Fan-Written ICHF: Princess Mombi

This ICHF was written by Title Known, who you can find at http://titleknown.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Princess Mombi.pngArt by Titleknown.

Ah Return To Oz, one of the great cult classics of 80s fantasy. Bombing at the box office due to sheer nightmare fuel but finding an audience over the years and; as I have noticed; far more beloved by fans of the actual long-running original Oz book series than the better-known MGM film.

The biggest question one has to ask about Return To Oz being included as an ICHF is: Is it even a horror piece? I did include it based on the ideas of a friend of mine who has a…. shall we say, unorthodox perspective on such things, and TT even wasn’t sure about it, but there is a case to be made.

Namely: Unlike other films of that 80s fantasy boom (Which I wish more modern films would take influence from), it is specifically defined by those horror elements, rather than having them as flavor like; say; The Neverending Story or The Dark Crystal.

Like, let us take the film’s opening. Instead of the Wizard Of Oz’s wistful musical number and then being whisked away into a technicolor fantasy land, how does it start? As a slow burn with Dorothy being taken to be “treated” for her talking about Oz, in what is revealed within a slow burn to be a horrifying old-timey asylumization situation, complete with electroshock therapy. The audience is drawn into the aspects of suspense with that slow burn revealing the darker elements,

And, so it goes too when she reaches Oz, there’s not the joyous chorus of Munkchkinland, but the slow reveal that something is very wrong. That the Emerald City has been turned into a wasteland of people made into statues, and inhabited by horrifying wheeled monsters is a slow burn, but even from the first look at the devastated yellow brick road, we know: something is wrong here. And, regarding those wheeled monsters, note how they lose the more comical elements of their defeat from the one of the original two books this was made from, in favor of pure lmice

And, so too when Dorothy gets to the palace with her new friend Tik Tok, and then we meet… Princess Mombi. And, while I could have used the film’s true antagonist; the horrifying Will Vinton-claymation Nome King; as the header for this, I picked Mombi (A composite character of Princess Languidire from Ozma of Oz and Mombi the Witch from The Magical Land of Oz) because she absolutely exemplifies that suspense I talk about.

We get a sense that something is wrong when this decadent aristocrat looks at Dorothy, while languidly strumming at a musical instrument, and seems to inspect her head, as if it were a piece of ripe fruit.

And the discomfort is further sealed when Mombi takes Dorothy into a hall of disembodied heads on stands. Disembodied real; human heads. And they’re still alive.

And then there is that squirmingly uncomfortable reveal when she takes off what we thought was her regular head, and replaces it with another one from her shelf. Right after she says Dorothy’s head will look interesting when it “ripens” and locks her up.

Cut to a bit later, after Dorothy has met a friend Jack Pumpkinhead after being locked up, and she has to retrieve the “Powder of Life” from the cabinet with Mombi’s original head She sneaks through, slowly, surely, tensely, retrieving the key from the headless Mombi’s neck. She opens the cabinet, carefully grabs the bottle, but then she slips….

And the head wakes up. And it begins screaming her name.“Dorothy Gaaaaaaaail. Dorothy Gaaaaaaaail!” And the other heads start screaming. And her headless body gets up to scramble for her original head. Sweet Jesus.

And, this is a climactic moment, a setpiece, a thing one remembers scarred into their brain.

And, with the whole film, while its ending is triumphant and beautiful, most of its runtime is filled with this suspense from the sense of wrongness of it all. Of how the beautiful world of Oz is devastated into a decaying wasteland and the slow; grim burn as to how this came to happen, with moments of pure nightmare fuel as the greatest highlights, whether it be Mombi’s hall of heads, the city of cackling Wheelers beforehand or the Nome King’s furious rampage near the end, almost all of the major setpieces are moments of terror after a long buildup of discomfort. Like a horror film.

It reminds me of another modern work; a video game; that is supposedly simply dark fantasy, but due to its own slow burn revelations about the mysteries of how its world came to ruin, combined with its gargantuanly grim setpieces, there’s also a case for it being one of the great modern horror works of its medium…

Yes, I am saying that Return to Oz is the Dark Souls of 80s fantasy films. I’m not sorry. But, if ever there is a case for expanding what we call horror, it is Return To Oz.

Editor’s Note: Yeah I originally wasn’t sure whether this can count as a Horror character, but when I read the movie synopsis and saw it started with Dorothy almost getting electroshock therapy, it did feel like there was a case to be made for it.  I still haven’t seen Return to Oz so I can’t say for certain whether it counts, but I feel a good argument for its inclusion has been made here.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fan-Written ICHF: King Jellyjam

This ICHF was written by Uncle Jellyfish, who you can find at http://unclejellyfish.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

51PBvAlvoPL Image borrowed from http://gigan389.wikia.com/wiki/King_Jellyjam

If you were a nineties kid, you  remember a certain book series. A series by one R.L. Stine, that ranged from silly to spooky, sinister to stupid. Whatever the quality, I am sure the theme song rings through your head right now.  Goosebumps, reader beware you’re in for a scare.

This series has created many monsters, fiends, and entities in its long existence, from the infamous Haunted Mask, to the honestly overrated Slappy the Dummy.

But this entry is for one being that managed to hold up as a genuinely unique and frightening idea even years later. This is King Jellyjam, of Book 33, The Horror At Camp Jellyjam.

