Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Little Science Fiction Monster Love

In 1954 Universal released the film that would debut the last of its great Classic Monsters to the world.  I'm talking about the Gillman, the titular Creature From the Black Lagoon.  Now the fact that the Creature is included among the Classic Monster heavy hitters is very telling of his overall impact on the youth culture.  To be fair it was only three years later that the Shock Theater package was sold to television stations and a new generation of children that had not even been considered when Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster first saw the glow of the silver screen were being made into fans all over again.  In fact the Gillman would appear 3 times (1954, 1955, & 1956) before disappearing from the cinemas.  None of his films were included in the Shock Theater package, no doubt because they were too new, but an association must have been made for the Creature stands tall as one of the iconic 6: Dracula, Frankenstein Monster, Bride of Frankenstein, Wolfman, Mummy, and the Creature.
Come to think of it, the Gillman is our Countdown mascot this year and adorns all the Cryptkeeper badges in one form or another.  He's a great character and he deserves more love than he gets from the industry.  I have held hopes for a reboot Creature for decades now and always been disappointed.  It seems that every few years somebody gets a greenlight to write a script or sign a director then it goes into limbo then it is canceled.  A part of me does not want a reboot as reboots often do great disservice to the original (I'm looking at you, Rob Zombie) but after Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1992 and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein two years later, I thought we were on to something.  1999's Indiana Jonesesque The Mummy seemed to suggest there was still an interest in the Classic Monsters.  Universal certainly thought there was as they went big budget with Van Helsing and that should have revitalized their monster properties.  Sadly it did not.  Some abysmal Mummy sequels probably did not help matters.  In 2010 they gave us a rebooted Wolfman and this year we get Dracula Untold.  Will this herald a return of Universal Monster glory?  More importantly, will I ever get a Creature update?
And despite my fears that a reboot would suck (mostly because of my love of the original films) I want that validation on the big screen.  Even more than that I want the Creature to stop being treated like Universal's Aquaman*.
What do I mean by that?  Well the Gillman is primarily an aquatic monster, which is part of what makes him so cool to me personally as it combines to things I love: monsters and the water.  Sure he can move around on land but with his huge webbed hands and huge flipper feet he's a bit clumsy and slow.  While he is strong enough to flip automobiles, which should put him in the Frankenstein category of power, he really shines in the water.  Unfortunately this means that when you have the big monster get together movies he's going to be used for some weak water gag or a one-shot swamp/bog scare and that's it.  We can add to that the sad fact that old Gillman, save his appearance on the Munsters (which did him credit, I thought), is verbally inarticulate.
From the Munsters.  I don't know if I love the superfluous hat or scarf more.
That lack of speech can be a problem in monster terms for how often you get picked as focus monster in a group picture.  Dracula's a vampire and vampires talk.  Sometimes they talk too damn much.  Depending on the screenwriter old Frankie can talk to varying degrees, which can make him quite charming in a walking concussion sort of way.  He's a bit sympathetic.  Strictly speaking the Mummy is supposed to talk, and as Karloff portrayed the Mummy he did speak, and quite well.  Later Mummy characters do not talk, but then they are unliving weapons of a villain with an agenda.  Your basic Wolfman talks when he is human, so at least you get some concept of where he is coming from, but not Gillman.  He's a body language sort of monster.  Thus, unless it is a comedy romp we are going to get the silence of the underwater monster.  We don't really know his motivations but they seem limited to mate with girl and escape from hairless monkeys.  And if you know anything about non-selachian fish reproductive processes, that first motive should raise some serious questions.  Thus Gillie is treated like the monster team's Aquaman.  Dracula occasionally gives him something to do on monster missions, but since most monster missions don't involve much swimming Gillman just hangs out in the moat at Dracula's castle or in the Jacuzzi eating sushi and watching Bay Watch reruns.  In such scenarios where we actually get to see him with the other monsters in action it is like watching Flipper (which is apropos given that Ricou Browning played the Gillman in the underwater swimming scenes in all the films and he co-created Flipper).  "Gillman?  What it is, boy?  Is there a problem in the moat?"

