A Halloween Letter to Hollywood Part III: Letter Hard With a Vengeance
So here we are again, Hollywood.
For the past two years, I’ve sent you pleas to gain the slightest iota of creativity when it comes to monsters in popular entertainment and every year you turn in a whole new line-ups of zombies and vampires. And all the while, you pretend you can’t hear me from atop your piles of money.
I know that’s a lie: everything is better atop vast piles of money—especially the acoustics.
You can’t say it’s not possible to use new monsters either because two of this year’s monsters did get movies. I’m not counting them toward your karmic debt, however, because you half-assed them in the same oddly aggressive way you keep half-assing werewolves, as if you’re trying to sabotage them so you can devote more time to vampires and zombies.
So here we got again: Round 3. Here is a list of new monsters you should use in your next big blockbusters instead of boring corpse hordes or even more boring pale guys with zero personality.
1 – Flying Monkeys
Entirely by quirk of fate, I ended up writing a post including these earlier this year. For those of you who didn’t read it any would rather not follow the link, the mockably named SyFy network, in its infinite capacity to produce so-bad-its-good creature features, produced one to capitalize on the film Oz, The Great And Powerful entitled Flying Monkeys.
Now, I will give some props here: the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz were the stuff of childhood nightmares. Even if you aren’t a child, they’re still an effective monster once you get past the inherent goofiness of monkeys. They are highly mobile beasts with near-human intelligence, the ability to manipulate objects (ie: open doors, use tools), and the incredible strength-to-size ratio that pretty much every primate but homo sapiens is capable of. All that and they still have the standard teeth and claws.
Where SyFy went wrong (after the name, of course), is in the execution. The monkeys in Wizard are effective monsters because they serve a higher intellect that has nefarious plans. The monkeys in Flying Monkeys are really just slightly smarter wild animals. In order to compensate for a distinct and tragic lack of witches, SyFy gave them the monster trait I hate most: explosive breeding.
For those unaware of this term, explosive breeding denotes a tendency of a certain kind of monster to be able to boost its numbers by a massive amount in a tiny amount of time. Most of this breeding will take place off camera and results in such huge numbers that the only way for Our Heroes to be victorious is via deus ex machina. Examples of this include Godzilla 1998, and most zombie movies (one of the reasons I hate zombies, but we’ll get into that later). To prove that every trope can be done right, I absolutely love Eight-Legged Freaks and Evolution (where the explosive breeding became explosive recombination…somehow), which you’ll notice are both comedies.
Once explosive breeding kicks into full swing, you know that there’s really no more movie left and it’s nothing but body count from there on out until a miracle happens to save the survivors. This is exactly what happened in Flying Monkeys.
I invite you, Hollywood, to put these wonderful beasties back into the absolute wrong hands. An evil schemer with a few of these bastards under his thumb is a force to be reckoned with, deploying a strike force of super-strong fliers capable of carrying out his exact orders. Give them some armor and you’ve got something on par with an even scarier Terminator.
This, plus they FLY.
While I understand that these guys have gone untapped because of the ‘monkeys are funny’ thing, believe me, people will get over it once one of these guys tears someone’s face off just like a real chimp can. Or, hell, just call them goblins or something. There’s plenty of monster names that you and others have turned into something completely meaningless by now. For example…
2 – Trolls
There are many interpretations of trolls out there. Like ‘goblin’, it’s a pretty big catch-all for monsters. Where goblins are generally small and nimble, trolls are big and tough. Because I am a nerd, however, I’ll be going with the kind from Slayers, which is also the kind from D&D.
The trolls we’re talking about are hulking brutes with intellect on par with the cast of your average reality TV show (I’m not counting Amazing Race or Iron Chef because they are awesome), and a healing factor on par with Wolverine except for a weakness (usually fire and acid).
So a troll is basically a werewolf any of the transformation and angst. And that’s a good thing because where you screw up, Hollywood, is with the transformations and angst.