For those who don’t care about spoilers, Jellyjam is the monster behind the titular camp, a massive, bizarre purple monstrosity that secretes snails and has total control over the councillors. From its underground lair, this beast uses the camp as a front to lure in idealistic children. At King Jellyjam’s sports camp, you compete in any sport possible, from tennis to chess, all to gouge your athletic prowess. Once you’ve won six “King Coins” you are celebrated as a champion-before you’re trapped underground to serve as Jellyjam’s latest slave, doomed to scrub the foul creature of his hideous stench until exhaustion kicks in-and you become his snack.

It’s never clear how long Jellyjam has run this evil system, but what’s clear is that at Camp Jellyjam, competition, peer pressure, and imposed standards of self-worth will doom you.

While a pretty horrible monster, Jellyjam is hardly given a character; he acts through his unwitting human pawns, never speaks, and doesn’t really appear until the climax. But years later, a reprint provides a sort of origin for the purple behemoth. Jellyjam was a mutant mollusc, born from radioactive waste and snails inhabiting an underground cave. Yeah, it’s pretty dumb, but that’s Goosebumps for ya.

What does make Jellyjam interesting to me, though, is the theme of competition and survival. This monster lives a miserable existence in a cave, only able to interact with the world through the humans frolicking above him. So he creates his own sense of lifestyle through destroying others. Like Stephen King’s Pennywise, the big purple beast preys on children’s insecurities, only instead, he uses their self esteem and drive to be better. In the end, Jellyjam is destroyed when one child leads the others to stop washing him. He’s powerless because of his bloated condition, and his lungs have failed to adapt to his stench, so he dies and his reign over the camp is finally over.

Now Jellyjam is an extremely ludicrous concept, even for this series. With how bloated and immobile he is, you could argue there’s  fatphobic elements to him. But I wrote about him because he is one of the closest things to scary Goosebumps has ever gotten, and another example of how wonderfully bizarre they could get with their monsters.

Finally, he presents an odd message in such a short silly book. There’s always been a little monster in our heads, telling you you’ll never be good enough. That you aren’t strong, or brave, and that you have no choice but to go along with what others expect of you, even if that’s not who you are. And like Wendy(the protagonist) and the other kids, we can choose to starve that beast, and come out all the stronger for it.

Editor’s Note: As a fan of Drawfee, I’ll always remember this book as being one of the few occasions where Julia couldn’t out-creepy the source material.  This only makes sense if you’ve watched Drawfee a lot.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fan-Written ICHF: Slappy

This ICHF was written by Cerothenull, who you can find at https://cerothenull.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Slappy_the_Dummy_(2015_film)Image borrowed from http://villains.wikia.com/wiki/Slappy_the_Dummy_(2015_film)

As a kid who grew up during the 90’s it was nearly impossible to ignore the immensely popular series of horror fiction aimed at kids, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps. While it wasn’t my first foray into the horror genre I’m sure it was a formative experience for many younger folks just as much as it was for me. With their colorful and evocative covers and titles that were at times ominous, amusing, or both it was no wonder they gained the attention of younger folks with a bent for the macabre. They introduced stories of a wide range of subjects with a plethora of frightening, intimidating, or downright ridiculous monsters and menaces that often stole the show. Sometimes the threat wasn’t even a creature, but rather cursed or anomalous objects and locations that attracted or caused misfortune for the children protagonists.

I distinctly remember sitting in 1st or 2nd grade at one of those glorious book-fairs while one of the teachers was pointing out various books and series to select. I hadn’t read a Goosebumps book by that point but I knew about them as the “spooky books” with the cool covers. The teacher went on this small rant about Goosebumps, saying they and horror stories weren’t really appropriate for kids, comparing it to drinking spoiled milk. I don’t know what the heck you were talking about, old teacher of mine, but it certainly didn’t stop me from diving headlong into Goosebumps.

I can recall many times spent with my nose crammed in a Goosebumps book, often reading through one within the day. It is easy now to see they had an influence on my tastes and writing habits.

Much like The Twilight Zone, the Goosebumps books loved to use the “twist” in order to draw in the audience one last time, typically on the last page or so that would leave a young me yearning to see what happened next. This would actually lead to multiple creatures or cursed objects or locations to become recurring characters as they return from their previous appearance to torment a new child or group of kids.

It was one of these recurring characters that became something of Goosebumps mascot. The only one in a Goosebumps story that actually caused genuine fear in me as a kid.

And their name was Slappy the Dummy.

First appearing in Night of the Living Dummy the haunted ventriloquist doll eventually went on to have more appearances in other books, video games, tv shows, and even as the main antagonist in the Goosebumps movie.

Amusingly, in his first appearance he wasn’t the antagonist. It was actually another cursed ventriloquist dummy, Slappy only revealing his true nature in the closing twist of the book after the protagonist sisters destroyed the initial dummy.

Possessed by the spirit of an ancient evil sorcerer who created him from wood carved from a coffin he typically appears as a mundane dummy. That is until his unlucky owners read an incantation from a card found on his person, reanimating him for a new round of mischief and evil. From there he would proclaim the child (and typically their similarly aware siblings) as his “slaves”. Why a possessed dummy requires child slaves isn’t necessarily explained I always viewed it as Slappy just doing the most evil thing he could, just because he could.

