Posts Tagged 'Movies'

MONSTER OF THE WEEK: Rawhead & Bloody Bones

Rawhead

When you’re five years old, you don’t question the existence of monsters. You know, on some primal level, that there are things in the dark waiting to grab you. You might not be able to put a name or a face to such dangers, but you’re certain they’re out there all the same. Your parents will come into your room and show you that there’s nothing under the bed, or in the closet, or outside the window. They’ll put on the night-light and insist there’s no such thing as monsters. While you’re reassured, as you drift off into sleep you still harbor doubts. It’s at the edge of such thoughts that Rawhead and Bloody Bones lives.

Britain has produced a lot of fantastic bogeymen (a class of monster I’ll elaborate on in future articles), but Rawhead is unquestionably one of their champion contributions.  He’s also known as “Rawhead Bloody Bones”,  “Old Bloody Bones”, “Tommy Rawhead”, “Tommy Rawbones”, or just plain “Bloody Bones.” Stories about him seem to have originated somewhere around Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, or Lancashire, and he dates back to at least the seventeenth century.

He takes his name from his appearance, which is suitably ghastly. He’s a lean, naked giant, with pale skin and great, grasping hands. His head is a mangled nightmare, all pulped flesh and wide, staring eyes, rivulets of blood running down his face and dripping on his chest. He has a den, hidden somewhere, piled high with the gnawed bones of children, where he sits and waits, his long arms clasped about his long legs, which he keeps tucked under his chin. When he senses prey, he unfolds his limbs like a waking spider.

Every bogeyman has some gimmick. Perhaps they stuff you in a bag and carry you off to god knows where, or lurk in dangerous places your parents told you to stay away from, or maybe they punish certain bad behaviors. Old Bloody Bones has all of these traits, but he has a certain directness and simplicity the others lack. He comes for children who lie or say bad words. He can lurk anywhere, from the basement to the attic, from the stagnant pond to the crumbling old well. Most of all he favors dark cupboards, especially if they’re located under the stairs. Nothing can keep him away. You never know where he’ll appear, and once he does those long, pale hands can slip through any crack or keyhole, and their grip is as hard and cold as iron.

For such a simple monster, Rawhead is particularly enduring.  During the English Civil War, there was a folk song that compared the murderous Colonel Thomas Lunsford to the monster with the line: “Made children with your tones to run for’t/As bad as Bloody Bones of Lunsford.” John Locke wrote about him, warning parents not to tell stories of him to children. In more recent years, he inspired the titular monster of Clive Barker’s Rawhead Rex movie, and the band Siouxsie and the Banshees wrote a song about him:

His most notable influence, though, is on his cousin, the Rawhead and Bloody Bones of the United States. This Rawhead is very different, and his stories are told mostly in the southern U.S., especially in places like the Ozarks and the Appalachians, regions settled generations about by largely British immigrants. In these stories, Rawhead starts out as a big, ferocious boar, who is kept as a pet by a strange old woman, often reputed to be a witch. Usually Rawhead is caught by a butcher or hunter and gets slaughtered, but his bloody bones and skinned head are left behind. Either through the powers of the old woman (who is in fact a witch in this take) or through his own terrible will, Rawhead comes back to life. His bones rearrange themselves into a standing position, and place the skinned head on top, and then he takes off into the woods, where he acquires the teeth of a mountain lion, the claws of a bear, and the tail of a raccoon from various corpses and attaches them to himself. Rawhead Bloodybones then hunts down the men or men who killed him, murders them, and then collapses into a pile of bones and meat or escapes into the wilderness to kill again.

The influence of the British Rawhead is obvious in the American version, as both are sinister monsters lurking in the darkness, each with a mangled head and the same name. The pig element is strange, though. It’s nowhere in any of the British folk traditions. It might be the result of Rawhead getting conflated with the Black Sow, a Welsh bogeyman who takes the form of an anthropomorphic, murderous pig, during his transition from Britain to the colonies. The Black Sow is a pretty good monster in her own right, inspiring an old episode from Tales from the Darkside, though it makes her Scottish for some reason.

As you can see from all of this, Rawhead’s reach is long. I think his great strength as a monster is his simplicity. It’s basic enough that you can easily spin him into new variations, and he embodies very powerful, basic fears. The distorted human form, danger lurking in dark places, the threat to children, and most of all an implacable nature that you can’t hide from or escape. You can pick him up, adjust a few basic traits, and plop him down in any culture, place, or time, and he works just as well as ever. I’ve been longing to work him into a story for ages. For now, he lurks at the corners of my mind, and hopefully now he’s lurking in yours as well.

