Book Monsters: Ryan Lockwood’s BELOW

When I think about great sea monster books, JAWS tops my list. How could I forget that iconic cover, the tiny beautiful swimmer at the surface, and that jaws imageenormous saw-toothed mouth coming up from the depths? The ultimate killer shark story might have become famous as a summer blockbuster, but it started as a dog-eared copy in someone’s beachbag.

One look at the cover of Ryan Lockwood’s BELOW, and you know what kind of read you’re about to have.

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The blocky print, the tiny object at the surface, and the partial view of a huge creature rising from the deep all scream “I really want you to think about JAWS when you’re shopping on Amazon and see my thumbnail.” And I totally did. So I bought it.

Ryan Lockwood’s 2013 debut horror novel tells the story of a nasty group of squid that develop a taste for human flesh.  Our hero, a worn out dive master, enlists the help of a sexy marine biologist who will help him put an end to the carnage. A blood bath ensues, as well as love, sweet love, between the two protagonists.

You’re probably thinking the squid looks something like this.

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And you would be wrong.

The rest of you are imagining something like this.

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Still wrong.

The squid in this book come from real life, the giant Humboldt squid that sometimes reach a length of seven feet and travel in shoals of over a thousand in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

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Yes, this smallish Humboldt squid looks like it’s eating this diver’s arm, but sadly, no. In reality, Humboldt Squid don’t attack people. Much. At least there aren’t any confirmed deaths. Probably. Divers like this dude wear chain mail to swim with them, mostly because their tentacles are lined with teeth and their sharp parrot-like beaks have been known to take off fingers. But they’re harmless. Really.

When it comes to monster makers, nothing beats mother nature.

Imagine if a thousand of squid this size and bigger, all traveling together in a big icky clump, all went insane for some reason (no spoilers) and wanted to eat divers, attractive partiers unlucky enough to skinny dip off a yacht at night, and a very likeable marathon swimmer we get to know for only one chapter. That is the thrill ride of BELOW, and I recommend picking it up if you’d like to know the creepy and plausible scientific reason behind the carnage.

But why did I bother with a book when I could be terrified by the same story in a film? Open Water, The Reef, and hundred of other movies require a much shorter time commitment. And I’m kinda busy.

One reason is point of view. On the screen, you can see the monster, and you’ll even get the famous point of view shot from the monster’s perspective, but you don’t get a scene from the emotional POV of the monster. Imagine if you tried. As the shark from JAWS approaches his victim, a voice over tells us, “This kid tastes like chicken…”

Well, that’s just silly. But the scenes from BELOW in the POV of the big bad are sort of fascinating. The queen of the shoal thinks mostly about being hungry and confused, but still, it freaked me out.

But is that enough to make the time commitment jump from two hours to twenty?

True, the written word can’t give you the collective scream experience of the theater. But there’s something about a good monster book, like JAWS or BELOW, that takes away the distance between you and the characters. You’re not watching the swimmer on the screen. You are the swimmer, taking her last breath, before she’s dragged under.

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So if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush that stays awhile, skip the theater, crack open Lockwood’s BELOW, and order a big, tasty plate of fried calamari on the side. I can’t promise you’ll finish your food, but I’m pretty sure the book will keep you turning pages until the horrifying end.

Water Monsters and Body Horror, or Why You Shouldn’t Eat Salad

My search for strange water beasts has taken an odd turn. I find myself searching through dozens of Netflix horror movies and asking myself weird questions:

Is the monster eating that person’s head interesting enough to write about?

Are suckers better than teeth? How might I describe that in a blog post?

Would it be more effective if a tentacle shot out of its maw? Come on, tentacle, where are you?

Aaaand that is where my quest for the most horrifying underrated water monster of all time died. I guess I was waiting for something nasty to poke it’s big ugly head above the water and say, “Wriiiite about meeee.”

Then came spring break, and a much needed vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii.

No, I didn’t meet a megashark or Kraken while swimming in Hawaii’s pristine waters.  I found…slugs.

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Yes, slugs. I didn’t actually see them, mind you. I just heard about them. In the news. In the instructions for the rented jungle bungalow where we stayed. In my nightmares.  Apparently, on the Big Island of Hawaii, slugs CAN KILL YOU.

It’s actually the parasite on the slug and in its slime trails that does the grisly work, potentially paralyzing you for years with something called Rat Lung Disease. That thought kept me from eating salad for almost my entire stay. And I like salad.

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So, it makes one wonder, why aren’t there more slug monsters in movies? Leeches? Worms? They really deserve the monster spotlight, seeing that they CAN KILL YOU.

This leads me to a special category of beast movie, a freakish subgenre called body horror. ezgif.com-video-to-gif fly

The greats include movies like The Fly, Alien, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Most audiences consider these stories far more intense than the jump scares and blood spatter of your average slasher flick or shark movie. Something changing you from the inside out—that’s truly horrifying.