In hindsight and rereading I’ve come to find that for the most part those children that Slappy targets to be his “slaves” are nearly all girls. Now this adds a new level of menace to him, giving him a predatory bent that I didn’t notice or catch as a kid but now I know is an all too real threat for children, particularly girls, this day and age.

Of interesting note is the same incantation that would raise him from his slumber is quite capable of animating other ventriloquist dummies, Slappy more than once being defeated by another dummy (or mob of them).

I always found it kind of interesting and darkly amusing another semi-famous evil “possessed” ventriloquist dummy, Scarface from the Batman comics, was similarly carved from the wood of a prisons gallows struck by lightning. Must be something about the inherent ritualistic or supernatural properties of objects associated with death and morbidity.

What threat could a ventriloquist dummy possibly present you ask? He isn’t a knife-wielding slasher like Chucky, or a tommy-gun toting old-timey gangster like the aforementioned Scarface. He’s just a wooden ventriloquist dummy in a childrens book.

On a base threat level Slappy is shown to have a surprising strength despite his wooden form. However, it’s his cruelty, cunning, and trickery that make him a significant foe for the young protagonists. A master at mischief one of his favored tactics to torment those who awoke him is to cause horrible messes or commit petty and cruel pranks that are inevitably blamed on the protagonists. His pranks are almost always incredibly cruel and just plain petty, Slappy getting his kicks from seeing his targets hurting.

Evil and sadistic Slappy took immense delight in the pain and suffering he caused, the twisted dummy thriving on misfortune and manipulating his victims to his whims. Foul-mouthed, as much as one can be in a childrens book series, he always had creative insults for the kids who earned his attention.

So full of evil he was, embracing it the way characters like Skeletor or Cobra Commander did, that during a story where he was cursed to commit good deeds or else fall asleep forever he was so completely bitter and angry about it. So angry that it would get the better of him, ruining his attempts at selfish altruism just because being Good felt so Bad.

R.L. Stine has been on record saying that it was his own childhood fear of Pinocchio that inspired the evil Slappy. He took a silly premise of an evil talking ventriloquist dummy and made him into what I consider to be an enduring villain who could easily stand alongside characters like Chucky, Jason, or Pinhead, even if his origins and plots are less gruesome and gory.

If I had to place Slappy on the Four Horror quadrants, I’d have to say he fits firmly in the Gothic Horror region. A malevolent spirit haunting an inanimate object who relishes in cursing and hurting the innocent around them, just for the sake of it? Slappy certainly feels like he fits there for me.

One of the scarier parts of Slappy I’ve come to realize, and it applies to many Goosebumps stories as well, is that it wasn’t that he was a possessed living Dummy, it was that no one else would ever believe that he was. No parent would ever believe their child when they said the destruction of the house was actually the old ratty dummy, just the child acting out and blaming it on an inanimate object. Slappy would work to break the trust between guardian and child, or even trying to split apart siblings.

I think this was one of the things that resonated so much with kids who read Goosebumps. How so many of the protagonists in R.L. Stines books discover some horrifying threat, something that should be much too big a problem for them to handle. And when they approach the adults, they are ignored or dismissed as childish imagination or attention-seeking. Much like in movies or stories like It or The Gate, it is up to the children who must handle these threats because no one else will believe them or do anything about it.

In these books children were presented with danger and challenges and through their own wit and cunning they were capable of turning the situation to their favor or even outsmarting the monster. The intelligence of the reader was never insulted, instead accepting and even embracing that young people can handle intense themes and that they can feel conviction, fear, and bravery just as intensely as adults can. Much like K.A. Applegates Animorphs series, Goosebumps knew it’s audience was stronger than other adults would give them credit for.

The world is full of menaces, many of them presenting a real and significant threat, and sometimes you will not be believed by those in power when you try to bring it to light. That sometimes those who are supposed to protect you, can’t or won’t believe you so it is up to you to deal with these threats. Sometimes alone, but often with the help of friends or family.

They taught that evil is oftentimes someone who is merely just petty and delights in cruelty for the sake of cruelty. That sometimes what terrifies one person can be ridiculous to another and that it still doesn’t lessen or cheapen what the first feels and endures.

R.L. Stine understood this about children and young people. That they need to see themselves as the heroes standing against the evils that threaten them and those they care about. With a veritable menagerie of horrors and curses he wrote stories that kept many a young person occupied with his villains and evils. And it was one villain, an evil living ventriloquist dummy with a silly name, that became one of the most enduring images of the Goosebumps series.

Slappy the Dummy, for all his ridiculous concept, his horrible jokes and puns, all his cruelty and sheer love of being Evil and Bad, is a villain and monster that inspired his audience to understand, and even appreciate Horror. His books and the rest of the Goosebumps series, including tv and movie adaptations, helped introduce Horror as a genre to a whole generation of kids who grew to love and embrace it.

Editor’s Note: To this day I’m still baffled how I managed to not get into Goosebumps when I was a kid.  I was their target audience in their heyday.  It’s really weird.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fan-Written ICHF: The Goblins/Trolls/Troblins

This ICHF was written by Casey, who you can find at http://riftwitch.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

troblinsArt by Casey

Troll II is one of those movies that tends to be consumed less as a work of art and more as a recreational drug. While bad movies are a dime a dozen, Troll II is held up as THE bad movie. While it has the bad acting, shoddy special effects and incomprehensible writing common to most notorious B-movies, Troll II has something that goes beyond all this. While bad movies may be laughably inept, Troll II has an uncomfortability that’s difficult to describe. Comparisons to drug-induced highs are common to film criticism, but this movie is one of the few works that one can make a clinical, sincere, apt comparison to a childhood fever dream.

