Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Ten

The End of the Cryptid

I'm looking for the monster of the twenty-first century. By using the Cat in the Hat's process of calculatus eliminatus, I hope to strike one type of monster off the list.

The Gill-man from Creature from the Black Lagoon is a cryptozoological monster and one of the first new Universal monsters of the 1950s. By the time the movie was released in 1954, supernatural monsters were being displaced by scientific monsters, that displacement owing to the scientific and technological advances of World War II, the coming of the flying saucers, and the postwar popularity of science fiction. The Gill-man wasn't the first of his type. King Kong is also a cryptozoological monster, as is Godzilla. Like so many monsters of the 1950s, Godzilla's origins are tied up with the use of atomic weapons and atomic power. More on that in the future.

Originally, monsters were from the outside. They lived in the wilderness, in dark forests, deep caves, dank jungles, dusty ruins. They inhabited all the darkened, outer places and came no closer than the edge of the firelight or lamplight. Like the monsters of old, the cryptozoological monster is a monster from the outside. The problem for him is that civilization is pressing in upon him and he has very little power to resist. There is very little left of the outer edge. There is no outside anymore. Some monsters have adapted by entering the city gates and by passing among us as one of us. The cryptozoological monster, by his very nature, can't do that. Like the dodo and the passenger pigeon, his days are numbered.

Cryptozoological monsters had a good run for awhile. Before the 1950s, Bigfoot was kind of just a foot. Only later did he became Big. Roger Patterson shot his famous footage (or should that be Bigfootage?) in 1967. Nine years later, Bigfoot appeared in The Six Million Dollar Man (featuring a character who, like Bob Heironimus, the guy in the ape suit in Patterson's film, had an artificial eye). In 1987, Bigfoot starred in his own movie, Harry and the Hendersons. Like E.T. (1982), he had become a child's friend rather than a menacing monster. By then we were beginning to recognize the limits of the monster's powers and to lament the loss of something vital or necessary in our lives. Lost Worlds are called that because they are hidden, secret, lost from the outside world. We might also call them lost because they are disappearing, a thing of the past, a subject for nostalgia.

There were other cryptid monsters in the 1970s. The outsized great white shark from Jaws (1975) is an obvious example. There were two sequels to Jaws, plus lots of other movies trying to cash in on its success. They included, from 1976: Eaten Alive (crocodile), Grizzly (an 18-foot-tall bear), Rattlers (rattlesnakes), and Squirm (worms); from 1977: Day of the Animals, Empire of the Ants, Kingdom of the Spiders, Orca: The Killer Whale, The Pack (feral dogs), and Tentacles (octopus); and, from 1978: Piranha, and, in a sign that the trend was coming to its end, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. You might say the animal-attack movies of the 1970s were related to environmentalism, but the fan of cryptozoology can claim them as well.

In the 1920s and '30s, Aldo Leopold began developing the concept of wilderness. Today we have designated wildernesses in our national parks and forests. I like the idea of wilderness, but it seems strange to me that a wilderness has become a geographic unit rather than an actuality. After all, doesn't a true wilderness draw a line around you rather than the other way around? To put it another way, we exist at the pleasure of a true wilderness, not vice versa. If the cryptozoological monster is a creature of the wilderness, then it, too, has been circumscribed. Like Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, it can no longer be a threat and is no candidate for the monster of our times.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Nine

The Creature, The Cryptozoologist, and Lost Worlds

In 1954, Universal Pictures released Creature from the Black Lagoon and a new monster was born. Filmed in 3-D (a response to the vast popularity of television), the movie was so successful as to spawn two sequels, Revenge of the Creature (1955) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Creature from the Black Lagoon was also novelized by John Russell Fearn no less, under his pseudonym Vargo Statten. By the time Aurora Plastics issued its line of monster models in the 1960s, The Creature, also called the Gill-man, had reached a status equal to that of the classic Universal monsters. Today he is the only Universal monster of the 1950s to be part of that same pantheon. Or should that be panmonstrum . . . ?

***

The Mummy is one of the undead and embodies undying fears, that the dead will live again, that they will walk among us, prey upon us, and perhaps take their revenge upon us. Ghosts, vampires, and zombies are of course also among the undead. Dracula and The Wolfman (i.e., the werewolf) are supernatural in origin and date from at least the Middle Ages. A relative latecomer, Frankenstein's Monster is a monster of science and at the same time a monster of the Gothic romance (as well as one of the undead.) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came later still. Mr. Hyde is a monster of science or of the semi-science of psychology. He also falls into the category of the degenerate human or beast-man. The Phantom of the Opera is a kind of madman and might also be explained by science. Finally, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a monster in the original sense of the word, that is, a deformed person, thus no monster at all. The Creature from the Black Lagoon is altogether different. He is without a doubt a monster of science, but that science was a new one for the twentieth century.

