Just in time for Walpurgisnacht, you can now buy the first novel in my Wizard School Mysteries series, The Meddlesome Youths, in paperback and kindle at Amazon.com! Follow the link here.
In the fantastical land of Midgaheim, James Chaucer sets out at the tender age of eighteen to attend the Academy of Applied Arcana and Magic, the first ever school for wizards in the history of the continent. Yet he soon discovers the school is not as it seems when his fellow students begin disappearing. Together with his newfound friends, James uncovers unravels a dark mystery and uncovers a sinister plot that only eight meddling kids can hope to solve.
Can James and his friends stop this vile conspiracy? And can they do it while also passing their classes and learning to harness the strange and terrible powers of magic itself? Dragons, goblins, lake monsters, unhinged professors, and other dangers await in this first book of Wizard School Mysteries!
Last year for the site’s anniversary, I dropped dozens of monsters for 4 Horror War, a purely hypothetical mons game I made up in homage of a bunch of horror characters I like. Well, one of the things I’m doing this year is the first 4 Horror War DLC, House of 4 Horror War. There will be sixteen new arky families for your perusal this month. Today’s family belongs to Slasher Horror, THE TORTURE PRON FAMILY!
Strapped to a chair, Viewall is forced to watch the most horrifying acts ever witnessed, and shares the psychic damage of this with its enemies. The more violent the fight around Viewall gets, the more damage Viewall’s psychic assault deals in turn.
If forced to do sudoku puzzles, Viewall can evolve into Doomcube. Tapping into that most deranged of all dark forces, Math, Doomcube subjects its enemies to a rigorous set of deadly traps that can only be survived with quick thinking and a rational mind.
If put on a team with the Killer Toy arky Scarionette, Viewall can evolve into Puppetear. Though not fond of dolling out punishment itself, Puppetear excels and directing the carnage of the battlefield, making sure enemies get hit as hard as possible while making cutting commentary with every turn.
If told to keep its mouth shut, Puppetear can evolve into Orthodont. Though the terrifying contraption on its face appears to be a set of metal jaws on the outset, its actual purpose lies in tearing open this arky’s head, exposing their gory skull to scare enemies to death. If that fails, the terrifying contraption can be used like a set of metal jaws.
If asked to show some guts put their own heart on the line for a change, Puppetear can evolve into Paingel. Strolling onto the battlefield like a beacon of hope, this arky promptly tears open its own thoracic cavity, horrifying enemies with the sight of its dissected carcass before beating them with its mechanical wings.
If shown a documentary on the death penalty, Viewall can evolve into Guilloscream. Delighted to serve its single function, this arky slides around the ground, waving its leather straps in hopes of snaring a victim to shove into its maw and swiftly decapitate.
If shown a documentary on medieval torture methods, Guilloscream can evolve into Oxoven. While other large arkies would settle for swallowing their prey whole, Oxoven goes the extra mile by proceeding to set itself aflame, roasting its prey alive within its iron belly.
If Viewall eats too much popcorn and feels the need to leave its chair, it can evolve into Bideth. Though a killer toilet may seem too ridiculous of a concept to take seriously, Bideth reminds us that we are fairly vulnerable on the porcelain throne, and excels at killing foes when they least expect to be attacked.
This ICHF was written by SkarmorySilver, who you can find at https://twitter.com/silver_skarmory. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
If you’ve known me for long enough, both online and off, you’ll have found early on that one of the things that stands out among my long list of interests is prehistoric life. It might be a bit of a surprise though that instead of the usual popular movies about extinct animals, the top of the list being the one I will be discussing in this article, I grew up on documentaries about them. Where some people would say that they grew up with (aside from the obvious) The Land Before Time movies or maybe Dino Riders or something, I grew up with BBC’s Walking With series and Discovery Channel’s Dinosaur Planet. Despite my own insistence on scientific accuracy in educational media about such organisms, however, one particular piece of dinosaur media more than stands out among all the rest for me, artistic-license-related metaphorical warts and all. Ever since the first contest for fan-submitted articles for HorrorFlora’s Iconic Characters of Horror Fiction occurred, I’ve been patiently waiting for the second so I could analyze one of the most iconic characters in it, and now that it’s happening I can’t wait to do exactly that.
The character I’m talking about, of course, is none other than “The Big One”, the “clever girl”, or as everyone familiar with Jurassic Park calls her, just “the Velociraptor“.
If you readers wouldn’t mind me letting you in on a personal secret, I’ve actually got a hideously poor track record when it comes to stomaching most horror movies, particularly the more recent ones – the things that turns me off for the most part are the excessively bleak tone where everyone dies horribly in the end and the over-reliance on cheap, often gratuitous scares that often do nothing except suddenly jump out at you… the latter of which can easily dissuade someone as neurotic and easily startled as me. So it’s a surprise even to me that my all-time favorite movie, Jurassic Park, can be (and by some, has been) considered a horror film. I think it’s because it has a lot of similarities with older works that take the time to ponder topics like mortality, morality, or the consequences of our actions, and that also attempt to have their characters be people whom you can find yourselves emotionally attached to, with varying degrees of success. When the scary portions of the movie happen, the jumpscares are few and far between, the fear response is based on the constant, looming threat posed to the victims, and above all, while cloning dinosaurs from amber obviously isn’t really possible, the film does such a good job of making it LOOK like it could happen through realistic behavior on the part of every human character, well-done pacing, engaging dialogue, and authentic interactions from start to finish. You really feel for everyone as the power goes out and things take a frightening turn.
And then, just when you think things can’t get any worse… THE BIG ONE says hello to the naughty humans and decides it’s murder time.
Velociraptor – the actual fossil animal, as opposed to the depiction seen in the movie – was actually discovered in 1923, and prior to the 90’s it was an obscure animal only discussed in scientific textbooks. From the 70’s onward, it would frequently be brought up in relation to its larger cousin Deinonychus, the genus whose discovery single-handedly kicked off the Dinosaur Renaissance. This series of discoveries and new hypotheses dramatically changed the academic view of these creatures from lumbering cold-blooded reptilian colossi to the more active, agile, bird-like animals we now know they are. Understandably, though, the public was adamant on keeping dinosaurs as quite literal “fearfully great reptiles”, because who wouldn’t like to imagine that there was a time period when terrible lizards dominated every corner of the planet? For all intents and purposes, the Mesozoic was the chronological equivalent of those places on old maps that would, at least in popular culture, be marked with the phrase “Here Be Dragons” – unknown, untamed, and full of terrifying beasts that defy the imagination. In other words, to popular perception at the time, science was “ruining” dinosaurs.
So when one Michael Crichton wanted to write a novel about a theme park full of extinct animals that goes pear-shaped faster than a raptor can get the drop on an overconfident game warden, it’s safe to say he had his work cut out for him. If he couldn’t scare the public with a dinosaur depiction based on the new discoveries about this clade, then the concept of the prehistoric monster would, well, go the way of the dinosaurs (well, the nonavian ones, but that’s beside the point). Having personally read the novel and its sequel, I’d say he succeeded admirably despite the books having a couple of unrelated issues of their own, but this article is about the movie, so let’s get back to that, shall we?
Jurassic Park: The Movie had to cut out a lot of elements from the book to make the two-hour-and-seven-minute runtime it had, and whatever it kept in its list of things to adapt, it had to make it count. The Velociraptors (dubbed as such rather than Deinonychus because Crichton had referred to Gregory S. Paul’s classification that lumped them under the Velociraptor genus… which was rectified just a smidge too late) were, of course, a key element that needed to be included no matter what. I mean, their involvement in the plot, and particularly the scientists underestimating these things, forms the freaking crux of what I like to call “the ‘great googly moogly it’s all gone to shit’ part” of the book. The Tyrannosaurus deserves – and has – her own ICHF article, but really, it’s the Velociraptors that are the saurian movers and shakers of the harrowing latter part of the story. If they weren’t convincing on the big screen, the movie would be a disaster. But being based on Deinonychus – the poster-child for the movement portraying dinosaurs as being more like birds than lizards – meant that being just your typical lumbering antediluvian horror was off the table. What was Steven Spielberg to do to make an undeniably bird-like dinosaur into a frightening villain?
