Sunday, October 31, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 31: Dracula

Real World Origin:
Literature, Dracula by Bram Stoker

In-Universe Description:
Jonathan Harker ends up in a nightmare when he is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula in purchasing property in England. At first Dracula's behavior is merely strange: he disappears during daylight hours, he warns Harker not to leave his room at night, and his castle appears to be completely empty of other inhabitants.

It doesn't take too long for Harker to realize that he is a prisoner in the castle and that Dracula is a vampire who is looking for new hunting grounds in England. While Harker tries to escape from the castle, Dracula is transported to England by ship in a box of soil. The ship eventually runs aground with all hands missing except the captain, who is dead. A large dog is seen leaving the ship.

Dracula begins stalking Jonathan Harker's fiancée, Mina, and her friend Lucy using his power to shapeshift into a dog, a bat, or a mist. Night after night he preys on Lucy and day after day her suitors (she originally has three) notice that she appears weaker than the day before. Finally one of her suitors calls his friend Professor Van Helsing to help. Van Helsing quickly determines that Lucy is the victim of a vampire, although he is reluctant to admit it. Lucy eventually dies and returns from the grave as a vampire that preys on the local children. Van Helsing and Lucy's chosen fiancé are forced to dispatch Lucy by staking her through the heart and beheading her.

With the return of Jonathan Harker to England, Harker, Mina, Lucy's suitors, and Van Helsing make a pact to find and destroy Dracula. Knowing that Dracula must sleep in boxes of soil brought from his homeland, the vampire hunters seek out the boxes and ruin them. Dracula avenges himself by preying on Mina while she is unprotected. In addition to drinking her blood, he forces her to drink some of his blood, which bonds Mina to him. Slowly Mina begins to show signs of becoming a vampire. However, her link with Dracula also allows the hunters to determine that Dracula has given up on England and is returning to Transylvania.

Van Helsing and the other vampire hunters know that unless Dracula is killed, upon her death Mina will be cursed to become a vampire. Thus, they must follow Dracula to his homeland and destroy him.

The character of Dracula was very loosely based on Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431-1476), also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler. The nickname of "the Impaler" came from his favorite method of torture and execution. Although there is no legend linking Vlad the Impaler with vampirism, it's logical that Bram Stoker would use the name of a bloodthirsty tyrant from the region where much of European vampire lore appears to have originated.

Bram Stoker borrowed several elements from European folklore; e.g., the standard method of killing a vampire (staking and beheading), the vampire's lack of a reflection or shadow, its aversion to holy symbols and garlic, and the vampire's shapeshifting abilities. However, Stoker also modified the folkloric vampire to produce Dracula. The vampires of European legends did not live in castles and pretend to be nobility but instead returned to their graves at daybreak. They were supposed to have dark or ruddy skin rather than Dracula's pale skin.

Subsequent stories and films have further changed the rules of vampires that Stoker created. For example, Stoker's Dracula is not harmed by sunlight and is even seen by Mina and Jonathan Harker in the middle of the day in London. Van Helsing explains that daylight merely deprives the vampire of its superhuman strength and ability to shapeshift. The idea that a vampire is destroyed by daylight was introduced in the film Nosferatu (1922), which was loosely based on Stoker's novel. Another change is the idea that only a wooden stake (sometimes made of a particular wood) will have any effect on a vampire. In Dracula this is the method used to kill all vampires except Dracula himself, who is stabbed through the heart with a bowie knife. The vampire instantly crumbles to dust as a result.

Dracula was adapted for the stage and later for film; the most famous of which being Dracula (1931). This film greatly deviates from the novel. The visitor to Dracula's castle is changed from Harker into Renfield; the lunatic from Stoker's novel who plays a relatively minor role. Lucy's suitors are replaced by a single individual who is now Mina's father. Among other changes: the hunt for Dracula is truncated, Mina's link to Dracula is somewhat downplayed, and the climax of the film occurs in England. The 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula may be the most faithful adaptation of the novel, although it inserts a previously non-existent plotline in which Mina is the reincarnation of Dracula's wife from before he was cursed to be a vampire. This makes him a sympathetic villain rather than the loathsome and irredeemable creature from Stoker's novel.