Cryptozoology is the science--more accurately pseudoscience--of unknown animals. Unknown animals range from the quite real--for example, the okapi, which was not known to science until 1901--to the ridiculous, such as the chupacabra. There is a wide range in the type of people who look for unknown animals as well. Some are scientists. Others are crackpots. The field of cryptozoology was in fact founded by men of science. Anton Cornelis Oudemans (1858-1943) is considered the the father of cryptozoology, a judgment based on the primacy of his book The Great Sea Serpent (1892). Bernard Heuvelmans (1916-2001) and Ivan T. Sanderson (1911-1973) were among the prominent cryptozoologists of the twentieth century. In fact, the term cryptozoology was coined by one or the other of them. All three men were trained as zoologists and distinguished in their work.

There have always been unknown animals. In the Age of Exploration, cartographers would mark unknown lands with the words "Here Be Monsters." Even into the twentieth century, parts of the earth remained unexplored. As late as 1920s or '30s, there was still a chance that unexplored regions would hold large fauna, or--in the popular imagination--even relict dinosaurs or prehistoric mammals. In the literature of fantasy, those unexplored places of earth became known as Lost Worlds. In hidden and unreachable valleys or plateaus, beyond high and impassable mountains, at the earth's poles, and even beneath the earth's surface, Lost Worlds awaited discovery. I don't think it's any coincidence that cryptozoology and the Lost Worlds genre date from about the same period, that is, to the end of the Age of Exploration and to the beginnings of the Age of Science. (1, 2)

The Age of Exploration continued into the twentieth century as Roald Amundsen, Richard E. Byrd, and other men penetrated into the heart of the last unknown places on earth. On a more popular level, Frank Buck made a name for himself as a collector of animals from exotic places. Like the Universal monsters, he even teamed up with Abbott and Costello in Africa Screams (1949). The Lost Worlds genre and the related genres of safari, jungle, and South Seas adventure thrived during the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, even as the world was shrinking. During World War II, American servicemen and merchant sailors were stationed in the South Pacific, New Guinea, the Philippines, Africa, and Latin America. They brought back with them indelible memories of the tropics. James Michener wrote of those places. His book Tales of the South Pacific, published in 1947 and winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1948, opens with an unforgettable passage:
I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description.
In the postwar, Tiki culture, a kind of kitsch, but still popular today, spread across the land. Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman, and Martin Denny set the exotic to music--and if you have never listened to Exotica, you should at your first opportunity. I think you're in for a treat. Under the title South Pacific, Michener's book was adapted to Broadway, then to the silver screen. Other entertainment set in lower latitudes included King Solomon's Mines (1950), The African Queen (1951), Beat the Devil (1953), Mogambo (1953), The Naked Jungle (1954), Watusi (1959), Hatari! (1962), The Naked Prey (1965), Born Free (1966), and The Pink Jungle (1968). On television, there was Tarzan (1966-1968) and of course Gilligan's Island (1964-1967). (3)

That's a long way to go to get to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but it seems to me that the movie was drawn from a stew of ingredients and not just from Universal monsters and the post-war ascendancy of science fiction. The Creature from the Black Lagoon inhabits a Lost World in miniature. The people searching for him are scientists, more specifically, cryptozoologists. The Gill-man himself is a cryptozoological creature (or cryptid) and a relic from an earlier age. Like Bigfoot, he is bipedal and has some level of intelligence that approaches the human. Also like Bigfoot, he lives on the edges of human habitation. The implication is that his world will become smaller and smaller, finally to disappear before civilization. In the end the Gill-man is a tragic creature. Like King Kong (who also comes from a Lost World), he is drawn to and ultimately killed by his attraction to a beautiful woman. (4)

I have made a list of ingredients that went toward the making of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Take what you like from it. In addition to Universal monsters, postwar science fiction, and the effects of television on moviemaking of the 1950s, it includes: jungle adventure, safari adventure, South Seas adventure, pulp fiction or a general pulp sensibility, the genre of Lost Worlds, science and pseudoscience, the Age of Exploration, animal collecting à la  Frank Buck and Ivan T. Sanderson, men's adventure out of the pulps and out of World War II, Tiki, Exotica, and even Abbott and Costello (5). Few who saw the movie at the time would have known anything about cryptozoology, but that's part of the mix, too.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) In its entry on "Lost Worlds," the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction lists some works in that genre. Some of the earliest: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1863); The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1871); Atlantis, The Antediluvian World by Ignatius Donnelly (1882); King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard (1885); The Phantom City: A Volcanic Romance (1886) and A Queer Race: The Story of a Strange People (1887) by William WestallA Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James de Mille (1888); The Aztec Treasure House: A Romance of Contemporaneous Antiquity by Thomas Janvier (1890); and of course The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912), which lent its name to the genre. I would add Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, from 1915.
(2) It might be more accurate to say the Age of Pseudoscience or the Age of Scientism.
(3) Maybe you can include McHale's Navy (1962-1966) and Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980) in that category as well. As for literature, it seems like there was less to read than to watch. Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) wrote of Africa of course. So did Robert Ruark (1915-1965). I'm not sure who else to put on that list.
(4) One of the highlights of Creature from the Black Lagoon is the underwater photography of the female stand-in, Ginger Stanley, a swimmer of extraordinary power, beauty, and grace.
(5) To promote the film, the Creature appeared with Abbott and Costello on live television on The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954. I guess you could call that another team-up.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Eight