In truth, it was a combination of factors that led to the Jurassic Park “Velociraptor” (I will use this genus name henceforth for the sake of clarity) becoming as iconic of a movie villain as Freddy Kreuger, Dracula, or Ridley Scott’s Alien. One is that in hindsight, the reason we don’t think much of birds – the dinosaurs still with us today – is that they are almost all much smaller than we are. Even today, the comparison between feathered dinosaurs and chickens is always derisive – nobody thinks a typical bird could be a danger to us humans. But the birds that eat other animals – with particular emphasis on those which the word “raptor” originally applied to, such as hawks and eagles – are nightmare fuel to the animals they hunt, and even creatures as big as deer and sheep aren’t safe… to say nothing of what a pissed-off bird of prey can do to a person. A hawk the size of a wolf (which sums up the real Deinonychus pretty well) would be a creature you wouldn’t want to run into, whether it be in a dark alley, an abandoned kitchen, a field of long grass, or just about anywhere else, honestly. So if you made a predatory bird much bigger than normal – to, say, six feet in height – you’d have a pretty terrifying monster. And the early claymation test clips for the Velociraptors did, indeed, demonstrate very bird-like movements already. These agile, fleet-footed hunters were a far cry from the ponderous giants of old, but with a little tweaking, they were well on their way to becoming every bit as monstrous as the cinematic dinosaurs before them. Note, however, that I specifically said “with a little tweaking”. I’ll come back to that later, but first, let’s see what the film’s presentation of the raptors was like. (The book has its own approach, too, but I’m more familiar with the film, so…)
The very first scene of the movie is a botched attempt at transferring… something… into its new enclosure. Whatever is in the moving box, it decides that peace was never an option and rams the box, jostling it just enough to allow it to drag a worker inside for a savage mauling. We only get glimpses of the shadowed figure inside, and a flash of an ominous reptilian eye, but nothing else is shown – only the screaming worker and a frantic Robert Muldoon (Say it with me, everyone: “SHOOOOT HEEERRRR!!”) appear on screen. It’s a vivid scene that sets the tone of the movie quite nicely – the park is already on the verge of catastrophic failure due to the staff underestimating the animals it’s keeping. And as we find out much later in the movie, the raptors are more or less the epitome of that problem.
Following this, we get another sneak preview of sorts, in the form of a fossilized “Velociraptor” skeleton being unearthed, wherein Dr. Alan Grant discusses how raptors are actually more like birds than cold-blooded reptiles, and gives a young heckler the fright of his life by describing in graphic detail how a raptor pack is capable of killing you. Kudos has to be given to the script here, because as I’ve mentioned before, Velociraptor and Deinonychus were both fairly obscure before this movie. The T. rex already has enough of a reputation that its mere mention is a big deal, with no explanations necessary, but not so much for the raptors, which was arguably why a few discussions were devoted specifically to what made them so formidable. The scene with Grant scaring the crap out of that poor kid does that job admirably, and the dialogue he delivers is downright chilling in its own right. You have little more than his word to go on here, but the mental image is vivid, disturbing, and pitch-perfect as an introduction to the most dangerous type of dinosaur in the movie.
So when the park visit includes a live dinosaur egg hatching and Grant discovers that the baby is a Velociraptor, the horrified look on his face when he asks, “You’ve bred RAPTORS?” pretty much speaks for itself. And I’m pretty sure audiences watching this movie for the first time would’ve felt the same way, too.
Immediately afterward is a brief stop by a high-security, electric-fence-lined pen containing more Velociraptors – ADULT Velociraptors – and Muldoon introducing himself to the other protagonists with the sentiment that of all the kinds of dinosaurs that the park could’ve recreated, THIS one shouldn’t have been one of them. At the same time, there’s a feeding session going on, with a live steer being lowered into the raptor pen, followed by the noises of exactly what you’d expect if you’ve been paying attention to the movie up to this point. We don’t see the raptors themselves, but the SOUNDS are once again self-explanatory. These are very dangerous dinosaurs, and whatever the staff does, they should NEVER let them out of their enclosure. And the conversation following this formally introduces the Big One, their most recent acquisition, describing how vicious she is even for her own kind, having killed all but two other raptors. It also provides one other thing that’ll be revisited later: These creatures are SMART. Smarter than the old perception of dinosaurs as having walnut-sized brains and too little intelligence to survive, and certainly smarter than the park suspected. They were testing the fences for weaknesses systematically. THEY REMEMBER.
For much of the rest of the movie, the Velociraptors are all but brushed aside, as the T. rex takes center stage, and in fact there’s almost no mention of them at all… until a complete shutdown and restarting of every single power source in the park is required in order to reboot the computer system and get rid of the virus one Dennis Nedry (or, uh, one ex-Dennis Nedry, but I digress). To get the power back on, Ellie and Muldoon have to get to the maintenance shed where the switches are located, but as they make their way there, they happen upon the Velociraptor pen… and discover a hole big enough for a six-foot turkey to fit through in the now-deactivated electric fence.
You can almost FEEL the tension from this point forward. You don’t know when or where the former inhabitants of the raptor pen will show up. You almost expect them to jump out at Ellie or Muldoon at any moment before they can get the power back on. Of course, they don’t, and Ellie succeeds in her task… until a live Velociraptor lunges out at her! And then, even worse still, a fleeing Ellie thinks she’s found another supporting character who went to the shed before her… only to discover to her horror that she’s instead found HIS SEVERED ARM. Seriously, that particular scene traumatized a close friend of mine when he saw the film during his youth, and I was scarred for life only slightly less when I saw that the first time. Still, if this isn’t a good indicator that we’ve reached “the ‘great googly moogly it’s all gone to shit’ part”, I don’t know what is.
So that was the first introduction to the Velociraptors proper, and from this point forward, the movie pretty much never looks back. Every single scene involving the raptors is truly incredible in terms of effects, cinematography, music and sound, and nail-biting pacing. Cunning predators though they are, they defy every expectation of both the park staff and the audience to awe- and terror-inspiring effect. Muldoon thinks he can get the drop on one of them? The Big One, the “Clever Girl” I mentioned earlier, ambushes him in a similar way to how Alan described near the start of the movie. Ellie claims the humans will be safe inside the visitor center as long as the raptors don’t figure out how to open doors? Cue the kitchen doorknob turning. The kids, Alan, and Ellie try to sneak their way out of the computer lab through the air duct to avoid attracting their attention? One of them suddenly knocks down one of the AC hatches just as Lex is on top of it and almost grabs her. So when the two remaining raptors corner the humans in the visitor center entrance hall, that’s the point where you think there’s no escape and that everyone is doomed to die… which is what makes the T. rex showing up and killing them both such a triumphant moment. Nature threatens, but nature saves. There’s a reason that climactic fight is THE most iconic moment of the film, and one of the most famous in cinematic history. Like with the T. rex, the raptors were portrayed using state-of-the-art visual effects, with the claymation originally proposed replaced with computer-generated models. Ultimately, though, the motion work done with the claymation dinosaurs was used as a basis for that of the CGI creatures, which had one significant advantage over claymation: smoother, more fluid movement, like that of an actual animal, without the jerkiness of stop-motion or the clear traces of a miniature model being spliced into the film. For their time, the resultant effects looked real, and they still hold up reasonably well today. But additionally, the raptors were brought to life via sophisticated puppetry – the kind that allowed the actors to interact with the creatures as though they really were present. Muldoon got pounced on by a stuntman in a raptor suit, and those viciously-taloned feet stepping on the kitchen floor were part of a life-sized armature worn by another technician like a pair of pants. More than a little cinematic sleight of hand had to be used to avoid ruining the movie magic, but the end result was was worth it. These creatures seemed a lot more like real animals than any movie monster before them. They moved, ran, leaped, and pounced so fluidly and believably that if you were to watch the movie in the theaters, you’d almost think those were real dinosaurs come back to life.