Yes, transforming into an unstoppable killing machine three night out of the lunar month is… less than a desirable future, but let’s be honest: there’s only so many ways you can spin ‘woe is me, I am a monster’ and ‘my god, what have I done’ before it get’s stale. And I mean ‘you’ specifically. I have no doubts that there are many writers who can pull of dealing with lycanthropy well, but you have proven time and time again that you can’t.
And for some reason, you always blow all your money on the transformation and leave the actual werewolf looking dopey as hell. Look: An American Werewolf in London already got the transformation down (note: that link goes to an awesome transformation clip, but it’s traumatic-looking as hell, so if that’s not your bag, don’t click it). Just copy-paste that and then actually spend some time and money making the monster look cool. That’s the secret: people who come to see creature features want to see a cool looking monster give them that and they will shower you in dead presidents.
With trolls, you get all the good stuff without all of the usual points of failure. It’s a big, cunning brute that won’t go down eaisly, but can register a hell of a lot of damage. Best of all, there’s no truly coherent mythology that you have to ritualisticly mangle like with werewolves. They can literally be anything you want them to be and there’s nothing anyone can say to stop you!
Plus, a trolls are traditionally vulnerable to fire, that totally justifies any explosions you might want to toss in there. I eagerly await Badass Trolls 3-D, directed by Micheal Bay.
3 – Witches
This is another one you recently made a rune at, followed by a miserable failure. The weird things is, when it comes to witches (such as those shown in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters), the same stupid concept is trotted out almost every time.
What is the stupid concept? The Witch Species. In a nutshell, you, Hollywood, treats witches as if they were, if not a different creature altogether from humans, then at least they are humans so transformed as to be unlike us to the point that they are ridiculously easy to tell from a normal human. Also they’re all women. I know, warlocks, but if ‘witch’ is a species, there should be man-witches.
You’ve reduced witches from human beings with powers to ‘spellcasting monster’ and the aggravating thing is, this usually comes with a mandatory loss of IQ points. Witches are reduced to pretty mindlessly (or at least gracelessly) bulling their way from one situation to the next in order to complete vaguely drawn out ‘rituals’ that seem to be more biological imperative than just a thing they want to do for actual reasons.
To my readers, I apologize for hammering on this one more time, but Hollywood needs to here this: the best, coolest villains ARE PEOPLE. And when I say ‘people’, I mean in terms of intellect and characterization. It’s not enough that a witch is this evil ‘thing’ that does evil things—we want to know why and it damn well better not be ‘because they’re evil’ or ‘because they’re witches’. More importantly, we need to see them actually being effective instead of just bum-rushing every obstacle with raw power. It’s fun to watch bad guys cut loose, but it’s boring to watch them go full-bore all the time (even Godzilla doesn’t use the atomic breath all the time)
Give them actual goals and reasons to be going after them, then have them be smart about attaining it. Witches have access to all sorts of minor spells and familiars—maybe even summoned or created henchmen to do their dirty work.
You know the coolest thing about them? They could be anyone. That’s kind of why (besides sociopathy, accidental drugs trips and keeping the womenfolk in their place) witch trials were a thing in the first place. A witch is someone with awesome powers who can be anyone anywhere and you won’t know until it’s probably too late. That’s all kinds of badass, especially if Our Heroes have only been dealing with the witch via her minions.
Finally, I think it’s about time you also abandoned hasty justifications and/or jokes about Wicca when you do use witches. Somehow, while it’s usually put in to explain how you’re not saying followers of that religion/belief system are evil monsters, it usually comes off as ‘but they’re still weird and/or wacky though’. If you can’t pretend to be culturally sensitive without looking like a jackass, jus don’t mention them, kind of like how I don’t mention the [redacted] even if their beliefs are weird and their mode of dress laughable.
