Introduction to Our Summer Movie Catalog
Destroy All Monsters!
by Rick Moody
Yes, it's the summer of 1999, last of this particular thousand years, and the Japanese nation has established a special island on which to house all its retired film stars: there's Godzilla, over in a special herbivorous section of the island where he can get at the tops of the taller shrubs and trees without having to stoop; everything in Godzilla's section is made of flame-retardant synthetics, and when he becomes irascible and levels his death ray upon the topography the damage can be contained and actually used to promote new deciduous undergrowth; Rodin -- you remember, a sort of modified pterodactyl -- has a helipad on which he can land after one of his evening cruises over the island to obliterate freestanding Doric columns that are periodically re-erected for this purpose, and here's Mothra, summoned from a larval underground cave area by a pair of twelve-inch high pipsqueaky Geishas, Mothra, that muslin and canvas caterpillar, now able to forage in a system of former mine shafts. And so forth. Yet a conspiracy of aliens from outer space has seized control of this island of retired Japanese film stars, and is using some really cheap laser or phaser type popguns to broadcast their fiendish conspiracy upon the land; wait, that's not all, that's just the beginning, it's the summer of 1999, and a hydraulically-powered, Civil War era arachnid is being used to overturn the victories of the Battle of Northern Aggression, laying waste to innocent civilians in Monument Valley as though innocent civilians might really inhabit Monument Valley, or an erotically-deprived husband has stumbled upon a Gnostic mystery cult on Long Island where masked men of wealth and power listen to Tibetan overtone singing while models in thongs perambulate, or young filmmakers on a low budget are getting ripple-sliced by a coven of witches. And so forth. It's the summer of 1999 and a film has made back its investment without opening at all, so that if this film sells one ticket it has created an American profit: Quiet on the set! What would American film be, if he were a character, walking, disconsolately, upon the steppe in a sharkskin suit and power tie, what would American film be like, and how would he or she talk, with what idiom, with what soothing tones, with what demographically-pitched amalgam of voices and tastes; would he have a little male pattern baldness and an excessive tan that he has procured at a prohibitive cost from a tanning salon the Valley, would he have a great difficulty staying interested in a conversation after its initial pleasantries are exhausted, and might he not like to bore into the skulls of people, I mean, literally, after dark, in certain deserted but affluent sections of bicoastal pleasure centers, might he bore into the skulls of moviegoers with a small, battery-powered hand drill that comes in an leather overnight case with his ergonomically-designed cellular telephone, might he tap off a bit of the pink lemonade in which the human brain is packed, after breaking through the membrane that keeps this august jelly in its housing; there's a fair amount of dust generated in the process; a little bit of gelatinous gunk tends to be scattered about, as when you forget, initially, to put the top on the blender, but he's willing to clean up some of the mess, with shredded copies of unpublished manuscripts and unoptioned screenplays that he piles in the trunk of his Corvette for this purpose; he's willing to lick the drill bit, with the sort of delight that a child might clean up after cake preparations have been completed; and this all reminds me of The Crawling Eye, certainly one of my personal favorites, in which the actor from F Troop, Sarge, I think, is called in among a cadre of guilty scientists in Switzerland to deal with a strange and harrowing Alpine plague, namely, giant Volkswagon-sized eyeballs, orbs with tentacles, really, who have been ensnaring people, squeezing the life out of them, and with what motivation, because there is nothing good to watch? What would the crawling eyes watch if they could watch? At the climax of the film, trapped on the Swiss mountainside at the end of a mountain tramway, Sarge struggles to hack off the limbs of the several crawling orbs with a standard issue fireman's axe, thus to save the world from future peril, and so forth; or there was the creature from the black lagoon, another favorite, whose menace only meagerly exceeded the menace of your quotidian canal gator, really, let's be honest here, what of the Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, or the natural pestilence subgenre, including The Birds, The Frogs, Anaconda, and their kind; the best most frightening films accomplished by the retired actors on the island of lost monster