Furthermore, it should be noted that for the most part, the dinosaurs behaved like real animals, rather than the savage primordial hellbeasts pop culture portrayed them as prior to this movie. Even the T. rex was focused primarily on hunting creatures bigger than people. So it stands to reason that the Velociraptors are unusual BECAUSE their being so inclined to hunt and prey on human beings is unusual. Like many man-eating animals in real life, they’ve figured out that we are easy prey, and unlike the T. rex, they are relatively small enough to find a grown man a worthwhile target. There are a few scenes from later installments in the series that show that the raptors are willing to hunt other sources of fresh meat – including other dinosaurs – but as far as I can tell, they’ve claimed more lives throughout the franchise than any other depicted prehistoric species. In any other circumstance, they might have been a natural part of the ecosystem, but because we have discovered them through means we should have been more careful with and have failed to take the necessary precautions, we are now at their mercy. It is truly no wonder Muldoon wanted them all destroyed.
Even with my insistence on scientific accuracy in dinosaur media, I hope I’m not inviting controversy and hate when I say that I sincerely and unironically love the look of Jurassic Park‘s Velociraptor. It’s not accurate, sure, but it’s iconic for a reason. That said, you may ask, why does it resemble a long-legged, sickle-clawed lizard, with nary a feather in sight? Even before the Jurassic Park film’s release, it had already been speculated that smaller predatory dinosaurs, such as Deinonychus and indeed Velociraptor, were so bird-like in their biology and anatomy that in ancient times, they would’ve been covered in feathers, not the scales or scutes of the layman’s definition of “reptiles”. Indeed, modern palaeo-art portrays dromaeosaurs as being long-tailed birds with toothed snouts instead of beaks, far from the bipedal lizard-like creatures from 80’s artwork such as the kind made by John Sibbick. But the idea of feathered dinosaurs, at least at the time of the first JP film’s production, was still not yet accepted because there hadn’t been that much evidence for it – the famous feathered dinosaur finds of China had not been unearthed yet. So at first glance, it’s somewhat understandable that the movie’s Velociraptor is entirely scaly. But I believe there’s another reason for the absence of feathers, and a simple one at that: scaly dinosaurs just look more “monstrous”. From a layman’s perspective, an animal with a soft covering like a mammal or a bird would be less likely to be as formidable than a scaly animal like a reptile, purely because we are more familiar with mammals and birds than we are with snakes and lizards. Granted, we have monstrous mammals like werewolves, but they have been changed drastically from the original animal in various ways, such as being much bigger or given subtle characteristics of other animals like humans. And that, I believe, is the key distinction that makes the design of the JP raptor a “monster” rather than a mere “animal”. It takes the framework of a Deinonychus, heavily distorts it with such changes as paw-like rather than wing-like hands, an even larger size than in the actual fossils, and more menacing teeth and talons, and drapes the covering of a different animal like a monitor lizard over the whole thing in the vein of those weird video-game mods where one character gets the rigging of another very different one, often with freaky results. To both the layman and the palaeontologist, it seems unnatural the more you look at it, and that plays into one of the themes of the book version of Jurassic Park: that the public’s perception is key. There is frequent mention that these genetically engineered creatures are not the same as their prehistoric counterparts, not just because DNA of other animals was used to fill in the gaps in the genome, but because they were purposely engineered to fit the public’s perception of dinosaurs rather than imitating the real thing. Basically, imagine Frankenstein’s monster, but instead of parts of human bodies, it’s the genetic code of animals both living and extinct – but as with Victor’s creation, no thought was given to the well-being or behavior of the raptors, with lethal results.
This is why I have no hate-boner for the Jurassic Park-styled Velociraptors, and why I have come to admire their designs on their own merits. These movie monsters are not real, and never were to begin with, but in every sense, they are predators entirely of human creation. What the filmmakers did was take a real animal, distort its appearance and behavior, and turn it into a beast of modern mythology in a startlingly similar way to how dragons, unicorns, and krakens came to be. And just like the real-life inspirations of many ancient fantastical beasts are seen as more mundane and familiar than their legendary counterparts – and hence, more “boring” – so too does the public seemingly find the purposely monstrous “raptor” more exciting than the subtler but more scientifically accurate “dromaeosaur”. And that’s okay. I’ve always been fascinated by what dinosaurs were really like, and I’m probably among those who wish Hollywood would be willing to depict them in truer ways to the fossil record, but deliberately vintage movie monster dinosaurs can also look interesting and thrilling in their own way with enough creativity applied. Some people may throw tantrums and insults at others just because they like the more monstrous pop-culture raptor, but there is no dichotomy between the appreciation of this fictional creature and the appreciation of its inspiration, and liking one does not automatically mean hating the other. There is room for both in my heart, and I certainly wish more dinosaur aficionados felt the same way.
My love of the Jurassic Park movies has shaped so much of who I am as a person, and I’m certainly not the only one who can say that. While the depictions of the dinosaurs in the first movie are certainly dated now, its combination of modern science and Hollywood imagination was revolutionary for its time, and its cultural reach has been so extreme that the public perception of dinosaurs in general was irrevocably changed. It is thanks to this amazing film that Velociraptor became a household name, and it wouldn’t be the last time that the franchise would enable a dinosaur genus to rise to stardom. Nowadays, every piece of entertainment media with dinosaurs in it pretty much has to reference raptors in one way or another. It’s worth noting, however, that so many of these imitators feature only shallow references to Jurassic Park that don’t take into account the artificial nature of the original movie’s prehistoric beasts in general. I’ve seen more than a few works where featherless, oversized, zombie-handed dromaeosaurs have even turned up in the Mesozoic era, because apparently, the public can’t recognize and doesn’t care that these works are unknowingly replacing a very real animal with the fanciful, exaggerated image that JP basically forced upon the public to get its messages across. And unlike with snakes, rhinos, or giant squids, we will never get to know dromaeosaurs as they truly were thanks to how separated we are from them in the timescale of Earth’s history. Maybe someday the time will come for a new era of more scientifically accurate movie dinosaurs – and in fact, I’ve already seen a few recent prehistoric media works whose raptors have at least some degree of feathering, so that turning point might actually be sooner than expected. But as it stands now, it’s no accident that the Jurassic Park Velociraptor and its iconic portrayal, from its trademark calls to its uniquely sinister appearance, have stuck with me and so many others to this day, and of all the different kinds of prehistoric monster in the franchise, it remains my personal favorite. Outdated though it may be, this mythologized, monstrous, and entirely fictional retro-raptor is every bit as deserving of its status as a horror movie icon as Dracula or the Alien. Evolution may have allowed the real animal to come to be, but it is we who made the monster.
This ICHF was written by Dinosaurana, who you can find at https://dinosaurana.tumblr.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
I feel I should add an additional editor’s note here. In the past, I’ve referenced the shark from Jaws as an example of a monster who is not written as a character, but rather as a force of conflict, and specifically as an example of how monsters-as-conflict can be done well. While I still hold that view, the whole point of having ICHFs written by other people is to show opinions and analyses that aren’t mine, as having different viewpoints on the horror genreis a good thing. So please give this counter-argument to my own the good faith it deserves.
A dark, moon lit beach, a few party goers, and a score of six basses, eight celli, four trombones and a tuba were all that it took to change the world of horror in a single film. And the star of the show was not a mutated creature, a supernatural horror, or something made directly by man. No, the creature for this was something natural, without any noticeable change: a great white shark.
There’s hardly a film that had such an impact on horror like Jaws did on the American minds. With Steven Speilburg’s touches and some innovative techniques, they were able to instill a sense of dread. For a large portion of the film, we don’t even see the shark itself swimming in the waves. We’re instead brought into it’s perspective from down below, watching people swim and frolic in the waves, and the sudden movement as something large strikes in.
And while there have been arguments made of how the shark of Jaws was not the villain, it’s sense of menace is nearly everywhere in the film. Even the scenes where we find the bodies, investigate the wrecks with Sheriff Brody, the air seems tense. You check the waves for the chance of the shark as they search the boat of Ben Gardner, and find him still in there. Even earlier, with each time the ocean is seen, you can’t help but search for a glimpse of the menace. With each death, a little more is shown. The fins turning in the water. The tooth, one of dozens. It starts to paint the dread in the mind that this thing out there, it’s a natural born killer.
These moments of suspense eventually build into a climactic battle, where the beast appears for a brief second, black eyes and open maw, nearly sinking his teeth into the arm of Brody. It circles around, tagged with a barrel, and then vanishes. It takes until the wee hours of the dawn and it returns, damaging the ship and starting the slow sinking of the ship.
