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.

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