and that The Return of Godzilla is a direct sequel to the 1954 original. Back is the destructive Godzilla and also back are the darker themes and tone.  In this series we also start getting some really boss Godzilla suits and he takes on some really amazing adversaries such as the new and improved Mechagodzilla, Space Godzilla and my favorite being the awesome plant monster Biolante. Who can but love a creature created from combining Godzilla’s cells with genetically mutated plants and the soul of the scientist’s dead daughter.

biolante 
Godzilla vs Biolante is mad science at its best.

The Millennium series (1999–2004) This series is interesting as almost all of them are stand-alone reboots. Each film, with the exception of Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is considered a direct sequel to the 1954 original.  These movies are much in the same vein of the Heisei series as Godzilla is still a terrible force that plagues mankind but when something nastier comes along its lucky for mankind that Godzilla is around to kick its ass. For me the stand out in this series is Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack where it is discovered that Godzilla is imbued with lost souls of World War II and who are angered that their sacrifices have been forgotten.  Now they want to destroy Japan.

Evil Eyes 
He’s got those Evil Dead eyes.

Enter Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich with their CGI travesty. There aren’t many good things that can be said about the 1998 Godzilla film; Matthew Broderick was horribly miscast, Maria Pitillo as the ex-girlfriend was beyond annoying, and the creature itself just wasn’t Godzilla. And I’m not saying that because it wasn’t a man in the suit but because it just wasn’t Godzilla.

Godzilla 1998 
Godzilla (1998)

The design was more angry iguana than atomic fueled dinosaur, and he didn’t fucking breathe fire! If you have found yourself making a Godzilla film where at no point does he unleash atomic fire on his enemies you have made a grave mistake and should retire to making romantic comedies about fish.

Sixteen years later Gareth Edwards shows the world you can do a decent CGI Godzilla.

Godzilla 2014 
Godzilla (2014)

Now in 2014 Godzilla has Hollywood going for the millionth reboot in the franchise to see if maybe they can get it right this time. Taking a page out of the Millennium series they depict Godzilla as a violent force of nature and then pit him against some other giant nasty monsters. There is something in this film about an EOD soldier trying to get home to his wife and kid, and who occasionally runs into some of the giant monster action, but really who cares about that shit when we have Godzilla smack downs to watch. In this film we may not get a lot of monster on monster action but what we do get is pretty damn spectacular and certainly has me eager to see the next installment in the Legendary Godzilla series.

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So there you have it, a quick look at the history of everyone’s favorite atomic lizard; he started out as an allegory for the dangers of nuclear weapons, drifted into some series goofy camp stuff, and then took a long trip back to being a dangerous badass. Here’s hoping for sixty more years of Godzilla!

 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Child of Glass (1978)

Not all ghosts are hell-bent on dragging poor mortals to their deaths some just want to find peace after roaming the spectral plain for ages; this is the kind of ghost we find in Disney’s Child of Glass a made-for-television movie based on the book The Ghost Belonged to Me by acclaimed Young Adult author Richard Peck.

Young Alexander Armsworth (Steve Shaw) finds his life uprooted when his family moves to a large antebellum mansion in the heart of Louisiana. His mom (Barbara Barrie) is more concerned with getting the place in shape for her big party, and social event of the season, than what shenanigans her youngest child is getting up to. When Alexander is visited by the ghost of Inez Dumaine (Olivia Barash) the problems of the chores and a bossy sister fall to the wayside. It seems this sweet creole girl was murdered by a river pirate because she wouldn’t reveal where the family treasure was hidden, and murder wasn’t even enough for the bastard as he cursed her as well, causing her to forever roam the plantation after death.
unlikely pair 
Alexander and Blossom Culp.

Aiding our young hero is a local girl from the wrong side of tracks, Blossom Culp (Katy Kurtzman). She insists that Alexander is gifted, information she got from her palm reading Aunt Lavina (Nina Foch)  and that only Alexander will be able to help Inez find the rest she desires. And of course the ghost has a time table; her curse must be lifted by midnight on All Hallows’ Eve which gives Alexander and Blossom only two days to solve the riddle that will release Inez from her Earthly bonds, “Sleeping lies the murdered lass, vainly calls the child of glass. When the two shall be as one, the spirit’s journey will be done.” 