Dracula was saved for the very end of the 31 monster countdown due to the influence that the character has had on the horror genre since 1897. To this day vampires continue to appear regularly in literature and film. Though they may change the mythology, the rules of vampirism, etc., they still owe their existence to Dracula; the father of the modern vampire.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 30: The Wolf Man

Real World Origin:
Film, The Wolf Man (1941)

In-Universe Description:
When Larry Talbot returns to his home in Wales, he comes across the local werewolf legend:
Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
One night Larry is attacked by what he believes is a wolf. Although he is bitten, he manages to kill the wolf with his new silver-headed cane. As revealed by a gypsy fortuneteller, the animal that bit Larry was actually the gypsy's son, who had been a werewolf. Now Larry shares the creature's curse.

Larry Talbot discovers the truth of the fortuneteller's statement when, on the next full moon, he turns into a monster that is half man and half wolf. Soon the Wolf Man begins terrorizing the countryside and killing the unwary. When Larry returns to his human form the next morning, he tries to convince his father of his unfortunate condition and that he poses a threat to the village. His father refuses to believe this superstition and ties Larry up while the peasants hunt the wolf. Surely his son will be convinced of his madness when the real wolf is found and killed. However, when the full moon rises, the Wolf Man breaks his restraints and again goes on the hunt.

The Wolf Man was not the first film to feature a wolf man (that was Werewolf of London (1935)), but it was one of the most influential. A good portion of werewolf lore found in films and novels today are derived from The Wolf Man rather than from the various werewolf legends found worldwide.

The folklore of werewolves was well-known in medieval Europe, although the legends varied from place to place. Even the method by which a person could become a werewolf was not consistent. One of the most common beliefs was that werewolves were witches who used their magic to transform themselves. Only occasionally could one unwittingly become a werewolf through some sort of curse. The European werewolf was usually described as being nearly indistinguishable from a natural wolf with a few differences; e.g., lacking a tail, having human eyes, or having a human voice.

A variety of legends in the Americas were analogous to European folklore. The best known legend is that of the Navajo Skinwalkers. In the Skinwalker legends, a Navajo witch could transform himself into an animal using magic and the skin of the animal into which he wanted to transform. Unlike European werewolves, Skinwalkers were not limited to the form of a wolf.

While borrowing somewhat from existing legends, The Wolf Man and its sequels introduced or popularized certain elements that are taken for granted in modern werewolf films and stories. These include becoming a werewolf by being bitten by one, vulnerability to silver, the transformation into a werewolf occurring under a full moon, and the werewolf as being a mixture of wolf and man rather than being a slightly atypical wolf.

Current films, including the 2010 remake of The Wolf Man, have taken advantage of advanced makeup and special effects techniques and have made their werewolves more animalistic than those shown in Werewolf of London or the original Wolf Man.

Friday, October 29, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 29: Frankenstein's Monster

Real World Origin:
Literature, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

In-Universe Description:
In Shelley's famous novel, young Victor Frankenstein is a promising chemistry and science student with an unhealthy interest in the reanimation of dead tissue. Collecting bones and other material from charnel houses, dissecting-rooms, and slaughter-houses he pieces together a creature resembling a man but much bigger (about 8 feet tall). Through a vaguely-described technique involving electricity, Frankenstein brings his creation to life. It is only upon giving the Creature life that he becomes horrified by what he's done. He abandons the monster and leaves the university for home.

While Frankenstein attempts to live a normal life, the Creature wanders the countryside, lonely, angry, and afraid. Eventually the Creature hides near a family's cottage and begins to observe them. During this time it learns to speak and comes to care for the family. However, when it tries to befriend them, they react with fear and violence given the size and hideousness of the monster. At this point, Frankenstein's Creature decides to seek vengeance against its creator; after all, others may reject the monster for its ugliness, but its own creator shouldn't have.

Thus the monster begins to kill those closest to Victor Frankenstein, starting with Victor's younger brother. The Creature offers to stop if Frankenstein will construct a companion for it; an offer which Victor initially accepts. This truce ends when Frankenstein destroys the half-finished second creation, afraid that he would end up making another murderous monster. This is the final straw for the monster, who becomes determined to complete its vengeance.