While we can pin the blame on its shoddy production value, most of what makes the movie as weirdly upsetting as it is falls on the shoulders of the movie’s not-titular-for-some-weird-reason villains, the goblin people of Nilbog.

The goblins are, in fact, the subject of the very first scene, as a small child named Joshua sits in bed, listening to the ghost of his grandfather tell him a scary story about goblins. Right off the bat, we get a good look at the monsters(Such as they are), and learn how they work: They’re strict vegetarians, for health reasons, but they’re so evil and sadistic that they prefer to turn people into vegetables to eat, rather than grow their own.

Some movies would tease us with a story like this, but treat it as a surprise when it turns out to be true. Troll II opts to clearly establish that it’s true, with the story being related as a warning to Joshua by a genuine ghost – and if you can’t trust the word of a ghost on whether or not goblins exist, what can you trust?

This scene also serves to quickly establish the conflict of the movie: Joshua’s family is arranging a month-long house exchange with another family in another town, so that the father can enjoy the farming community of Nilbog, and the rest of the family can watch him enjoy it, as all nuclear families are meant to. Gramps, however, is somehow aware that Nilbog is a town of goblins, and means to warn the family away before it’s too late.

Part of what makes the goblins stand out is that there’s no mystery to them. Right off the bat, we know they exist, we know what they’re about, we know what they want. The (theoretical)fear is derived from knowing this, and being powerless to stop it. The goblins are, in essence, boogeymen who’ve evolved beyond their dependence on beds and closets. Even when they take on human form, their presentation is laughably off-base. Nilbog could be sitting on a dozen Christopher Walkins, and you’d never even notice.

The goblins, while characters, are very clearly not humans. They talk in a stilted, aggressive manner, they move as though their humanoid bodies are unnatural to them, and they seem to operate less as individuals and more as a hive. You seldom see them outside of a group, they never disagree or argue, they never come into conflict with one another, and on at least one occasion they all speak in unison, referring to Joshua, not as “our little friend”, but as “my little friend.”

These are sapient beings, but they’re nothing like us. In place of human complexity, they’re simply driven to do evil, to trick unsuspecting victims into eating their food, then basking in their torment before ripping into them. They’re established to be excellent cooks, able to prepare all sorts of tasty vegetarian dishes, but prefer live prey. Once again, they are essentially boogeymen, creatures who exist to frighten and torment.

In many mythologies, goblins are considered a type of fair folk, and one of the rules of the fair folk is that one should never eat any food they offer. When one takes fairy food, any number of unpleasant things happen, up to and including being eaten oneself. It seems rational that the cursed food the goblins offer, which turns its eater into a vegetable is a reference to this fact.

Unfortunately, nothing in Troll II is rational, and the vegetarian angle came from the screen writer being put off by her main circle of friends all going vegetarian. Somehow, this feels even more appropriate than if it were simply fairies being fairies.

The monsters of Troll II don’t operate on any kind of reasonable logic as a society or as a species, but they do operate on some logic: That of a nightmare. They present themselves as human, but you see through their disguise. They pull you into an unfamiliar setting, and they corrupt things that should be good(In this case, food and hospitality). They have a silly gimmick(Vegetarianism) that sounds like a bad joke, and yet which is followed through on throughout the entire movie. They can chuck shoddy spears and nibble you with their pointy teeth, but they’re only truly dangerous when they convince you to eat their food, when you follow their rules.

And they do have rules. We eventually find out that the reason goblins’ vegetarian diet is… literally because they’re all on a diet. They have no morals, but they do have likes and dislikes, and it seems that every goblin in Nilbog is just repulsed by the taste of meat and the effects it has on the body. Meat is no fantastical goblin poison, they’re just really, fanatically health conscious.

When children create villains, they tend to make them embody or personify an aspect of their lives that they dislike. In this case, the goblins are clearly, among other things, a strawman against vegetarianism. They preach the benefits of a purely herbivorous lifestyle, but their own diet destroys lives just the same as if they ate human flesh directly.

There are many ridiculous monsters floating around film culture, but Troll II and its vegetarian goblins still manage to stand out. I think the reason for this is, despite every single aspect of its realization going horribly wrong, the goblins still touch upon an insecurity inside us all: The fear of powerlessness, of clueless authorities driving us head-first into our own destruction. We may not be scared, but we are uncomfortable, that inner child deep within us all recognizing how they work and being afraid, even when the rest of us isn’t.

Editor’s Note: I’d rank these guys in the same special category of bad monsters as La Carcagne from The Giant Claw, in that while their execution is, uh, less than great, there’s still a kernel of a good idea in them, and their cheesyness is still pretty endearing.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fan-Written ICHF: The Toxic Avenger

This ICHF was written by Casey, who you can find at http://riftwitch.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

the_Toxic_Avenger.pngArt by Casey

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A weak, socially awkward, all around pathetic man is viciously bullied by everyone around him, only to suddenly transform into an unstoppable killing machine, and sets out to lay waste to those who wronged him.