Enter the beast from the long-forgotten beast movie, Leviathan.

The name carries a lot of history. Leviathan made its big entrance in the book of Job, and he’s shown up in stories ever since as a big, bad, ugly sea monster that will swallow you whole. Leviathan is enormous. Big enough to eat a house.

The 1989 movie of the same name decided to take a completely different route.

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Like I said. Slugs.

Leviathan doesn’t start out big. It starts out as some sort of parasite hanging out on a wrecked ship. Our heroes bring it back to their vessel, and it infects the crew. Then it escapes from a human host and starts to grow.

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, that sounds like Alien!” And you’d be right. Ridley Scott’s masterpiece came out a full ten years before Leviathan, and it’s hard to overstate how much that film influenced the genre. Alien’s dinner scene, which I will NOT create a GIF for, is one of the most terrifying pieces of body horror to ever splatter itself across the silver screen.

But we have to give the makers of Leviathan a break, because they didn’t merely copy Alien. They took something great and then tried to push the boundaries on the nasty scale, making the parasite idea more intense. Instead of nesting inside of a human host and then popping out, jack-in-the-box style, the Leviathan parasite changes you on a molecular level. Eventually, this monstrous amalgam of human and monster grows to biblical size and gives the audience a big ole scare.

Even though the monster makers gave it their best, I’m not frightened by big leviathan. At all. But the dog-sized slug that comes out of the kitchen cabinet? Yeah, that’s horrifying. And the microscopic creatures that started it all? Even worse.

Next time you write a scary story, and your friends say “Think big!” I’ll tell you something different. Think small. Those little parasites are everywhere, all the time. And nothing spikes the fear meter like a big dose of reality.

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Enjoy your salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Water Monsters You’ve Never Heard of: the Monster from THE HOST

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Let me make it clear that this freakish people eater isn’t underrated everywhere. In fact, when The Host came out in 2006, it became the highest grossing South Korean film ever.  But when I mention the movie in the west, most people give me a blank look.  And that’s a shame, because this beast is freakin’ awesome.

We all know how the story begins. Someone pours the wrong chemical into the sewer system, and nature coughs up a big dose of I told you so.  The theme—humankind’s arrogance will be the end of us—isn’t that original. So why does the monster from The Host make the cut?

One, the design of the monster is over-the-top original. If you took a catfish, increased its size a thousandfold, gave it legs and the maw of Predator—oh, and a prehensile tail, don’t forget that—you have one of the most terrifying creatures to swim in the deep blue sea.

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And unlike the weird lobster-tick-frog monster from Deep Star Six, the catfish monster registers immediately on the fear meter. Trust me, the first time this thing shows up on screen, you’ll spill your popcorn.

Two, this monster can hunt you on land. Most water monsters can’t chase their victims across playgrounds or parking lots. This restriction gives our survival stories some exciting “don’t go in the water” moments and feeds into our instinctive fear of dark, alien places like the sea. Our heroes usually end up perched on a raft or a few yards back on a deserted beach, thanking their stars and all things holy that they’re not IN THE WATER.

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Enter the creature from The Host. It loves the water. But it also likes to hang like a bat from underneath bridges, and it loves to run with wild abandon through crowds (with its weird webbed feet) causing general destruction and mayhem. Your safe haven? Gone. If you learn anything from The Host, it’s that no place is safe.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about the monster’s design. Ugly catfish thing is our Frankenstein’s monster, the beast we created. When your species is the cause of so many catastrophic changes to your planet’s environment, such as, well, dumping billions of tons of toxic chemicals into the ocean, you can’t just go back to your trailer and hide.

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Water Monsters You’ve Never Heard of: the Monster from DEEP STAR SIX

deep star six posterMost of us don’t remember the sea beast from the 1989 flop, Deep Star Six. Sure, it could be that the movie is the worst of many sea-themed movies to come out in that year. The pace of the film is slower than a PBS period drama, which doesn’t work when you’re trying to make people spill their popcorn. And the dialogue stinks—I’d seriously rather listen to a couple at Starbucks discussing their daughter’s soccer tournament. But I think there’s a deeper problem with this monster. The human brain just has trouble processing what’s on the screen.

Imagine that a horned frog and a tick had had a really big baby. Still confused? You’re not alone.

Making a good monster is tricky. You don’t want to create something that looks like every other kraken out there. But you also don’t want to be so edgy that your monster looks like a failed sculpture from your kid’s art camp. When the Deep Star Six monster appeared on screen, I was always so perplexed I forgot to be scared. What is it? Is it a rock with a mouth? Is it a mouth with a rocky growth around it? Is it a calcified Venus Flytrap? Hmmm. What could that be…oh, the scene’s over.

deep star six 8Despite the fact that I was SURE this thing couldn’t exist, the design of the monster in Deep Star Six is actually based on reality. This giant Eurypterid was a common water creature around 400 million years ago, but it thankfully died out, mostly because it’s gross. And be glad it’s gone. These Eurypterids could grow to eight feet in length and had pinchers that could slice their prey into nice little chunks of sushi. I should be scared of this thing.