The story of Frankenstein has been turned into stage plays and films, the most famous of which is Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff. There are a number of significant differences between Shelley's novel and the 1931 film. For example, Shelley's Frankenstein is neither a doctor nor does he have any assistance in creating the monster. Karloff's monster is mute and clumsy, whereas the monster of the novel is eloquent and superhumanly fast and agile. Additionally, the novel doesn't involve angry mobs of peasants; the Creature is seen by very few who live to tell about it and Frankenstein isn't eager to admit that he created a monster.

The monster has appeared in a number of films that were not based on Shelley's novel. Some of these have included other famous monsters such as Dracula or the Wolfman. In 1994 the film Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was released, starring Kenneth Branagh as Victor Frankenstein and Robert De Niro as the Creature. This film more closely follows Shelley's novel than most adaptations, although a significant plot thread involving the fate of Frankenstein's wife was added for the movie.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 28: The Mummy

Real World Origin:
Film, The Mummy (1932)

In-Universe Description:
The ancient Egyptians had been making mummies thousands of years before anyone ever thought to make a monster out of one. Although the writings on Egyptian tombs often claimed that those who violated their sanctity would suffer some form of curse, the curse never took the form of the vengeful resurrection of a tomb's inhabitant.

Along came 1932's The Mummy in which the mummified body of the Egyptian priest Imhotep (who had been buried alive for trying to use the Scroll of Thoth to raise his lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, from the dead) is resurrected when a unknowing archaeologist reads a spell from the very same scroll. Imhotep spends the rest of the movie trying to make the movie's heroine (who appears to be the reincarnation of the princess) his bride. Although the movie does feature a mummy (Boris Karloff), Karloff spends only a few minutes as a recognizable mummy. For most of the movie he disguises himself as a decidedly ancient-looking Egyptian priest. However, it's Karloff's few minutes in mummy wrappings that are the most famous moments of the film.

Universal Studios learned its lesson for the 1940s series of mummy movies (The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse). These feature the mummy Kharis, whose backstory is nearly identical to that of Imhotep. This time, however, rather than ridding himself of the bandages and acting as the priest himself, Kharis remains in his wrappings and is controlled by the latest in a long line of Egyptian high priests. The priests use Kharis to protect the tomb of his dead lover, Princess Ananka. Rather than a scroll bringing him to life, Kharis is reanimated by a tea made from brewed tana leaves.

A new version of The Mummy was made in 1999. This version mixed the two approaches by showing Imhotep's mummy as a gruesome corpse that gradually restores himself by consuming those that desecrated his tomb. In response to criticism that the 1930s and '40s mummies posed a minor threat, being both slow and tending to kill their victims by simple strangulation, this version of Imhotep is given a host of supernatural powers.

It should be noted that there was a real Imhotep, although he was very different from his depiction in the various Mummy movies. Imhotp was a highly respected architect, physician, and counselor to King Djoser during the Egyptian Old Kingdom. His influence was so great and long-lasting that later Egyptians worshiped Imhotep as a god.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 27: The Gillman

Real World Origin:
Film, The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

In-Universe Description:
While digging for fossils in the Amazon, a paleontologist comes across what appears to be a fossil hand with webbed fingers. The fossil comes from the Devonian period; the era when sea animals first started to come onto land. The scientist leaves his native assistants to watch the site while he goes to round up more experts. While he's gone, a very much living version of the same creature emerges from the nearby river and his assistants are soon dispatched.

When the paleontologist and his group of experts return on the boat Rita, they discover that the hand was the only portion of the skeleton left at the original dig site. The scientists steam downriver into the body of water known as the "Black Lagoon" in hopes that rocks containing the rest of the fossil were washed downstream. Once in the Black Lagoon they find that a living example of the fossil is stalking them. The "Gillman" is intelligent, resistant to injury, aggressive, and immensely strong. It has also taken an unhealthy interest in the girlfriend of one of the scientists and is willing to kill most of the Rita's crew to capture her.

The sequels to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, aren't nearly as good as the original. However, they reveal that the Gillman's biochemistry more closely matches that of humans than of fish, that it has a second layer of human-like skin underneath its scales, and that it has a pair of lungs that allows it to breath when its gills are injured in a fire.

The Gillman made a guest appearance in the 1987 film The Monster Squad. Unlike his 1950s counterpart, who survived several close-range gunshot wounds, this new Gillman is dispatched with single shotgun blast to the chest. Despite the lack of resiliency, most Black Lagoon fans feel that the Monster Squad version of the costume is a excellent re-imagining of the Gillman.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 26: "Wild Men": Sasquatch, Yeti, etc.