The formula for slasher films(Though not necessarily Slasher Horror) is widely recognized: We spent twenty minutes with half a dozen unlikable caricatures of human beings before watching a faceless goon systematically slaughter them in gruesome, improbable ways.

Though classified as horror, the focus of these films is often not to terrify us, but to provide catharsis, presenting an irritation in the form of the supposed protagonists, then making a spectacle of destroying that irritation. The slasher may be a monster, but the evils of humanity are represented by the victims, while the slasher represents the audience’s base desire to see punishment done.

This formula actually has a lot in common with superhero and fantasy movies: You present an undesirable status quo, where evil people freely destroy lives and stamp out happiness, you show us this world just long enough to make us uncomfortable, then you bring in the hero to kick ass and restore hope. The story fundamentally exists to bring the audience catharsis.

I compare these two formulas, because our pal Toxie here is an example of a film crew trying to film a slasher-style horror movie, then realizing halfway through production that they were accidentally making a superhero movie.

Tromaville New Jersey is unkind on a good day, with crime running rampant, with everyone with any modicum of power having gotten it by stepping on someone else, with murder, rape, extortion, human trafficking and environmental devastation just a fact of life.

Melvin Ferd, or Melvin Junko, depending on which movie and/or episode you’re watching, is a 98-lb weakling with a low-paying, menial job, no prospects and no clue – and in Tromaville, that’s the absolute worst thing you can be!

Mercilessly bullied, Melvin soon finds himself the victim of a prank where one of the patrons of the health club he works at seduces him, convincing him to put on a loud, pink tutu and tricking him into kissing a goat in a dimly lit room, only for what must be the entire membership and staff of the club to barge into the room and photograph him. In a humiliated panic, Melvin flees to the second floor, the crowd in hot pursuit, until he finds himself cornered and dives head-first out of a window and into an uncovered barrel of toxic waste sitting on the bed of a conveniently parked truck.

Covered in industrial gunk so caustic it causes him to literally burst into flames, Melvin continues to flee, his panic stronger even than the pain. In the comfort of his own home, he undergoes a dramatic transformation, his skin bubbling into a sickly green and fusing to the remains of his tutu, his muscles swelling and erupting out, his face literally melting into a new shape. Now a Hideously Deformed Creature Of Superhuman Size And Strength(tm), he finds himself even more of an outcast than before, and flees his home, wandering the shady streets.

And it is here on these streets that Melvin finds his calling, as violence and corruption run rampant on all sides. Seeing a gang roughing up an officer after he refused to take a bribe, Melvin rips the offenders to pieces with his newfound strength, clearly taking pleasure in the act. And yet when he’s alone with the terrified officer, he calms down, no longer feeling the need to kill.

And so this spree continues, with Melvin charging into every horror Tromaville throws at him, from robbers to human traffickers to mafia goons.

In most stories, a monster going around dismembering criminals would still be played for horror. “How long til that mindless aggression gets turned on innocents,” we would ask. There would be a theme of justice vs revenge, of those fighting monsters becoming monsters themselves.

But again, The Toxic Avenger is, when all is said and done, a slasher without the pretense of being in a horror movie. And so, the villains he battles aren’t simply annoying, but are the absolute worst humanity has to offer. Every single person he kills has a scene leading up to this, where they run over children for sport, or beat seniors to death, or peddle children as sex workers, and in one particularly infamous scene, even shoot a blind woman’s seeing eye dog!

The Toxic Avenger is portrayed quite plainly as the product of his environment – No outside force brought him here. Tromaville’s corruption turned the entire city into a scuzzy, slimy, caustic dump of pollution, both industrial and human. Green slime coats the ground long before and long after the mutating chemicals serve their purpose. Garbage litters the streets, graffiti covers the walls, and everyone looks like they’ve been wearing the same outfit for a month. There’s no visual disconnect between the good guys and the bad guys, because everyone is filthy and barely scraping by. This is an environment where people are driven to do evil, and that evil eventually came to a head and created something that fought back.

Melvin was pathetic, but he never had a chance in this world. In becoming a monster, it became clear that he had nowhere left to fall, and so he made his own purpose: Creating a Tromaville where people didn’t have to live in constant fear, where evildoers know better than to act on their impulses, where there’s a slight chance you might NOT get cancer from breathing the air!

And Tromaville, having corroded away every last standard and pretense it could ever hold, embraced the new monster hero, because finally something was making a difference.

Toxie is explained as having an innate, biological need to destroy evil, but the nature of this is never explore in the movies. It’s simply a powerful rage he feels at the sight of evil people. This need(referred to as an energy called ‘tromatons’) is finally elaborated on in the novel, explained as sortof a bargain-bin Captain America serum, where whatever is already inside the subject is magnified. Melvin, for all his faults, doesn’t like seeing people suffer, and so his energies are devoted to stopping anything that would cause suffering – unless it’s to someone we really dislike, which is pretty much half of Tromaville.

This trait is a boon, as it allows him to see through villains’ disguises, but has also been exploited multiple times, causing him to react rashly, or to lash out without understanding why. Fundamentally though, he does what he does to protect the innocent, not because any weirdly named power is forcing him into it.

