Monster a day



Ever see the Wizard of Oz? Sure you have, at least in some incarnation: the original musical, the many different cartoons or even the recent Tim Burton flick. But did you ever see the Return to Oz?

The one in which Dorothy gets electro-shock therapy? Where there’s a mad witch who can detach her head? And she keeps a menagerie of unwilling, sentient replacement heads? Or the desert that instantly and fatally turns you into sand if you dare touch it? Or the GOD DAMN WHEELERS?!?


These cackling, screeching, clown-monster horrors on rusty wheels haunted the petrified ruins of Emerald City. They terrorized and chased after Dorothy, who was already super distraught and freaked out over the sad, dark fate of her beloved Oz. And THEN, once they had her cornered, they slowed down and approached her all menacingly-like.

You creepy freaks...
You creepy freaks…

I seriously hated these guys. The sound effects editor was a real genius (or evil monster himself/herself) for helping to make these goons especially eerie. Something about the sound of their wheels and the echo of their Joker-like laughter just… worked!

To be fair, a lot about The Return to Oz was dark and scary, but these guys kind of stood out to me. As a child, I assumed that they were the ones who decapitated the statues of maidens for the Witch Mombi. Great films get the imagination working, eh?



Monster a day

Yeah! I’m an Oooooorc!

Today I will cover another one of my favorite big screen uglies: Gothmog from Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King.

I heard that according to Tolkien Lore, it’s a bit ambiguous whether or not he was an Orc or a Balrog. Either way, I’m focusing on the movie version.

Gothmog is a grotesque, deformed and physically disabled orc. His face reminds me of a cross between the Elephant Man, Sloth from the Goonies and the original silent-era Phantom of the Opera.

Gothmog is pretty bad ass. I mean, he’s some kind of general or something, despite his physical disabilities. Hell, even as he’s having trouble getting off his warg, he contemptuously shoves away some orc trying to help him. He’s like: “I’ve been like this my whole life: what’s YOUR excuse?” So cool.

I mean, when he first appears at the Battle of Pellenor fields, he’s riding in like some kind of smug sheriff (I heard that the actor channeled John Wayne).

Howdy partners, Sheriff Gothmog is here to tell ya what's what.
Howdy partners, Sheriff Gothmog is here to tell ya what’s what.

He’s super ugly and has a gravelly monster voice. Plus his armor is really neat. I like his design over many other orcs out there, but to be fair the Mordor Orcs in general are uglier and scarier than any of their counterparts, in my opinion.

In the theatrical version he just kind of disappears when Aragorn charges in with his ghost army. I was happy to see him come back and get destroyed by all the heroes together in the Extended Edition.

Short, but sweet. I hope that you enjoyed this edition of Monster of the week.

Do what I say and I won't crush your head like the Mountain did in that one episode.
Do what I say and I won’t crush your head like the Mountain did in that one episode.

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!