From here, the battle begins. Harpooned with barrels, a tug of war, and the boat soon dies. And then it becomes a race against time, and the shark has the advantage. Those who enter the water in it, seemingly end up dead. The final climactic battle has it seemingly taking it’s victory lap, and go in for the kill.
Of course, it ends a bit more.. Explosive than the shark could’ve predicted.
But the impact it had, changed film entirely. Every other box office film, every other big budget film, looks back here. At a singular, killer shark, who haunted the minds and hearts of an entire generation that still reaches to this day as a masterful piece. And on a PG film* no less.
It is also worth noting that, with the success of Jaws, a new genre of horror was born. The concept that man had affected nature and it would lash back became a staple of horror films since then. From films taking the plot and placing it in other creatures, such as Grizzly and Orca, to taking more liberties with the base concepts like Lake Placid and Prophecy, it kicked off a subset of films known elsewhere as animal horror films. The reasons range from the beats of Atomic Horror, such as pollution, experimentation, and the such, to gothic roots in more supernatural happenings of creatures.
But all those since 1975 all look back to that one film, where a single shark took the lives of five people, and caused a world to feel fear at the apex predators that dwell off the shore. While film exists, we’ll always feel the echo of that haunting melody, and the feeling that something deep down, is watching us.
This ICHF was written by SkarmorySilver, who you can find at https://twitter.com/silver_skarmory. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Picture this: You’re on a stroll one night, minding your own business, when suddenly, you find an unforgivable crime about to take place directly in front of you. Like any reasonable person would, you rush in and stop the perpetrator from doing whatever despicable deed he was planning. The day is saved, the potential victim is free to return to their own life and you to yours, and that’s the end of that, right? Haha NOPE – turns out, the would-be perp has a ridiculously high social standing and more than enough political clout to retaliate without consequence, and promptly does just that by pinning the blame on you for the crime, as you do. With your reputation ruined, you have no choice but to skip town, only to find that by sheer bad luck, the same person who framed you has stopped by the new place you settled down in, and is protected by way too much legal red tape for you to do anything to him. What do you do?
Why, you throw all regard for the corrupt and incompetent legal system out the window, enter a world representative of all of humanity’s subconscious, and subdue the inner personalities of not only the person who framed you but a whole bunch of other rotten douchebags besides, of course! The Persona franchise has actually been touched upon in the ICHF column before, but the most recent game in this series as of this writing, Persona 5, has a noticeably different feel compared to its predecessors. It’s also the installment that really gave said series a new lease on life, being the best-selling entry in not only Persona, but the entirety of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise which is its forbearer. Like more than a few other people, I was introduced to Persona thanks to a well-known publicity stunt in the 2018 Game Awards that announced to the world at large that the protagonist of Persona 5, codenamed Joker, was being added as a playable fighter to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a move which was, and still is, one of the best ways to get people interested in any video game franchise in general. In anticipation of Joker being a playable Smash fighter, I began watching a close friend stream the game, and just like that, I was hooked. I could talk about so many different aspects of the game as a whole, including its sophisticated yet relatable themes, its endearing ragtag cast of misfit heroes, and the foes they overcome for the sake of their own and others, but because these articles are supposed to focus on a single character, I felt the need to narrow the scope a little. So with that, let’s talk about Joker himself, and what makes him so distinctive as video game protagonists go.
The plot of Persona 5, which for much of its first two acts is told through a prison interrogation following the obvious tutorial stage which takes us through a scene that will of course be revisited much later in the game, is kicked off when Joker (who goes by the name of Ren Amamiya in the anime adaptation and Akira Kurusu in the comics, but can be named by the player in-game and will be referred to as “Joker” for clarity) encounters a grown man about to sexually abuse a helpless woman. After interfering before it can take an undoubtedly horrific turn, he finds himself thrown under the figurative bus by the man he stopped, who mounted a smear campaign against him and got him expelled from school. Joker is thus sent off to Tokyo to stay with a friend of his family and attend Shujin Academy during his year-long probation, and it is here where he meets the first “party member”, the rebellious Ryuji Sakamoto, and discovers that Suguru Kamoshida, the gym teacher at Shujin, has been proverbially shitting on nearly everyone else in the school, having little to no opposition due to being a former Olympic champion. When said gym teacher catches on and threatens hideous retribution on Joker and Ryuji, their escape leads them into the Metaverse, a supernatural alternate dimension embodying the inner thoughts of every human being, and are aided by a cat-like being called Morgana along with their newly summoned Personas, entities which represent their inner selves and carry supernatural powers. Things only worsen as another student, Ann Takamaki, is also dragged into the mix, and when a friend of hers’ attempts suicide to escape Kamoshida’s abuse, she joins the group in a bid to avenge her. Once they reform Kamoshida by stealing his “heart” (the most prized artifact within their personal “Palace” within the Metaverse representing their sinful behavior) and witness his public confession, the group become the founding members of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, and end up getting involved in more adventures of escalating urgency and recruiting more and more members until, surprise surprise, they uncover a local governmental conspiracy and are forced to steal the “heart” of the very same person who framed Joker in the first place, the corrupt politician at the head of said conspiracy.
And on top of all of this, a mysterious figure has ALSO been messing around in the Metaverse in a way that’s been resulting in people inexplicably dropping dead in the real world… The main story of the game converges with this particular background plot near the end of the second act, when a family member of one of the members of the main party, whom they had just succeeded in reforming, is targeted by the mystery killer and dies of heart failure on live television, with the Phantom Thieves as the only possible culprits from the perspective of the public. Not wanting to risk a repeat of the scapegoating that got him in trouble in the first place, Joker decides to take matters into his own hands once again, using a few seemingly innocuous but very important clues earlier in the story to piece together what’s been going on and outwit the conspirators who are now out for the Phantom Thieves’ blood. Without spoiling anything further, I can assure you that from there it all gets more insane and goes more downhill from there, but in a way that’s extremely intriguing and worth following until the very end – and beyond even that in the enhanced re-release, if you manage to complete a certain objective before a particular point in the main storyline.
Persona 5 is, tellingly, a good deal darker than the previous games, which in the first place were already willing to dip into some pretty dark material. But this is the game where we get to see humanity at its worst, and in fact the entire concept of mental “palaces” exists because some people really are that despicable and incomprehensibly cruel. Hell, the antagonist whose Metaverse counterpart serves as the game’s first boss is a pedophilic rapist who, as mentioned, abuses his trainees with impunity and, notably, inflicted a career-ending injury on Ryuji and got him ostracized by the school track team just because he tried to stand up to him. On top of this is a lot of disturbing imagery, even more so than in the previous games, with bosses whose appearance and behavior are extremely creepy and perfectly reflective of the crimes their real-world correspondents committed. On the flipside, the initial awakening of the Personas involving a mask literally being fused to the face of each new party member which forces them to rip their own skin off as the contract with them is formed, which is ominously – and no doubt intentionally – similar to a stereotypical deal with the devil. Overall, this game took a lot of elements that were already present in previous games which had the potential to go in directions befitting a piece of horror fiction, and made them do so. The M rating is there for a damn good reason.
And yet, in spite of all the nightmarish imagery and all the awful things that various people do throughout the story to try and maintain their hold on their ill-gotten gains both physical and metaphorical, and in spite of being branded as a rebel and a criminal, every action Joker performs and every choice he makes is purely for the sake of others. Almost all of his dialogue options, as snarky as some of them can be, are spoken with the intent of empathizing with those he interacts with, whether or not they are working with or against him. Of equal importance is that a significant percentage of the social links he establishes throughout the game are with someone who was victimized by a higher power in some way or another. Among the ones outside of the party members are a doctor who was blamed and evicted from the institution she originally worked in for a disastrous medical trial she advised against going through with, one of his teachers at Shujin who is forced to moonlight as a call-in housekeeper in order to pay off a massive debt she was unfairly saddled with, a journalist who was reassigned after a whistleblowing report of hers was censored, and even a politician with genuinely humanitarian interests (a rarity especially in fiction!) who’s trying to regain support in the aftermath of an embezzlement scandal that scapegoated him but which he otherwise had nothing to do with. The fact that Joker puts his all into righting the wrongs committed against all kinds of people regardless of background or history is both a testament to his strength of character and a sobering reminder of how corruption and human selfishness is capable of penetrating all levels of society and can’t give two shits about who they affect. There is not a jurisprudence in the world that can keep him from doing what is moral, ethical, and goddamn necessary in several prominent instances. What’s more, almost every adversary the Phantom Thieves force a confession out of is a person of power, and in all cases they got it by screwing over the people who eventually become Joker’s Confidants at the minimum. If you take this into account, it makes perfect sense that Arsene, Joker’s Persona, is named and themed after one of the most famous gentleman thieves in literature. We normally regard laws, regulations, and rules as what keeps us and others safe and sound, but in many cases they have been made specifically to give certain powerful people the freedom to retain their power, almost always at someone else’s expense. If the public is incapable of actively going against these unjust laws and doing the right thing, then the best candidate for doing that is someone who has already been wronged and essentially has nothing to lose and a score to settle. Like Arsene Lupin before him, Joker is, essentially, a modern Robin Hood.