In a more traditional slasher story, The Toxic Avenger’s brutal methods would be used to explore the darkness of the human soul, and in many ways this was likely the film’s original intent. But the filmmakers created a town that was so utterly vile that the monster they created to rip it apart seemed the hero, causing them to change their approach mid-production, and instead tell the story of a little guy who hit rock bottom, and still decided to help people because no one else would. Here and there, you can still see bits of this, like how the overtly superheroic name ‘The Toxic Avenger’ is only ever uttered once, at the end via narrator.

While slasher movies, and slasher horror in general are often rooted in cynicism, knowing full well that they indulge the darkness inside us, Toxie paints a more upbeat, optimistic picture of this system. Battling evil is everyone’s responsibility, and this is one monster who shows us that sometimes our darker urges are still rooted in a good cause. The other guys can explain the ways this can be abused, they have it covered, let’s just beat a rapist to death with his own arm for a while!

Editor’s Note: The Toxic Avenger series made me realize that super-hero movies and slasher movies are a lot closer than you might think.  Seriously, compare Tony Stark’s rampage in the cave in the first Iron Man movie to a Jason Voorhees scene, or Batman’s tactics with taking down criminals in Batman Begins to Michael Myers picking off teens.  It’s weird how easily these two genres can dip into each other, and The Toxic Avenger is sort of the perfect blend of both.

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Fan-Written ICHF: Killer Klowns

This ICHF was written by Casey, who you can find at http://riftwitch.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

kkfos.pngArt by Casey

Have you ever stopped and thought about just how bizarre clowns are – or more accurately, how bizarre our perception of them is? Clowns are entertainers, ordinary men and women who perform comedic skits for us, and yet as the surge of “clown sightings” in 2016 demonstrates, we tend to view them as a monster first and foremost. Every Halloween store in America is almost guaranteed to have clown monster masks and makeup right alongside the vampires, the werewolves, the pumpkins, the frankenstoids and the sexy catgirls.

What other professions can you say that about? Plagues doctors? Even those menacingly masked, cloaked figures who follow sickness, tend to actually be depicted doing their job, with the themes of sickness and devastation being an integral part of the creepy imagery. Clowns, meanwhile, you can plop right into a forest, holding a knife, and most people won’t even think anything is out of place. Yeah, clowns are creepy monster-men who stalk you through the night and eviscerate you, right?

About the only thing that can truly be compared to how we see clowns is how we see mimes. Pop culture tends to see mimes as some sort of counterpart to clowns, the hyena to clowns’ lion. Order vs chaos? And yet even then, there are noticeably more non-monster mimes than non-monster clowns in most modern fiction.

It’s thus no surprise that there are oceans of works to choose from, if we wish to analyze the clown-monster archetype. But I think that one in particular stands out above the rest in terms of capturing the essence of the archetype. The clowniest, most monstrous clown-monster movie of all time!

I refer to the 1988 cult classic, Killer Klowns From Outer Space!

Our story begins in the manner that horror movies tend to be known for: A group of teenagers are making out on a cliffside, when something falls from the sky and lands in the woods, prompting our adventurous heroes, Mike and Debbie, to investigate. You can make out whenever you want, but chasing meteorites is a rare treat! I actually really like this as a plot device, as these kids are proactive even before the stakes rise.

The film jumps straight into its own premise, revealing a massive, bizarre circus tent in all its glory. Mike and Debbie very quickly determine that they’re not in any kind of circus they’ve ever heard of, and soon encounter one of the tent’s owners, a short, clown-like creature.

The klowns are designed to give us a pretty solid idea of what they’re about right from the start. What we have are essentially white-skinned trolls of varying height, with bulbous red noses, colorful hair, a diverse array of vibrant facial markings, and baggy, festive clothing that obscures their stocky figures. These creatures are nothing like humans, and yet all the basic parts are there: Eyes, ears, noses, mouths, two arms, two legs, upright posture. Essentially, we are looking at the most elemental distillation of the clown concept, divorced from its human origins.

And this continues well beyond their designs, as the creature responds to Mike and Debbie’s intrusion by blasting them with popcorn, as opposed to anything that could actually stop them. When the teens escape into the woods, one of the klowns grabs a balloon and quickly twists it into the shape of a dog, using it to track the kids.

As the protagonists escape into the town to warn the authorities, the klowns regroup and head in, not to give chase, but to explore and cause as much havoc as they please before the real work begins.

KKFOS is not a movie that skimps on making the main characters likable, or in building the threat up, but it also doesn’t beat around the bush: The klowns are here, and they are the movie’s main attraction. While Mike and Debbie struggle to prove their story to the cops, the klowns simply wreak havoc all across the town, which leads me to the point that I think makes these characters the clowniest clown monsters of all.

The rampage is not framed or shot as a horror movie. It takes place at night, and maintains an eerie atmosphere, but the actual shenanigans are treated… well, like comic skits. We see the klowns set up their lethal pranks, we see unsuspecting townsfolk blunder into them, and we reap the schadenfreude as they succumb. No gag is repeated, no victim is quite like the others, every scenario has some sort of bizarre punchline. Not all of them are funny, but all of them follow the sort of logic one would expect a murderous entertainer to follow. Only a couple of scenes in the entire movie are actually played for straight, sincere horror, and even those still rely on the comic logic of the klowns, merely switching perspective to focus on the victims.