In the barn with a ghost 
Someone should inform ghosts that information via riddles isn’t all that helpful.

Because solving a riddle to ease the suffering of a tortured soul isn’t enough for a young boy to handle the movie tosses in drunken handy man Amory Timmons (Anthony Zerbe) who he gets fired for repeatedly drinking on the job. To get revenge on this “unjust firing” Amory decides to burn the barn down but unfortunately for him Alexander was inside chatting with Inez at the time and witnesses the crime. Amory chases after Alexander who tries to hide in an old work shed and ends up hiding too well by falling into…a well.

anthony zerbe 
What good is a kid’s movie without a dangerous drunk?

Of course Alexander will be rescued, Amory apprehended, the riddle solved, the treasure found, and Inez will be reunited with her family in the afterlife. As ghost stories go it is not one to send shivers down the spine of any but the youngest viewers and as a mystery it kind of falls flat as well. What does work is the child actors who are both quite engaging, especially Katy Kurtzman as Blossom. There were three other books written by Richard Peck featuring Blossum Culp and I for one would have liked to have seen those made into movies as well.

Ghost belonged to me book cover

Speaking of the novel there quite a few differences from the book to the movie; the book takes place in the year 1913 while the Disney movie is a contemporary piece, the “riddle” that Inez gives Alexander in the book is a premonition of disaster which he is able to avert and becomes a bit of a celebrity, and what releases Inez from her ghostly haunts is the standard “find her remains and bury them properly” schtick which actually makes more sense than the way it was handled in the movie which was she just needed her doll back.  Though to be fair it was a really nice doll.

inez 
Note: Inez’s dog was not cursed just loyal from beyond the grave.

Disney’s Child of Glass is a sweet and entertaining ghost/mystery story well worth a watch though tracking a copy could be a bit tricky, but I do highly recommend going to your local library and checking out the book.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pumpkinhead (1988)

When you think of iconic movie monsters you have Frankenstein’s monster, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the xenomorph from Alien and the alien hunter from Predator, just to name a few, and the last one I mentioned was a creation of the late great creature effects genius Stan Winston. In a career spanning over forty years of movie making his creatures have instilled awe and horror in countless moviegoers, but before passing on to the great make-up studio in the sky he did try his hand at directing and while doing so brought us another great iconic monster, Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead is a strange mixture as horror films go; on the one hand it has this Grimm’s fairy tale aspect of this demonic monster being brought forth to avenge a wrong and then on the other hand we get the slasher movie aspect of young city kids coming into the woods to get butchered. It’s as if the film has a split personality.

Pumpkinhead_Closeup 
Tonight’s therapist.

The movie begins with a 1957 prologue where the residents of the backwoods cower in their homes as a dark force stalks their little community. Someone has called forth a demon to get revenge for a killing. We never find out who called forth this demon, or the details of the supposed murder, but we do see that once the creature is on your trail you will die, and die horribly. Young Ed Harley witnesses this and it certainly leaves an impression on him.

prologue 
Yep, that will stick with you.

Jump ahead to the present and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) runs the local grocery store for this backwoods community and is the single parent to cute as a button Billy Harley (Matthew Hurley). Ed is a widower who truly loves his son and it is their interactions during the first act of the movie that really set the stage for the horror that is to follow. You can totally believe that if someone was to harm that sweet child that Ed Harley would not take such an act lying down, and then when a bunch of young city folk larking about cause Billy’s death we completely understand Ed’s rage and hate. Now would I personally call forth dark powers to rain death and destruction upon those I deem guilty? No, but that’d be mainly because of my innate cowardice and laziness and not from any moral high ground.

cutest kid 
World’s most adorable victim.

Ed finds out where the witch  (Florence Schauffler) who can bring forth Pumpkinhead lives and after getting cryptic warnings he finds himself making a trip to the graveyard in Razorback Holler to retrieve the mummified remains of the creature. Grief, anger and hate; these three powerful emotions are required to justify anybody going to cemetery at a place called Razorback Holler to dig up a demon.

Pumpkinhead-still-3 
This place not found on most tourist maps.

Once he returns with the curled up Pumpkinhead creature the witch does a blood ritual that will not only revive and send it on its mission but unbeknownst to poor Ed it will link him with the monster. Till death do they part. The price of dark magic is a high one but a grieving father doesn’t think long term.