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Worldwide)

In-Universe Description:
According to Native American legends, large ape-like bipeds have long inhabited the Pacific Northwest. Although the legends exist among a variety of tribes, the Salish language has given the creature its most famous name; "Sésquac", meaning "Wild Man". This has since been anglicized as "Sasquatch". The creature has been described in many different ways, although its size usually ranges from human height to 10 feet tall. It's said to be covered in dark hair, to have a gorilla-like skull, and to have large feet (hence the common name "Bigfoot"). The creature's behavior is often described as peaceful and shy, although some say they have been attacked by a Sasquatch. A common claim is that Bigfoot has a strong unpleasant odor.

There have been a number of purported sightings of Bigfoot throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as photos and casts of large footprints. Among the most famous evidence for Bigfoot is the Patterson-Gimlin film, although the film has been declared a hoax by various experts over the years and several have come forward with claims that they helped to produce the hoax.

The Yeti (sometimes called the "Abominable Snowman"), an apparent cousin of the Sasquatch, has long existed in Tibetan and Nepalese indigenous folklore. The name Yeti may come from the Tibetan word "Meh-teh", which means "man-bear". Another Tibetan name for the creature is "Migoi", which means "Wild Man".

Although the Yeti is often depicted in popular culture as having white hair, those who claim to have seen it say that its hair is dark. Most witness say they've found enormous footprints in the snow. One of the most famous of these witness was Sir Edmund Hillary, who became world-renowned for being one of the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Another famous ape-man is the Skunk Ape of the Southern United States. The creature is mostly seen in Florida, North Carolina, and Arkansas. Like Bigfoot and the Yeti, the Skunk Ape is said to be bipedal. As its name suggests, the creature is best known for its foul smell.

Monday, October 25, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 25: The Blob

Real World Origin:
Film, The Blob (1958)

In-Universe Description:
When teenagers Steve and Jane go looking for the meteor they saw fall to Earth, they didn't expect to find anything but a rock. However, the first person to find the rock, an old man, discovers that a jelly-like creature was living inside. The creature latches onto the man's hand, causing him to panic. Steve takes the man to a doctor, but it does him little good. The blob grows as it consumes the old man, the doctor, and his nurse.

Seeing the blob absorb the doctor, Steve and Jane unsuccessfully try to rally the townspeople. Only Steve's friends believe him and join in the effort to warn the town's citizens. In the meantime, the blob continues feeding: a mechanic, a janitor, barroom customers, and a theater projectionist all become a part of the alien mass.

Only after the blob attacks a movie theater do the people believe the teens' story. By then, however, the monster is building-sized. Soon Steve, Jane, and Jane's little brother find themselves trapped in a diner with the owner and a waitress while the blob engulfs the building. The authorities finally believe Steve's story, but what can they do about it now?

The Blob spawned a sequel, Beware! The Blob, in 1972. The sequel effectively rehashed the original, with the monster starting out small and then gradually increasing its mass as it consumes its victims. Once again no one believes in the creature's existence until it makes a large-scale attack; this time on a bowling alley and an ice skating rink.

The Blob was remade in 1988. The remake followed the basic plot of the 1958 film while adding a typical '80s subplot in which the blob is revealed to be the result of biological warfare experiments. The 1985 movie Return of the Living Dead also used military experiments gone awry as the explanation for its titular zombies.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 24: Grendel/Grendel's Mother

Real World Origin:
Literature, Beowulf by an anonymous author

In-Universe Description:
In the epic poem Beowulf, the occupants of the great hall Heorot find themselves the victims of a monster named Grendel. The creature comes in the middle of the night to kill and eat the sleeping warriors.

The hero Beowulf and his warriors eventually come to the rescue. They lay a trap in which the men pretend to sleep in the great hall when Grendel arrives. The swords of Beowulf's warriors are unable to injure Grendel, so Beowulf engages him hand-to-hand. Grendel is defeated when Beowulf rips his arm off.

In revenge, Grendel's mother attacks Heorot. Beowulf's men follow Grendel's mother to her lair, which lies under a lake. Beowulf confronts the monster in a cavern and eventually defeats her with a sword of the giants taken from her own armory.

Although Grendel and his mother are said to be descendants of Cain, descriptions of them in the original material are vague. The monsters have therefore been depicted in many different ways in art and film.

Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead is a re-imagining of Beowulf. In Crichton's story, Grendel and his mother are replaced by the "Wendol"; a group of man-eating neanderthals that survived into the 10th century.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 23: The Fly

Real World Origin:
Film, The Fly (1958)

In-Universe Origin:
When brilliant scientist Andre Delambre is found with his head and hand crushed under a hydraulic press, his wife Helene admits to killing him, but insists that she loved her husband and that she had no motivation to commit murder. This inconsistent behavior, as well as an obsession with flies, particularly one that she claims has a white head, leads the police to believe that she has gone insane. Only when the police pretend that they've found the white-headed fly does she tell her story on the condition that they destroy the fly.

As revealed in flashback, Helene's workaholic but loving husband had developed a teleportation device. He became obsessed with perfecting the teleporter, which suffered from various glitches. After Andre spent several days alone in the lab, Helene went downstairs to investigate. She found her husband with a black cloth over his head. Unable to speak, Andre handed Helene type-written notes telling her that he had an accident and making strange requests; one of which was to find a white-headed fly.

Andre eventually revealed that a fly had entered the teleporter chamber when he tested it on himself. The teleporter mixed his components with those of the fly, leaving Andre with a fly's head and left arm. His only hope was to find the fly and send the two through the teleporter again. However, when attempts to capture the fly failed, and when Andre began to feel the insect's instincts taking over his mind, he destroyed his lab and asked Helene to kill him in such a way that the results of his experiment would not be discovered.

The story serves only to convince the police that Helene is mad. As they take her into custody, Helene and Andre's son Phillipe tells the police that he found the white-headed fly in a spider's web. Helene's mental state is reevaluated when close inspection shows that the fly has the miniaturized head and arm of a human being.

In the sequel, Return of the Fly (1959), Phillipe Delambre attempts to recreate his father's teleporter. Unfortunately, he suffers his father's fate (although this time with a larger head) as the result of malicious industrial sabotage. 

The Fly was remade in 1986, wherein scientist Seth Brundle also encounters a fly in his teleportation device. Unlike Andre or Phillipe, Brundle's transformation is explained in terms of genetic mixing and occurs gradually. The mutation also affects his entire body, rather than individual parts such as his head or arm.

Friday, October 22, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 22: Cthulhu

Real World Origin:
Literature, The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

In-Universe Description:
In the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is an ancient and powerful cosmic entity and the subject of a worldwide cult. It is part of the "Great Old Ones"; enormous alien beings from beyond our space-time continuum.

Although Cthulhu cannot be fully described, it is said to be "a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind." Despite appearing to have a physical form, the being is composed of a type of matter unknown to man.

Cthulhu is worshiped in isolated places throughout the world, although the cult is primarily located in Arabia. The phrase Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn ("In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming") appears frequently in the cultists' worship.

Some writers believe that Lovecraft may have based some aspects of Cthulhu on Tennyson's poem The Kraken.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 21: It (the Terror from Beyond Space)

Real World Origin:
Film, It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

In-Universe Description:
A manned mission to Mars ends in tragedy when the spaceship crashes on the surface. Six months after the crash a rescue ship arrives. The sole survivor, Colonel Carruthers, is accused of murdering his fellow crewmates to preserve the ship's rations for himself. None of the rescuers believes Carruthers' claim that an unseen creature on Mars was responsible for the killings.

It is soon realized that Carruthers was telling the truth when the monster that stowed aboard the rescue ship starts killing off the crew. The creature tends to hide within the ship's air ducts, capturing crew members and storing them in ventilation shafts. Rather than killing its prey immediately, the monster prefers to gradually feed off a victim's moisture and bone marrow.

The crew make several attempts to kill the creature, but find that guns, explosives, and radiation are ineffective. However, one trapped crewman is able to hold the monster at bay with a welding torch. The remainder of the survivors try to put as many pressure bulkheads between them and the creature, moving farther and farther up the length of the rocket until they reach the uppermost compartment.

Warning: Spoilers ahead!

