Halloween approaches – time for spooks! What’s really spooky? A monster. And what’s spookier than a conventional monster? An unconventional monster! That’s why today we’re talking about all the great monsters out there that break the mold and scare us in brand new ways. Okay fine, some of them are adorable rather than scary, but they’re still monstrous, we promise. Listen as we discuss living radiation fields, terrifying fairies, and a literal burlap sack of worms.
Generously transcribed by Marianne Scott. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.
Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreant podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle.
Wes: Hello, you’re listening to another episode of the Mythcreant podcast. I’m your host, Wes, and with me today is Oren and Chris. And, today we are talking about unconventional monsters because it’s October and it’s time for spooks. So what’s scarier than a conventional monster? An unconventional monster.
Oren: My first unconventional monster is a skeleton that hides inside your body.
Wes: One quick thing to get out of the way. The title of this podcast is “Unconventional Monsters”. We’re playing it fast and loose with the word “monsters” here. I mean, it’s creatures, villains, just the whole thing. But October is time for spookiness and so “monster” is a spookier word. So if you’re thinking, ‘That’s not a monster! That’s an intelligent rational being!’, we hear you. [chuckle] I just want to get that out of the way.
Oren: [spookily] Just remember, the real monster is maaan … [trailing off]
Wes: Yes, exactly. So some conventional monsters: zombies, werewolves, vampires. Basic kind of variations of humans in different states. Who wants to kick us off with what unconventional monster they most want to talk about?
Oren: I’ll dip a toe in here because I actually like the werewolves in Teen Wolf. ‘But Oren!’ you say, ‘Are those not very conventional monsters that Wes has just listed?’
Wes: Certainly in name they are, but go on.
Oren: Yes, indeed. But I really liked the fact that they had a power specifically to share someone else’s physical pain and reduce it for that person in exchange for feeling some of it themselves.
Wes: That was good.
Oren: It was kind of a neat ability that they had. And of course, it works more because these are main characters, not evil wolves running around. But that’s a very nurturing power and that’s not something you associate with “werewolf” very often. Werewolves are generally the extreme of destructive masculinity. So having this very taking care of, healing related power for them was neat. I liked it. I thought it was cool.
Wes: That’s a good one.
Chris: I should also give Teen Wolf some kudos for the first season. It’s really hard to make a werewolf look actually scary. Usually, at this point, they just seem kind of hokey. But the first season, when we have this werewolf hunting people in the background, it is really creepy looking. And it helps that they don’t look at it too hard [chuckle] for too long, but that’s just hard to pull off. They can’t continue that forever.
Oren: I liked it a lot specifically because they actually made it look kind of ape-like.
Wes: I remember that, yeah.
Oren: Not what you expect a wolf to look like. It was just neat.
Wes: Why do you think they didn’t go back to that at all?
Chris: I think it’s because they had too many protagonists turning into werewolves.
Chris: So, in season one the main werewolf – the master werewolf, the alpha werewolf – is an antagonist. And this is your first introduction to werewolves and so they wanted it to be threatening and scary. But then later, as it’s mostly protagonists turning into werewolves, we’re going to be looking at them a lot harder for a lot longer and they’re going to be demystified. And we want them to look like the characters themselves and not use special effects all the time, and the threateningness of an alpha werewolf is now diminished because of exposure. That’s why.
Wes: Okay, that makes sense.
Oren: Yeah, it’s also just much cheaper to put mutton chops on your actors than it is to turn them into a giant CGI were-ape.
Chris: We don’t want to look real closely at some bad CG or pay for it.
Oren: I do want to look closely at mutton chops though. Just to be clear.
Chris: Since Oren and I have been re-watching Buffy, I would like to say that I actually do really like the first evil from Buffy, at least in its pared down form. This is a non-corporeal beloved identity that appears to people as dead people. So, it’s like a ghost that’s haunting you. But it can be any person who is dead and it can appear that way and talk to you, and the thing that’s really fascinating about it to me is not just that it looks like any dead person, but it also has their personality. So it can be your dead mom talking to you, with your mom’s personality, but nonetheless communicating what it wants to communicate.
Oren: Yeah. I thought that was quite neat.
Chris: I just find that endlessly fascinating. And it will use whatever person, usually somebody close to you, that it thinks will have a big emotional impact on you. And sometimes, use that to tear you down emotionally. And it’s really fascinating to watch, especially on a television show when they’re bringing back all of these actors that have already died. It’s just really neat.
