The Five Most Common Misconceptions About Classic Movie Monsters

I am a monster nut. I’ll own that. My first published book dealt with vampires in film and television. I grew up on the Toho crew. I have action figures for nearly every major Universal monster (including the second Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Creature Walks Among Us).

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my four-year-old daughter has taken a liking to the classic monsters. By this I mean the big five: the four Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Woflman) and also zombies. Recently, while watching the Hex Girls on Youtube, my wife stumbled upon the Monster High videos. My daughter was hooked. But this got me thinking. The cartoon/merchandise features the big five monsters, all with the familiar quirks akin to each one. But I knew that many of these were off base from the true legends of these creatures.

The five classic monsters (plus a gorgon)

So after hours of research, I present to you the five most egregious errors we make about classic movie monsters.

5 Werewolf

Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man

I admit, after looking through countless books, I found that most of the traditional legends line up with our common associations. The link of werewolves to the moon dates back to 1214 where Gervaise of Tillbury reported cases in Auvergne of men turning into wolves during the full moon. There is some controversy about the silver bullet. Some believe it was all made up by Universal for the Wolf Man movie. But historians know that in 1767, the Beast of Le Gevaudan was killed with bullets from a melted silver chalice.

The only thing I can say that most likely not part of original folklore is the pentagram on the hand as a mark of the werewolf. This was probably concocted by the Universal folk for the film. A pentagram has traditionally served as a symbol of protection (even from werewolves).

4 The Mummy

Boris Karloff as the Mummy

Mummies are a staple for monster themed parties and kids playing with rolls of toilet paper. But not all mummies are bandaged and scribbled over in hieroglyphics. There are mummies all over the world. Basically any place extremely dry will create a mummy. And for the sake of argument, we’ll define a mummy as something with most of the internal organs still present. Those are the squishy bits that tend to dissolve during decomposition.

The strangest mummies I found were the Incan mud mummies. These date back to 5000 BC, rivaling Egypt as the first to mummify. Basically, the Incans would disassemble the body, organs and all. They used heat to dry the skin. Then the body was reformed using feathers, clay and glass. Everything was covered in a white ash paste. Finally, the skin was refitted on the body.

Then there are the bog mummies. This type of mummification might have been accidental (oops, I fell into a peat bog) or a form of sacrifice (slipping a deceased relative into the bog to bring him or her closer to the gods). Either way, the body became preserved in the frigid stagnant water loaded with tannic acid. Sometimes not everything survived the years in the bog. Take the bodies found in Florida. Here only the brain was preserved (along with the skeleton) from bodies 7000 to 8000 years old.

Finally, we have the Chinese mummies. Western China is basically one ginormous desert. In addition to the sand, heat, and wind you get bonus pits of salt. These were used a cemeteries as well as areas of sacrifice. One young woman was found partially dismembered with her eyes gouged out. There was also a baby boy, apparently buried alive.

The strangest finds have come from the Takla Maken Desert. Over the past thirty years, archeologists have found many mummies, but all of them have been caucasian, not Chinese. And these shriveled folk had a thing for clothes, many being buried with multiple outfits. The most famous mummy is “The Man with Ten Hats.” You guessed it, he was buried with ten hats.

3 Zombie

A Voodoo zombie

Real zombies don’t eat people. In fact they don’t do very much at all. Lafcadio Hearn introduced English speakers to the word zombie through his brief article, “The Country of the Comers-Back”, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1889. Most were little more than slaves working on sugar plantations in Haiti. They were dumb brutes, working mindlessly. The eyes were dead, unfocused and vacant.

A central precept of Voodoo, a hybrid of African animism and Catholicism, is the possession of a body by the loa. A person was believed to have two souls, the gros-bon-age (the big good angel), and the ti-bon-age (the little good angel). Each soul served a purpose. The gros-bon-age served to give the body life, while the ti-bon-age gave the person their personality. During a Voodoo ceremony, the loa would displace the ti-bon-age, and thus control the person’s body.

It was George Romero’s film, Night of the Living Dead, released on October 2, 1968, that forever changed the image of the zombie. Romero never refers to his walking dead by the word zombie. Instead each of his films calls them the living dead. Despite this technicality, modern moviegoers made the connection. When Romero’s second film, Dawn of the Dead, was released in 1978, it was distributed internationally as Zombie (or Zombi).