In terms of his physical presence he is pretty awesome.  He is amphibious but more comfortable in the water, shrugs off bullets and has a lightly armored hide.  His webbed fingers terminate in deadly claws as well.  If you threw some shark or barracuda teeth in the mix he would be the perfect killing machine.  He is supposedly an evolutionary dead end that still survives to this day (or into the 50s to be more precise).  I can link the Creature to aliens, if you like.
The cover art is the best thing about this novel.
In the novel Time's Black Lagoon by Paul Di Filippo the Gillman of the 50s was the last of his race.  A scientist who is convinced that global warming means we should study the Gillman to mutate the human race to survive the climate changes (it may not seem apparent but said scientist is the HERO of the book) time travels to the Devonian Age with his girlfriend, an outdoor sports enthusiast, to find the original species.  He time travels via an iPod that his buddy, another scientist, invents.  Already you are thinking, "If they can invent time travel with an iPod why can't they fix the climate problem?"  I don't know.  They invent time travel.  In a fecking iPod.  Time travel.  Can't work out how to adapt human biology to a warmer climate or build floating cities should the ice caps melt or build a better HVAC unit or make more efficient engines or reduce greenhouse gasses but they can build a thrice-damned time machine out of an iPod.  And they made two of them.  
Sorry, I got distracted by the gaping plot hole.  Let's just fall in, shall we?
So HERO and GF go back to the Devonian Era and find the Gillman race, a smooth-skinned, lithe, telepathic race of gentle aliens whose ship crashed into the primal seas of Earth and who now call our little mudball home.  They have a weird beard hippie sea worshipping religious system and are very friendly and intelligent.  Then some archaebacteria infects one of the gentle Gillpersons and it spreads it with a scratch to another and they start mutating into the form we all know and love.  The new form is much, much stronger and hardier but less graceful and loses its gentle nature and hippie knowledge.  Eventually, as always happens in time travel stories, the monsters get loose in the modern era and wreck shit.  
It's shit pressed between cardboard covers, but such is my love of the character of the Gillman that I read the whole thing.  I won't be doing that again.  

I wasn't going to show you that picture because it is super-geek stuff, but the Creature directly inspired an AD&D monster.  Think of it as a palate cleanser.

The Gillman is a great character and is worth a quality reboot.  He's a science fiction monster but still feels like a classic monster.  He's the total package and if handled correctly a new take on this old classic would be a guaranteed win.  Why not make him heroic?  Sure, let's have Gillman save some people at a lake camp that are running from zombies.  He could be from lost Atlantis!  We have options here, people.  Maybe even go with a Swamp Thing angle.  He's a being with a noble soul in the body of an aquatic killing machine.  Gillman lovers, and I know you are out there, this is the age of social media.  We have a voice, let it be heard.  

*I say that for its pop-culture angle because, as we all know, I love Aquaman.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween in SPAAAAAACE!

You have to go backward if you want to go forward.  (With apologies to Gene Wilder)

The future is a wonderful place, or so we think it will be.  Or we hope it will be.  Regardless the future is a place you have not been but will be one day only by then it won't be the future it will be the present and then the past and life keeps going.  Yoda once said, "Always in motion is the future."  He wasn't wrong in the sense that the future is always the time to come from the point where you are now.  You will never get to the future because when you do, it won't be the future anymore.
Which means that any prediction of the future is simultaneously completely possible and impossible.  It's the Future State Duality Theory that I just made up.
A good example of what I mean is Tomorrowland at the Disney parks.  When Disneyland opened in 1955 Tomorrowland was a blueprint for the future.  It was a wonderful Space Age world of the future.  Time moves pretty fast and technology is not far behind it.  Tomorrowland aged and things came to pass, or didn't as history shows.
You can't keep a place like that futuristic for too long.
Since the future is a great unknown the best we can do is extrapolate what we want to be from what we have available and hope for the best.  For this reason I say that in order to fully appreciate the Sci-Fi future Halloween fun we need to look not to the future but what we once thought the future would be today, tomorrow and onward.
To that end, meet George Jetson.
This guy is waaaaayyyy too happy to be wearing that wig.

His boy Elroy.
This might be the worst costume I have seen this season.

Jane his wife.
I'm not sure that those boots are authentically future.