Modern Monsters (Better Late than Never)

Mythical creatures are strange creations. They can be metaphors for human fears and desires, representations of the forces of nature, a commentary about the human condition, and so on. At the same time, they’re much more complex than that. Sure, at some point back in the day one man must have created each of them, but most of them are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. As a result each one is the sum of many parts, reinterpreted by many different cultures, filtered through many traditions, and reinterpreted by billions of people who have come before.

Except when they’re not.

Continue reading ‘Modern Monsters (Better Late than Never)’

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

In a blog dedicated to the use of myth, legend, and especially monsters in fiction, I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of a great. Ray Harryhausen was one of my childhood idols, and source of great inspiration.

Continue reading ‘Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013’

On Mummies (Apologies to Mightygodking)

Me: I wonder how you’d remake the Mummy as a horror film. Not so much a rollicking action adventure. I mean, in the old Mummy movies, he’s basically a bandaged zombie that strangles people. Not really gonna cut it in this day and age. I mean, either you make him an evil sorcerer (but a SCARY evil sorcerer) or you make him a zombie. That’s really the only way to do it. And in that case, why not just make a movie about a zombie or an evil sorcerer who isn’t an Egyptian guy in bandages? I don’t know why I suddenly started thinking about mummies

My Friend: There are stories with fast mummies, including one by Conan Doyle. And the Karloff Mummy wasn’t bandaged. So, the slowness issues are purely a modern phenomenon (but, even the recent films had fast mummies)

Me: It’s been a while since I saw the movie. Okay, so, fast mummies. That’s still just a step down from fast zombies. At least the fast zombies will rip you apart and eat you. Fast mummies do what, exactly, that zombies can’t do better?

Friend: The difference is mummies are sapient. They have personalities, desires, and inhuman patience. They’re actually closer to D&D liches than zombies.

Me: But see, that’s the issue right there. A lich is basically an evil sorcerer. He just happens to be dead. Depending on the sort of mummy you use, you could make essentially the same movie with A) an evil sorcerer or B) a zombie. What about mummies is inherently appealing?

Friend: In general a lich deliberately becomes undead in search of greater power, whereas a mummy expects to be waking up in paradise and what is all this shit I’m wrapped in? Mummies are tragic.

Me: Some mummies are tragic, I will grant that. Others are just dicks

Friend: A mummy is cursed.

Me: Wait, I thought mummies did the cursing. Sleeping in your tomb, some asshole steals your stuff, you wake up and get your curse on. Isn’t that how it goes?

Friend: The originals tend to be confused on this. Generally, though, mummies don’t want to be up and about.

Me: Okay, but can’t you make a zombie or an evil sorcerer tragic as well? I’m still missing the inherent mummyness that makes this all go around

Friend: Mummies just want you to put their stuff back where you found it. They’re not evil.

Me: And if you don’t they’ll curse you. Okay, so, the crux, the real crux of a mummy story is the curse then, right? What makes a mummy’s curse any more unique then Joe Faust’s curses?

Friend: Most films combine this with a sense of ennui etc.

Me: Well, yes, they would. I mean, at least with vampires we have the whole drinking blood thing. And crosses. And garlic. Point is, lots of stuff unique to vampires

Friend: Motivation is an important part of any nontrivial film

Me: Okay, sure, motivation is important. But my point is the motivations attributed to mummies are not unique to mummies

Friend: What ‘give my stuff back’? No, because, unlike other monsters, mummies aren’t intrinsically inhuman or evil.

Me: Neither are vampires.

Friend: Vampires think you’re prey, as do zombies.

Me: Or Frankenstein

Friend: Frankenstein’s monster has a lot in common with mummies, true. He wants people to leave him alone.

Me: But he’s got some unique stuff of his own. He’s all by himself, he’s stitched together from bodies, and sometimes he has LIGHTNING POWERS. …I digress.

Friend: So does the mummy. He’s even more alone, he’s actually dead, and he just wants his stuff back.

Me: Mummies sometimes show up in groups

Friend: Not in the originals, interestingly.

Me: Let’s say I want to make a movie. I want to make it a supernatural horror story with lots of pathos

Friend: Right.

Me: I could use an evil sorcerer or Satanist or whatever. He longs after his lost love or something. And he curses people. Or I could go with the mummy. Why should I go with the mummy?

Friend: See, none of that screams evil sorcerer to me. Motivation’s wrong.

Me: Not all evil sorcerers are obsessed with immortality or more power. And I note, in that case, to be a mummy in the first place you ALSO have to be obsessed with immortality

Friend: The mummy thing happens to protect your stuff. Meantime, your ka is off in Egyptian heaven.

Me: But your stuff follows you to heaven. That’s why you buried yourself with it in the first place

Some Jackass: The next mummy horror movie should be someone’s mum wrapped up as a mummy

Me: Duly noted