It’s also worth noting that Joker’s very appearance is a contrast against the previous protagonists of the Persona series, and that of his Persona even more so. The previous games had main casts that were wholly on the side of good and looked the part as well, with occupations and themes of a more heroic slant. Joker and his friends, on the other hand, get Personas themed after famous rebels, outlaws, and shady but ultimately well-intentioned characters across history and fiction. Joker in particular is dark-haired, deep-voiced, and wouldn’t need to put much effort into coming off as almost sinister, and as a Phantom Thief he rocks a razor-sharp, all-black outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in a cloak-and-dagger espionage movie. Arsene, meanwhile, is almost demonic in appearance, with an evil-looking red and black color scheme and wings of dark hellfire. The contrast between the aesthetic of these two and the sheer purity of Joker’s soul is like that of night and day… and is a pitch-perfect inversion of how the antagonists he faces almost all present themselves as heroic, popular, and charismatic figures, but are dark and hideously twisted on the inside with Palaces to match. Tradition in fiction would dictate that a character with Joker’s appearance, his label as a rebel, or both would be typecast as a brooding, jaded anti-hero at best and a cold and calculating villain at worst, but with so many people around him being evil at heart despite being adored by the public, someone has to be the good guy. And deep down, I think anyone can relate to his inherent desire to do the right thing, especially in the wake of all the bullshit that’s been piled on the world at large over the past two years. Indeed, Joker more than lives up to a heroic role in such a corrupt and unscrupulous world by showing nothing but benevolence to the innocents who were victimized and seeking to appeal to the better nature of even those out for his blood. It’s telling that one of the most popular ships in the fandom of this game involves Joker and a tragic antagonist who, like nearly all the rest, is initially presented as a charismatic celebrity, but who still eventually comes around and works to make amends because they grew close to him. The irony here is as perfect as it is thick.
You owe it to yourself to at least watch a Let’s Play or stream of Persona 5 when you get the chance – if not for the depth of its storyline and how it goes delightfully and utterly bonkers starting from around two-thirds of the way through, then at the very least so you can enjoy the sight of an unconventional protagonist exposing and rectifying the wrongdoings of a shitload of powerful but secretly reprehensible people. It’s a unique experience that repeatedly swings from cathartic to nerve-wracking and back at the drop of a hat, and the player character’s constant choice to act selflessly even in the face of a legal system actively working against the people it’s supposed to be upholding is a mindset I think a lot of people could benefit from. So here’s to Joker, and to the rebellious spirit in all of us.
There’s nothing human about a machine. It is, at the end of the day, a collection of entirely inorganic parts whose energy is provided by an external source of power, and whose decisions are decided either via outside control or through entirely procedural computation. And yet, the idea of machines becoming like people is an appealing one to sci-fi writers of all stripes. The concept of creating what’s essentially an entire human being from scratch has been around since the very term “robot” was coined by Karel Capek’s play, R.U.R., wherein the mass-produced automata, while organic, are still artificially produced, and therefore open up questions about the morals of such an idea. Since then, human-like robots have been explored in science fiction in so many different ways that I can’t possibly list them all, but one in particular stands out by taking the concept for a frightening spin. The question this literal killing machine poses is thus: “What would you do if there was something coming for you which looks human in every conceivable way, but is, at its core, a glorified computer program?”
The Terminator, from the 1984 film of the same name, lives up to its evocative title in every respect. It doesn’t think, it doesn’t feel, and it doesn’t have morals, empathy, or mercy. It was literally designed for only one purpose: to search and destroy. Nothing will stop it in its relentless mission to complete its goal, and almost nothing can. If you or I were its target, a swift and horrible death would be inevitable. But most frightening of all is that, somehow, it has learned to mimic human beings, in voice, in behavior, and in appearance – the latter of which was given to it, but the point is the same. You could literally walk right past it and never even realize it isn’t actually human. And should it be programmed to kill you, you wouldn’t even know of it until it was too little, too late.
The reason I managed, somehow, to familiarize myself with this movie is somewhat less dramatic than a childhood memory of seeing it – I didn’t actually watch the first movie until early in my twenties, when my family and I decided to watch Terminator: Genesys (the most recently released film in the franchise at the time) and found it mediocre at best, which is typical for a franchise with as may sequels as this. We then wondered what the previous installments were like and promptly decided to screen them too in succession over the next few weekends, starting with the first one. I can say with confidence that, as per tradition, the original is the best of the lot. It’s not 100% perfect, but a lot of it still holds up even today, and while obviously not for the faint of heart, it’s well worth looking for and watching yourself if you can handle the harrowing last act. The only sequel that can match its quality is Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but that flick is in a different league altogether, so I’ll be discussing just the first one here.
The Terminator is seen by many as a science-fiction action movie, but almost every single scene with its famously implacable namesake is frightening enough that I consider it to be, at its broadest, a sci-fi horror flick. The T-800, as it was officially named, actually has a lot in common with a stereotypical slasher movie villain, a nigh-unstoppable force – though not necessarily one devoid of characterization – that does nothing but commit murder and chase the unlucky protagonists around until only one of them is left to see the credits. That said, though, this is not a movie that revels in the spilling of blood. Our android of the hour aside, the characters are not purposely unlikable and they don’t do stupid things just because they can. They’re just ordinary people who have no idea that a malicious computer network decades in the future sent one of its programmed cyborg assassins back in time to kill the person who would have otherwise given birth to the person who’d go on to prevent it from existing in the first place. Need I mention that, in the time period the Terminator is sent back to, its designated target was also just another unimportant civilian? In other words, if could have been programmed to hunt down any human alive on Earth, because anyone had the potential to stop its creator. That message is uplifting, but also unsettling. We frequently underestimate the impact we have had or could have on those around us, and as this movie demonstrates, even a single person can make a world of difference, sometimes without even realizing it. Of course, what mark we can voluntarily leave on the future is up to us to decide, and can swing in either direction – for every John Connor, there is a Cyberdyne programmer with the potential to bring Skynet upon us. And the thought of a future self-aware AI determining that any one of us could change the world enough to undo its existence and use time travel to sic a killer robot on us in the present is nothing if not incredibly creepy. In other words, the perfect material for a horror film. On the flipside, this underlying theme, that anyone is capable of great or terrible things, is what makes Sarah ultimately besting and destroying the T-800 a triumphant if bittersweet ending. She had to witness a lot of people close to her get mowed down like lawn grass just for existing in her vicinity, but that motivates her to step up and try to stop the mechanical murderer from taking any more human lives just to clear the way to her. There’s no doubt that she’d have to live with the experience for the rest of her life – and as shown in later installments in the film series, this is indeed the case – but she is in a much better place than she used to be, and has proven herself to be more capable than she’d previously thought. And all it took to realize that was char-broiling a deadly cyborg with a pipe bomb and stuffing it into a hydraulic press. You know, typical road trip stuff.