movies involved transformation, not just wildlife in profusion or extremely large animals (like that one, the title escapes me now, with the extremely large crab and the extremely large chicken, I mean what damage would the extremely large chicken inflict on western civilization, would she lift up succulent young high school students into her beak and then regurgitate their adolescent frames into the mouths of her extremely large hatchlings?); no, transformation, as in, of course, the last moment of The Fly, when the poor mad scientist, having stumbling around the set with his ridiculous fly head on, has now departed this world, and yet there is a large stylized spider web nearby, where his double, the tiny little house fly with the human scientist's head, is entrapped, crying out, unforgettably, Help me! Help me! A snippet, origins unknown, from a monster movie of my childhood: a village in flames, at the border of some fiendish waterway (also in flames), guys bobbing at the surface of the water, crying out for help; each time one of their heads dips under the surface, their transformation into monstrosity begins; when they bob up again, they become some thing, and then down under the surface and again in rising to the top, further transformation, until there is nothing human left of them, yet some flickering vestigial remembrance of their mortality, a sense of dignity expunged, in the thing they have become, just like in The Manster, wherein the protagonist is given some kind of vaccination, okay, I don't remember the details exactly, but they're unimportant, he goes home, he's trying to have a nice night in his apartment, and he feels a searing pain in his shoulder, rips aside the collar of his shirt, and there's a oblique angle in closeup of the human eye that has suddenly grown into his shoulder, right between shoulder blade and neck, and it's blinking, wheeling this way and that as if trying to get comfortable with its contact lens, and if that weren't enough, he's out on a date with a woman, later, and he notices his left hand has begun to turn into some kind of claw, and not long after he grows a second head, very unattractive, a dwarf head, with limited vocabulary, condemned to walk the streets alone with this homunculus, what's with all these transformations anyhow, this horror that is always mapped on limbs and sinews, is it the horror of an inmost bestiality? Well, there are engulfment sequences, too, like the beginning of The Blob, when the guy who looks sort of like Slim Pickens is out strolling in the woods, checking his traps to see if he has caught any ermine, or trying to shut down the still before the authorities arrive, he sees some of this red Jell-O oozing nearby from the flying saucer that has just plummeted out of the sky, and he thinks, Damn, what is that Jell-O doing there, and he grabs a stick and he probes at it, another lesson from the island of retired Japanese film stars, Never probe the remains of a flying saucer crash with a stick, and the Jell-O immediately travels up the stick and onto the arm of the Slim Pickens lookalike, moves pretty fast for Jell-O, and he would not have done so badly, Slim -- encased like bug amber by the fiendish Jell-O -- had he not been out alone checking the still, up to no good, certainly, it's not that some horrible flesh-eating streptococcus just exists and there's very little that can be done about it, no, the monster movie is retributive and dignity and growth can only come after the blob is airdropped over the arctic, unless, in the case of Godzilla, this story is about the inability of international cinema to display the concealed reproductive apparatus of men, because that's different; there are innumerable other examples, of course, teenage werewolves lurching into puberty, living dead and their consumer rampages, pod people from the various interpretations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, vampires, mummies, poltergeists; I was a boy in summer and I couldn't be bothered to mow the lawn, or do my homework or talk to my mother or my brother, instead I was encamped in front of the television with that bowl of popcorn and a soda, to make a liaison, again, with the blood-famished spectre of American Film, in black cape, my familiar, he seizes upon my night visions and my daydreams and confines them to his three-plot structure and his studio system and his galaxy of stars; I am again separated from my cash; it's summer, the heat is pestilential, in Tennessee or Alabama or Alaska or Iowa, all across the nation, the kids are lining up in front of the downtown theater to see the new one with the ghosts and the special effects, long as it's cool, we just want to pass these two hours in the highest possible state of cool, I have goosebumps, get me some Jujyfruits. Please.
Copyright © 1999 by Rick Moody