Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about monsters. Not the human variety monsters like Saddam Hussein or O. J. Simpson or the Arizona shooter. Those are very real monsters for modern times, scarier than anything Hollywood can gives us.
No, lately I’ve been fixated on the classic Universal Studios monsters from the thirties and forties. You know, familiar monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and, my personal favorite, the Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Since I was a kid I’ve had a fascination with monsters. I saw all the movies multiple times and read Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine with a religious fervor. I collected all the model sets of the classic Universal monsters, carefully gluing the pieces together and painstakingly painting them, making sure to give Dracula a little trail of blood streaming from his mouth, or getting the Creature that right shade of green.
As a kid I never questioned the invincibility of my monsters. I never doubted for once that, if attacked a monster, I wouldn’t stand much of a chance of survival. Fear alone would probably stop me dead in my tracks, unable to move or make decisions, rendering me easy prey. Years of familiarity wouldn’t help, either. I have a feeling that the Wolfman wouldn’t go easy on me just because I did a good job of painting his plastic model figure.
But as I get older I find myself asking questions, disturbing questions that directly challenge the fear factor behind some of my monster faves, questions whose frank answers threaten to expose vulnerabilities that as a youngster I wouldn’t dream possible.
For instance, could it really have been that hard to run away from The Mummy? While indeed frightening, he’s not the most mobile of monsters. He’s slow and lumbering, always dragging a foot behind him. And he’s wrapped in bandages, which I’m sure can be quite constricting.
Still, let's excuse the Mummy if he’s a little slow in getting started. The guy’s coming out of a thousand year nap, so he’s probably a little groggy, and his energy levels are a little low; not having Red Bull in the afterlife is a bitch. But the Mummy never seems to be allowed to enjoy a little acclimation time, a quick cup of joe before getting started.
It’s always up and at ‘em with The Mummy; they revive him and send him right out on his deadly mission of vengeance. So in any given Mummy movie you can expect a scene where the Mummy is chasing someone, usually the heroine who the Mummy believes to be the reincarnation of his ancient love, Princess Ananka. This is particularly true in The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) when the chase takes place in a swamp, despite the fact that the film is set in Massachusetts. He’s lumbering around, she’s tripping over tree roots, nobody’s getting anywhere fast. No wonder the two of them drown in the unforgiving Massachusetts swamps
The modern versions of The Mummy had Prince Imhotep take on human form, which just didn’t work for me. True, it made him that much more formidable, and a lot more mobile, but a lot less frightening as well. The fact that the human mummy looks like he’s more likely to have emerged from a WWF wrestling ring than some musty old sarcophagus didn’t help with the scare factor.
No, I’m a purist. My mummies need to be old and musty, wrapped in bandages and smelling of mothballs. They need to be introspective and eerily serene and somewhat sad, not given to the theatrics and drama of Dracula, or the brute force of a Frankenstein monster. They need to have the wisdom of the years and a tragic back-story; you can always count on the mummy to bring all that cool Egyptology to the table.
And as a purist, I don’t allow myself to linger on such questions for long, because I know that if attacked by the Mummy he would find a way to trap me and wreak his awful revenge, even though I painted his model figure with the perfect shade of dusty grey with just a hint of brown.