Welcome back, one and all, to more Great Monsters Who Aren’t…
After some really groovy witches last time we wondered what Monster could we feature this week, so turned our eyes away from Mother Earth and raised them skyward. This left a bright spot from accidentally looking right at the sun and we thought we’d seen a UFO. So we decided that there are few things more terrifying thang being abducted and probed by little green men and settled on this week’s theme: Aliens.
But who should we put in the “Aren’t…” bit?
“That’s obvious,” said one of the gang. “It’s got to be Alien. Because obviously, he’s in a film called Alien.”
“Don’t be silly,” said another. “We didn’t have Patrick Swayze in the week where the monster was Ghost or Anjelica Huston on Witch week. In fact, If you want a good alien, then it’s Predator. He hunts the alien called Alien so he’s best.”
This then led to an office-wide “discussion”, culminating in an all-out Alien-Fans vs Predator-Fans war. Things were said. Things were thrown. It looked like there might be a stalemate between both sides until our illustrious editor (That’s Me! Ed.) stepped in and took control (it was the final straw when his “Lionel Richie Does It On The Ceiling” mug got accidentally smashed by a stray squeezy stress-toy shaped like a traffic cone).
So this week we hand over to the team to defend their favourite alien. Take it away gang!
Space Vampire (Lifeforce)
Tobe Hooper’s everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to his whirlwind fever dream Lifeforce (1985) means the film has unwittingly become a standard-bearer for the way movies were made before computers. It has everything: optical effects; models; practical effects; animatronics; puppetry and lots of good, honest stunt work. Perhaps its greatest special effect, however, is Mathilda May.
The film concerns the discovery of an ancient alien craft hidden within the tail of Halley’s Comet. Preserved within that craft are three seemingly humanoid beings along with the corpses of dozens of desiccated, bat-like monstrosities. Yep, folks, we’re talking Space Vampires. They feed on our titular lifeforce to survive, but in turn transform their victims into ravening, zombie-like revenants who must also feed – and feed often – and so the plague spreads exponentially. The idea is that Mathilda May is so potently, irresistibly, sexually alluring that her victims will offer themselves up to her willingly. Ladies and gentlemen, she is.
To illustrate this May spends an inordinate amount of time in the buff. Nudity so prolonged and gratuitous that it almost reaches art house levels and has the power to induce a second puberty in many watching teens. Vampires have always blurred the lines between sex and death, but the alien vampire queen in Lifeforce fuses them inextricably. You’ll find her echo in Akasha from Anne Rice’s The Queen of the Damned; the zombies of World War Z; Ahmanet from the Tom Cruise helmed The Mummy; Sil from Species and even Scarlett Johansson’s considered performance in Under the Skin. Put simply: she is sex; she is death.
Kaguya-hime (The Tale Of The Bamboo Cutter, c.1650)
Before the inception of light-strobed intergalactic wars, extraterrestrial journeys were a subtler affair. In this tale of Japanese folklore, Princess Kaguya is discovered peacefully nestled inside a stem cavity of bamboo.
Appropriately and excitingly the answer to her presence is not confirmed. It’s proposed that she is a moody teenager, sent to Earth as punishment for an unexplained discretion.
For me Kaguya comes in peace. She is discovered with a nugget of gold and continues to provide wealth and joy for her adoptive parents – the elderly bamboo cutter and his wife – as she grows up. Crucially she can hold her own, rebuffing attempts to win her over by suitors during her stay. Ultimately she has to return to her home planet of the moon. This event is heartbreaking for those she becomes close to.
It is now that, if you’ll permit, I will propose a sequel to the story of Nayotake no Kaguya-hime, “Shining Princess of the Young Bamboo”: For Martians, the concept of time and age differs from earthlings. Centuries after her first visit she returns in other forms to offer assistance and love where most needed. I’ll leave it for you to discover Kaguya’s other adventures.
Cayman of the Lambda Zone (Battle Beyond The Stars)
In the big-screen sci-fi gold rush years that followed Star Wars – someone thought it would be a good idea to remake the Magnificent Seven in outer space. Cheesier than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, with extra cheese Battle Beyond The Stars is a super fun B Movie that boasts James Cameron on special effects no less. Star of this galactic adventure for me was groovy green warrior lizard ‘Cayman of the Lambda Zone’, played with OTT aplomb from behind a turtle faced mask by Morgan Woodward.
