Hello Hollywood. It’s me again.
Once again, I come before you, hat in hand to beg you for better or at least more original monsters. And every years, you vomit up more zombies and vampires. Maybe the occasional ghost. I’ll give you credit: at least latest Dracula was pure shlock insanity, and Warm Bodies was an actual interesting implementation of zombies, but still, the Walking Dead continues unabated without any good monsters traded for it.
This year also happens to be Cartoon Month here at Descendants Serial, so my annual missive will be a bit different this time. Instead of suggesting mostly urban legends and mythological creatures, I’ll be suggesting five monsters from the cartoons of yesteryear that you should totally mine for ideas.
I know you’re going to ignore me yet again, so let’s just get cracking with…
Number 5 – Plant Elemental (Swamp Thing)
When I put together my list of the Best Superhero Cartoons, there were a few that… didn’t have a ghost of a chance. Swamp Thing was one of them. I’m not sure what convinced someone that the character Alan Moore popularized by making him into a cosmic acid trip would be the perfect Saturday Morning Cartoon, but they were utterly insane. It was not a good idea and didn’t capture the New Weird vibe Moore infused. Instead it was just…
There was a diamond in the rough here though in the form of Swamp Thing himself. There aren’t a lot of plant monsters anymore. Yeah, there were the bio-punk zombies things from Splinter, and the twist villains of The Happening (which we shall never speak of again), but not actual plants getting up and doing crap to people.
Swamp Thing, despite being nominally a hero comes with all you need to give your monster movie an antagonist: a tragic and transfigured character who will never be human again, his drive to seek vengeance, and his gradual loss of identity as the mystical thing he’s become takes over.
If that’s too cerebral for you and you want to go the Twilight route with him, I’ll just point out that you had no qualms keeping the infamous scene with the tree from the Evil Dead reboot and this can’t possibly be worse, being consensual and all. You’ve already gone way, WAY too far, so what do you have to lose walking it back a little?
Speaking of which, aside from dryads and some depictions of Poison Ivy, are there lady plant monsters? It seems to the untrod ground just waiting to be explored.
Number 4 – The Croc (Disney’s Peter Pan)
Like all other elements of the original Peter Pan story, the Croc has been re-imagined dozens of times now. He even got a surprisingly choice post-mortem role in Hook (a movie that, by the way, is way better than I remember).
The most famous version is, of course, the one from Disney’s Peter Pan. And let me say, having watched it earlier this year with my little cousins… there is something profoundly disturbing about that goddamn croc in that version once you’re an adult.
Bear with me here: For those who aren’t familiar with Peter Pan (and there are some), the Croc is a giant crocodile (duh) who happened to be responsible for consuming Captain Hook’s hand (whether he bit it off or if Peter FED IT TO HIM depends on the adaptation), making his surname prophetic.
In almost every adaptation, it is suggested that after getting a taste of Hook’s hand, it wants the rest and now stalks Hook, waiting to devour him. Most stories depict it as just a very persistent predator.
…Not Disney’s version.
In Disney’s Peter Pan, the Croc is highly anthropomorphic in his antics to the point that he’s no longer really a predator, he’s an asshole—and asshole that wants to eat a man alive. Maybe people aren’t following me on this, but while it’s meant to be wacky fun, it’s just… wired to see the Croc tying on a bib when Hook is about to fall into the water, or even go as far as to bring a table and place settings for the occasion.
Just thing about how that looks in-universe. No longer is the Croc just a predator, a Moby Dick figure, but an intelligent, even civilized being who nonetheless is fully intent an physically capable of murdering and eating a man. Not only that, but in at least oen scene, he seems to be ready to do so with a knife and fork!
And yet he’s still an alligator! He still does alligator things and has all the many, many strength of an alligator!
I feel that in this situation, the line between silliness and horror is how others in universe see this. Like, if Hook commented on the table setting, it would have pushed it into gruesome horror monster territory even for kids.
Somehow, to me, this was even scarier than the version from Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates, which was much larger and stronger and played the ‘clock in its belly’ thing as one of the most menacing sound effects ever.
Speaking of unrelentingly frightening things in children’s movies…
Number 3 – Lich (Anastasia)
Most of the time, when a Disney movie scares you, it’s either because it’s part of one of their acid sequences, or because you’re old enough to think through implications the target audience wouldn’t. On the opposite end, you have Don Bluth movies. When a Don Bluth movie scares you, it’s because it was intended because (I am convinced) Don Bluth was put on this Earth to teach children the meaning of absolute, mortal terror.
While often very good, Don Bluth movies feature death like other movies feature color or song. It’s just a nigh-essential element that he loves to sprinkle on; from a loveable dog being hit by a car and later drowning inside a burning ship (both notably fatal to the character and essential to the plot), to the main character’s mother being savaged by a goddamn T-rex (and the only reason the Sharptooth from The Land Before Time didn’t make this list is because I did dinosaurs already.).
But in Anastasia, which is already the whimsical tale of a princess whose entire family was massacred, Bulth goes one step beyond—beyond the pale that is.
Sit down a second before I explain this. No, no. Sit. You’ll need it.
