David Langford explains incontrovertible monster science
After editing heaps of articles on terrible old SF films, I want to write The Science Of Monster Movies… in the great tradition of The Science Of Star Trek and The Science Of Harry Potter. Things I have learned:
Radiation makes things big. Nuclear testing creates giant ants in Them! ( the 1954 classic), cosmic rays produce giant wasps in Monster From Green Hell ( 1957), uranium ore causes giantish spiders in Horrors Of Spider Island ( 1959), and a tiny smear of the flesh- eating Blob rip- off in Caltiki, The Immortal Monster ( 1959) not only grows but reproduces when a rayemitting comet skims Earth.
Radiation also mutates things -- fast! Uranium in The Cyclops ( 1957) takes just six months to convert a lost explorer to the title’s 25- foot, one- eyed horror. In Day The World Ended ( 1955), World War Three is barely over before radioactive fallout spawns a three- eyed, bulbousheaded monster to menace survivors. Now imagine the script conference where someone asked, “How do we establish that this mutant is whatsername’s missing fiancé?” and they remembered that Hollywood werewolves revert to human form on dying. Death reverses the mutation process! I must have missed that particular biology class.
Radiation works differently on different things. Island Claws ( 1980), made soon after Three Mile Island, sees crabs on the Florida Keys enraged by radioactive leakage from a local reactor. They attack communities in terrifying scenes of stock footage. But thanks to an aspect of radiation known to physicists as “limited effects budget”, only one crab becomes traditionally huge. Unable to beat its chest like King Kong, it roars and sticks out its tongue, reducing the audience to fear- crazed giggles.
You are what you eat. Any animal- derived wonder drug will infect victims with horrid animal traits. Bat’s blood spoils your social life by turning you into Batman, or rather into The Vampire ( 1957). Wolf blood serum: a werewolf in The Mad Monster ( 1957). Alligator DNA: The Alligator People ( 1959). I don’t think wasps make royal jelly, but as a beauty treatment it has tiresome side- effects in The Wasp Woman ( 1959). Bee royal jelly: Invasion Of The Bee Girls ( 1973) … and so on to the recent District 9 ( 2009), where bodily fluid from alien prawns causes the hero to develop a prawn arm with Secret Prawn Powers.
This is such a whiskery SF cliché that PG Wodehouse spoofed it in a 1926 story where film addicts discuss the serial The Vicissitudes of Vera ( a dig at The Perils of Pauline from 1914), featuring a mad scientist planning to give our heroine a
Crabs attack in terrifying scenes of stock footage
spinal injection of lobstergland extract and turn her into a lobster. Because that’s what mad scientists do.
Dinosaurs are our favourite monsters. Practically every lost realm unknown to map- makers contains a few. For example, they turn up far underground in Jules Verne’s Journey To The
Centre Of The Earth, whose 1959 film reveals the surprising fact that dinosaurs looked just like modern iguanas with fins stuck on. This is because… but you’re already ahead of me. Other worldly dinosaurs even turn up in the singularly unconvincing King Dinosaur ( 1955), where we’re firmly told that an ordinary lizard enlarged through the magic of rear projection is a T- rex, crawling on four legs. Couldn’t the studio lizard- wrangler have trained it to rear up a bit?
Lost worlds tend to explode. Especially if named Atlantis. An obscure tectonic condition called “fear of anticlimax” means that our explorers can rarely escape to civilization without the lost realm first being destroyed by volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, or preferably all three. It’s no way to promote tourism. David Langford just vanished under a Richter 9 lava tsunami.