The Witch 
Who would think an old crone like this wouldn’t be completely forthcoming?

The film then enters its “Cabin the Woods” section as Pumpkinhead begins to stalk and kill the city kids. We don’t spend much time with them to get to know them that well; there is Joel (John D’Aquino) the asshole who accidentally killed the kid while dirt bike riding drunk, Chris (Jeff East) his unmemorable brother, Kim (Kimberly Ross) a girl who goes into hysterics after the little boy his run done, and then there is Tracy (Cynthia Bain) the final girl. Joel’s character isn’t your stock slasher film asshat because even though his first reaction to the crisis is to flee the scene of the crime, and then pull out the phone lines so his friends can’t call the police or ambulance, but once he has time to think he realizes he’s totally screwed up and he will have to set things right. Unfortunately for him and his friends it’s a little late for redemption.

pumpkinhead2 
“Go get’em boy.”

Now what sets Pumpkinhead apart from the likes of Jason or Michael Myers is his showmanship. Where Jason and his ilk will brutally murder someone and then rig the body to surprise his next victim in some clever if not improbable way Pumpkin head doesn’t go for the quick kill. He will maim his target; watch them try to get away before pulling them back into his clutches, and then he will drag the still living bastards to taunt his next targets with. Poor Kim gets her face rubbed up and across the kitchen window until her friends spots her, and then Pumpkinhead smashes her through the glass leaving her to bleed out. Pumpkinhead is kind of like a demonic cat playing with its food.

pumpkinhead_4 
And he’s sacrilegious to boot.

The interesting catch to this particular vengeance demon is that Ed Harley is linked to the creature and feels all the horror and terror of each kill, this is not something he had figured on, and when he goes to the old crone to get her to call the whole thing off he learns there is no way to stop it, it must run its course. The movie works as a fantastic morality play looking at people and their actions from different points of view and is on the most part fair and balanced towards all parties.

pumpkinhead vs boy 
“Boo!”

As for the Pumpkinhead creature itself it certainly earns a spot in the pantheon of great monster creations, designed and put together by Stan Winston’s team with Tom Woodruff Jr. as the man in the suit this is an artistic achievement. I can’t say enough about how good it looks and how well it moves. It only has to step into a room, not jump just step in, to scare the bejesus out of you. To make things even more incredible is watching the transformation of Pumpkinhead as it starts to look a little like Ed Harley while poor Ed starts to take on aspects of the demon. Simply horrifying in its ramifications and the incredibly dark and depressing ending says it all when it comes to making deals with dark forces. DON’T!

looking like lance 
A cautionary tale.

Pumpkinhead didn’t get a fair shake in the theatres due to Dino De Laurentis Entertainment Group (DEG) going bankrupt resulting in Stan Winston losing his distributor which resulted in the film’s release date getting delayed a year and then when finally got released it was on a very limited amount of screens. Luckily it has garnered much cult status with subsequent releases on video so long after the master has gone the creature continues to thrive.

pumpkinhead 
Now available on Bluray for the first time and once again Shout Factory does an awesome job with a cult classic.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Outlaw of Torn - Book Review


Original cover Outlaw of TornOne of only two historical fictions written by Edgar Rice Burroughs the story of The Outlaw of Torn was first published in 1927 as a five part serial for New Story Magazine. Though the story maybe fictional it is set amongst the true events of 13th Century England where King Henry III was greatly abusing his powers, much to the detriment of the common man, and which caused Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, to lead the rebellion against him in the Second Baron’s War.

The plot of The Outlaw of Torn deals with the mysterious and fictitious Prince Richard, who as a small child is kidnapped by the King’s French fencing master de Vac. The reason for the abduction is that the King insulted and spit upon de Vac during a fencing match that the King fairly lost due to the incredible prowess of the Frenchman. Already not a fan of the English Monarch de Vac hatches a diabolical plan to avenge this affront. He kidnaps three year old Prince Richard and then proceeds to raise him as his own, teaching him to be the world’s greatest swordsman as well as to hate all Englishmen and to become the greatest outlaw in the land. The final stage of the plan will be when the King unknowingly places his own son on the gallows.