Daughter Judy.
Look, I don't mean to be pedantic, but Judy was a platinum blonde.
Ummm; and their robot?
I take back what I said about Elroy...this is the worst effing costume I have ever seen.
Jazz solo!
The Jetsons appeared on television screens in 1962 during the exciting years of the Space Race.  It was a time of vehicles with fins (nothing looks more futuristic and spacey to the drivers of the late 50s and early 60s than fins, bullet tail lights and shrouded headlamps, I assure you), televised science fiction programs, and comic books.
okay, technically this is a model of a 1957 Nomad, but my example stands.
The Jetsons live in Orbit City in 2062, which is still quite a bit in the future from where I am sitting, in a wonderful example of Googie architecture.

Despite living in a luxurious lifestyle by the standards of 1962 America when it premiered (and even by our own to some degree) the Jetsons have all of the problems we do. Or at least they complain that they do. They have traffic, health issues, boredom, mean bosses, problem kids-you know, life stuff.  Which just goes to show you that no matter how bright you think the future is going to be, when you get there the bulb is going to be pretty dim, daddy-o.

As far as the costumes go, let me assure you that there are worse examples than I provided.  There are variations of Jane and Judy that are simply indecent because nothing says HALLOWEEN like slutting up a childhood memory, n'est-ce pas?  If you compare the pictures of the costumes to the cartoon art at the top of the article you can see there was a decent attempt made to capture the Jetsons, George is particularly easy and Jane and Judy are not bad.  Elroy is a crying bloody shame, though.  Why any adult would want to dress up as a six year old boy is beyond me.  It doesn't even bear thinking about.  I find the Rosie costume particularly disturbing, although I can't say what I dislike the most about it.  Is it the tarting up of the robot?  Is it the purse cum decapitated head?  No, I think it is the ethnic slur of picking that particular model and making her a domestic.  Sistren, I'm offended for you.

(Let it go, Rook...just let it go...)
Regardless of bad costumes, the Jetsons are a great example of the Space Age idea of Sci-Fi and for my purposes that is what good Halloween Sci-Fi is about.  Halloween is an ancient celebration so why should we look to the past for the future when we celebrate it?

Atomic batteries to power; pumpkins to speed; let's go!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Robots and Halloween: Metallic Doom

Robots: they are scary as hell, aren't they?
They have no souls, no human emotions, they are coldly logical, which means they should be able to be reasoned with but as we all know they cannot be reasoned with.  Because robots have a mission.  They are programmed to fulfill functions and that is what they do.  Thinking machines are even more dangerous.  Robots may seem all safe with their Asimov Robotic Law fail-safe programming but you know what always happens.  It happens with your cable box and your desktop and anything with an OS.  Things go horribly, horribly wrong and you end up murdered when all you wanted was to watch the Breaking Bad marathon you recorded on your DVR.
Robots, depending upon their programming tolerances, take things literally.  Has anyone considered how much those Asimov Laws are not part of robotic development?
Would the Terminator be able to terminate if it was bound by the 1st Law of Robotics?
Remember, a robot is programmed to perform tasks and that is all it cares about doing.
"Is that?  What is that?"
Thank you, crew.  May I have a detailed scan, please?
*Oddly enough the Robot is not one of them.
Very nice.  The Funkmeister 9000 is a machine with a mission.  Programmed to groove and do nothing but groove, the android dance machine will be the highlight of your next mixed-species transhuman party.  Just don't get in its way and don't let the music stop.  It has no conscience.  It cannot be stopped (plutionium-adverium batteries guaranteed for a minimum of 400 standard years of nonstop booty drop action).  It cannot be stopped; it feels no pain; it cannot be reasoned with; you will get served.

Assessment: This is one of those Morphsuits that was once reserved solely for kinky fetish parties and now has become quite acceptable in polite society.
Oh, you don't believe me?
Not at all suggestive
See what I'm saying?
The morphsuit is fine as long as you take a few things into consideration.  In our android example above it looks like a lean, efficient machine.  If you are not a lean, efficient machine the morphsuit will show that.  To everyone.  These things cling like skunk stink.  Consider also that you can't really wear anything under them without that showing as well, so your package is right out there.  In the morphsuit.  Out there.  Finally unless the costume concept is one of a slender figure type they tend to look wrong.  Frankenstein's Monster, a traditionally blocky type, just looks goofy as one.
Funkmeister 9000-Avoid.  Has no sense of humor.  Has no sense of style.  Prone to malfunctions during operation leading to wholesale slaughter of organic beings easily triggered by break dancing, for which it is poorly designed.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Robots and Halloween: Something Classic

