When I was young (sometime in the last couple of years, I suppose), I used to fear that that if my foot dangled outside the covers that some insidious being underneath the bed would stick a hypodermic needle in my heel and inject me with a sort of serum that would turn me into some hideous slobbering animal-human hybrid. Which is why, parents, you shouldn’t let your kiddies watch horror films.
As it turned out, this whole idea was silly. When I finally made the mistake of letting my foot dangle out and that creature under the bed injected me, I certainly didn’t turn into some hideous slobbering animal-human hybrid. Instead, I turned into a teenager--but that's another story.
Now, the whole foot/needle/bed thing could no doubt be interpreted according to Freud or Jung, but the real idea of people being forcibly transformed into human-animal hybrids came from seeing the B movie Atlantis: The Lost Continent when I was very young. It seems that in Atlantis, this is what they did with their slaves--after all, bull-human hybrids can do a lot more work than some guy. (Not sure if they eat hay or not--that bit wasn't clear.)
I didn't remember the film, or its title, though I did remember the experience of seeing a film that was so scary I could barely look at it. But a few years ago, in a video store, I saw the film sitting there, and it almost seemed to vibrate with menace. My god, I said, it's that movie...
Being (arguably) grown-up now, and able to face adult content as long as no animals are harmed, I decided to watch it.
A lot of my memories turned out to be more than a bit hazy. For example, they didn't change people with injections--they used some sort of glowing crystal. My tender five-year-old mind substituted needles because they are a whole lot scarier than crystals (ask any kindergartner). And the animal-human hybrid thing was a minor element in the film--though the creatures do rise up against their masters, which is an unambiguous warning against forcibly changing people into human-animal hybrids to serve as your slaves. Few films nowadays have such clear and applicable moral lessons. (A lot of good it did the rebels, too--they rise against their masters and then the whole frigging continent sinks.)
The really fascinating thing about seeing Atlantis again, though, was how amazingly unimpressive it was. Bad, in fact. Which was a little disappointing--it would be nice if something that for years was a lurking horror in the corner of your mind still maintained some of its potency, instead of turning out to be merely silly.
On the other hand, I recently spent some time with a volume of Poe--a preadolescent obsession of mine--and if anything, he is more disturbing now than when I was young. The eccentricity of his prose and his unconventional narrative structures were utterly wasted on me when I was nine years old.
I made the mistake--though there are worse ones to make--of reading too much too young. And now I find myself rereading Madame Bovary, or Huckleberry Finn, or Candide, and wondering what the hell I was thinking reading those before adulthood.
And what's my point? I'm not sure. But I think three things are clear:
1) A book or movie may be a very different thing depending on whether you encounter it at five or fifteen or fifty.
2) Enslaving human-animal hybrids to do your work is, like the current US national deficit, not a sustainable economic approach in the long term.
3) Just to be sure, you shouldn't let your foot dangle outside the covers.