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Tom Allen

If at first you don't succeed, edit out your failures.

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Unit 12: Specialist Study

Unit 12: Essay

Area of Investigation –

In this report I intend to research the ways that movie monsters have changed from the 1950s to the present. I have chosen this topic as the craft of monsters has interested me since watching things such as Alien or Predator. I believe that the way that monsters are designed can significantly impact a film’s reception and as such wish to look into what makes them effective and not so effective.

Intended research –

Within this essay I shall focus on the first Alien film, The Thing from Another World, The Thing (1982), The Thing (2011) & The Babadook. These films interest me as the way they offer horror is different depending on their time period. I will most likely get most of the sources off websites as I have struggled to find books relating to this topic

Practical Experiment –

In my practical experiment I will be designing three original monsters that I will draw up and present to an audience. I shall then question which the audience finds the scariest and then what makes them so. With this information I believe I will be able to improve future designs and understand why people are scared of some things.

How this will help me –

This research will help me to improve as a film maker as I will understand the strengths and weaknesses of different techniques of showing movie monsters effectively. I will also understand what makes different elements of designs work allowing me to create more memorable characters.

Analysis of Alien (Ridley Scott – 1979) –

Picture1 

(H.R. Giger’s original Alien design)

The film alien is an interesting film to study as it blends sci-fi and horror effortlessly, creating a memorable yet still scary piece of media. The use of tight corridors of the Nostromo juxtaposed with the emptiness of space lends a more classic horror element and with the introduction of the xenomorph, standing at 7ft within the claustrophobic corridors, gives the film it’s unstoppable killing machine.

The “Bio-mechanics” of HR Giger’s designs are particularly interesting to analyse because of their radical and cutting edge properties. A huge part of what makes the design so interesting its human features, such as the torso, which while clearly in the fashion of a ribcage it is altered by the bio-mechanical pipes on the back of the figure lending it an unnatural look. As Ciseri L.M (2014). says “ultimately, it is the monster that gives the world the gift of normality.” This quote is rather interesting as it muses that while monsters may be horrific they are necessary to give the world its sense of rightness, as there cannot be a right without a wrong.

The texture of the creature gives it an archaic quality, as if the creature is a part of some myth. The way the creature is posed also leads to some mystery as it seems to be in a foetal-esc position which could lead the viewer into believing it is either a child or the start of life, which is interesting as it spends most of its time killing all other life.

The human-like face of the creature is also interesting as the creature lacks eyes. This is particularly important as animals and humans have evolved to determine someone’s intentions and emotions through their eyes. This immediately gives the audience an unnerved feeling as the creature’s intents are hidden.

“At its essence, Giger’s art digs down into our psyches and touches our very deepest primal instincts and fears.” (Scott, 1996). I think this quote is thought provoking due to the implications, as it says that Giger’s art reaches our deepest fears. While this is rather vague may be relating to the fact that Giger’s art seems to be centred on disfigurement of the human form, perhaps a metaphor for people becoming monsters through their actions.

 

Analysis of The Thing series (Howard Hawks 1951/ John Carpenter 1982 / Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. 2011) –

Picture2.png

(The monster from The Thing from Another World.)

The monster from Howard Hawks’ Thing from Another World (1951) is interesting, from a historical perspective, due to its significantly human-like appearance, using simple makeup and prosthetics to create the costume. However, the design for the monster is pretty tame nowadays, perhaps due to the oversaturation of monsters such as Frankenstein or Dracula or by the fact that monsters have got increasingly gory as the decades have gone on and as Nathan Rabin (2011) explains, “…the film’s egghead scientist breaks the news that the creature menacing them is essentially an evolved houseplant” This is rather interesting due to the fact that the reviewer isn’t scared by the monster at all, meaning that while the monster might have been scary at the time it has lost its impact on modern audiences.

It was pared with the feeling of isolation that being in an Arctic outpost cut off from the rest of the world. This feeling of claustrophobia is empathised by the fact that the monster stood well above the rest of the cast contrasting by the tight corridors and even further contrasted by the wide open nothingness of the Arctic, which plays on the common phobias of claustrophobia and isolophobia.