Major kudos must also be given to the way the T-800 is presented. This is one of the most famous roles of Arnold Schwarzenegger for a reason – his performance as the emotionless, code-driven villain in question is played to perfection, and no matter what he does, that dull and almost lifeless look on his face never once wavers even when in mortal peril. This of course means that there is not an iota of surprise whatsoever come the reveal of its robotic endoskeleton, but that doesn’t make it any less nightmarish – if anything, it should be almost a RELIEF to know that it is inherently mechanical… except that it ISN’T. That skeleton-like frame with its glowing red eye-cameras rising from the inferno of the aforementioned pipe bomb, immune to fire and still bent on ending Sarah’s life, is an image straight from the depths of Hell itself. It is indeed one of the most famous scenes in all of science fiction and indeed in cinematic history, simply because of how evocative and terrifying it is. If there was any indication that this machine from the future seemingly could not be, well, terminated, this was it. And as opposed to the CGI that would be used to bring the androids to life in later films, this one uses stop-motion by dint of technological limitations, but while it could’ve easily looked fake and unconvincing in any other context, it actually works in the movie’s favor. There’s something about stop-motion that can seem uncanny to some, and the jerky, almost forced movement of the de-fleshed T-800 as it continues to advance upon a rightly terrified Sarah would not be out of place for a real mechanical apparatus. Nothing else in Hollywood before or since has ever managed to exactly match the feelings evoked by that climactic confrontation, and I’m guessing that audiences watching the original theatrical run of this movie would have had that scene seared into their memories for the rest of their lives. If you hadn’t been scared by any part of the movie before then, you likely WILL be traumatized by the ending, but in a way you’ll fondly remember for years to come.
Predictably, the Terminator and its movie of origin have been ingrained in pop culture ever since they first graced the silver screen, with numerous references, parodies, and quotations in a wide variety of media works and genres. Its popularity and relative box office profit easily convinced Hollywood to continue the story however they could, but while the second film in the franchise is a masterpiece in its own right, I feel like there will never again be a movie that can quite match the first one in terms of tone, pacing, and invoked responses. Perhaps it is the shift from the older more thought-provoking fare to more action-packed, sensation-driven experiences, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but like with many 21st-century sequels to (or remakes of) classics of the 80’s and 90’s, the trend seems to have actually worked to their franchises’ detriment by dint of folding them into an already saturated market for actionized cinema. But just because the sequels aren’t up to par doesn’t invalidate the existence of the original film, and while dated in some respects, its timelessness otherwise cannot be overstated, and I personally can’t recommend it enough. There may be a lot more Terminator movies now, and perhaps too many for some people’s liking, but it’s hard to stop thinking about the one where it all began.
This ICHF was written by The Real Kiryu2012. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
Indie horror games really need more love.
Firstly, I have to thank the Youtube channel Alpha Beta Gamer for making a video about today’s subject; they specialize in making gameplay videos about indie titles, including those of the horror genre, and I do believe they’ve a goldmine of interesting stuff to check out.
One particular horror game that caught my attention, and one that still sticks with me, is the increasingly unsettling game known by the name of Perfect Vermin. The creator behind this game has also created others works in the horror genre, one titled Swallow The Sea, and the other Pit of Babel. Just like those games, Perfect Vermin doesn’t rely on cheap jumpscares or loud noises, just an ever increasing degree of uneasiness.
Just as a heads up, this will be going into major spoiler territory, so if you wish to experience this game for yourself, I’d recommend not reading this first. You can find the game on Steam for free.
I should tell you ahead of time now that this is the kinda game to really give you a gut punch, considering it opens with “In loving memory of Harold A. Shpitz”. Keep this bit in mind.
The game begins simple enough; the player, a nameless voiceless entity, exits an elevator and breaks through a door with a sledgehammer, a no smoking sign by the doorway. Keep this bit in mind.
Moving on through the rest of the first level, an office, the player finds that they can break just about anything with their sledgehammer, but it’s specific objects that they need to find and destroy; these tend to be those objects that seem out of place in whatever room you find them in, like a refrigerator in the middle of a kitchen. If you break these, you’ll promptly find that they aren’t what they seem; they are in fact composed of flesh and blood, and give a bloody splatter when you strike them. You can even hear a little bit of a seeming pained cry from these disguised entities, perhaps their death rattle.
So by this point you might be thinking ‘okay, so this is like a twisted version of that Prophunt game mode from like Garry’s Mod or such. Dark, but nothing that deep, right?’ Weeeeeeell…
Once you kill all 5 of the disguised objects, you’re greeted by a news anchor, who tells you to return to the elevator so that you can try it again. You do so, and this time, you have to destroy each of the flesh monsters as quickly as possible, for there’s now a time limit. When the news anchor tells you to ‘do it again, but better’, his teeth have started to become discolored, and the ash tray that sits beside him is considerably more filled with cigarettes. Keep this bit in mind.
So now you’re going through the level again, but this time you know where to find each of the disguised monsters, and so it’s easier for you to locate and kill them all. As you pick off each one of them, the news anchor provides commentary, saying such things like ‘they hide poorly’ and ‘don’t let them spread’. Upon exterminating all of the monsters, you’re told by the news anchor that the building you’re in ‘has more chambers that need cleansing’ and he tells you to return to the elevator.
Upon starting the next level, things really start taking a turn for the horrific. The news anchor’s got a nosebleed now, and his fingernails have darkened. He tells you ‘no nonsense this time’ as you get to work once more. Once again you have to find and kill every one of the monsters disguised as objects throughout the level, and you often have to break down doors or the like to be able to locate them. The news anchor claims the monsters don’t feel pain, but considering the sounds they make in response to their death, that seems to be a dubious claim.
It’s when you kill the last monster that the news anchor’s condition has grown significantly worse. Tumors have begun growing along his body, his skin’s becoming discolored, and his nosebleed certainly hasn’t stopped. He comments that it took longer than expected for you to kill the monsters, and he needs you to work faster. Yet again you’re requested to return to the elevator, and yet again you move on to the next level.
This time, the level itself has changed too. The news anchor says that ‘this floor’s geometry has become uncooperative’. As it turns out, this is the first level flipped upside down, and the flesh monsters are still in their original spots, so finding and killing them should not be too much of a hassle. The news anchor, though, is only growing steadily worse in terms of condition; his head in his hands, still bleeding steadily, all he can do by this point is beg you to go.
The next level is a doozy; the news anchor by this point doesn’t even say a word, and he looks terrible too. His head bloated, blood coming from his mouth and nose, the tumors only getting worse. On top of that, the player now has two screens that the character’s present in, and the player controls them both at the same time. So now the player has to juggle looking at one screen to locate the monsters there, and likewise with the other, all while trying to get it done before the timer runs out.
Things really hit the fan once you manage to beat this level.
You aren’t requested to return to the elevator. There’s only a burst of static, and you’re brought to the final room, with the walls leading to it covered in no smoking signs. The room itself is just a mess; everything is rearranged in a completely disorganized manner, with things upside down, rightside up, or otherwise, and it’s effectively impossible to find all the hidden monsters in time. From what I know, it’s not possible to actually beat the level; given the messed up geometry of the room and the shortened timer, you’re not gonna be able to find and kill all the monsters in time.
But it’s easily the news anchor who suffered the worst changes.
Now he barely even resembles a human; now he’s but a bloated, bleeding, tumorous blob of flesh that somehow is still able to talk. And talk he does, about how he’s always hated his mother and that he was afraid of becoming like her, only for exactly that to end up being the case. He finds a horrible comedy in how he ultimately ends up dying like her as well. All this time, the ashtray seen alongside the news anchor has only become progressively more and more filled with cigarettes. I think it’s pretty clear by this point why he’s become this way.
The news anchor laments that the player’s task was always impossible, and states that the timer isn’t for them: it’s for him. He states that he is ‘being unborn’, and talks about the simple beauty of colors, and how he’ll end up unknowing them. As the timer runs out, the news anchor has only one last thing to say:
“If only I had more time.”
After that, the player traverses through what could only be described as a flesh tunnel, breaking what look to be tumors in order to open a series of fleshy doors that lead them to an elevator, which in turn brings us to a doctor’s room. And it is here we listen to the conversation between a doctor and the news anchor who had been guiding us all along. And it is here we learn what’s up.
The news anchor is Harold A. Shpitz, and he’s dying of cancer. The doctor states that his cancer has spread to even his bones, and that he has only months to live. Mr. Shpitz, however, refuses to lay down and accept this, for there’s a massacre going on in an office, and he wants to make the perfect story from it to be remembered. Why is that? Well, Mr. Shpitz says it himself.
“No one will care about my death if I don’t prove to them that I lived.”
That quote right there is just powerful stuff. It’s the kind of existential fear that I’m sure many experience at some point or another; who will remember you after your death?
And when you really think about it, the gameplay itself is a double whammy of a metaphor. The player going around smashing everything with a sledgehammer is both the killer at the office and the intrusive cancer treatments that end up harming the body just as much as they attack cancer cells. The monsters disguised as furniture and such are the victims of the office massacre, as well as the tumors plaguing the news anchor. The office itself is both the location of the massacre as well as a representation of Harold’s own body.
Perfect Vermin, at first glance, may seem like a simple game of finding and killing monsters masquerading as furniture, but it goes far deeper than that once you really start looking into it. It’s a great example of just how good indie games can be, and why we should give them more attention. If we help bring awareness to these passion projects, then perhaps the creators can get the incentive to continue making more games like these.
This ICHF was written by The Real Kiryu2012. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
I really love dinosaurs.
Growing up, I had the likes of Walking With Dinosaurs and the Jurassic Park films to binge watch as a kid, as well as a whole lot of dinosaur books and toys, not to mention Godzilla himself quickly beginning to establish himself as a prominent influence on me around this time. So, all things considered, I was pretty much fated to gain a love for dinosaurs and other paleofauna.
Speaking as someone who actively supports the notion of giving increasingly more accurate designs to dinosaurs in popular media, I could never get rid of my soft spot for more classic, outdated depictions of these paleofauna. I chalk it up to both nostalgia and a genuine love for the likes of both the old school tail dragging lizard-like retrosaurs, as well as the more updated, but still not quite accurate, scaly fast moving monsters of the 90’s. Sure, they don’t hold up so well thanks to our understanding of paleontology always evolving, but they still serve as important landmarks for our ever growing knowledge of these species, and how we’ve come to adapt and portray them in popular culture.
Probably one of the best examples of noteworthy depictions of dinosaurs can be none other than the Jurassic Park films. I really can’t help myself when I say that I genuinely love all of these films, even the controversial ones that many might dislike or even hate. Growing up on the first three movies, and getting to see the Jurassic World films in theaters, I mean it when I say the Jurassic Park franchise just might be one of my favorites, almost up there alongside Godzilla.
When it comes to depicting dinosaurs, Jurassic Park is certainly an interesting sort; while it absolutely can and does often portray these animals as violent man-eating beasts that will actively make the effort of going for any human characters with the goal of ending their lives, it also portrays them as animals, animals who often are just trying to survive and do whatever it takes to do so, even if it means ending the lives of others to sustain their own. You can certainly talk a big game about how effectively the films manage to go about with portraying this aspect, especially in the later films, but it is still an element that certainly needs to be acknowledged, as it helps show that dinosaurs aren’t just monsters that were made up by pop culture; these were real species that existed in this world.
Jurassic Park indisputably had some noteworthy antagonists in the form of the carnivorous theropods that pretty much stole the show; there were the clever girls, the Velociraptors, who weren’t just brutish snarling beasts, but were highly intelligent predators that forced the human protagonists to always think ahead and use their brain, not their brawn, to prevail. And who could forget about Rexy, the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex who was awe inspiring with her sheer size and power, and of course has an unforgettable roar probably as well known as Godzilla’s.
But I think there’s one particular dinosaur that plays a prominent role in one particular part of this film who doesn’t get nearly as much attention as they should, and who I feel deserves a moment in the spotlight as, while their role was small compared to Rexy and the raptors, it was still a memorable moment in its own right. Of course I’m talking about the crested huntress, the Dilophosaurus.
From this moment onward, while I’ve talked about only the film version of Jurassic Park up to now, I’ll be focusing on both the film Dilo as well as the original book Dilo; I think both versions deserve to be talked about, as they both deliver well in their respective scenes that, frankly, are plenty frightening in their own rights, while still managing to have some noteworthy similarities with one another.
In both the film and the novel, things in the world of Jurassic Park start taking a turn for the worse thanks to one particular Ingen employee by the name of Dennis Nedry. In the film, he was dealing with financial problems that not only was Ingen not helping him with, but John Hammond himself said that this situation was Nedry’s alone to deal with. Meanwhile in the novel, Dennis was constantly left in the dark in regards to Ingen’s plans, and wasn’t ever told anything. Hammond in particular was requesting things from Nedry that were never a part of the original contract, and when Nedry refused, he was threatened into complying with lawsuits.
Regardless, both mediums have Dennis make an alliance with one Lewis Dodgson; if Nedry brings him a collection of dinosaur embryos, Dodgson would reward him with over a million dollars in payment. Considering the circumstances plaguing Dennis, he of course accepts the proposition.
Thus begins the catalyst that would cause the original Jurassic Park to be unable to be open to the public, for Dennis steals several embryos and shuts down the power to the park. This, however, proves to be a fatal error, for by shutting the power down, Dennis also deactivated the electric fences keeping the dinosaurs contained, and so they could roam free.
Including one particular specimen that would ultimately seal Nedry’s fate.
In the film, Nedry inadvertently crashes his jeep off the road and tries to get it down with its tow rope, and in the novel, he almost runs into a concrete barrier. Either way, it’s a storm that causes him to lose his way, and forces him to exit his vehicle.
And in doing so, he encounters the Dilophosaurus.
Jurassic Park had popularized several of the dinosaur species featured in the novel and film, each having their own characteristics. The Velociraptor is a cunning man-sized pack hunter that constantly forces the humans to try and one-up them in terms of thinking. The Tyrannosaurus is a huge predator that inspires awe and commands respect, being so big and strong that no jeep or shack can hold her back.
But the Dilophosaurus is different. She’s not a huge beast, nor a highly intelligent pack hunter. So what does she have that makes her stand out from the others?
In reality, Dilophosaurus was most likely not venomous; the known fossils of this species have no evidence to suggest that this theropod wielded venom when hunting, and considering more recent studies have suggested that the Dilophosaurus was an apex predator of its time, venom simply wouldn’t be necessary for it.
In the world of Jurassic Park, however, it’s venom that is the Dilophosaurus’ greatest weapon, and what helped establish her as a unique threat in both book and movie.
Dennis learns the hard way that he shouldn’t look back when trying to flee from such an unknown danger; in both the novel and the film he’s blinded by a spitting splatter of venom that coats his face and assails his eyes. His death varies in both mediums; the book has him disemboweled by a swipe of the Dilophosaurus’ claws before being seized by the head in her jaws, and the film has him mauled to death in his own jeep, with the Telltale game that takes place afterwards confirming that he’d become just another meal. But both mediums have him be subjected to the Dilophosaurus’ venomous spit, a trait that Jurassic Park would popularize so much that other media would copy this trait for their portrayals of the crested theropod.
Dilophosaurus, even if it was most likely not venomous in reality, nowadays seems associated with venom in pop culture; the multiplayer game Primal Carnage Extinction portrays the Dilo as having a ranged weapon in the form of venom it can spit out, and The Isle’s Dilophosaurus is set to have a hallucinogenic venom to aid in hunting. Whether you’re a fan of this trope or not (I personally have no qualms with it), it seems reasonable to agree that it was Jurassic Park which started this trend to begin with; sure, maybe at some point somebody would try giving the Dilophosaurus venom if JP never tried it, but it was thanks to this film and novel that it’s so well known.
I think another trait about Jurassic Park’s Dilophosaurus, though, that also needs to be pointed out is her personality, and how she behaves towards her future prey, Dennis. She’s not some snarling, loud monster that just instantly attacks Nedry the moment she sees him. She’s curious, she watches him quietly from a distance. While the novel has her standing well away from Dennis and his jeep, the film emphasizes this by having her follow Nedry from a distance, watching his every move and not initially showing any signs of aggression. She does ultimately decide to attack him, sure, but she’s not simply a raving beast that does so immediately. Rather, she watches and waits.
This just goes to show that the Dilophosaurus isn’t some movie monster; she’s an animal. She clearly isn’t used to seeing humans, and watches to see if Dennis is a threat or if he’s vulnerable. It’s only when Nedry ends up letting his guard down that the Dilophosaurus finally attacks, and when she does, it’s a surprise. And I’d say in a way this is scarier than if she were to just promptly attack while snarling and roaring like a stock movie monster scripted to kill someone. The audience themselves might let their guard down around this cute-looking, seemingly harmless critter, and so the moment she spreads her frill and goes on the attack is all the more effective.