Robots are of special interest to our species.  We have tons of them, really, from the humble Roomba to industrial factory robots.  Logic dictates that a robot need not look like a person unless the specific functions it is to perform require a human's form.  Thus the Roomba does not look like a person pushing a vacuum cleaner.  Science Fiction robots often look like people.  This is probably to make it easier for an actor to portray the robot by wearing a suit.  The classic robot has a human shape with two arms, two legs and a head but is shiny and blocky with antennae and such.  Hands may be claw-like clamps, functional tools, or humanoid fingers.  The classic robot is a companion to the human heroes, sometimes comic relief and sometimes the secret weapon.  When the robot goes out of control, however, its power makes it nigh-unstoppable until the final reel when the heroes defeat it.
Truly classic sci-fi robots are supposed to be experts in one or more fields, being designed to do jobs too dangerous (or tedious) for human beings.  Despite that the limitations of costuming from the classic era mean that the robot tends to take three times as long to do a mediocre job as a human does to do the same job well.
Unless they are war machines.  Warbots seem to be the exception but even then humans tend to just run up stairs causing the warbot to become frustrated and try to destroy the staircase.
Since it always seems that humans can do the very same things as robots in half the time I often wonder why we build them at all.  In a science-fiction setting, I mean.  I'm trying to envision the Roomba being a little more rugged and running around the amusement park constantly sweeping up discarded ice cream wrappers and bits of refuse, which is a job normally done by humans.
Come to think of it, have you ever been vacuuming and had some piece of detritus that just won't be picked up by the vacuum so you pick it up, look at it, put it back down and run the vacuum over it again, then eventually pick it up and put it in the trash?  That's the kryptonite of the robot, right there.  A human with a broom and dustpan can get that and keep going without breaking stride but the outdoor Roomba?  It's either not getting it or going to get stuck in a subroutine because of it.
Which is WHY we build robots to look like us.  In the hope that they will just pick up the trash and carry it to the bin.  
And then you call somebody "trash" and the robot takes it literally and the next thing you know you have a rogue robot on your hands, only it's not rogue, see.  Because it is just following its programming, see.
Captain what do we have today?

Yep, that's a robot all right.  Detailed scan please.

That's a classic robot that is.

Assessment: Look at the size of that melon.  Seriously that thing must have the computing capacity of 1000 iPhones.  We have an antenna on the cranium for picking up wi-fi, we have a speaker for a mouth, presumably for speaking to organic life forms, we have fine manipulation digits (fingers), and we have some sort of strange chest plate.  The GPRA series is designed for the person that just had to have a robot but didn't really have a job for a robot to do.  The GPRA can do a plethora of tasks like take out the trash, mix a space martini, walk the dog and other minor domestic drudgery.  Loyalty is another matter entirely.  Is your car loyal?  As for efficiency, who can say?  How much money could you save by taking out your own trash, walking your own dog and mixing your own space martini?  Robots make people lazy in order to justify the expense of having them in the first place.

Still, it's a pretty cool costume.

Stick around for more sci-fi Halloween madness.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Aliens and Halloween: Robots

Robots were once a major part of sci-fi and a few of them have been part of horror as well.  Who can forget the deadly Ro-Man?
The gorilla with the television on its head is the robot.
Okay, who can actually remember the deadly Ro-Man?
You are far more likely to remember Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet or Robot B-9 from Lost In Space.  Just trust me when I tell you that robots are important to space and sci-fi media.  Data from ST:TNG, Threepio and Artoo from Star Wars, and the (original) Cylons are all robots (more or less) familiar to pop culture fans.  In the old days (sometimes referred to, by me, as the good old days) robots were very much of the tin can and box variety.  I am tempted to include cyborgs in this as well if for no other reason than to put in a picture of these mad bastards:
Well they LOOK like robots.
Although how cyborg they are is up for debate.  Mutant octopoid-thingie riding around inside a space buttplug armed with a plunger...sounds more like a mech to me.