Universal Monsters Live

So, I'm following three threads to get to the monster of the twenty-first century:

  1. The Horror Monster, which you might also call the supernatural monster, the monster of fantasy, or the monster from the past, represented here by the Universal monster;
  2. The Science Fiction Monster, which you might also call the scientific monster or the monster of the future, and which arose in our popular culture after World War II; and
  3. The Real-Life Monster, which includes the psychopathic killer and the totalitarian, both of which came out of the nineteenth century, and both of which thrive on mass movements and mass developments.

I believe the monster of the twenty-first century is woven from these three threads.

***

If you go by the number of movie titles released, Universal monsters weren't so popular after World War II as they were during and before. But that's only part of the picture. If you look at the whole thing, you begin to see that they continued to be popular for years afterward. After 1950, Universal Pictures made at least three smart moves in keeping its monsters alive and in the public eye.

As we all know, the world turned on the events of the Second World War. That was as true in movies and popular culture as in anything else. In the first full year after the war, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), an extraordinary film and one as true to life as any big picture of the previous decade or more, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. (1) More movies  treating real-life problems in more realistic ways followed. The post-war cinema was also characterized by film noir, that is, frank, realistic (though usually stylized) movies about crime, sex, terror, anxiety, and suspense, often filmed on location in the kind of city described by Fritz Leiber, Jr., in "Smoke Ghost," "The Inheritance," and "The Dreams of Albert Moreland." Interestingly, film noir had its roots in pulp fiction, in Universal monster movies of the 1930s, and before that, in German Expressionism of the Weimar period, among other things. (2) In any case, horror movies and monster movies may have declined in popularity after the war in comparison to true-to-life movies, film noir, crime dramas, and so on, but like the undead, they kept coming back.

***

In 1948, in the same year that the first Abbott and Costello-Universal monster team-up came out, CBS and ABC began regular network television broadcasts on the East Coast. They had been beaten to the punch by NBC television (1944) and Dumont (1946), but that didn't matter: there was plenty in the television business for everybody. There still is. There had been television broadcasts before. For instance, Hugo Gernsback, the father of magazine science fiction, began broadcasting television signals in New York City eighty-six years ago this month, on August 14, 1928. But TV didn't take off until after the war, when technology improved, the population (especially of children) rapidly increased, and Americans began enjoying the prosperity of the 1950s. In 1955, the last Abbott and Costello-Universal monster team-up--and the last Universal monster movie of the classic era--came out. I don't think it's any coincidence at all that in 1957, just two years later and a decade into the TV craze, Universal began syndicating its classic horror movies to American television stations as a package called Shock Theater. There was already a template for showing horror movies on the small screen. On May 1, 1954, actress Maila Nurmi (1922-2008), in her role as Vampira, became the first television horror host, on KABC-TV, Los Angeles. Soon there were horror hosts on TV stations large and small, and they all showed old monster movies and horror movies, a good deal of them from Universal Pictures.

Also in 1957, Hammer Film Productions of Great Britain released The Curse of Frankenstein starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The movie was an immediate success and the first of what would eventually be branded as "Hammer Horror." Bloodier and sexier than Universal horror, the Hammer movies had their across-the-pond counterpart in American International Pictures (AIP). Founded in 1954, AIP specialized in movies for teenagers and young adults. AIP's first monster movie was The Beast with a Million Eyes from 1955, but the company was most well known for its 1960s adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe starring Vincent Price and directed by Roger Corman. Despite its reputation for making cheapies, AIP didn't always stint on the writing. Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and Ray Russell were among the scenarists for the Poe-Corman series. Matheson even contributed to the screenplay adaptation of his own book, I Am Legend (1954), a movie called The Last Man on Earth (1964), which was remade in 1971 as The Omega Man. More on that later.

In 1958, owing to the howling success of Shock Theater (and perhaps also Hammer films and AIP), James Warren and Forrest J Ackerman issued Famous Monsters of Filmland, a one-shot magazine that grew into a franchise and ran for a quarter of a century. After that there was a boom of monster magazines, including Monster Parade (1958-1959), Horror Monsters (1961-1965), Mad Monsters (1961-1965), Castle of Frankenstein (1962-1975), Fantastic Monsters of the Films (1962-1963), For Monsters Only (1965-1972), and so on. (4) In 1961, Aurora Plastics Company issued Frankenstein's Monster, its first model licensed from the Universal line. There is a special place in my heart for Aurora monster models, so I will list them all:
  • Frankenstein's Monster (1961)
  • Dracula (1962)
  • The Wolf Man (1962)
  • The Mummy (1963)
  • The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1963)
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1963)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1964)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1964)
  • King Kong (1964)
  • Godzilla (1964)
  • Salem Witch (1965)
  • The Bride of Frankenstein (1965)
  • The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel-Maré (1966)
Not all of those were Universal monsters of course. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde model was based on the Paramount picture of 1931 (I think), King Kong on the RKO Radio picture of 1933, Godzilla on the Japanese film of 1954, the Salem Witch on history and folklore, and the Forgotten Prisoner on a collaborative idea between Aurora Plastics and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Aurora also issued series of Monster Rods (monsters driving hotrods), Monster Scenes, and Monsters of the Movies, a line that included Rodan and Ghidra.