Granted, when they try to make it into a Big Bad for season seven, and it has cultists and then it brings out these übervamps that are bad, that stuff doesn’t work as well. But just the thing itself is great to have in the scene.
Oren: Yeah, I think The First Evil’s biggest problem in season seven is that they actually tried to oversell it, because it was pretty good. When it first appeared, it makes a pretty good entrance. But after it sticks around for a little while, it’s not actually that much more threatening, or even more threatening at all, than any of the other Big Bads that Buffy has dealt with, especially Glory from season five. Or even Adam, from a purely threatening perspective. Adam is boring is dirt, but he was at least powerful.
Chris: Yeah. I think it’s a lot better suited to a trickster entity since it can appear as dead people and lie to you. It’s very convincing: it knows what they knew. But having it be a Big Bad, or at least give it powers that allows it to do damage in its form as a ghost, as opposed to having all of these minions that don’t really work as well.
Oren: Yeah. A bunch of easily disposable minions.
Chris: I was thrilled to see that the new Dark Crystal show really does retain everything that was loved from the original movie. And the thing that really stood out about the original movie worldwise was the fact that, because they were puppets, the creatures in there are just so much more creative than what you see in fantasy. There’s no humans [chuckle] in that setting. No humans. All of them are creatures. But you go into a swamp and you see all of these very fascinating and really novel swamp creatures, and the show has them everywhere. The characters are running around outside a lot and everywhere you go there’s cool creatures for you to look at. All of the time. And it’s amazing.
Wes: It’s so good.
Chris: Alright, Wes.
Wes: Let’s see. I’ve got a list here. I realized what this was and I want to bring up Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which it’s about time to start watching that again like every year. It’s a great movie. You can start watching in October and watch it all the way through December, it’s wonderful. And there certainly are tons of variations of monsters in that, but I want to talk about Oogie Boogie.
Chris: Yes! I was thinking about Oogie Boogie too actually in the context of this podcast.
Wes: Let’s think about it. Oogie boogie is nothing more than a bunch of bugs in basically a big burlap sack-
Chris: Maybe he eats them and they just become part of his burlap-sack-compost? Yeah, I have to say that the challenge of taking this Halloween Town, where you have everybody as a monster of some kind, and then trying to be like, “Okay. But, really, what is the actual villain monster going to look like?” That’s inherently challenging. He is kind of jolly too. He’s got that going for him. So yeah, he’s cool. He’s cool.
Wes: Yeah. I thought, ‘He’s a good one’.
Oren: I mean, he certainly scared me when I first watched that movie.
Wes: Oh, he’s terrifying. Yeah.
Oren: And he also lives in a weird dungeon where they send him food trapped down a chute and I-
I mean, I think it helps that Halloween Town has all classic monsters, but Oogie Boogie is specifically the Boogeyman. And that can be kind of anything because it’s more of a concept than an image. No one knows what the boogeyman looks like, just that he’s theoretically a scary guy. And so now we have this. They can just kind of do whatever they want with Oogie Boogie and they decided to make him a burlap sack full of worms. And I’m like,’ Okay, that’s weird’.
Wes: And it works, too! Yeah.
Oren: All right, I’ve got a whole bunch. I think I’m going to go with an oldie but a goodie, which is the Color Out of Space from the story “The Color Out of Space”. And, as a rule, I don’t think Lovecraft’s monsters are that great. A lot of them are just various flavors of, What if person, but with animal characteristics? What if man, but fish? What if man, but bat? Right? Those sorts of things. But the Color Out of Space is a living radiation field, it’s sort of what it’s been decided. In the original story, we don’t really know what it was but it had radiation properties and in more recent versions, it’s been described as that’s what it is. And it’s very cool because, first of all, in the original story it’s mysterious because you don’t know what it is at first.
You just watch as this farm family wastes away and you don’t know what’s going on. And then when you finally find out, it doesn’t have a body to attack. You can’t shoot it with a gun. It’s weird. We don’t really know what it’s doing. It’s just a very good monster for being creepy and strange.
Wes: Not to mention, it’s also the best story he wrote in my opinion. And it’s the only one I wholeheartedly would recommend, because it doesn’t have a lot of the failings in the racism of his other stories. It fully embodies – he was part of this group of writers at the time trying to write weird stories, weirdness because horror wasn’t really a thing – and The Color Out of Space is that. It’s a really weird, unnerving story where things happen and there’s no resolution. And that was the premise for a weird tale back then. It was just, How can we unnerve people? And that’s about it. So, plotwise there’s actually not a whole lot of things going on, but there’s a lot of weird stuff going on, and the Color is perfect for that.