4 – Dinosaurs
This one just baffles me. Almost a decade ago, Jurassic Park made money by the dump truck-load and if anything, dinosaur-mania has only grown in new more disturbing directions. Dinosaurs = Money and yet pretty much the only attempt at following that particular leader was the very stupid splatter-fest, Carnosaur.
More galling to the monster-lover in me, however, is that both Jurassic Park and Carnosaur focus on therapods (bipedal, predatory dinosaurs, the ones that involved into birds). In case you’re not a dinosaur-ologist like me, therapods are the most boring-ass dinosaurs ever, being exciting only for the fact that they’re still dionsaurs and thus more awesome than 80% of all other living things ever to walk the Earth. Being that we now know that most of them were feathered, it’s safe to state that they were basically huge chickens.
Though some were also Masters of Disguise.
No, Hollywood, what you need are some kick-ass dinosaurs, and in the world of dinosaurs (in a complete reversal of how it works in both regular animals and the animal human) the msot ass was kicked by the herbivores.
Among the most iconic and recognizable of these are: Triceratops, a three-horned monster twice the size of a rhino with a built-in shield; Diplodocus (once the better-named brontosaurus), one of the largest creatures to ever live with a bullwhip for a tail; Stegosaurus, a plate-backed beast with a row of spikes on its tail that was (no foolin’) named by Gary Larson, and the greatest of dinosaurs, the Ankylosaur, an armored tank of a dino with a freaking bone club on its tail and the abily to shatter those pitiful T.rexes. (Indicentally, if you’re thinking that most of them had ass-based weaponry, you would be right: it turns out that triceratops probably had quills back there.)
Again, I don’t understand why this wasn’t already done, as in Jurassic Park II: the Lost World, we’re shown just how terrifying a steogsaurus is when it decides some puny human is threatening its young. After three movies of raptors jumping all over the place and getting housed by gymnastics, you would think it would be time to let some real stars shine—and by shine, I mean convert that eco-terrorist git from Lost World into a supersonic splatter pattern with a bone club.
Let’s face it: there is an achingly large hole in the ecology of monsters between ‘basically dude sized’ and ‘kaiju’ that can be filled with horned and spiked death that can easily plow into your house to whip your ass, but is small enough that the immediate solution isn’t nuking the area. And yes, next year, I will finally get to the greatest of all monsters: dragons, which can fit into the same catergory.
5 – Zombies
I heard some of you say ‘wait, what’ just now. Yes, even though these blogs are written a week in advance. I can hear the future.
That’s a fair reaction to seeing this entry, seeing as how this entire series is how I want Hollywood to be more creative and specifically that I don’t want to see anymore goddamn zombies for as long as I live, but hear me out:
As a nerd, I am rather expected to be all about zombies. I’m supposed to imagine my ‘survival plan’ for the zombie apocalypse, where I’m going to get my guns for shooting them in the head, how I’m going to seal up my home, etc. I’m meant to go on zombie walks and flash mobs involving dancing to Thriller (though Thriller is a great song.). And my friends are almost to a person all about that stuff.
But I hate zombies. Absolutely hate them. I hate the gore and the constant attempts to one-up the gore. I hate that pretty much every zombie story is basically the same zombie story. I hate that they run now and in ten years will be doing undead parkour.
Mostly though, I hate the explosive breeder thing. Look, I’ve read World War Z, and yes, it manages to be the rare piece of zombie media I actually enjoyed (and of course the movie drained it of everything unique), but even that completely fails to convince me that a zombie apocalypse is a thing that could happen.
This isn’t one of those ‘believe in magic to enjoy the fantasy’ deals. Zombie stories almost to a one insist that they’re something happening in a real, non-fantasy world; that zombiism is some kind of disease and that this is supposed to make sense somehow. But even with the explanations offered by World War Z, it just doesn’t make sense that zombie numbers could reach the millions before people started cleansing the whole mess with explosions and many, many bullets.