2 Vampire

From the 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre

Traditionally, vampires looked nothing like Edward Cullen or Lestat. A more apt description would be a ruddy-faced overweight man with long fingernails, his mouth and left eye open, with a linen shroud as clothing. (Not really going to sweep you off your feet, is he?) The biggest transformation to this myth came with the 1931 film version of Dracula staring Bela Legosi. Here the monster is shown as debonaire and charming. Much of this depiction came from Bela Lugosi’s performance and the original stage play.

Additionally, Bram Stoker’s Dracula could walk in daylight (although he prefers night). It was left to two subsequent movies to introduce death by sunlight. In Son of Dracula (1943), Lon Chaney, Jr. Plays Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backward). He simply fades away when struck with the sun’s rays. In Return of Dracula (released in 1944, only a few months after Chaney’s performance), Lugosi returns as Armand Tesla. In the end, he dissolves in the sunlight.

For more information on vampires, check out my article on vampire apotropaics.

1 Frankenstein

Frankenstein’s Monster

The problem most people make with this monster is his name. Frankenstein is the doctor. The tall green guy with bolts in his neck is simply “The Monster.” In the Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, she called the creation Adam. In one of the play adaptations of the novel, the creature is billed as simply “________, played by Mr T. Cooke.”

This time we can’t completely blame the Universal picture for the confusion over the monster’s name. This happened in Shelley’s time. (It’s what you get for not naming a central character, writer’s take note). Yet once Universal cast Karloff as the “Unnamed Monster”, the audience stuck the monster with the doctor’s name. This is despite the fact that in the opening credits, it’s Karloff who is unnamed, appearing as a question mark.

Opening credits for Frankenstein

I hope all this has cleared up some misconceptions about our favorite monsters. It doesn’t change how these creatures have evolved. It’s natural to think of vampires dissolving in the sun, zombies eating brains, and that hulking monosyllabic fellow as Frankenstein.

Tim Kane

A Clean and Darkened Place—When to Drink Whisky

Current Whisky Collection

I was watching James May Drinks Britain, the episode where he tries some ridiculously strong Scotch whisky that should make him blind. James made a comment about how drinking whisky took him to a dark place.

Now if you’re like me, you might be confused about how to spell this drink. I know that it’s sometimes whiskey and other times whisky. Apparently, this is an issue of great debate. The Scottish take the spelling of their honored drink pretty seriously. They omit the e, making it just whisky. American bourbon, and other like spirits, are whiskey.

I believe whisky to be a noble drink, right up there with the finest of wines. Apparently fresh distilled whisky is clear and very similar to vodka. It’s the aging in wood casks that gives the drink the amber color and distinct flavor.

That got me thinking. When would you really drink whisky?

If it really were just an aged vodka, you could toss it into any old concoction and have yourself a fine cocktail. But it’s not that easy. If you frequent pubs, I imagine whisky might be one of the many drinks in your arsenal, along with the various beers and liquors. Yet if you live in Southern California, and in my case, southern Southern California, then you really have few pub options. I think there are only three or four real pubs, and they’re about 30 miles north. Typically, Corona and Budweiser engage in a never ending war for converts.

I don’t imagine you’d order a glass of whisky with your average meal. It’s not that kind of drink. It requires commitment and a degree of reflection. I think this is what James May was after when he spoke of dark places. A good whisky will close in around you like a warm blanket, leaving you only with your thoughts. You wouldn’t interrupt this with a side of fries and a burger, would you?

But what about the Manhattan, you say? That has whiskey in it (notice the spelling). Yes. And also bitters and vermouth. It’s a standard cocktail. I really don’t think you’ve be mixing single malt with anything but water.

Okay, a quick aside. If you’re confused by single malt, this means that the whisky comes from only one distillery and is not mixed with any other whiskies (called a blended whisky). Single malts come in fancy corked bottles with those Scottish or Irish names that just roll off the tongue, like Caol Ila and Te Bheag (Kool Eela and Chay Vek respectively). The prices start at about fifty a bottle and easily shoot up to the two-hundred range.

So back to the Manhattan. Yes, you mix whiskey into the drink, but it’s a blended whiskey at best. Single malts are for solo drinking. And that leaves late at night, in the dark, where your thoughts can unravel into lumps of yarn and lose fabric.