Chris: So, a monster I think is really good and original is the Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels.
Wes: Oh, creepy. [chuckle]
Chris: Well, they’re great. So, these are angels statues. They look like statues and they’re covering their eyes and they appear to be weeping when you look at them. That’s why they’re called the Weeping Angels. But if you are not looking at them, they will move. [chuckle] Which is always good one, when there’s a monster who only moves when you don’t look at it. And because they appear like statues you really don’t expect them to move.
Oren: Right, but it’s the Weeping Angels are channeling so many great subconscious ideas because, first, you’ve got the fact that a lot of statues, they look very lifelike. And if they look kind of sinister like a lot of these angel statues do -or gargoyles or what have you – it looks strange. And they suggest movement even though they don’t actually move. They’re sculpted specifically to look like they might move. So they do that and then they also allow you the perfect excuse because everyone loves that shot of “the camera pans away and then it pans back and something’s different”.
Chris: [ominously] Something’s closer.
Oren: That’s a very classic tool. Sometimes they do it unintentionally and it’s hilarious. But that’s just a great excuse to use that tool of cinema and I love them. Especially I liked them when they first showed up. I think that they have a little bit of a problem of not being very repeatable just because once you find out how they work, there’s a little bit of, ‘Oh, well, okay. You go back and have a nice life in the past. That’s that’s probably fine’.
Chris: They don’t actually kill people. They send them into the past which allows them to somehow harness the rest of their life. Or something.
Oren: They got less and less scary every time they showed up.
Chris: Definitely limited run but still very cool. And it’s also hard when you have a monster that only moves when you don’t look at it. Once the character knows how it works, you can turn all the lights off but it’s definitely harder to keep the character from not just, ‘Okay, I’ll run away now’.
Oren: And then also part of the reason that the original story with the with the Weeping Angels worked so well was that it was actually about normal people. It wasn’t about the Doctor. The Doctor was there but he had already been sent to the past. And so these characters were normal people who were getting weird messages that the Doctor had left them in DVDs and stuff. That really kicked it up a notch as far as the horror goes, which is another just good sign of horror stories, is that you generally don’t want a super empowered character because if they’re really empowered it’s hard to scare them, even if you have a monster that’s theoretically capable of doing them harm, right?
Wes: I thought it would be appropriate to have a random monster from German folk legend.
Oren: Ooh, good!
Wes: Obviously, they’re all terrifying, but there’s a short story. I only grabbed the author’s last name – Hoffman – and the short story is called The Sandman. And it’s about a titular monster the Sandman and -I’m just going to read this little description of what the Sandman’s deal is, and I think that speaks for itself, but it basically has to do with, he steals eyes right out of kids’ heads.
Oren: [kidding] Oh. Like you do.
Wes: [confirming] Like you do. He puts their eyes in a bag and he carries them to the crescent moon to feed his own children who sit in a nest up there. His children have crooked beaks like owls so they can pick up the eyes of naughty human children. [playful horror] It’s like, Oh my God.
Oren: [sarcastic] So what you’re describing is a hardworking family man who enforces local morality? All right. Sounds good.
Wes: For monsters, that’s pretty unconventional, right?
Oren: I love the backstory that it gave him. That he has kids. That’s hilarious.
Chris: Somebody really put deep thought into this monster’s motivation.
Wes: It’s just, what? Why is he doing that? Well, here you go.
Another quick one. Speaking of eyes, [reluctant groan] I don’t even like thinking about it because I’m still scared. Pan’s Labyrinth. The Pale Man?
Chris: Oh, yeah.
Wes: Ugh. Goodness. Do you guys remember that Nickelodeon cartoon, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters?
Oren: I’ve seen advertisements for it. I don’t think I ever watched it.
Chris: I don’t think so, no.
Wes: Ah, well. It’s worth checking out because one of the monsters is a torso who holds on to his eyeballs and has a mouth. But, he’s cute and he’s funny. And it’s clear that the Pan’s Labyrinth people saw that and were like, ‘Yeah. We’re going to do that. We’re gonna give everybody nightmares.”
Chris: Instead of in your head. Yeah.
Wes: Yeah, instead of your head. The movement that they like choreographed for that character is jerky and unnerving and, almost, I don’t know. I realize that saying “non-euclidean” is like a nothing word-
Chris: One of the funniest things about him is the way that – So, his eyes are in his palms, but doesn’t he put his hands where his eyes are on his head so that he-
Wes: Oh my God, you’re right! He does do that!