The licensing of Universal monsters didn't end with models. There were also toys, figurines, drinking glasses, ice cream spoons, and every other thing you can think of, including trading cards in the Creature Feature/You'll Die Laughing series. You might as well say there was a monster craze in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Monster-themed shows included The Munsters (1964-1966) and The Addams Family (1964-1966), both of which had casts like an old Universal monster team-up. Those two shows were predated by The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), but that was mostly a show of science fiction and Weird Tales-like fantasy. However, it paved the way for The Outer Limits (1963-1965), a show known for its monsters. The Outer Limits in turn influenced the makers of Star Trek (1966-1969), the first broadcast episode of which, called "The Man Trap," featured  an Outer Limits-like monster, the unforgettable salt vampire. Eventually there were enough monsters of Star Trek to fill a book of that title.

So, as television took off, Universal packaged its old movies for syndication, and once those movies started reaching a new generation of viewers, the studio began licensing its monsters for other media and other merchandise. Clearly, Universal monsters were not going to go to their graves. In fact they are still with us. Like I have suggested, part of that is because of branding, advertising, marketing, promoting, selling, etc. Part of it because of the continuing appeal of the Universal characters. But part of it, too, is because of nostalgia. 

If you disregard the movies of the silent era and look only at monsters of the talkies, only a quarter century--one human generation--separated Frankenstein and Dracula (both from 1931), from the last of the Universal monster movies, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). If supernatural monsters or monsters of fantasy are also monsters of the past, then it seems to me that nostalgia--a sense that something from the past has been lost--would play its part in the popularity of those same monsters. (5) Supernatural monsters in the movies scare you. Afterwards, you are released from your fear, able to relax and to sleep without nightmares. Certain other monsters, monsters of science fiction as well as real-life monsters, don't allow the same kind of catharsis. Being of the present (real-life monsters) or of the future (science fiction monsters), they provoke feelings of anxiety, not of nostalgia or simple fright. There isn't any catharsis in anxiety. It goes on unrelieved.

***

Universal surely saw the writing on the wall in the early 1950s. In the previous two decades, the studio had built up a sizable body of work--a very valuable property--and they exploited it by syndicating and selling licenses for their monster movies and characters. They did more than that, though. In a canny move, they began making movies about a new kind of monster to take the place of the old. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy wasn't the last Universal monster movie. It was only the last of a certain type. You might have noticed that I have barely mentioned The Creature from the Black Lagoon in my discussion of Universal monsters. There is a reason for that, for the Creature doesn't really fit well with the movie monsters of the previous twenty-five years. He is after all not a supernatural monster but a monster of a new age, a monster of science. And he made his debut sixty years ago, in 1954, as the previous era was coming to its end.

Notes
(1) MacKinlay Kantor, a former pulp writer and editor, wrote the novella on which the movie was based.
(2) Theorists might like to separate film noir from fantasy genres such as horror or science fiction, but that's like comparing apples to oranges. Film noir is a form, an aesthetic, or even simply a series of techniques. Horror and science fiction are genres. They need not be exclusive. So for example, isn't Cat People (1942) film noir in its way?
(3) That was sixty years ago this year (and the same year in which Weird Tales came to an end--that's no mere coincidence), so Happy Birthday to Vampira and to television horror hosts everywhere.
(4) According to The Collector's Guide to Monster, Science Fiction and Fantasy Film Magazines by Bob Michelucci (1988), Screen Chills, from 1957, was "apparently" the world's first movie monster magazine.
(5) Supernatural monsters in literature began with Gothicism, which was an expression of nostalgia. According to Wikipedia, the word nostalgia was first applied to homesick Swiss mercenaries. Switzerland was of course the place of origin of the Gothic romance Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, of the book's title character, and of the monster himself. I don't remember now if Frankenstein's Monster ever feels homesick, but after his creation, he spends his life wandering over the world. This quote from the creature strikes me: "I am malicious because I am miserable." We have probably all felt that way in our lives, but most of us, thankfully, don't take it very far. Those who do, we may call monsters. Hitler was one of them. Eric Hoffer described the same feeling among the subjects of his book The True Believer. The True Believer, which often becomes a totalitarian monster, derives his animating idea in part from Rousseau. Like Frankenstein's Monster, Rousseau hailed from Switzerland, but that may be only the most superficial similarity between the two. If you would like to find out more, just do an Internet search on Frankenstein and Rousseau, but be prepared for some heavy academic reading.