Robot costumes can be purchased but there are not tons of them on the market.  You could just get a box, some tubing from a DIY warehouse store and some spray paint and make a pretty nifty robot costume.  They aren't very scary, however.  Not even the evil ones bent on the destruction of weak fleshlings.
So how do robots fit into your Halloween festivities?
Well this is part of the whole indulging in your fantasies angle.  Not every person wants to be something traditional or scary for Halloween.  After all, why should a werewolf be traditional to Halloween?  Is it directly related to either Samhain or All Hallows?  Nope, but it is a monster and I've established that link already.  It's spooky and fun.  Fun is the key here.
Some people just like robots.
Now you could get a few bits of circuitry, a little make up and just go out and call yourself a sexbot if that makes you happy, and who am I to judge, but try to make a little effort.  It's only one night a year, after all.

Finally I'd say that robot is really an acting costume.  You don't just put on the robot suit, go to the party and get shit faced.

Unless of course you are this guy.
You play the part.  Talk about yourself in third person.  Call other people "human" and walk funny.  Really play it up.  Enjoy your new, powerful metal body.  Steal old people's medicine.  Go hog wild, it's Halloween.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Aliens and Halloween: Spacewomen

Just to be fair I figure we should look at a spacewoman option.
"Hiya, boys.  You looking for a date?"
Detailed analysis, if you please, Mr. Spock.

Here is the quandary: you are a self-assured, empowered, free-spirited female and it's Halloween and you want a costume that says you are comfortable with yourself and your sexuality but also allows you to express that aspect of your personality.  What choice of costume for you?
Space Hooker!
Or is that a Lady Gaga costume?  I don't know.  Not important.
Not since Wilma Deering and Dale Arden have we seen such an excellent example of the all-around Space Woman.

I'm not sure about the efficiency of those shoes, but who doesn't like a robo-corset and evening gloves?

This space woman is actually pretty tame compared to some of the outfits available.  Look, ma, no midriff.
As everyone knows, no color is quite as futuristic as silver.  Gold is a warm, rich, burning color which has the alchemical symbol of sun.  Gold reminds us of sunflowers, sunny days, Summer fields, and money.  Silver, on the other hand, is a cold, sterile, liquid-like color which has the alchemical symbol of the moon.  Now although the moon and the sun are both in outer space, and despite the moon being Earth's satellite while the Earth is itself a satellite of the sun, the moon says space to us as a people.  Stars appear to us as twinkling white brightness in the darkness of space.  The sun is a star, but it's OUR STAR, so it's not spacey.  Get it?
Many an ancient culture had a sun god or goddess but did not consider the other stars to be candidates for such treatment.  Silver is a futuristic space color.  Galaxy Gail has got silver in spades.  I particularly like the grieves.  That's one of those old-school space things.  For some reason advanced human civilizations in space take their fashion advice from ancient Rome.  The visor really sells it though.  She uses the visor to assess your bank account to determine your suitability for services.  Fourteen levels of services, I am given to understand.

Assessment: Cybernetically enhanced robo-hooker.  Potential for STD HIGH.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aliens and Halloween: Spacemen

Okay, that was a bit of a sexist title.  Spacepeople?  Spacewomen and spacemen?

Space suits for Halloween come in two basic varieties: NASA astronaut gear and skin-tight body suits.  The old Flash Gordon or Star Trek Next Gen look would be the latter type.  I'm not sure how it happened but at some point a consensus was reached in sci-fi that in the future we'd all wear highly functional but unflattering clothing.  Without pockets.  Which is really not all that functional, come to think of it.  Ah the future.
"Greetings, fellow space professionals!"
Detailed scan, please.

Buzz Lightyear-now that's a character I can get behind.  Buzz actually gets to cover multiple zones of costuming in that he is a spaceman, he is a Disney/Pixar creation, he is animated, and he is kid-friendly.  The full Buzz costume is a great piece of work, although a helmet would be nice.  And this guy needs gloves.  There are actually a few different options with Buzz.
What is so damned interesting up there?  Oh yeah, an actual Buzz Lightyear costume, you dick.
Oh come on, make an effort you ass.  Yeah, you can get a Buzz t-shirt and just show up at the party, but you aren't winning any awards.  Well you might do, if there is an award for one-quarter assing it.  Yes, not even going to give this guy a half-assed.

Okay, I own a pair of these.   Not really appropriate at an all ages party, but I'm sure there are parties where this is a real winner.

To infinity...