Chris: Yeah, he does it. He puts his hands out but then flat against his head where his eyes would be in his head so that the eyes are there-
Chris: Right? Like he needs to do that to see or something.
Chris: It’s very uncanny. It’s not even like his eyes were supposed to be in his palms.
Wes: Ugh. Yeah. Gross.
Chris: All right. Well, let’s do something that’s a little bit more warm and fuzzy.
Wes: Yes. Please.
Chris: Let’s talk about the Flerken in Captain Marvel.
Wes: Aw, the Flerken. So cute.
Chris: The Flerken. I haven’t read any of the comics, I just saw the movie. But nonetheless, the Flerkin is amazing. It’s a cat. Looks like a cat, but then, of course, it’s a joke that it’s not actually a cat.
Wes: The execution in the movie was done so well. Especially with – I forget, the Kree? Or Skrull?
Oren: The Skrull.
Wes: Skrull! The Skrull. I’m like, ‘No, what are you doing with the Flerken?’ and ‘Is that their word for “cat”?’
Chris: The other thing I really like is in a lot of the scenes, if you looked – and of course, sometimes they’re switching out this cat for a CG cat – but there’s a lot of the scenes, you could tell by if you watch the cat while the other characters were talking, that it was intelligent. It knew what was happening. It understood what they’re saying [chuckle] in subtle ways. But it’s still not talking or anything like that.
Oren: To be honest, I just like anything that gives us an excuse to have a cat in the movie. I like cats. So I was into it. I wasn’t even, at that point, I didn’t even care if it was originally going to be a monster. I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s a cat. Cat is in movie now.’ Deal with it.
Wes: Cats are so inexplicable that they’re basically unconventional monsters anyway. [chuckle]
Oren: Yeah, they are real weird.
Chris: One of my favorite scenes with that cat is the – spoilers for this movie, of course- is that it eats some enemies. And then Nick Fury tries to be like, ‘Okay, so how about you eat this guy?’ And it’s just like, ‘No.’
Oren: That’s my favorite trope with cats is to have them as the sinister-but-also-good guy. Because they’re kind of jerks, but they love you. I just I like that concept a lot. It’s one of the reasons why the last Narnia book is so weird. There’s this cat in it who seems like that’s what they’re doing with him. He’s like, I’m a jerk mean cat but I’m actually a good guy. But he’s actually just a bad guy. I was very surprised. Very weird.
Chris: Yeah. It turns out C. S. Lewis was a dog person.
Oren: Moving to something a little different. A monster that I think is very useful from a storytelling perspective is the True Fae from Changeling the Lost which is a role-playing game.
Oren: So, in Changeling the Loss, the premise is that you are playing a human who was abducted in to Arcadia the fairy world and kept there as some kind of servant to do whatever the True Fae wanted. And their desires are strange and hard to understand. And by being kept hostage by them for a long enough time you take on certain elements of fairy, which is how the game explains why you have fairy powers. And this, for a premise, works much better than the last Changeling game which was Changeling the Dreaming, where you were just actually a fairy but World of Darkness wants to be dark. That’s why it’s called World of Darkness.
In the new one, the fairies are terrible and live on the other side of reality. And you’re just a scared human with a few powers trying to like evade them. And because they can be almost anything and they’re very thematic, and they act in ways that is very convenient for a villain to act, where they have an obsession with the characters because they want to recapture what’s theirs. And they’re very powerful but they aren’t always around. That’s just very useful from a storytelling perspective, especially from a role-playing perspective. They’re just really great villains.
Wes: I wanted to bring up a kind of an unusual one, even I think by these standards that we’ve established. I’ve talked about this book before. It’s called House of Leaves by Mark … It’ll (the author’s full name) be in the show notes, I can’t pronounce it correctly, but basically the premise is that there’s this photographer staying at this house. And then he sees a door in this house that wasn’t there before and he opens it and it goes into a dark hallway. And basically, the hallway just continues into rooms and rooms. And so he gets a film crew together and just keeps delving deeper into this house that doesn’t it doesn’t make sense, that there should be this space. And I would I say it’s about as much of a monster as the Color Out of Space is in the sense that there’s there’s no motivation and there’s no maybe intentional malice or anything towards the characters in the story. But it still draws them in and it brings out the worst in them as they’re exploring it, and it confounds them as they traverse through this whole thing. And I was trying to think of what’s definitely something really unconventional and definitely a house monster is something.