Finally, to get all the anniversaries and birthdays in:

Happy Birthday
Vampira and Horror Hosts Everywhere (60 years)
American International Pictures (60 years)
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (60 years)
The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price (50 years)
Godzilla (60 years)
The Munsters and The Addams Family TV shows (50 years)
and
The Creature from the Black Lagoon (60 years)

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Seven

Universal Monsters--1923-1955

When we think of movie monsters from Hollywood's golden age, the name of one studio comes to mind: Universal Pictures. That's partly because of a hugely successful campaign at branding. In truth, the popularity of Universal monsters goes all the way back to the original movies themselves. Their popularity has gotten a boost every so often. That boost has often been in some other medium besides film.

If the Aurora line of models from the 1960s is any indication, the first Universal monster was The Hunchback of Notre Dame, played by Lon Chaney in a movie of that same name from 1923. I'm not sure how monstrous the poor hunchback is. Nonetheless, he's thrown into the mix. Next came The Phantom of the Opera, again played by Lon Chaney in a film from 1925. The sound era for Universal monsters began in 1931 with the release of Dracula and Frankenstein. Both films, both monsters, and the actors who played them--Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff--have reached the status of icons in our culture. They have also spawned movies made and remade in the decades since.

There were still more Universal monsters and Universal horror movies in the 1930s and '40s. The Mummy, played by Boris Karloff, followed close on the heels of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster (1932). Then came The Invisible Man (Claude Rains, 1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (Elsa Lanchester, 1935), and The Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr., 1941). By the mid to late '30s, Universal monsters had become so popular that the sequels, team-ups, battles, and remakes had already begun. (Eventually there would be comedy take-offs as well.) The first sequel was The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Then came Dracula's Daughter (1936) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). The actors, too, were teamed up: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff appeared together in at least five Universal horror movies from that period. Those two men would also team up with Lon Chaney, Jr., in movies of the 1940s. (1) 

Universal released a few dozen horror movies and monster movies during the 1940s. Most of those (all but five by my count) came out before the end of the Second World War. I would guess that the films released in the immediate post-war period (1945-1946) had gone into production before V-J Day. That would leave just one made entirely after the war. The world had changed by then of course. Horrors had become real on battlefields, in bombed-out cities, and behind the walls and fences of Nazi concentration camps. True human monsters had held sway over the earth for six years. In some places they persisted even after the war. Cinematic horrors and movie monsters paled by comparison. For six years, people had looked to the future, to the end of the war and what that might bring. New technology developed during the war promised a better world afterwords. Maybe it would all be powered by nuclear fission. Maybe we would all have flying cars, live in automated houses, and have our work done by robots. Maybe we would even go into outer space, to the moon, and to the other planets. In the post-war period, we turned our gaze from the past and from the monsters of the past to the future. But there, too, would be monsters.

The last Universal Monster movie of the 1940s and the first of the 1950s were team-ups. The stars weren't some combination of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney, Jr., however. Instead they were Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. In Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Bud and Lou encountered Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and The Wolf Man. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the curtain call for all three. The other Universal monsters ended their careers with the comedy duo as well, in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), and finally Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). (2) With that, the Universal monster came to an end . . . but not really.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) It's worth noting here that the Universal picture Weird Woman (1944), with Anne Gwynne in the title role, was based on the novel Conjure Wife (1943) by Fritz Leiber, Jr., the author who got me started on this ramble. I haven't seen Weird Woman, but I wonder if it would have fallen into the category of the Weird Tales-like horror movie, like Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Conjure Wife originally appeared in Unknown Worlds in April 1943.
(2) Still using the Aurora monster models as my guide, I should say that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was not originally a Universal monster but based on Frederic March's performance in the Paramount release of 1931.

Text copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Six

Wars and Worlds, Past and Future

I began yesterday with an anniversary, the sixtieth anniversary of the last issue of Weird Tales. I'll begin today with another anniversary: seventy-five years ago next month, in September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, thus setting off the Second World War.

Before the war, science fiction was for a few fans. If the general public knew anything at all about the genre, it was in an offhand way. "Buck Rogers stuff" they called it. Science fiction was in the comics and in movie serials. It was something for kids. But in the run-up to the war, science fiction became serious, at least for one night in 1938.

In March of that year, Nazi Germany annexed Austria and immediately began agitating for annexation of the Sudetenland. The crisis continued into the summer and the spectre of war loomed. Then, in September, the European powers came upon a solution--or a dissolution. In the first weeks of October, Germany took control of German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia and war was averted--at least for another eleven months.

On the evening of October 30, 1938, The Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast a dramatization of H.G. Welles' War of the Worlds as a kind of documentary account of supposedly real, contemporary events. Some listeners who tuned in late believed that Martians really had invaded Earth--specifically New Jersey--and panic ensued. Just how many believed it and how much panic was caused by it is open to question. The point is that science fiction, perhaps for the first time, demonstrated its power over the popular imagination.