 

Picture3.png

(The Thing – 1984)

The Thing in John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing from Another World (from 1951) is an intimidating monster in my opinion as rather than it be a visibly malevolent monster such as the Xenomorph from Alien, it spends the majority of the film disguising as members of the cast. The fact that The Thing hides within people is particularly intriguing as it plays on the fear that people could be something or thinking something and you wouldn’t know until it’s too late. This is particularly compelling as John Carpenter (1998) says during the director’s commentary, “The paranoia is the glue that holds the movie together.” This shows that he had a clear understanding on what makes the concept scary. The fear from the monster also comes from the fact that despite the cast’s best efforts to destroy “the Thing” It doesn’t die, however it doesn’t seem to be malevolently hunting down the cast, rather it is simply using its abilities to survive like a wild animal, only fighting back when its discovered. I believe that this is instrumental to the fear factor of the thing as it has such sophisticated mechanisms for blending in and protecting itself.

This style of presentation is consistent with the era as most monster movies around the 1970s and 80s didn’t have the budget or the CGI to properly render out an intimidating or horrific monster so were limited to using practical effects and suits, as such the monsters were saved for more dramatic moments rather than being constantly on screen. This works in favour of The Thing as while the times that the monster isn’t visible are the films downtime, there is the constant threat that the monster will pop out at any moment due to it hiding within the cast.

 

Picture4.png

(The monster from 2011 The Thing)

Moving onto the 2011 prequel for John Carpenter’s imagining of The Thing, we can see monster is more open in its monstrosity and while the majority of the CGI is well made it doesn’t hold up to John Carpenter’s 1982 version in my opinion as it doesn’t feel real enough. The monster also seems to be more visual for its horror as it shifts into its more horrific form more frequently probably due to the change in audience and increased budget.

“The state of the horror industry is hotly contested. With the genre seemingly relying on churning out remakes, reboots and endless sequels, many argue that it’s languishing in the doldrums once again with little originality to offer a modern audience.” – (Helen Kantilaftis. 2015) This quote is engaging as it talks about what has changed within cinema as a whole. The explanation of a lack of originality resonates well with me as I believe there are too many sequels within the horror genre on its own, not to mention the entire industry.

 

Analysis of The Babadook (Jennifer Kent – 2014)

Picture5.png

(The book in the film The Babadook)

While the 2011 The Thing is a bad example of modern horror a good example would be The Babadook, a psychological horror that tackles the subject of grief. Within the film there isn’t a physical monster that stalks the characters rather the monster only makes its true appearance towards the end of film. The films main tension comes from the reoccurring book The Babadook, a children’s book that shows graphic imagery and generally disturbs the main characters. The film also does a masterful job of keeping tension throughout with the use of clever uses of the Babadook’s jacket and top hat. The actual design of the monster is very simple, a pale faced figure in a dark jacket and top hat constantly trying to “get in”.

“On the other hand, glimmers of hope shine through with examples of extreme originality and artistry. Cabin in the Woods (2012) has been heralded as this decade’s Scream, and the recent releases of The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (both 2014) have breathed new life into the genre.”

(Helen Kanilaftis 2015.) The above quote is thought-provoking to me as it explores how many newer, more indie horror films are getting ahead and bring more horror to the horror genre.

It also interests me that the Babadook is reprehensive of grief and loss. In the film the main characters; a mother and her son, are constantly dealing with the grief of losing her husband (and his father) to the point where the mother asks people to refrain from saying his name and where the child breaks another child’s nose for saying that they didn’t have a dad. The fact that everywhere the two go their grief follows them is parallel to the common phrase within the book, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook”

Conclusion

In finalisation, I believe while modern day horror has a long way to go there are clearly some outliers that subvert genre tropes and make some genuine scares. I have discovered that sometimes the best thing to do with a horror monster is to make it barely visibly present a technique used by the first Alien, The Thing (1982) & The Babadook. I have also learnt about the use of mental anguish, depression and anxiety being personified or rather ‘monsterified’ to create a relatable abomination.

 

References

Scott, R. (1996) As quoted by Giger, H. (1996). HR Giger’s film design. 1st ed. Beverly Hills, CA: Morpheus International.

LM, C. (2014). Leonardo Da Vinci, the genius and the monsters. Casual encounters? – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25702382 [Accessed Feb. 2017].

Kantilafis, H. (2015). How Horror Movies Have Changed Since Their Beginning. [online] Available at: https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/how-horror-movies-have-changed-since-their-beginning/ [Accessed Feb. 2017].

Rabin, N. (2011). The Thing From Another World/The Thing. [online] Avclub.com. Available at: http://www.avclub.com/article/the-thing-from-another-worldthe-thing-52444 [Accessed Feb. 2017].

The Thing. (1998). [DVD] Hollywood: John Carpenter.

 

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Unit 12 Lit review

Article 1

http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/neville-page-movie-monsters/

Interview with Neville Page – Monster Designer

Rating: 4/5

Pros:

The interview discusses how monsters have to seem like they could exists as what makes a monster truly scary is the thought that it could be lurking in the shadows of the world. The article also says that monsters have to have reasons for their actions. E.g; The cloverfield monster was a scared infant panicking in the city, which also links to the point of how monsters could just be understood as the monster in cloverfield didn’t understand what it was doing and simply wanted to get home.

“That big, gnashing Cloverfield creature was a baby, as opposed to a big, mature animal, and it was frightened, like a scared, penned elephant, and it was looking for its mother, and screaming out for her the whole time. It wasn’t rage, it was just frustration and fear.” – Neville Page

Cons:

The article doesn’t discuss anything that makes a monster bad, e.g. poorly written origins, mediocre design. The article also fails to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of practical or digital effects.

 

Article 2

https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/what-makes-a-monster-scary/

Article on what makes monsters scary

Rating: 5/5

Pros:

The article explains the reasons people fear monsters due to their ambiguity. The writer also lists common phobias that monsters can draw from, E.G: the fear of flying, inablitiy to escape etc etc.

Cons:

The writer doesn’t explain the pitfalls that monster designs can fall into.

“Imagine being the first to pick up that horrible, red-brown spider-thing with terrifying claws and twitching antennae and saying, “Yum!” To me, a lobster is a giant bug with claws—I’d have run screaming from a lobster. But now we know what a lobster is and what it tastes like and that it isn’t really dangerous. The only thing scary about it is the unknowable mystery of its “market price.””

Article 3

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/16256/the-den-of-geek-guide-to-making-a-scary-movie-monster

Guide to making a scary movie monster

Rating: 4/5

Pros:

This article lists and explains good and bad things about various movie monsters such as, monsters that are allergic to water aren’t scary,

  • Explains what makes monsters scary
  • Lists 5 down points that monsters often fall in

Cons:

  • Only lists 9 pieces of advice
  • Only 4 of which are positive things.

“Equally worthy of note is the terrifying Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, a hairless monstrosity that, while not strictly speaking eyeless, was made all the more unnerving by the fact that its eyes were located on the palms of its hands. Once seen, it’s a creature that’s hard to cleanse from your mind.”

Unit 12 proposal – 12.1.1, 12.1.2

The area of my investigation

I will be focusing on the horror genre of films through 1920 to contemporary styles.

The main area of my research will be the development of the representation of monsters within the “Thing” franchise. I will be analyzing the design of the monster, the techniques of presentation & audience responses. I will also be looking at the perspective of film critics.

What research I intend to carry out

I will be looking at “The Thing from another world (1951)”, “The Thing (1982)” and “The Thing (2011)” with the intention to analyse how the industry shifted from using costumes and prosthetic to mostly CG, with this information I will eventually create my own movie monster.

What practical experiment will I carry out

I will design three original movie monsters and interview a focus group to see which one is the best. I intend to set it up as a competition of sorts in which I shall sketch all three monsters then, the top two will be lined properly with my fineliner after which I will see which of those is voted better I will colour. This will help me as the process is used often to see which concepts should be pushed forward in film designs.

How this will help me develop as a film maker

I think that this will help me to refine my monster designs as well as general design management and feedback. This is important as it is easy as a designer to get too invested to a design aspect and as such this analysis will help me think objectively about my designs. This would be extremely useful in a professional environment as if I get into concept design I will have to create multiple designs for a client and they might not like the designs I put forward at first.

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