And the other touch point to that is what the the Beldam does in Coraline. She creates space out of nothing, to create a world out of nothing, to draw someone into it and ideally trap them there. And I think she’s also a great monster as well.
Chris: Yes, I really like her.
Wes: Yeah, the Other Mother as it were.
Chris: [echoing] Other Mother.
Chris: So, is this almost like a haunted house? But instead of ghosts, the people inside of it just become antagonistic?
Wes: They kind of become antagonistic because it’s like the anticipation is kind of like the monster. It’s this neverending exploration, and staircase, and then their time and their distances get mixed up when they’re taking readings. And the keep expecting to find Something. There’s got to be something there, right? But then, there never is. [chuckle] So all the problems that happen are the products of their own anticipation, right? But the environment is kind of what’s the monster that’s like bringing out the problems in their own behaviors. It’s a really hard book for me to read. There’s four storytellers. It’s full of annotations and jumps back around because you’re reading the book, but then you’re reading the book about the documentary that somebody else is reading and taking annotations on. I don’t know what word you do to describe it.
Wes: Maybe. Yeah, disorienting. But I think “postmodern” is the appropriate word.
Oren: It sounds like it has a lot of layers to it, because it has several different removes of what the framing devices and what the premises is of the story you’re even reading.
Wes: Yeah, exactly. There’s a whole middle section about like the Minotaur story and its labyrinth. And that whole thing is crossed out in red ink, which of course visually is interesting, but also hard to read if you really want to take in that content.
Chris: Is the whole thing intended as epistolary? Like you’re reading some journal that somebody else wrote or something like that, or?
Wes: One of the storytellers is that way, yes.
Chris: One of them. Okay.
Wes: You’re reading his letters that he’s pieced together from somebody else’s account. But then sometimes you’re diving into the primary. It’s like the primary source, but then but it’s not told in epistolary. It’s like you were there with the person as they’re exploring. So yeah, it’s a weird one. Definitely unconventional and odd.
Can I get one more in?
Oren: Yeah, go ahead.
Wes: Okay, because I told a previous cast I’d talk about Next Generation. Can I just say, space spiders? Because I watched The Next Gen episode where the little girl, Clara, has an imaginary friend, and then that energy being appears and becomes her imaginary friend. And then the Enterprise adjusts their scanners and they realize that the things that they keep hitting that they don’t register are giant cosmic threads? And that these things are feeding on the warp core. Like, ‘Oh, so this nebula is full of energy spiders’. That’s definitely what’s going on here, right?
Chris: That’s great.
Oren: [sarcastic] Thanks, energy spiders!
Wes: [echoing] Thanks energy spiders. [chuckle] That’s a little lighter than a dark house that preys on your insecurities.
Oren: One more that is particularly unconventional is the Maze from the movie, Dave Made a Maze.
Chris: Oh. Yeah.
Oren: Which is an odd title for kind of an odd movie, bBut the premise is that the characters get home one day and find that their friend, Dave, has made a cardboard maze in the living room. And as they go inside it, of course, it becomes immediately obvious that it’s magic because it’s bigger than it could possibly be. And the whole thing is very well done to make the cardboard seem scary, which is an odd thing to say, but it works really well. Its conclusion is a little disappointing. They had some trouble following through, but the experience of getting there is very good.
Chris: Somebody else who watched it – I didn’t know how it was put together or the production – but (they) suggested that this was a movie that was actually improv’ed and then somebody edited into something. So the story all together is a little rough and the dialogue tends to meander, but it has so much creative cardboard-
Oren: All right, so we’re pretty much out of time here. But, Chris, do you want to do one more?
Chris: Sure! Harry Potter Bogart, actually. The bogart is just really nifty because it’s not like the scariest creature but it doesn’t have to be. It’s really useful continually in the plot for revealing things about characters. Because it shows what’s inside of them. It shows their fears and so it can be a little bit scary, but mostly it’s just used for interpersonal issues and for character development. I think a shape-shifter that becomes your fear is ultimately not quite as strong as your fear but a lot of times it does pick up powers. It has some dementia-like powers when it turns into a dementor, even if it’s not as powerful as a real dementor.
Oren: Yeah, they’re pretty hazy on if it can do the Dementor Kiss or not.
All right, so with that I think we will call this episode to a close. Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest you can leave a comment on the website at mythcreants.com. But before we go, I just want to thank a few of our patrons. First, we have Kathy Ferguson who’s a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next, we have Ayman Jaber, who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally, we have Danita Rambo and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We will talk to you next week.
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