The First World War had been preceded by what is now called "Invasion Literature." That genre, new to the late nineteenth century, may have given rise to science fiction, as in the original book, The War of the Worlds (1896). The first war also saw advances in the science and technology of killing people, for example, airplanes, tanks, aerial bombs, submarine warfare, and poison gas. Science fiction came along during and after the war as well, but there seems to have been a kind of retrenchment (no pun intended) in fantasy fiction. Weird Tales, despite its first cover--a science fiction cover--turned to the past and to monsters of the past for most of its subject matter.

The Second World War is another story. After the advances of that war, there was no going back. The dreams of the prewar science fiction fan seemed to be coming about, for now there were rockets, guided missiles, radar, jet-powered aircraft, pressurized cabins (essential for space travel), and most importantly, atomic power. Those starveling fans of the prewar era tended to be visionaries. They were liberal, progressive, futuristic, technocratic, Utopian, even communist in their beliefs. The scientific and technological developments of the war seemed to bear out their faith in the future. (1)

Still, monsters out of the past continued to show up in movies of the 1940s, and science fiction was largely still in pulp magazines and comic strips. In the movies of the early and mid '40s, there were vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, apemen, madmen, ghosts, and zombies. (2) But if you look at a list of horror movies from the 1940s (Wikipedia has a list--yes, I know, it's Wikipedia, but it is a list), you'll notice the number of titles dropping off precipitously after the war. There are probably all kinds of reasons for that, but it seems to me that a populace that had just experienced real-life horrors--the horrors of war, mass death, genocide--would hardly have had a taste for fictional monsters. The number of science fiction movies was also low in the postwar era, but in the 1950s, science fiction took off like a rocket. If I had to guess, I would say two developments caused that. One--the splitting of the atom--was real but anticipated by science fiction. The other--flying saucers--was only partly real but otherwise made from whole cloth by a science fiction writer, Raymond A. Palmer.

To be continued . . .

Notes
(1) If fantasy is about the past and science fiction is about the future, then I wonder if there is any correlation between the authors of those respective genres and their political beliefs. It's really easy to pick out examples that fit a hypothesis: H.P. Lovecraft, a fantasist obsessed with the past and with decadence, was notoriously conservative, a Tory in twentieth century America. Frederik Pohl, a forward-looking science fictioneer, was liberal or progressive in his beliefs. Some of his cohorts were outright Communists, if only for awhile. But that hypothesis goes only so far. I would not put Robert A. Heinlein in the liberal or leftist category, for example.
(2) It seems to me that there is too little notice given to a new type of horror movie of the 1940s, that is, for want of a better term, the Weird Tales-type horror movie. I can think of three examples: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Curse of the Cat People (1944). All were produced by Val Lewton, who had written for Weird Tales. The first two were directed by Jacques Tourneur.

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Survey of Monsters-Part Five

Early Science Fiction Monsters

Next month--September 2014--marks the sixtieth anniversary of the demise of Weird Tales. Against all odds, the magazine had survived for thirty-one years and 279 issues when it came to a close in September 1954. Few pulp magazines could claim that kind of longevity. After January 1940, Weird Tales went to a bimonthly schedule. In its last year, it shrank to a digest-sized magazine. If you knew nothing else about pulp magazines, you might think that Weird Tales had run out of steam by the summer of 1954. That's true in its way, but the 1950s were full of casualties, and though they were succeeded by digests, men's adventure magazines, and paperback books, the pulps, which had enjoyed a golden age stretching back to the 1920s or before, effectively reached their end in the first full decade after the war.

Weird Tales was a magazine of weird fiction (a seemingly indefinable genre), but it also published heroic fantasy, science fantasy, ghost stories, horror stories, monster stories, and even science fiction. Strangely enough, the first issue of Weird Tales showed on its cover not a vampire, werewolf, ghost, or other monster from the past, but a monster of the future, a man-made monster, a science-fictional monster before the term science fiction was even in use.


Weird Tales
, March 1923, the first issue of "The Unique Magazine." The cover story is "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud, the cover art by Richard R. Epperly. The monster has an octopoid appearance in this illustration. In the story, it's actually a giant amoeba created by science. Renowned for being the first American magazine devoted exclusively to fantasy, Weird Tales began with an image and  a story of science fiction.

Weird Tales was alone on the newsstand for some time after its debut, but then the first science fiction magazine came along in Amazing Stories (April 1926). Other magazines of fantasy, terror, and horror made a run at success in the 1920s and '30s, but few lasted very long. In strong contrast, science fiction pulps flourished. During and after the war, they proliferated, first in the traditional pulp format, then in digest-size. I read once that the last true pulp magazine was a science fiction title from the late 1950s. That may or may not be true. In any case, digest-sized science fiction survived well into the 1960s and early '70s. Analog, originally Astounding Science-Fiction (1938), remains, as do The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1949), and a latecomer, Asimov's Science Fiction (1977). All are digests. Weird Tales is also still in publication, but not continuously since its inception. The current incarnation is its fifth, or sixth, or . . . .