Going by the name Norman of Torn the lost prince does become a most feared outlaw and with a band of one thousand of the toughest knaves and cutthroats in the land as his army no noble manor or castle is safe. The only fly in the ointment of de Vac’s plan is that even though he has spent twenty years teaching Norman to hate the English he can’t turn Norman into a true villain, as his very nature fights against it, and helping this attitude along is a local priest who teaches Norman to read and write as well as the arts of chivalry. Think Robin Hood in full body armor, leading a marauding army.
The battle of Nature versus Nurture is a theme that pops up in many of Burroughs books, The Mucker a perfectly example of this, and one of the things that makes him stand out among other pulp fiction writers. The other surprising element in his books is his characters views on religion; in the Barsoom books John Carter discovers that the religion of Mars is all a huge scam, while in The Outlaw of Torn the hero derides the existence of God and refers to the almighty as “Man’s scapegoat”. These are ideas you don’t expect to see in an adventure book written in the early 20th Century.

outlaw of torn book cover
 
Norman of Torn is your classic Burroughs hero; his sword arm never fails him, women can’t help fall in love with him and his enemies tremble in his very presence, and this story contains much of what you will find in many of Burroughs novels; a savage hero with a noble past, a damsel that loves him despite his station, great escapes, mistaken identities, cruel and reprehensible villains, and of course a heaping helping of sword fighting and swashbuckling. Any fan of the genre must put The Outlaw of Torn on their reading list right next to Robin Hood and Ivanhoe.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Flash (2014) - Pilot

Barry Allen is The Flash and one of the core members of The Justice League of America, but how did the Scarlet Speedster get there? How did Barry become the Fastest Man Alive (no matter what some comics say The Flash is faster than Superman) and what drives him?

Flash title card

In the wake of the success of the CW’s Arrow we get our first spin-off and it is a delightful one. As much as I enjoy Arrow it has been hampered by the producers trying to keep it in a Nolan type universe; no fantastical villains, no one with real super powers, and no boxing glove arrows. Now along comes The Flash and apparently the gloves are off…and gauntlets on!
The Flash in Costume 
“If I run fast enough I can’t hear people laugh at my costume.”

Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) had a traumatic event in his past, which is almost a required thing for superheroes, his mom was killed by a strange energy force but because his childhood account isn’t something adults can believe in his father is arrested for the murder. Fourteen years later Barry is working as a forensic assistant for the Central City Police Department, he is helped by detective and father figure Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and his lifelong best friend Iris West (Candice Patton) who much to Barry’s dismay has stuck him in the dreaded “Friend Zone”

Barry and friend

Cue heroic origin event: There is a disaster at Star Labs when its particle accelerator goes ballistic, exploding strange energies out into the city and beyond. Some of the energy seeds a storm cloud that lets loose a bolt of lightning that strikes Barry. Much to everyone’s surprise he isn’t killed but just stuck in a coma for nine months. Even more surprising is that when he wakes up at Star Labs he is in perfect health, his muscles have had accelerated healing instead of the expected atrophy of a bed ridden coma patient.

I have abs 
“Lightning gave me abs?”

Soon enough Barry finds out that he isn’t just in better shape than he’s ever been before, he can now perceive things as if the whole world is slowing down, and of course he can run really, really fast. When he discovers that a murderous bank robber, one assumed killed during the night of the Star Labs accident, is not dead and has gained powers of his own he knows it’s up to him to stop him.
weather wizard 
Meet the Weather Wizard.

I really enjoyed this pilot, Grant Gustin is perfect casting as Barry Allen and most of the supporting cast is solid as well. The biggest danger I see is what I call “The Smallville Effect” as in that show almost every villain Clark had to face was a result of kryptonite radiation from all the meteors littering that part of Kansas, now we see in this pilot The Weather Wizard was caused by the same accident that created The Flash, and when we get a tour of Star Labs we see a destroyed animal cage with the name Grodd posted on it. And of course anyone familiar at all with the comic knows that the killer of Barry’s mom is The Reverse Flash who we can assume was created by this same event. This kind of thing got old on Smallville and I hope they ditch quickly for this show.
The Flash Streaks 
We don’t need to have everything connected.
With Barry and Oliver Queen being friends this opens up a DC Universe f
or television, one where we can ignore Zack Synder’s murdering Superman, and maybe seeing Blue Beetle or Booster Gold showing up in Central City. There is certainly no need to connect this to the movies, but it is a shame will never get a Batman guest appearance.