The main villain of this tale is Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. The dude they killed half a dozen times before it took. The guy famous for having his manly bits pickled in a jar for prosperity. The guy also famous for being dead by the time Anastasia would be a teenaged girl/twenty-something as seen in this movie. And no, he didn’t get out of being dead in the deal.
He’s a LICH! An undead wizard powered by demonic power stored in a phylactery. The #3 most popular D&D villain. And he is NOT watered down. Dude is still literally falling apart. He sends demonic spirits to attack Our Heroes. He straight up has a phylactery and calls it that at one point. Oh, and his big villains song is sung in part by the insects living (and likely feasting) on his gravesoil!!!
Movies in general these days have a problem portraying magical foes. Either they are complete chumps, or have powers so large and so vague that they’re basically reality-warpers.It’s rare to see a decent wizard, magus or witch on screen, much less the undead result of such a person’s desire to cheat death at the expense of all the makes life worth living.
There is a ton of drama to be mined from liches due to their very nature and they hit all the creepy factors your vampires or zombies do—they just do it with better special effects.
Number 2 – The Constrictus (The Pirates of Dark Water)
I’ve talked at length before about how and why Pirates of Dark Water is awesome. One of the reasons I love the series so much is the world of Mer itself and it’s interesting ecology. If I wanted to, I could easily have done a version of this list with nothing but Dark Water creatures.
There’s a special place in my creature-loving heart though for one of the most-seen beasties that inhabited Mer and more specifically, the Dread Pirate Bloth’s flagship, the Maelstrom: the Constrictus.
The Constrictus is sort of like an aquatic version of the xenomorph from Alien, minus the life-cycle jazz. Instead othe compact, insectile form of the xenomorph, the Constrictus is more like a vast, armored leech. Like the xenomorph, it has a secondary jaw that can extend from its mouth, but in this cast, it has three of them that also act as prehensile tentacles. It also has a pair (or more) of tentacles branching off its trunk, tipped with hooks it uses to climb.
It dwells in the labyrinthine bowels of Maelstrom (hinting that its species have adapted to sewers or ocean caves), making good use of its environment to attack from ambush… if Bloth isn’t dropping people down for it to eat, much like the Rancor. For a big leech though, it’s fast and mobile as hell though, fully capable of jumping its length into the air and climb like a monkey.
More than one episode of the series involves the heroes having to evade the thing in its cavernous home and some of those sequences really bring home how dangerous and creepy the thing is. It’s even pretty damn smart, able to pick out shorcuts that put it out ahead of fleeing prey.
All in all, the Constrictus would have been a much better villain than whatever those transmogrified climber dudes (who had no characterization, so there was no point in making them former humans) in The Cave…. or the Descent. I can’t remember which movie it was, and as I write this, my internet is down, so I can’t check.
Anyway, on to the Number 1 choice!
Number 1 – Kabuterimon (Digimon: Digital Monsters)
Some of you might have noticed that I avoided anime in general during cartoon month, and from a few emails I’ve gotten, some people take that to mean I’m not a fan. Well that’s not true. I’m a huge fan. It’s just that the essence of cartoon month was born from the death of the Saturday Morning Cartoon and thus mostly about traditional Saturday Morning and after-school fare.
This isn’t to say there weren’t anime series on at the time, but you have to understand, most of the ones I had access to in those days were localized by Fox Kids and the dubbing and plot changes were pretty awful even for shows I really enjoyed like Shaman King, One Piece, Escaflowne, or yes, Digimon. It wasn’t until college and Toonami that I discovered the good stuff and most of the good stuff wasn’t something I would put alongside traditional SatAM fare. Plus, the themes the pst week didn’t lend themselves to the ‘go big or go home’ nature of broadcast TV anime in America. If they got here at all, they weren’t obscure and none of them were superhero shows.
That said: you know what there aren’t enough of in monster movies these days? Huge bugs.
The most recent Godzilla not-withstanding, giant insects have fallen out of favor and that’s a shame. Bugs are plenty tough and come with an array of horrifying abilities.
Enter Kabuterimon, the ‘Champion’ form of the digimon Tentomon. He’s a fifteen-foot tall Goliath beetle with human level intellect and the ability to fire electricity (I… think) from his horn. And as much as I love kaiju, intellect is one thing they’re missing for the most part.
While Godzilla and Angirus especially do show some level of intelligence, neither one is a strategic mastermind. Meanwhile Kabuterimon is explicitly the partner of the smartest guy on the team presumably because he’s the smartest mon on the team. Combine brains with the pure brawn of his nature and you have something to truly be reckoned with without the military of your monster movie universe looking inept. They’ll look dead, but not inept.
And with that, my dear friends, we end this year’s Halloween Message and also Cartoon Month. Next week, I’ll be taking some adorable little kid trick-or-treating and won’t have time for a blog post, though there will be a special promotional post on the 2nd. Also, there won’t be a story post next Wednesday because I’m taking that time to finish the first book of the Rune Breaker sequel series.
The main series updates on time as ever though. Have a great week everyone!
Nice list! Plant monsters are definitely something I feel the world needs more of, both of the humanoid SwampThingish variety and the weird alien triffid variety (particularly the latter really; Day of The Triffids is crying out for a proper monster movie adaptation.)