Before World War II, science fiction had its devoted fans (short for fanatics). To the general reader, however, science fiction was just a bunch of "Buck Rogers stuff." There were few science fiction movies in the 1930s. The monsters in those movies were the typical mad scientist or man-made monster or degenerate fiend of the pulps. If you wanted monsters, you went to see monster movies, not science fiction movies. Universal Pictures specialized in that genre, and though there was a good deal of blending of science fiction and horror in the movies--Frankenstein (1931) is a perfect example--there were few if any truly science-fictional monsters. In other words, the monsters of science fiction were still mostly the monsters of the past, or of decadence, and as such they fell into the province of fantasy and weird fiction.

The monsters of the 1930s continued into the 1940s. The Wolfman, a truly great monster movie, wasn't released until 1941. Even as late as 1955, Universal released a new film starring an old--a very old--monster: Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. By then of course, the Universal Monsters of the 1930s had fallen on hard times, but there was a new kind of monster from a new and very fresh genre to take their place. Surprisingly, it wasn't a new and up-and-coming studio that trumped Universal in the monster movie game, for Universal itself adapted to changing times and released some of the best science fiction monster movies of the 1950s.

To be continued . . .

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Totalitarian Monster in Art

It has been awhile since I wrote. I hope to get back into the swing of things over the next couple of weeks by completing my series on the monster of the twenty-first century. Like a monster itself, this series has grown out of control. I would like to lay it to rest.

A blog without pictures isn't always very interesting. I have written most of this series without posting any images. I hope today's posting will make up for that.

I'll begin with "El sueño de la razon produce monstruos" ("The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters") by Francisco Goya, No. 43 in his series Los Caprichos (Caprices or Follies, 1799). We think of the eighteenth century as the second in an Age of Reason, yet the century closed with the French Revolution and the beginnings of Romanticism in art, literature, music, and politics. Significantly, the beginning of the Romantic movement (in as far as any such thing can be said to have a beginning)  is dated to about 1800, or about the same time Goya published Los Caprichos. Romanticism in art, literature, and music is one thing. Romanticism in politics is quite another.

The totalitarian monster as a modern, political creature was born in the eighteenth century and was baptized in the blood of the French Revolution. The American Revolution was practically bloodless by comparison. Beyond that, our Constitution, a work of supreme reason, has outlived all the fevered dreams and Utopian fantasies of the Leftist, Statist, Marxist, Communist, Fascist, Nazi, Socialist, and Nihilist--in short, of the totalitarian.

Our fiction of monsters and of horror, terror, and fantasy dates from the 1700s as well. Gothicism--a kind of Romanticism--came in reaction to the Age of Reason. Curiously, one of the great works of Gothicism, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, was also a work of nascent science fiction. In that book, she gave us a new kind of monster, the man-made monster of science, and an icon for the twentieth century.

If the artist is like a canary in a coal mine, you can expect him to recognize the connection between human monsters and monsters of the imagination. Different artists exercise their power in different ways. Some use imagery of monstrous horror to depict the human monster. Others--particularly cartoonists--reduce the human monster through satire, ridicule, and parody. Few cartoonists were as capable of such things as Will Elder (1921-2008). In "Frank N. Stein," published in Mad #8 (Dec. 1953), the monster turns out to have the face of Hitler--and the brain of a bird.

Not to be outdone, Joseph Stalin, Hitler's one-time ally and then murderous rival, donned his monster suit to pose for this drawing of the creature. It comes from the back cover of Tales of the Uncanny, a parody or sendup of the superhero comics of the early 1960s, published by Image Comics in June 1993.

Our popular image of Frankenstein's monster comes of course from the Universal movies of the 1930s in which Boris Karloff played the creature. The makeup, by Jack Pierce (1889-1968), was green but showed up on black-and-white film as light gray. 

If you were a kid in 1951, you might have spent your pennies on a set of gum cards called "Red Menace," issued by Bowman. There are forty-eight cards in the set. This card, called "War-Maker" and showing the image of Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, is number forty-seven. (Mao had earned his gum-card moniker by sending Chinese troops into Korea the year before "Red Menace" was released.) Mao looks friendly enough in this picture, but the green tint to his skin would have been a signal to all that he was in fact a monster in the mold of Frankenstein's creation from a generation before . . . 

. . . or like the Phantom of the Opera, whose portrait was painted by Basil Gogos  in the 1960s.

By the end of the Great War, the totalitarian society was becoming a reality and the artist was there to give warning. Here is a poster or cartoon entitled "The Communist Monster Threatens to Undermine the Country," drawn by a German artist, Thomas Theodor Heine (1867-1948). I don't know the date, but I suspect it's from the period of the Weimar Republic, probably about 1918 or so, as Heine fled Germany in the year the Nazis came to power, 1933.