Notes:
• Gorilla Grodd, god but I can’t wait to see a talking gorilla on this show.
• John Wesley Ship from the 1990 Flash series is Barry’s dad. Awesome!
• We should hear the Law and Order “Dun-Dun!” whenever Jesse L. Martin appears on screen.
• The effects are great and not just TV show great.

Flash to the rescue

Unlike Gotham having Flash’s rogue’s gallery showing up is to be cheered and so I have a little more hope for this show than I do Bruce Wayne’s hometown show. Only having seen the pilot we can’t be sure what exact direction they are going to take the show but I’ll certainly be in front of the television every Tuesday night to find out.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Cast a Deadly Spell is an HBO movie that epitomizes the term “Forgotten Gem” as it has a fantastic concept and even a better cast that all put together create a sweet tribute to both the horror and detective genres. If ever a movie deserved to a get television spin-off it’s this one.

Cast a Deadly Spell title card


Set in an alternate 1948 Los Angeles where everyone uses magic, well everyone but private investigator H. P. Lovecraft (Fred Ward), we see a world where magic isn’t just used it’s become common place; luggage will float behind their owners, a flick of the finger and a flame appears to light a cigarette, and demons can be raised to slay your enemies. It’s the latter use of magic that has Police Chief Bradbury (Charles Hallahan) often calling on Lovecraft for help as he refuses to use magic in any way shape or form.

lovecraft 
“Nobody’s got a mortgage on my soul. I own it. Free and clear.”

Sadly being a private eye who doesn’t use magic does not lead to a very profitable business and so with office rent overdue, and a witch landlord you don’t want to screw over, Lovecraft is grateful to get a rich client. It seems Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) needs Lovecraft to track down a chauffeur that was fired for making amorous moves on his virginal daughter Olivia (Alexandra Powers) and upon being fired left with a stolen book. That book being the Necronomicon.
Warner 
Necronomicon was his Book of the Month offer.

Also after the book is Harry Borden (Clancy Brown) who owns the nightclub The Dunwich Room and who is a man not at all adverse to using black magic to get what he wants. Harry was also Lovecraft’s partner when they were both on the force, that is until Harry had to leave the police department under a cloud of corruption charges.

Clancy Brown 
Smug Evil is the worst kind.

Things get a bit rough for good all Lovecraft as Harry sends his main goon Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor) to end Lovecraft’s involvement by casting dark ruins that will unleash a demon on whoever reads them.  Oh, and he has a zombie henchman as well.

Thugs of Magic 
The original Salt and Pepper.

Adding a dash of difficulty to the situation is the fact that he also has to contend with the raging hormones of Olivia Hackshaw who is only a virgin because of her father’s iron grip on her social life.

The Virgin 
The only fun she gets is hunting unicorns.

No nod to Raymond Chandler would be complete without the femme fatale and nightclub singer Connie Stone (Julianne Moore) fits the bill perfectly. Of course she and Lovecraft have a history and that now that she is working for Harry it becomes a rather sore spot.  Not that it will stop either of them from jumping into bed together.

Connie Stone 
“Me, untrustworthy?”

Will Lovecraft track down the missing chauffeur? What exactly does Amos Hackshaw intend to use the Necronomicon for? Where does Harry get such wonderful zombies? And whose side is Connie really on? All these question and more are answered in this quite fantastic little movie. Characters like Olivia, Harry and the chauffeur are almost lifted straight out of The Big Sleep while much of everything else is a nod to the works of horror icon H.P. Lovecraft, and the blend is handled perfectly by director Martin Campbell, who went on to direct many more prestige’s movies since but I’ll always have a warm spot for this one.  And one further shout out to Fred Ward who just nailed the hard nosed private brilliantly and just oozes that era.