Cayman is a Zymer, a boo-hiss hunter/slaver who is convinced to not eat the film’s love interest Nanelia (Darlanne Fluegel) because has a score to settle with the big bad Sador – who wiped out the rest of his species. The band of space mercenaries that are recruited to try and stop Sador’s planet-killing battlecruiser the ‘Hammerhead’ are certainly a pretty eclectic bunch. But Cayman stands out as his back story is one of the better ones having a personal grudge to settle and he has one of the best spaceships too. If you’ve somehow never seen Battle Beyond The Stars I’d urge you to make the effort – it’s a nostalgic blast of everything ‘80s. As Cayman says ‘See you later, hot blood.’
The Borg (Star Trek)
A great man once said “Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence” and do you know what makes ALL of those things even scarier? Nearly unstoppable cybernetic organisms who want to harvest your entire being so that your technological and biological distinctiveness can be added to their own to help make them even more unstoppable — AKA The Borg.
The Borg were originally introduced to replace the Ferengi as the primary villains in Star Trek: The Next Generation because if our beloved Starfleet officers can’t overcome money-grubbing space goblins, what business do they have galavanting around the universe at all. The Borg, however, were a horse of a different collective. They were ruthless, brutal and responsible for mass casualties — then they did the unthinkable. They broke Captain Jean-Luc Picard. With the help of his fiercely loyal crew, Captain Picard came back to himself, but that was not a fate many others were fortunate enough to share. The Borg may have been defeated in more recent times, but the horror that their initial onslaught brought will forever label them as the terrors of space in my mind.
When everyone thinks of aliens in film they often think of Xenomorphs, Predators or E.T. few seem to remember Sil the main character of the 1995 film Species. Designed by H.R Giger (the main designer of the Xenomorph from Alien), Sil is a reptilian creature who can disguise herself in human form. In her Alien form, she is creepy and distinct while her human form is beautiful and alluring. He whole purpose is the find a mate and to procreate. She knows nothing else and most of the first film is spent with her learning who she is and most of the people she ends up killing were out of mistake or not understanding her power. She a teenage girl finding herself but just so happens to be a dangerous alien.
Sil is the perfect hunter by the second film and almost perfection in terms of hiding in plain sight. She should stand toe to toe with any of the other horror-based movie aliens and could hold her own. Her survival skills are increased with impressive regenerative powers which come in handy. For me, Sil is one of the coolest alien creations in media and a character that should be remembered.
Ewoks (Star Wars)
Picture this. You’re alone. The thick forest around you has fallen into a dark, murky, impenetrable night. You can hear your breathing, harsh and ragged, inside your uncomfortable helmet. Your squad of fellow stormtroopers are nowhere to be seen – some died in the Rebel attack, and the others … well, you just don’t know. You stumble through the undergrowth, travelling without direction. There has to be some remnant of the Imperial presence left on the forest moon of Endor, there just has to be… Somewhere near you, there’s a sudden rustling amidst the bushes. You wheel towards it, directing the pitiful light from your E-11 blaster at where you think the noise came from, but there’s nothing living in sight. You walk forwards, searching the area as best you can. You emerge from the bushes into a small clearing that’s almost suspiciously empty. You take two paces forwards, and yelp in surprise when the ground suddenly gives way, and you find yourself falling sharply into a steep pit. Pain flashes through you as you land at the bottom, the flimsy armour doing nothing to cushion you. With horror, you realise you walked right into their trap. From beyond the edges of the pit, the rustling has returned, much louder than before. It sounds like dozens of tiny footsteps. Silhouettes appear around the edge of the pit, with terrible, glowing yellow eyes blazing hatefully down at you. And that’s when you hear it: two words that helped bring an Empire to its knees, and the harbinger of your doom: “Yub nub.”
Alright, that may be closer what happens in a typical round of the Ewok Hunt mode in Star Wars: Battlefront II, but I stand by my opinion on this: the Ewoks are a savage bunch of tiny, furry murder-bears, and they should absolutely be feared. I mean, they crush stormtroopers’ skulls with rocks, jab them with spears, smush people under logs… What’s more, they’re shown to have a collection of trooper helmets in the ending celebration of Return of the Jedi. What did they do to the poor former owners of those helmets? The Ewoks freaking ate them, that’s what. No, you can’t convince me otherwise. Those creepy little things skinned, cooked and ate people, and it’s only a matter of time before they turn on the Rebels and then our main heroes. Forget the Rebel fleet, Palpatine should’ve ordered the second Death Star to wipe out the forest moon instead. It’s the only way to ever be sure.
Extra-Terrestrial Parasites (The X-Files)
Back in the 1990s, The X Files blazed a trail for all thing alien, bringing sci-fi to the masses, proclaiming that the truth is out there. The X-Files merchandise played heavily on the image of the archetypal grey skinny dude, with spindly fingers all too ready to prob those parts of you that you rather didn’t see the light. I took these aliens with a pinch of salt.
The X-Files aliens that really got under my skin were far more insidious. They were the microscopic particles trapped in meteors fallen to earth millions of years ago. Tiny alien life forms, that when unwittingly ingested by humans, would unleash internal hell on the body and all those unfortunate enough to be in the immediate vicinity with impunity.
Think of them as alien viruses, against which the body has no natural defence. In Season 1’s Ice, Mulder and Scully tackle what initially seems to be a serial killer case of a man driven to violence by enforced lockdown. Sound familiar? What they find is much more sinister.
Season 2 followed this with Firewalker, and this is the one which really haunted my dreams. Picture parasitic mushrooms, bursting from your throat like a decorative dildo. Brings a whole new meaning to space probing. In execution, this episode feels like it harks back to the exploding gut scene in Aliens, but unlike a monster caged in deep space, this one is among us seeding deadly spores at every turn. Shudder!
The Color (The Color Out Of Space by H.P. Lovecraft)
A group of humans watch as a meteor falls from space. Each wanted to find out what the meteor contained. Each learned from their horror books what an alien would be like.
The first knew of Alien, and took a flamethrower – with water to douse the creatures fierce acid.
The second knew of Species, and had a hazmat suit – with machines to check others vitals.
The third knew of Daleks, and had explosives – with a strong light with which to blind it.
The fourth knew of Triffids, and protected their eyes – he would not eat or drink.
The fifth knew of Shapeshifters, and carried a dead-man’s switch – he would not be taken.
The sixth was a man of God, bedressed with Elder Signs, crucifixes and other holy symbols.
The seventh was there all the time as their tiny lives blinked out, before it returned to space. It was the Color, and it had no care for what humans were.
Ymir (20 Million Miles To Earth)
Carrying on from last weeks homage to Ray Harryhausen this week’s creature feature comes right from the depths of space and 1950s Flying Saucer invasion movie of the 1950s – the fantastic Ymir.
While looking very similar in his design to the towering Titan ‘Kraken’ (a distant Mediterranean relative perhaps?) In Clash (1981) the Ymir predates this aquatic monstrosity by 25 years and while causes chaos and destruction in his wake is not so much as a mindless alien invader but rather a creature trapped here by circumstance, unintentionally hitching a ride back to earth via the return trip from Venus by Astronauts.
Initially a small embryonic egg, this every growing reptilian monster starts its life on earth no bigger than an action figure, its Venusian physiology designed to process out the toxic gasses of its own planet. However, the oxygen-rich environment of Earth causes to Ymir to continually grow, changing from something that could be used by kids to battle He-Man and company to human size and beyond – eventually ending up as a twenty-foot two-legged dinosaur.
Also not initially dangerous or aggressive the Ymir in a victim of his environment, feared and attacked wherever he goes responding to the violence it encounters in kind, a sad state of affairs as all he really wants to do is eat Sulphur from Mount Etna and return home, unlike a lot of his 1950s counterparts who in various ways intend to take over the planet.
The Ymir design not only has the characteristic Harryhausen swagger (and obligatory tail whips and foot to foot stance) but is one of the animator’s best creations having the ability to emote and interact with not only his human co-star but also other Dynamation characters such as the Elephant which the Ymir tackles when it encounters the circus. When the creature eventually perishes (crushed by falling rocks) there is more than a nod to Harryhausen’s mentor Wills O’Brien’s most famous creation – King Kong, again another ‘monster’ taken out of its environment and antagonised by the true creatures of the picture – aggressive humans who want nothing more to capture and kill what they do not understand.
The Thin Space-Man (The Boy From Space)
Out there in space shall we find friends?
A good question posed to us by Gen-X’s TV beloved dad, Derek Griffiths in the theme tune to one of Look & Read‘s most fondly remembered dramatic/educational presentations. Well, I say fondly remembered, and of course, by that, I mean pant-wettingly-terrifying or so-bloody-upsetting-I-tried-to-block-it-out-so-thanks-Paul-for-reminding-me-about-it. As L&R’s story sections went, The Boy From Space was a by the numbers adventure, with curious kids, a mystery, and a stranger in need, all interspersed with lessons about how apostrophe’s work (you clearly weren’t listening, Ed.) delivered to us by Wordy, who was what I can only describe as a bright orange sex toy that’s been punched in the face by a dictionary.
But as horrific as Wordy was, he paled in comparison to The Thin Space-Man (played by John Woodnutt who also appeared in Lifeforce, as mentioned above). While Earth children Dan and Helen are investigating a possible meteor landing site he just turns up, walks (or kind of lurches in an ungodly fashion) towards them and, for no explicable reason, begins to chase them. Despite his silly space-clothing (and equally silly attempts to disguise it with Earth clothes), he was utterly alarming. Kids of the 80s were taught to fear strangers and that weird guy next door who always wore a mac under which he kept goodness knows what – and here were the two combined in one.
Usually, when you saw the TV and video player being wheeled into the classroom it was cause for celebration amongst the kids, and a break for the teacher (to go for a smoke or a pint or whatever they did while we were enraptured by the bright colours on screen) but for those ten weeks when The Boy From Space was broadcast, we’d break out in a cold sweat (even though we hadn’t reached puberty and, like Prince Andrew, didn’t actually sweat yet). And after the “incident” during episode one (Lindsey Bowie had a panic attack and had to be taken to the nurse) there was no way Mr Grindrodd was going to leave us alone again.
It’s been thirty-seven years since I first saw it, but that particular horror has stayed with me, and just when I stop thinking about him, one thing is certain:
The Thin Space-Man is out there. He can’t be reasoned with, he can’t be bargained with. He doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear and he absolutely will not stop. Ever.
Did we miss any? Did you lose your heart to a starship trooper? Did you phone home? Have you ever felt like everyone around has been replaced by emotionless pod people? If so, let us know your favourite. scariest aliens in the comments below.
We round off our month of Monsters Who Aren’t by delving into our deepest darkest fears and taking this feature back to its roots as we look at our favourite…
Would you like to contribute next time? Can you write two or three paragraphs defending the monster that scared you as a kid? It could be an undead ghoul, arazor-fingered dream demon, a killer robot, an irradiated mutant animal or some other beast created by supernatural means or science gone horrifically awry – basically, anything that isn’t a Witch, Vampire, Ghost or Alien.
Drop us a line on Twitter if you fancy joining in.
Huge thanks, as always to our good friends who joined us for this piece:
- Matt Adcock is author of the near future nightmare Complete Darkness (as featured in Den of Geek’s Best Books of 2019, and soon to be reviewed here). He is currently working on an audiobook version. Follow Matt on Twitter (@Cleric20).
- Lydia Wist – Like someone who tries out hats or other samples before making a final decision, experimenting with different ideas and techniques is how Lydia spends some of her time. This allows for other portions of time to speak through the lens of fiction, creative nonfiction and art. Her work can be viewed at Cargo Collective and Lydia Wist Creative on Facebook. Follow Lydia on Twitter (@LydiaWist).
- CJ Dee joined us in July for a look at Beetlejuice and again last week to tell us why she loves The Evil Dead. She runs and writes for pop-culture website Gotham City Times. Follow CJ Dee on Twitter (@Kinestra).
- Andrew Lyall is the creator of the YouTube channel Grumpy Andrew’s Horror House. His first short story, Crowthorne, was published earlier this month in Local Haunts, a charity anthology written by horror YouTubers, which you can buy here. Follow Andrew on Twitter (@GrumpyAndrew). Andrew will be back in December to talk about one of his favourite Christmas Horror films.