"Die Heimat ist in Gefahr!" ("Your Country Is in Danger!"), from 1918, warning of the advance of the monster of Bolshevism. (Note the word Bolschewismus in the first line under the title.) The artist was Carl Hachez (1880-1958). This is clearly a piece of propaganda . . . or is it? If propaganda begins where truth gives way to sensationalism, then how can any piece of art warning of the horrors of totalitarianism be more sensational than the reality of that system? The totalitarian is in truth a monster, a murderer, a destroyer. A piece of art that you might call propagandistic is actually an understatement when it comes to the horrors perpetrated by the twentieth-century totalitarian.

Another poster with the same slogan, obviously in the same series and presumably from about the same period. The artist was Victor Arnaud (1890-?). The date looks like 1919.

"Bolschewismus Bringt Krieg, Arbeitslosigkeit und Hungersnot" ("Bolshevism Brings War, Unemployment and Famine"), a poster from 1918 by Julius Ussy Engelhard (1883-1964). Again, the Bolshevist is depicted as a monster, a sort of apeman armed with a knife and a bomb. (Note the similar image, an ape with the sword, in the background of the Mao Tse-tung trading card above.) Is it propaganda or is it truth? Now, nearly one hundred years later, we know that Communism does indeed bring war and ruin, yet there are those who still cling to the fantasy that everyone can be made equal--and are willing to deprive people of their rights and even their lives to make it happen.

German artists of 1918 and after weren't the only ones to recognize the monstrousness of totalitarianism. Here is a poster created by a White Russian artist and against Trotsky, Lenin's left-hand man and head of the Red Army. The title is ironic: "Peace and Liberty in Sovdepiya" (presumably an early alternate name for the Soviet Union). Trotsky is depicted here as the devil, but there is also a strong suggestion of his Jewishness. Too often, those who oppose Communism have also been anti-Semitic, as with the Nazis. This image also appears on an atrocious anti-Semitic website.

I have not been able to find an image of Lenin depicted as a monster of any kind, but you don't have to use much of your imagination to see the demonic quality in his visage. 

"Communisme Ennemi de la France" ("Communism: Enemy of France"). A lot happened between 1918, when the German posters above were printed, and 1942, the date of this poster by Michel Jacquot (dates unknown). The German people, instead of choosing freedom in their struggles against Communism, threw in their lot with the rabid anti-Communist (and anti-Jewish) Nazi Party. Certain elements in France did the same thing, forming the Parti Populaire Français (French Popular Party) in 1936. Except for his insignia, the man in this picture could be a Nazi. It's worth noting that he is throttling what appears to be a werewolf: near the end of the war, the Nazis came up with their project Werwolf, a scheme to carry on the fight after the war. It's also worth noting that the Parti Populaire Français was founded in part by former Communists. As Eric Hoffer noted in his indispensable book, The True Believer (1951), the easiest convert for the true believer (such as a Nazi) is simply another true believer (such as a Communist). Likewise, the true believer reserves his bitterest enmity not for the liberal (in the classical sense of the word, not in the contemporary American sense) but for other true believers.

When it comes to recognizing the monstrousness of totalitarianism, the Soviets were no less perceptive than the Nazis, as this poster, "Kill the Fascist Monster!" by Viktor Nikolaevich Deni (1893-1946), shows. (That translation may not be entirely accurate. I invite a reader of Russian to comment. The date by the way appears to be 1942.)

If the translation of the Russian title above is accurate, this American poster is equally unequivocal--and the enemy is even more obviously monstrous. The monster in this poster by Bert Yates (dates unknown) is two-headed: I suspect that it was executed after Mussolini. The image is propagandistic to be sure, but the caption--"this monster that stops at nothing"--is true of the totalitarian himself and of the totalitarian impulse.

The Allied victory in World War II (or the Great Patriotic War, as the Russians call it) stopped the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Japanese warlords after all, but Communism survived and began to wage a new war, a Cold War, the outcome of which must have been in doubt for many years. The film I Married a Communist (1949, retitled The Woman on Pier 13) appears to have been drawn from the pulps: the genre, film noir, is from the hard-boiled fiction of the 1930s, while the confessional title comes straight from Bernarr Macfadden's True line of magazines. And, if you like drawing full circles, Rousseau, a progenitor of ideas that totalitarians have used against us, authored a book called Confessions

The confessional title showed up again in I Married a Monster from Outer Space, from 1958. There were other movies with titles in the same vein, including I Was Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, both from 1957. There is significance in those titles and the ideas behind them, namely that a Communist or a monster from outer space might easily pass among us, look like us, fool us, moreover, that he or she might threaten to undermine us and our society (as in the early German illustration above), worse yet, that he or she might recruit us or make us one of his or her own. There was another film from that period with just that theme. It's one of the most important science fiction movies not just of the decade but of all time. It came from the postwar development of the science-fictional monster, and it leads pretty directly to what I think must be the monster of the twenty-first century. The film is called Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley