Wednesday, January 30, 2008


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.


Tim Stretton said...

"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."

--I had a similar experience with "Five Little Kittens":
Mrs. Tibbets, going shopping,
Wasn't pleased enough to purr;
"Kitties, PLEASE!" she said quite crossly,
"How can Mummie brush her fur?"

Probably off the radar for most of your readers-although maybe not Aliya and Matt...

Aliya Whiteley said...

So true. I saw The Valley of Gwangi when I was nine. And I saw John Boorman's Deliverance when I was nine. One of these gave me nightmares and the other went totally over my head. I'll leave it to you to decide which.

(However, I revisited both of these films at age 32, and Gwangi bore up well. Seriously - s'great.)

Alis said...

'A book or movie may be a very different thing depending on whether you encounter it at five or fifteen or fifty.'
Totally agree - in this context I'm never quite sure why we expect the average adolescent to grasp Shakespeare...

Usman said...

Hello, I have been reading your blog recently and have just now come on board. Great place.
I read Lady Chatterly's Lover when I was twelve or thirteen. It disappointed me; I kept waiting for things to happen that didn't. Had to re read years later and understand what DH Lawrence was all about.

Neil said...

How odd - this very morning I finished a story about human/animal hybrids. Possibly unbeknownst to Ms Whiteley, our work in progress may well be heading Atlantis-wards. Funny you should mention Candide as the book has a running cameo in it.

And also - more importantly - Clash of the Titans. Man that Gorgon freaked me out. Watching it again, there's is no small amount of menace remaining in her stop-motion stare and floaty slither...

Neil said...

Sorry, forgot to mention, human-animal hybrids in flooded Britain. (More relevance, see. Hence my amazement.)

Matt Curran said...

There's something about claymation creatures freaking people out, isn't there?
Ray Harryhausen has a lot to answer for.

Poltergeist scared the shit out of me when I was nine. Now it feels more Gone with the Wind than Texas Chainsaw, but there are still a few moments which freak me out... Like when the mother opens the door to the kids' room and there's that blast of screaming... ooooh.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Tim--

"Five Little Kittens" is certainly off my radar. Does it operate on the "then there were four..." principle>

David Isaak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya--

I have a hard time imagining what "Deliverance" would seem like to a nine-year-old. I suspect that when I was nine it would have seemed like a long movie where not much really happened.

I haven't seen "Gwanji", but I will. I'm a big Harryhausen fan.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

Right on. About the only Shakespeare that makes any immediate sense to adolescents is Romeo and Juliet. Dumb adults in dumb families oppressing teenagers always strikes a chord.

But they'd still rather see "West Side Story" than the Elizabethan version. That Shakespeare guy talks weird.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Usman, Welcome!

Yeah, Lady Chatterly...what a disappointment after all that build-up. I was expecting something that would burn my fingers.

David Isaak said...

Hey, Neil--

Yeah, the Gorgon was pretty amazing. Though I think my all-time favorite clay monster was the Cyclops from "Seventh Voyage of Sinbad." He was a real creep.

All the rain really got to you guys, huh?

(And keep your human-animal hybrids away from me. The idea's still creepy. Especially the Claymation ones. Especially the Chicken-Human Clayamtion ones.)

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

"Poltergeist" had some impressive effects for the time, too--especially things coagulating out of the white mist.

I wonder why claymation continues to be so effective. I mean, we can all see that it's an obvious effect; even with Harryhausen's fluid fingers, it remains slightly jerky. Yet it still has a "real" feeling to it that is lacking in all but the best CGI. It's like our eyes can sense weight.

Weren't you sinking Britain in a story a while back, too?

Lydia said...

Great post. I watched some vile movie about these silicon life forms that looked like turtles with elephant noses, when I was very small. At one point, the elephant nose turtle had a guy by the arm and wasn't letting go -- so the guy hacked off his arm with a conveniently available axe. I will never forget that!!! Better to let kids watch the Simpsons than to watch B horror movies. At least, that's what I tell my husband. Hehehe.

BTW if someone really wanted to inject your heel and turn you into a bull slave, they would probably do it while your feet are dangling at the dinner table. Tuck up those feet! *cackle*

David Isaak said...

Oh, thanks, Lydia! Now I have to wear Army boots to dinner!

Matt Curran said...

Hi David

Yeah, the UK was pretty much submerged in a story called "The Isles of Sheffield", but I've since delayed writing it due to the deluge of post-apocalyptic fictions that seem to be flooding the market.

So I've turned my attention to the fin de si├Ęcle instead.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

Last summer's 40 days and 40 nights must have left a deep impression!

Good luck in the Victorian period!