No, the conceit that people in zombie apocalypse movies don’t know what a zombie is doesn’t justify this: if a corpse gets up and attacks you, you destroy it. If a hundred corpses get up and attack people, you quarantine the area and burn it to the ground. Walking corpse myths have been around for a lot longer than Night of the Living Dead.
Speaking of which: THEY AREN’T ZOMBIES. The original creators of NotLD called them ghouls because that’s the actual folkloreic name of walking corpses that hunger for flesh and sometimes have an infectious bite. This brings us to the crux of this entry. For you see, a ‘zombie’ is the name for another terrifying thing. A terrifying and completely real thing.
This is especially appropriate to bring up right now, given we in America just got done celebrating Columbus Day and the film Twelve Years a Slave just came up, but the story of the zombie is dedicated to Chris Columbus’s favorite pastime: Caribbean slavery.
You see, back in the day, it was discovered that sugar cane could be made to rot (er… ‘ferment’) into a drunkness inducing potion known as ‘rum’. Sugar cane, as it turned out, grew really, really well in the Caribbean, but also Europeans were really, really lazy, so they captured a bunch of people from Africa and the islands themselves to force them to make booze for them.
Now here is where things get scary/awesome. Contrary to popular belief, ancient Africa was not a savage, backwards land. In the land called Kush as well as Egypt, agriculture and science were such a thing that Alexander the Great was sent to them at a young age to get an education. So naturally, some of the people who were forced into labor were actually mad scientists.
On the islands, they discovered new plants and animal toxins that when used in combination could make someone appear to drop dead, only to wake up later in such a drugged-out stat that they were docile and easy to control, especially once convinced that they were dead and only called back into being by the ‘wizard’ who was actually just keeping them drugged.
These formerly dead, chemically controlled foot soldiers could also be drugged to have a higher pain threshold, which in turn allowed them to push their muscles to a higher limit, simulating super-strength and durability. With this in place, they made ideal workers on the ‘wizard’s’ own sugar plantations or henchmen to carry out whatever crimes they wanted committed. The threat of being turned into a zombie also pacified entire communities into doing what they were told
I want to reiterate that this was an actual thing that happened. There really were people who applied pharmacology to create an army of seemingly undead super-soldiers and used them for evil.
Just look at all that potential, Hollywood. Instead of yet another ‘boring horde of undead attacks even more boring characters’ story, you could have your pick of bone-chilling tales. How about a modern criminal ring bringing this idea back in this day and age? How about a heartbreaking piece about a person under this kind of influence, or who lost a loved one to this? Horror, action, drama!
But no, I guess making the corpses do cartwheels or something is creative too, I guess.
And I leave you, dear readers with an announcement: like any good protagonist, I now have a cartoonish arch-nemesis. And when I say ‘now’, I mean I held an open casting call on a writing forum a frequent and choose from among many hopeful applicants.
To that end, meet Brie McGill:
She may or may not look like the archetypical sitcom arch-nemesis.
Check out her site: she is more or less a mad scientist who writes on the side, which is why I picked her, to be honest: she falls on the opposite side of the -punk spectrum as my Rune Breaker/Cowboy King stuff, writing cyber- and biopunk where I write the much more awesome dungeron- and cattlepunk (also, you know, superheroes, but none of the applicants was a bald billionaire or a hurtful European/Asian stereotype, so I couldn’t pick out a traditional superhero nemesis. I wonder if I can convince Brie to shave her head or grow a Fu-Manchu…)
Anyway, we’ll be sparring verbally on twitter and taking good-natured potshots in our respective works (I’m killing her with a series of monsters, she’s made me into an evil plant because… BECAUSE.). Apparently she’s also on-upping me with releases, since she just put out a new book, while I’m behind schedule releasing the third Descendants book. Grrr.
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
You can check in on what Vaal’s working on or just what’s on his mind by following @ParadoxOmni on Twitter, checking out his new (incomplete) Facebook Page or using the hashtags #TheDescendants or #RuneBreaker. Sign up to learn about new book releases by Vaal by clicking here.
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