With the creature smashing through the last bulkhead, the crew devise a desperate strategy and don their spacesuits. As the monster crawls through the breach in the door, the survivors open a hatch leading to space and allow the ship's atmosphere to leak out. The monster suffocates within mere feet of the survivors.

This film is often cited as an uncredited inspiration for Alien. Both feature a nearly indestructible alien gradually killing off a ship's crew. Both aliens initially travel through the ship's ventilation ducting and both stow barely living crewmembers away for fiendish purposes (although this scene was cut in the initial release of Alien). Both monsters seem to be susceptible to heat; i.e., a welding torch in It! and flame throwers in Alien. And finally, both creatures are defeated by spacesuited humans who vent the ship's air out an exterior hatch.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 20: Ghouls

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Arabian)/Literature, One Thousand and One Nights

In-Universe Description:
According to Arabian folklore, a ghoul is a creature or demon that eats human flesh, particularly the flesh of the dead. They are said to inhabit desert wastes or burial grounds and to have the power of shape-shifting.

In modern fantasy and horror, ghouls are typically undead creatures that feed on corpses, although in some stories they can also be dangerous to the living. In H.P. Lovecraft's horror, particularly in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, ghouls constitute a humanoid race, some members of which were once human but were transformed by regularly eating human bodies. Some stories depict ghouls as intelligent while they are mindless creatures in others. Although some writers have occasionally referred to zombies as ghouls, most regard the two types of creatures as separate since zombies prefer live prey and ghouls prefer corpses.

Ghouls have also appeared in science fiction. In Larry Niven's Ringworld series, hominids fulfill all major ecological niches on the Ringworld. A diminutive race of ghouls fulfills the scavenger role by consuming the flesh of all other humanoid species. These ghouls are highly intelligent, observing other humanoid's religious beliefs and rites regarding the dead, negotiating with hominids across the Ringworld, and maintaining a world-spanning culture.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 19: King Kong

Real World Origin:
Film, King Kong (1933)

In-Universe Description:
When movie director Carl Denham learns of a mysterious island populated by enormous creatures, he quickly puts together an expedition with the intention of using the island's unusual fauna as a backdrop for his latest film. However, the natives have different ideas.

After kidnapping Denham's female lead, Ann Darrow, the natives tie her to an alter as a sacrifice to "Kong", the most fearsome of the island's creatures. Kong is discovered to be a 50-foot tall ape who shares his island with giant snakes and a host of living dinosaurs. Denham's crew rescues Ann with heavy casualties and, in the process, captures Kong with the help of gas grenades.

In the great and ill-conceived tradition of introducing a prehistoric creature into modern civilization (see The Lost World (1925), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), etc.), Denham brings Kong to New York. The giant ape escapes, captures Ann again, and rampages through the city. Eventually Kong scales the Empire State Building where he is shot down by airplanes.

King Kong was remade in 1976 by Dino De Laurentiis and again in 2005 by Peter Jackson. While the 1976 version was a modernization of the original, placing the action in the 1970s and replacing the Empire State Building with the World Trade Center, the 2005 version was set in the 1930s. Apparently in response to the most common criticism of the original, in which Kong was oddly attracted to Ann, Jackson's film revises the giant ape's intentions towards Darrow. The heavily scarred Kong is revealed to be the last of his species, which can no longer complete with such creatures as the Tyrannosaurus descendant Vastatosaurus. Instead of being Kong's romantic interest, Ann represents a companion to alleviate his loneliness.

By recreating scenes from the 1933 original as portions of Denham's movie or as stage performances, Jackson seems to imply that the original movie was "based on the true story" that his film represents.

Monday, October 18, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 18: Golems

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Jewish)

In-Universe Description:
The word "golem" is used in the Bible (particularly Psalm 139:16) to mean an incomplete or unshaped form. Early Jewish writings stated that Adam, who was formed by God from the dust of the Earth, was initially a golem. Other legends stated that a golem could be formed by a holy person, but the golem would never quite match God's creation.

Once formed, a golem could be animated through magical techniques. This typically involved inscribing the golem's forehead with certain Hebrew words or letters; the most common word being "truth". Once the golem was no longer needed, a single letter of the inscription could be erased, yielding the word "death".