My current list of single malts include the following:

Dalwhinnie 15 years
This is the first bottle I ever bought. I still have it.

Macallan 10 years
I haven’t had a Macallan I didn’t love. So sweet. Devoured almost all of this bottle.

Balvenie 21 years (Portwood)
Bought this after finishing my first middle grade novel. Great mix of peat and sweetness. Nearly drained after two years.

Ardbeg 10 years from Islay
From one of the islands off the coast of Scottland. Islay produces a very peaty bunch of whiskies. First I didn’t think I’d like the peat. But I’ve warmed to it. Bought this after finishing Tarot novel.

Caol Ila 18 years also from Islay
Bought this on my last trip through London, about six years ago. Most is still in the bottle. Super peaty.

As you can see, I tend to purchase bottles to commemorate finishing first drafts of novels. I admit that I rarely imbibe. That’s how some bottles stay around for so long. The reason is as I detailed above. Add to that the fact that I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime. I’ve even fallen asleep while reading. Out loud. So I typically drink caffeinated coffee right before I go to sleep. (No trouble going out. Head hits pillow and I’m gone.)

Only the occasional late nights, when I’m wide awake enough to last the drink, do I partake of whisky. When I do take the opportunity, the lights are dimmed and I sit in the dark with a small glass of amber liquid. Then the thoughts simply flow, clean and pure.

Tim Kane

How I Used Power Writing Sessions to Multiply My Manuscript Output

Even though I’m quite satisfied with where I am as a writer, I can’t help by envy those folk who seem to pump out page after page of writing each day. Now I know I don’t have the luxury of writing everyday, all day. I do have a job. Plus, when I get the opportunity, I spend time with my family first. That’s what it’s about.

Yet, I am a writer. And I commit myself to this endeavor daily. Why the heck else would I wake up every day at 4:45? Certainly not for the perks. No, I trudge to my computer in a crepuscular haze to indulge my joy of writing.

That was me last week. Then everything changed.

On Friday I ran across this article: 10,000 words in one day? No way…WAY! I read it and felt mesmerized. I instantly knew it was possible. The author, PD Martin, broke down the day. It consisted of four two-hour blocks, with tiny, fifteen-minute breaks in between.  I knew a whole day wasn’t feasible. I think writers who do this don’t have kids. My five-year-old girl is incredibly patient, but this would break the bank for waiting.

So an all day writing session was out. But I could shoot for one of the two-hour blocks. I’ve certainly written for this length of time before without any earth-shattering word outputs. But the way the author described the technique was similar to the outlining method I’d used before (see Write the Way Vermeer Paints).

Additionally, the author spoke of having no breaks whatsoever. Shutting of the Internet. Muting the phone. Etcetera. (Actually, the Internet is rarely a problem, but I do journey downstairs for coffee refills and stretches.)

I was intrigued. I wanted to try it, and soon. Saturday morning I found another article How to Write a Book in Three Days: Lessons from Michael Moorcock which details another writer using a speed method to shortcut his way to a novel. In these snippets of an interview with Moorcock, he admits to using a formula. Also, he supposed his form would work best for epic and fantasy fiction.

The gist of both systems was to write and without looking back. Don’t worry about formatting, dialogue tags, spelling or punctuation. Just write. And I’ve done this before, but only for forty-five minutes at a time. And it was rather draining.

The first hurtle I came up against was one of planning. This style of writing—pedal to the metal, damn the torpedoes—suits those who write with no end in sight. The type of author who has little notion where a book will go from page to page. That’s not me. I like structure and to know where my manuscript is headed.

Typically, I do what I call scene building. I map out scenes based on the character’s goals, complications, and frustrations. Often these change as I write the actual chapter, but having a direction helps me get over those spots where the inner critic stomps all over my creativity. (Even Moorcock recommends having a plan.)

My solution was to take a day (Saturday morning, in fact) and map out as far as I could go. I jotted down three pages of notes.

Sunday arrived and the alarm rang at 3:47 in the morning. (I have something of a fixation for numbers. Evens are bad and odds are good. Prime numbers are the best. They just feel right.) I bypassed the snooze and got the coffee on. I knew, that in order to have a solid two-hours, I needed to start no later than 4:15. This is because my daughter usually rouses between 6:15 and 6:25.