Note to HBO Executives:  With shows like True Blood and Sleepy Hollow proving that there is a market for this kind of stuff on television I don’t see why your network isn’t jumping at the chance to bring this back as a weekly series.

necromicon 
“Book’em, Dano.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Monster Men

Burroughs – Book Review


The_Monster_MenWhereas Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Mad King was a delightful rift on The Prisoner of Zenda we look today at The Monster Men which owes greatly to The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells. It was published in 1913 in All-Story Magazine under the title “A Man Without a Soul” and though not one of his greater successes it is still a rousing good read.
As in The Island of Doctor Moreau the story of The Monster Men deals with a “mad” scientist bent on creating life only in the case of Professor Arthur Maxon he isn’t turning animals into men or even stitching pieces of corpses together as Doctor Frankenstein did, chemical vats is the methodology of Professor Maxon, and like in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein you don’t get much of more of explanation on the how exactly life is achieved. This is not a science fiction novel it is an adventure story full of nefarious villains, a crazed doctor, horrifying creatures, a noble hero and the requisite damsel in distress.

The story begins with Professor Maxon deciding to continue his experiments in creating artificial life far from the scrutiny of academia and in the deepest jungles of the East Indies. Accompanied by his beautiful daughter Virginia, lab assistant Carl Von Horn and their Chinese cook Sing Lee they set up shop on one of the remote Pamarung Islands. The experiments don’t start off all that promising as one by one out of the vats step horrible monstrosities, things born of nightmares, that is until one night when Maxon and Von Horn find the vat that held the thirteenth attempt overturned and smashed, its contents found slumped in the corner.  At first Maxon is in utter dispair thinking his latest attempt has been destroyed but soon he discovers that not only is Experiment Thirteen alive and well but appears to be an Adonis, a flawless specimen of male physicality. This fits in perfectly with Maxon’s plan which is to have his daughter marry one of his creations. Did I mention he was a mad scientist? He certainly not going to win father of the year; not only did he drag her halfway round the world then stick her in a compound where she is the only female around but he also plans to mate her to a science experiment. Yikes.

One of the more interesting elements of this Burroughs books is in the character of Virginia, in most of his books the central character is the male protagonist but in The Monster Men we don’t really get the hero until about halfway through, up till then the story is mostly told through Maxon’s daughter. The story does shift points of view among many secondary characters, and there are a lot of them, but it’s through Virginia that we feel most connected with. She does fulfill the duties of the stories damsel in distress element as she tends to get abducted a fair amount of times, but she is written as a very strong character; intelligent, brave and resourceful. She even manages to escape a couple of times without the aid of the hero.

Now about that hero.   The Monster Men has your standard issue Burroughs hero; incredibly handsome, strong as an ox, insanely courageous and of course he has a noble heart, one that has fallen heavily for the beautiful Virginia. What makes him stand apart from the other protagonists of Edgar Rice Burroughs is his introspection. He is told by almost everyone that he is a soulless being, that his appearance means nothing and that he is just as much a monster as the previous twelve creations, but Thirteen doesn’t quite believe that as he’s seen the evil done by men that apparently have souls and he knows in his heart if he doesn’t have a soul he can at least create one better than most.

ace cover
Sadly we never really got a good cover for The Monster Men.

This is certainly not one of the better outings of Edgar Rice Burroughs; the running around in the jungle trying to rescue Virginia tends to drag on a bit, the collection of rogues who constantly betray and backstab each other all tend to blend together without much distinction. The character of the unscrupulous Van Horn who wishes to marry Virginia with or without her consent so as to get her father’s money is one who appears in various forms throughout Burroughs’ books. One of the most difficult elements in the book is the dialog from Sing Lee the cook, Burroughs is not at his best when writing accents whether they be Africanise, Mexican or Chinese i.e. “Then you make bad talkee with Lajah Saffir at longhouse, Sing hear you all time, You tly to getee tleasure away from Dylaks for yourself.” This is of course something of the time and Burroughs is far from the only one guilty of such ethnic depictions, it just a bit of a strain for a modern reader. 
 
Though this may not be one of the better examples of his work The Monster Men is still a fairly fun read, and at 150 pages it’s a quick one, both the hero and heroine are well written, the heroic deeds of the hero are suitable herculean, and if the ending is a bit of a cop out (sorry no spoilers here you’ll just have to read it and find out what that is) it’s only a minor thing. The Monster Men is certainly a worth a trip to the local library.

Note: The 1932 movie The Island of Lost Souls is a cinematic version of The Island of Doctor Moreau but the element of Moreau hoping to get his jaguar girl to mate with a human is not in the book and one must wonder if the filmmakers lifted that element from The Monster Men.