Jurassic Park’s Dilophosaurus is a superb dinosaur, and she deserves the same kind of love the Raptors and T-rex so often get. Now if only she’d reappear in a damn sequel already.
Special Thanks to TitleKnown for the major help on this article, without him, this article would have been pretty lackluster
I remember walking into “Hand to God”, expecting something along the lines of a cross between “Doctor Faustus” and “Avenue Q”; wacky and lewd acts, a bargain with a demonic puppet, social commentary, but all with a fairly happy ending… Well, I got part of it right. Instead, the play was much more along the lines of a psychological horror that manages to present the horrible consequences of improperly dealing with bottling up and mishandling honesty in a clownish yet deeply disturbing fashion thanks to stars of this article; the demonic duo, Jason and Tyrone.
Tyrone establishes his role as the embodiment of brutal honesty with a sacrilegious sermon that bluntly bashes on human evolution, civilization, and the foundations of morality by pinning blame on the devil. From that point on, you know that this puppet has no interest in rainbow connections or the color green. Jason, on the other hand (Pun unintended…), is a timid, teenage, mama’s boy. You can probably guess where this is going…
Throughout the play, we see how he struggles with getting his true feelings out, whether he is trying to win the heart of his love interest, Jessica, with a skit he stole from “Who’s on First”, dealing with constant harassment from Timothy the bully, handling the puppet show for his pastor, and conveying what he really thinks towards his mother. Enter Tyrone, who starts shaking it up through crass comments towards Jessica, which are initially shut up by Jason ripping him in half in a desperate attempt to keep people from knowing what he really thinks. However, as the play proceeds, Tyrone comes back sewn back together, looking and acting worse than before; resorting to caustic call-outs and even physical violence to get Jason’s feelings out and forcibly stripping away anything his peers may be hiding, thus reflecting how honest thoughts you have can get uglier and crueler if left to bottle up over time; whether that involves reminding Jason about his father’s death, biting off Timothy’s ear in vengeance, mocking the pastor’s not-so secret desire for Jason’s mother, or even calling her out for committing statutory rape with Timothy.
The honesty delivered by Tyrone from inside Jason manages to further affect the other characters, even when the boy’s locked himself away from them; Timothy is scolded for talking to women poorly, the pastor calls Jason’s mother out for her illegal sexual acts, and even she shoots back at the pastor for creeping on her constantly, which escalates to her admitting to feeling that she ruins everything she approaches.
Towards the end of the story, the brutal honesty that Tyrone employed against the cast recoils back to him and Jason as Jessica begins to admit her feelings towards Jason and outright states that she is concerned about him acting entirely like Tyrone. Next come the pastor and Jason’s mother, who are well aware of the situation between our main duo, and during their effort to reach out to him, Jason, all but admits, that Tyrone really is a voice for his bottled-up feelings when the puppet shouts to Jason’s mother about killing HIS father before pathetically swapping to OUR father. It is then that we finally get to hear Jason let out his true feelings without relying on Tyrone as a shield, blaming her for his father’s death and telling her and the pastor to get out of his life, but not without the pastor giving one final warning of deciding if Jason really wants to be like Tyrone or not.
After being honest for himself at last, Jason reconsiders what the pastor and Jessica told him about being like Tyrone, he ultimately decides to let go of Tyrone once and for all. However, Tyrone does not go down without a fight. For no matter how much Jason tries to get rid of Tyrone, he will always be some dark part of him. But with the right help and continuing to say what he truly feels, he can keep himself from becoming viciously honest like Tyrone ever again.
What really got to me about this overall play is just how much I could eerily relate to Jason and even a bit to Tyrone. Myself being a deeply awkward and timid guy who has been too afraid to say what I really think when it comes to dealing with less-than-savory people or situations, I too have wished that I could channel that somehow, even if I had to resort to buying a therapy puppet to do it for me. Furthermore, some of Tyrone’s methods punishing and getting revenge with Jason’s peers have been somewhat similar to vicious thoughts that played in my head whenever I or someone I care about felt helpless, scorned, and humiliated that I had to hold back and deeply regret after having let myself think such things. Now watching all of that being played out on a live stage really unnerved me and has been stuck in my memory since then.
And just to further seal the central theme of handling honesty, to conclude this write-up… and feed our appetite for a final round of deranged antics, there is the epilogue when Tyrone rises up, looking more demonic than ever, to give one last sacrilegious sermon. A sermon that hammers in how we, as people, continuously shift the blame for our own problems and how the innocent pay for it. Just as Jason shifted his blame into Tyrone and how it affected his loved ones (Even if Jessica is really the only one who is closest to innocent). But before he leaves, Tyrone gives last warning to the audience, “The thing about a savior is you never know where to look. Might just be the place you saw the devil before”.
This ICHF was written by Saurotitan, whose work you can find at https://thearchivistspen.wordpress.com/. I may have made a few touch ups and notes here and there, but the bulk of this entry is their work!
In the year 1995, a book by the name of The Relic was published. The authors, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, were each incredibly skilled in their craft, and had a knack for creating sci-fi horror mysteries once they put their heads together. The protagonist of most of these horror whodunnits, FBI Special Agent Aloysius X.L. Pendergast, would go on to have many more adventures involving vaguely supernatural enemies, but for his first opponent subtlety was not on the menu. Brains, however, were the special of the day.
Mbwun, the monster of the piece, had its origin in a plant found only in the jungles atop a tepui hidden in the Amazon basin. As with every lost and untouched ecosystem in this kind of book, an expedition was sent to catalogue the culture of an uncontacted tribe living nearby. Taking several artifacts back to the United States, the expedition packed the crates with samples of the aforementioned plant. A little while after the expedition returned to the US, the long-concealed ecosystem that hosted the plant was destroyed. A little quirk of this plant’s biology, a symbiotic virus that collects DNA to combine with any living thing that eats enough of it. Any human being who was dosed with this plant would transform into an ape/dinosaur hybrid, a transformation that would cease if the supply of a chemical found in the plant was cut off. If the transformation ended, however, the victim’s status as a living being would also cease, as dramatically shifting your body’s layout twice in your life is a surefire way to end up dead.
Mbwun is forced to follow the only remaining samples of the plant sustaining its existence to a museum in New York City, and probably would have been perfectly fine until the dried packing material ran out a few years down the line, but then a night guard locked up the crates to keep what he assumed were rodents from getting at the artefacts. This is where things go south for everyone working in the museum, as Mbwun had to look for an alternate source of the chemicals provided by eating the mutagenic plant. It just so happened that these chemicals could also be found in the hypothalamus of humans, and that museums are wonderfully good places to stalk the unsuspecting public in order feed your unnatural monster body. Throw in a skeptical team of law enforcement officials, host a massive social gathering there in the climax, and you’ve got a plot. ICHFs aren’t about summarizing a novel, however – it’s time to talk about the monster.
Mbwun itself is an interestingly designed beast, seemingly tailor-made to hunt humans. With the face and arms of a great ape and the lower limbs of a saurian reptile, the creature evokes a dark primordial fear of predators that terrorized our collective ancestors in prehistory. The bullet-proof skin renders one of the greatest tools and defenses of modern civilization useless, turning even the bravest of men into a frightened and woefully underequipped prey animal. On top of all that, Mbwun is a tragic monster, a man thought lost in the initial expedition returning to the place he once worked alongside those who would become his victims. Inside the rampaging predator is a human mind, capable of regretting the actions he must take to stay alive and planning the best way to kill an unsuspecting museumgoer. Mbwun draws on both the natural and the unnatural, being a creature simply seeking to survive while owing its origins to the unwilling mutation of a normal human being. It’s a monster built from unrelated animals who lived in vastly different parts of earth’s history, somehow managing to form an efficient killing machine capable of making Jurassic Park’s velociraptors look like lightweights.
Stories where the monster is a victim of circumstances, was formerly human, or attack a new museum exhibit aren’t rare, but The Relic is somewhat unique in that it seems to actually care about creating a mystery along with the creature-feature elements. I was lured in by the dinosaur-adjacent nature of the monster, but even a great monster is nothing without its story to support it – this novel, I’m glad to say, is worthy of its monstrous main attraction.