I actually got to the keyboard at 4:17. (I scarfed down a bowl of cereal.) To avoid extra breaks, I brought up my thermos of coffee. Then I went to work.

Using the print out of the scene mapping I did the day before, I crashed through the first hour with little problem. Then the distractions nudged at me. My brain began asking questions.

What time is it?
How many words have you written so far?
Should I take a break?

I should explain that I set my word processor (Pages) to full-screen mode, so I can’t see the time or menus or anything but the page. Yet for the next ten to fifteen minutes my gaze wandered everywhere. My body wasn’t used to this sort of output past the one-hour mark.

Yet I persevered. Once I got over the hump, I plowed through another hour of writing. I actually found a reasonable stopping point right around 6:20 (my daughter slept till 6:24 this morning).

In order to keep up the pace, I blew past anything that even hinted at stalling. I would simply write the word “description” for new people or rooms. I wrote dialogue closer to theater-style, with only a name and a colon, no quotes. Sometimes I skipped any indication of a speaker when it was obvious.

I’ve always found that dialogue comes out much better this way. To get the flow correct, you can’t pause. You must have it match the natural rhythm of a real conversation. I add the word “beat” when I want a pause in the speaking. I know, when I go back to edit, that I’ll add in plenty of  details.

My final output, for two hours, was 2550 words spread over 14 pages. Typically I write between 300 and 500 words, so this was about a week’s worth in one day. Of course it was pretty rough on y body. I yearned for a nap all day. And the words I did write are fairly rough. They need some serious editing and revision.

But still, I took my output and quintupled it. At least. Any further revisions will only add to the word count.

Power Writing may not be for everyone. But the rewards are amazing. You get words on the page. Your mind finally snaps free of the inner critic.

Try it. You’ll be amazed at the results.

Tim Kane

How Paper and Glue Books Might Lead to Your Next Best Idea

I admit that more often than not, I used the computer to answer my questions. I have a nifty widget that pops up and becomes an instant thesaurus and dictionary. But there are some times that I need to yank that old paper and glue tome off its bookshelf and turn some pages.

A few weeks ago I had an experience that reminded me what writing was like before the Internet and widgets and apps and all those time saving devices. I was doing some world building and needed some specific words to describe people and magic. I wanted the words to be special and my computer widget came up dry.

So I pushed the keyboard back, clunked down the books and started researching. My most favorite book ever, and the one that I turn to when I need some great words: Roget’s International Thesaurus Fourth Edition.

Now, I’ve searched and searched for a digital version of this. I did find a website where you can page through a virtual copy of the book (which takes much longer than the actual book). But no app or other copy of Roget’s Thesaurus has what the fourth addition has.

Most Roget’s Thesauruses are organized like your typical dictionary—alphabetical. Instead of definitions, like the dictionary, you get a string of basic synonyms and antonyms. Useful, but easily replaced by all those fancy apps.

The Roget’s Fourth Edition words differently. It’s organized by subject. This means that to look something up, you have to search twice. Let’s say you want another work for walk. First I look walk up in the index at the back (which is alphabetical). This gives me a series of options for nouns (amble, arena, circuit, gait, path, race, region, route, slowness, sphere of work, vocation) and verb (ambulate, go slow).

Already the beauty of this book reveals itself. It shoots your brain in different directions. What the heck is “sphere of work”? (I looked it up. Walk related to a cop’s beat.)

Next, you look up a number related to the shade of meaning you want. Let’s shoot for race (796.12). This comes under the heading “Contention.” The subsection 12 deals with contests of speed.

But since this Thesaurus is arranged by topic, you can look at the sections around. Section 797 is “Warfare.” The previous section is “Disaccord.” All these lead to new ideas, which is pretty much what this creativity thing is all about.

And these are ideas without distractions. You take a saunter through the Internet to look up words and before you know it, you’re searching for news reports, or checking your Twitter feed, or anything but what you intended to do.

Paper and glue books don’t have an on/off switch. You can’t go off track. So if I’m saying anything here, it’s try to unplug once in a while. Pick up a real thesaurus or dictionary and actually search for something. The time it takes to flip those pages might actually trigger an idea you didn’t even know you wanted.

Tim Kane