Monster a day

For this entry, I’m going to back to an oft-forgotten fantasy film from the 80s: Dragonslayer. The monster: Vermithrax Pejorative, the dragon.

So awesome…

Vermithrax was totally bad-ass. She terrorized countrysides, burninated priests, crushed wizards, ate damsels and fed princesses to her babies. Actually, I think that she’s the only female dragon that I’ve ever encountered in any media except for the one in Shrek!

One thing to note is that Vermithrax’s design, like several others in big fantasy films like Harry Potter and the Hobbit, omits the front legs. Biologically it makes more “sense” that her arms would be her wings too. Plus it gives dragons this totally awesome bat-like crawl that makes them more scary and menacing.

No extra set of arms, just awesome wings.
No extra set of arms, just awesome wings.

As an aside, I’ve encountered several complaints about this design choice. People argue that this is a Wyvern, not a dragon. Bull-crap, I say to those people. There are all kinds of dragons: serpent-like ones without ANY arms or legs, Chinese/Japanese/Korean ones without wings, fat, lizard ones and ones that have many heads. There is no “definitive” dragon, just like there’s no “definitive” unicorn (are they horses or half-goats with lion tails?). So please, let go of this imaginary creature one-way-isms.

Anyway, Dragonslayer was a very decent film starring some very cool actors (including Sir Ian McDiarmid as a missionary priest). Really worth checking out. The dragon is truly a menacing presence and her lair is freaky as hell (literally, there’s a burning underground lake).

Inspiration for Smaug’s design in the Hobbit?

Just like with Jaws or Alien, you only really get a good look at the dragon near the ending: when the protagonist is facing off against her in her fire-lake lair. She spreads her wings and looks super intimidating, but then we hear her deep inhalation: probably the scariest sound ever considering the source.

This film reminds us that dragons can and should be scary. I love it when filmmakers take their source material a bit seriously and/or do something novel with it. Dragonslayer had a crazy-cool dragon in it, for sure, but the world feels… real somehow. It isn’t a polished or idealized medieval period. It has more in common with Esteros than Camelot, for sure.

In the end she is defeated by self sacrifice and the destruction of the last bit of magic left in the world. Kind of sad, really.

Great film, I recommend it!