The klowns don’t talk, but they communicate a lot through simple body language – NOT an easy task with makeup that thick, I must add. There are several different individuals who each communicate certain quirks – The short one is sociable and upbeat, but has a vindictive streak a mile wide. The tall one is a sadistic bully who likes to deliberately lure people into a false sense of security, then strike. The skinny one is curious and spends most of his time sifting through(and utterly trashing) a convenience store, trying to figure out our technology.

Throughout the chaos, the klowns repeatedly come back to their ray guns which envelop victims in a cocoon of cotton candy, killing them either through suffocation or through the gun’s own power. While at first, this seems like just one more unexplained quirk, it soon becomes apparent that this ties into their ultimate goal: The klowns want to collect all the cocoons and take them back to their ship. Some victims, however, are taken alive, Debbie being among them.

I might also add that the raygun and popcorn cannon are some of their only unambiguously technological weapons, and even they end up having freaky, biological elements in their function. Most of their other stunts, it’s not clear how many of their tricks are technology and how many are natural abilities, nor is it made entirely clear whether each klown is capable of doing all of these things, or if each has their own special X-men klown power.

During a GLORIOUSLY gratifying scene where a corrupt sheriff is humiliated and murdered by one of the klowns, his not-so-corrupt partner discovers that the klowns, though seemingly bulletproof and impossibly strong, do have a weakness: Their fragile noses, if damaged, will cause the entire creature to spin around rapidly until it explodes in a shower of green sparks.

This is likewise never explained. Is the nose a regulator for the eldritch energies that power a klown’s various abilities? Are they really from another dimension, with the nose being their anchor? We don’t know, and we don’t need to know, because the essence of a clown is nonsense!

Oh, some things are explained, sure. As our heroes infiltrate the ship, we discover the purpose of the cotton candy cocoons, as one of the klowns enters the larder, feels several of them, before settling on one and plunging a crazy straw straight into the mass, slurping it up like a spider drinking the melted insides of a fly. The klowns did come to Earth with a purpose besides chaos for its own sake! Unfortunately, that purpose was to round up some snacks for the road.

Finally, in the third act, the teens attempt to bring some reason into this candy-coated nightmare. These creatures must have visited the planet centuries ago, and inspired what we now think of as clowns.

This raises SO VERY many more questions: Would we really find murderous monsters like this humorous, in real life? Did we create clowns as an act of defiance, mocking our oppressors? Were the klowns that previously visited us even as malevolent as these hungry bastards, or were they friendlier? Are these kids just full of shit?

These are more questions the movie knows it doesn’t need to answer. Brevity is the soul of wit, and nobody knows that better than a comedian. The klowns don’t need to be explained. We can tell right away what they’re about, and that’s what drives the story.

A clown is more than just its appearance. Its colors and proportions are outlandish, and this can add to the humor, but it’s the actions, the timing, the wit that ultimately makes them funny. By that same token, a monster clown is so much more than its appearance. Putting makeup on a snarling, feral beast might make it slightly creepier, but a true monster clown relies on comedy for its carnage.

There are many evil clowns in fiction. There are evil men who wear clown makeup to make a mockery of the horrors they inflict. There are pranksters with no regard for the damage their jokes do. There are otherworldly horrors who disguise as clowns to lure victims in close. There are demented show hosts who torment for the sake of entertaining in-universe audiences. But the Klowns are, in my opinion, the most distilled of them all, because everything about them revolves around their being comedians. We don’t know if they deliberately do what they do to amuse themselves, or if they’re simply psychologically incapable of not being funny because it’s how their species is wired. Do they choose to be clowns, or can they be nothing else? It’s such an integral part of them, it may be all of the above!

When the klowns fight, it’s with weapons that are meant for style more than effect. When they kill, it’s as a punchline to a skit. When they communicate, it’s in a language we can’t understand, because you never explain a joke. When they drive, it’s invisible mime cars. When they feed, they do it through crazy straws. When they pilot their ship, it’s in a big circus tent shaped like a top, because of course clown ships are visual puns. EVERYTHING about them revolves around the fact that they are clowns.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is devoted 100% to following its premise to the end. Its characters are fleshed out, but they’re archetypal. Its plot is briskly paced, but ultimately simple. And its monsters are the purest expression of their name that they could possibly be. There are other clown-monster movies, but this is THE Clown-Monster movie.

Editor’s Note: You really do owe it to yourself to track this movie down and see it.  It is an absolutely unique horror-comedy experience – there is no movie quite like it.

Posted in Atomic Horror Characters, Creepy Columns, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fan-Written ICHF: Frank Cotton

This ICHF was written by Irene Vallone, who you can find at https://irenemvallone.tumblr.com/.  I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!

Hellraiser_027_-_Frank_Cotton.jpg Image borrowed from http://headhuntershorrorhouse.wikia.com/wiki/Skinless_Frank

A while back, I asked this site’s esteemed author if he ever planned on writing an ICHF entry on Pinhead, the face of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser film franchise. His response was—to my shock and horror—no, because he simply didn’t like the Hellraiser movies very much (editor’s note: I don’t personally enjoy them enough to write a proper ICHF, but I readily acknowledge they’re more than worthy of being considered iconic). I don’t begrudge him his opinion; in fact, with the exception of the first film, I pretty much agree. However, I still think that the exclusion of Hellraiser leaves (as Clive Barker himself might describe it) a gaping hole in the author’s thoughtmeat. So without further ado, let’s get to plugging.