The most famous of the golem legends involved the chief rabbi of 16th century Prague. The rabbi, Judah Loew ben Bezalel, created a golem in response to threats to expel or kill the Jews in the Prague ghetto. The creature was formed from clay and, over time, became increasingly large and violent. In some versions of the story, the golem eventually turned against the rabbi.

Although often created for protection or service, a golem could become dangerous to its creator. Being a shadow of humanity (since only God could create true men from the dust), a golem lacked human intelligence and judgment and was usually incapable of speech. The creature may fulfill commands literally in ways that its creator did not expect or want. Since it was a being made of earth or clay, a golem could gradually increase in mass and size over time, becoming even more uncontrollable.

Golems have appeared in many forms in popular culture. There are several similarities between golem legends and the story of Frankenstein, whereas the earliest known story involving robots (i.e., the 1921 play R.U.R.) appears to have been partly inspired by the legends. The golem has even entered the Star Wars universe in the form of the "junk golems" from the video game The Force Unleashed. These creatures consist of miscellaneous scrap and are held together and animated by the Force.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 17: The Loch Ness Monster

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Scottish)

In-Universe Description:
The earliest recorded sighting of a monster near Loch Ness supposedly occurred in the 6th century, although it wasn't written down until the 7th century in the Life of St. Columba. It was described simply as a "water beast" that had begun attacking locals. According to the story, St. Columba was able to restrain the beast by invoking the sign of the cross.

Aside from this story, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster (a.k.a. "Nessie") really got its start in 1933 with several sightings of a large creature. Witnesses claimed that it had a small head mounted on a long neck. Land and lake sightings have been made off and on over the years. There have also been claims that sonar contacts were made with large moving objects (presumably the monster) below the surface of the Loch.

Believers in Nessie have presented several theories of what the creature may be. One of the earliest was that it might be a giant eel. Others have theorized that the monster is a giant amphibian or worm. However, the most popular theory is that the Loch Ness Monster represents a remnant of long-necked aquatic reptiles (specifically plesiosaurs) that somehow survived the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Others believe that the monster may simply resemble a plesiosaur due to convergent evolution. A similar monster named "Morag" is claimed to live in Loch Morar, also in Scotland. Sightings of Morag go back as far as 1887.

Nessie has also made a number of appearances in film, TV, and literature.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 16: Them!

Real World Origin:
Film, Them! (1954)

In-Universe Description:
Police near Alamogorodo, New Mexico find a little girl wandering in the desert. The trailer where she and her parents had been staying has been ripped open and ransacked. A nearby general store is found in a similar condition. The owner's body has been mangled and poisoned with formic acid. Whoever did these crimes took nothing from the scene but sugar.

In dramatic fashion, the culprits behind these murders are revealed to be giant, nearly elephant-sized ants. Apparently radioactivity left behind when the experimental Trinity bomb was detonated in 1945 resulted in the freakish mutation of a colony of aggressive desert ants. Being unable to satisfy their hunger with the species' usual food source, the ants have turned to preying on human beings for sustenance.

The ants' colony in New Mexico is found and destroyed with cyanide gas and flamethrowers. However, the discovery of egg casings that would have held queens, and the lack of winged ants among the dead insects, mean that several queens have left the nest and are looking for a new place to start their own colonies. Mounting evidence indicates that at least one queen has found a home in the Los Angeles sewers, putting millions of people at risk. The military has to find the colony and destroy it before giant ants overrun the city or before more queens are bred and start even more colonies.

Friday, October 15, 2010

31 Monsters of October, Day 15: The Kraken

Real World Origin:
Folklore (Scandinavian)

In-Universe Description:
In Scandinavian mythology, the Kraken were enormous sea monsters known for sinking ships. The earliest stories described the Kraken as crab-like creatures with later tales changing them to huge octopuses or squid.

The Kraken became known in the English speaking world due to Alfred Tennyson's sonnet The Kraken:
Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumber'd and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea-worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.
Movies such as Clash of the Titans, both the original and the 2010 version, featured a monster referred to as the Kraken, although these creatures are very different from traditional descriptions.

The Kraken portrayed in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's chest, closely matches traditional accounts, although the stories don't typically include supernatural elements such as Davy Jones.

Some believe that the legends of the Kraken originated from sightings of real animals like the Giant Squid or a hypothesized species of giant octopus.


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