There’s another reason why this Eurypterid doesn’t register on the scream meter the way crowd favorites like the Lake Placid alligator and the shark from Jaws do. Neither of those designs is original, but they’re still waaaay more interesting than the Deep Star Six monster. Why?

Part of the pleasure of watching a beast movie is that we’re witnessing an old-fashioned contest right out of prehistoric times—humans versus monsters. Those are part of the oldest form of storytelling, and we’re wired to fear the smart, relentless predators. It’s a battle of wits, not strength.

In Deep Star Six, you don’t get the sense that the monster is hunting so much as blindly running into things that it then reflexively kills. This gives the monster the same quality as a really dangerous robot vacuum.

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Despite all its flaws, I don’t want to forget the Deep Star Six monster. Even though the weird horned frog-tick-lobster monster failed to terrify me, I respect the crew that spent months building it from nothing—all before the days of CGI. I’d rather see an honest effort to scare me with an actual dinosaur than the intentionally dumb monsters the Sci-Fi channel cooks up, like Sharktopus and Krakenturtle. So weird frog-lobster-tick monster makers, I raise my glass to you. In the end, that monster was unforgettable.

deep star six monster 3

 

Water Monsters You’ve Never Heard of: Ghost Shark

When people think of water monsters, they go for the obvious. The Kraken. Jaws. Godzilla.  But while the A-listers are enjoying the paparazzi and the flash of cameras, the real workhorses of horror are ignored.  These sad sacks schlump around their reefs and lakes, bemoaning their obscurity. “Why does no one notice me? Don’t I kill people too?”

So I’ve taken it upon myself to write a series of blog posts about underrated and unknown water monsters. You’re welcome, D-listers. You’re about to get the spotlight.

Ghost Shark (2013)

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Despite my love of Jaws as one of the best horror movies ever made, I hadn’t planned to highlight shark movies. Films like Deep Water and 47 Meters Down promote myths that encourage the wholesale slaughter of one of my favorite animals, and they’re really not that dangerous. In fact, my best scuba diving moments have included sharks, some which have come within touching distance and didn’t take off my arm. Go sharks!

I’ll make an exception for Ghost Shark. This isn’t just any apex predator. It’s a dead apex predator that just happens to have come back to haunt the living with its razor sharp spectral teeth. So if you’re the next Captain Quint hell bent on eliminating ghost sharks from our swimming areas, have at it.

It’s not hard to see why this B-movie is overlooked. Most water horror fans are spoiled by high quality, slick films like The Shallows, and it’s hard to appreciate a glorious freak fest like Ghost Shark if you’re addicted to realism. But this blog post is all about the monster, not about the special effects. Good thing too, since I think they paid for the CGI with loose change they found around the studio.ghost shark underwater

But what this water monster doesn’t have in the way of looks, or brains, or style, or substance, it makes up for with pure power. Because of its ghostly nature, this beast, like the creature from The Host, isn’t limited to the ocean. Wherever there’s water, this giant glowing shark can magically appear and rip your head off.

Ghost Shark comes out of leaky kitchen pipes, Slip ’n’ slides, fire hydrants, and buckets of soapy water at a car wash. Mud puddles become mine fields of predator on prey action, and park sprinklers become a conduit to the evil lurking just beyond the veil. There’s even a ridiculous scene in which a guy relaxing at the water cooler in his office drinks the shark accidentally (spoiler: he doesn’t survive). Our heroes manage to avoid the horror for a while, but when it rains, it pours…blood. Which is what happens when you’re stalked by a shark that emerges from rain drops to eat your face.ghost shark rain storm

You might be asking yourself how this film ever got made. It’s billed as a horror comedy, rather than straight-up horror, but even for the Sci-fi channel, this is dumb.

Or is it?

This irrational idea comes from an equally irrational fear that usually remains buried in the faded years of early childhood. You’re six. You have your floaties on, and you’re lucky enough to score some time in the Motel Six swimming pool.  As you make your way into the deep end, reveling in a haze of chlorine fumes, an older kid yells “shark!” For one terrifying second, you believe it.

Horror would have a much smaller audience if we all survived our childhoods intact. There’s always a tiny part of us that still looks for the monster under the bed, the ghost in the closet, or the water monster lurking in the shallows of grandma’s swimming pool. So go ahead, embrace your inner child and check out Ghost Shark. You’ll never look at a Slip ‘n’ Slide the same way again.

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