Sorry about that. I’ve honestly even grossed myself out.

You might be saying to yourself at this point, “Wait a second, this isn’t an article about Pinhead!” That’s true. After suggesting the Pinhead entry to the site’s author, I eventually realized that, while Hellraiser deserves an ICHF entry, it shouldn’t be about Pinhead.

Why?

When people see Hellraiser for the first time, they’re often surprised by how little Pinhead actually appears in the film—probably less than 10 percent of the movie’s total runtime. Heck, he isn’t even named in the credits; the actor who portrays him, Doug Bradley, is credited only as “Lead Cenobite”! And yet, his nail-studded face has become so iconic, so frequently referenced and parodied by everything from The Simpsons to Motörhead music videos, that he’s become something of a minor cultural icon, and people misremember or assume that his role in the film is much bigger. He’s iconic, sure, but he’s not the main monster of the movie. That honor goes to Frank Cotton.

If you’ve never seen Hellraiser, you might be asking yourself “Who? I thought Pinhead was the monster.” Well… yes and no. Pinhead is a monster in that he’s a frightening and inhuman creature, but Frank Cotton is a monster in a much more concrete, almost relatable sense.

Well, that and he’s also a frightening and inhuman creature—at least for most of his screen time.

When we first see Frank, however, he’s just a man—a man who claims to have experienced every pleasure the world has to offer. His hedonistic lifestyle has burnt him out on sensation, leaving him unable to experience any pleasure at all; not even gruesome sex with his brother’s wife, Julia, is taboo enough for him to enjoy anymore. So he does what any man in that situation would do—he goes to Morocco and obtains a mystical puzzle box, which, when solved, opens a portal to another dimension and releases a squad of scarred-up leather daddies called the Cenobites, who instantly rip Frank to shreds with a bevy of hook-tipped chains.

Frank, unfortunately, doesn’t stay dead. When his brother and Julia move into the house he was squatting in when he died, a mishap involving a stray nail gives Frank the taste of blood, and he emerges in the attic as a flayed and twisted ghoul. When Julia discovers him, he convinces her to feed him more blood, letting him slowly grow back to his normal handsome self—though he never quite figures out how to make his skin grow back. The blood in question comes from hapless men whom Julia picks up in bars, luring them to her home so that Frank can mutilate them and drink their fluids.

Julia is something of a Renfield to Frank’s Dracula, enthralled to his terrifying will. However, Julia is an entirely willing servant. No magic or mysticism compels her to kill on Frank’s behalf. He simply has a dangerous charisma, a natural magnetism that pulls her out of her humdrum life. Like Frank himself, she gradually becomes emotionally dulled by the sensory heights of sex and murder. But this article isn’t about her—it’s about Frank, and it’s about the Cenobites!

When Frank’s niece Kirsty learns of his existence, his immediate response is to sexually menace her (remember what I said about him being a monster?). As she escapes him, she steals the puzzle box that caused all this trouble in the first place. Recovering from her ordeal in the hospital, she solves the box, and the Cenobites appear before her, proclaiming themselves “explorers in the furthest reaches of experience”. To these creatures, pain and pleasure are one and the same. They’ve been immersed in such heights of both for so long that they can no longer tell the difference. Therefore, in a sense, they gave Frank exactly what he asked for.

The Cenobites also self-describe as “demons to some, angels to others” (a statement that is unfortunately retconned by the many, many substandard sequels). Like Frank himself, they are figures of complete moral ambivalence, interested only in the physical. Though they express an interest in reclaiming Frank for themselves, it’s out of no apparent desire to punish or reward—just to keep their games of the flesh going for a while longer. They only want him for his body, as it were.

I don’t imagine that these themes are ones that Clive Barker just decided on out of nowhere. Barker claims to have self-identified as gay since the late 1970s, and came out publicly in the 1990s. The manner in which the film presents pleasure and pain—inextricably connected, dulling to the senses, and unconnected to morality—are not dissimilar to homophobic stereotypes of gay men as hedonistic creatures of lust and disease. Barker wrote the film during the mid-1980s, during the height of the AIDS crisis; though he lived in England at the time, and the English gay community was less affected than the American gay community by HIV/AIDS, the subject was likely on his mind nonetheless. One wonders how much the film was influenced by homophobic rhetoric, twisted into a literal truth where gender-defying creatures of madness subject their victims to deadly pleasures. (Note that I’m not making any accusations of Clive Barker, nor do I wish to unduly speculate about his personal life; this is just how I read the film, and I think it’s at least a possibility from a historical perspective.)

I won’t spoil what happens from after the Cenobites appear; if you want to see the movie’s whackadoodle climax and potentially predictable yet entertainingly wild twist ending, you’ll have to watch it yourself. Suffice it to say, however, that Frank Cotton manages to be the most ugly and terrifying presence in a film that features a features a giant floating mole-rat with fangs.

Editor’s Note: One of the reasons I held this Jam was to cover horror characters that I personally am not capable of doing justice, whether out of lack of knowledge or my own personal aesthetic biases.  Clive Barker’s fiction is an incredibly influential and important part of the genre, and while I may not personally enjoy it, I am delighted to finally have one of his characters in the ICHF gallery.

Posted in Creepy Columns, Gothic Horror Characters, Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction, Slasher Horror Characters, Uncategorized | Leave a comment