Creature Features hold a certain fascination for me because at their core many are love stories — not necessarily romance as they seldom end happily for the creature but there is usually some love discovered along the way. They can also be campy, test the limits of believability and be just dang fun.
When I was growing up, Saturday nights were special. We were allowed to stay up until midnight. And we got to watch Weird! which might have been locally produced but at 10:00 pm it would come on the television with eerie music and a scary movie. The one I most remember is The Blob with Steve McQueen. It was my introduction to horror and I recall not only being engrossed — who would survive? — but terrified. What if they didn’t destroy the menace? We’d all be doomed.
My husband shares my passion, so every Saturday night, we pour ourselves a glass of wine and sit back to watch a Creature Feature or two. Recently, we re-watched The Blob. I readily admit it wasn’t nearly as frightening as I remembered. Although with maturity now on my side, it occurred to me that maybe the Blob was simply misunderstood. Maybe all the Blob really wanted was to hug people — after all, he was a stranger in a strange land. But the alien being didn’t understand that gaining what it wanted meant destroying what it desired.
Imagine if it read Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Touch and came to understand that its touch brought death to humans? Maybe it would have backed off a bit and the Earthlings wouldn’t have had to destroy it in order to guarantee their own survival. Maybe each could have benefitted from the knowledge and experiences shared by the other.
Many of the creatures who terrify us on the big screen aren’t evil. The Creature from the Black Lagoon features a pre-historic half-man/half-beast that has lived alone for thousands of years, supposedly a blip on the evolutionary chain. Scientists want to capture and study him. One of the scientists conveniently brings along his hot fiancée, who naturally catches Creature’s eye. We see his fascination with her intensify when she takes a dip in the Amazon River heedless of the crocodiles that might be lurking about and Creature swims beneath her in what was an astonishing bit of underwater choreography and a cinematic achievement for 1954. Creature later snatches her from the boat. Everyone assumes for nefarious purposes, but all he really wants is the chance to court her, to reveal his true self.
He’d obviously spent time reading To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt, so he knew one shouldn’t be judged by physical appearances, but by the inner heart and soul that reveals the true character of a person. He could find his happy-ever-after if only the lady would give him a chance — which sadly she didn’t. He should have handed her the book.
Swamp Thing is a scientific experiment gone awry. The hero, Alex, is crossing living creatures with plants. A beautiful female scientist (because female scientists are always beautiful), Alice, arrives to help with his endeavors, capture his heart and develop her own elixir, which makes things grow faster. Naturally Alex and Alice combine their formulas to see what will happen. When the bad guys come to steal their work, a fire erupts, and Alex gets doused with the magical potion, catches alight and leaps into the swamp to extinguish the flames. Everyone believes he died — but he simply transformed into a half man/half plant creature. Alice is now a captive of the bad guys and it’s up to Alex to rescue her. But all she sees is a monster, until during a touching moment, he presents her with an orchid, and she realizes he is her lost love. But alas, no happy ending for them because he can’t quite accept what he’s become so he walks off to live alone in the swamp.
Swamp Thing needs to curl up beneath a mossy tree and read Love On My Mind by Tracey Livesay. Tech CEO, Adam, wants nothing to do with people either and avoids them at all costs. But when fate brings lovely PR specialist, Chelsea, to his door, he soon discovers advantages to letting others into his life. It’s a lesson that would serve our creature well, especially as the story’s ending is likely to appeal to his more sensitive side and make him cry — as it did me.
My favorite Creature Feature is Jaws. We watch it every Fourth of July. Spielberg took horror to a new level with clever dialogue and relatable characters battling their own demons. We have the slightly insane Quint — whose backstory is revealed and gives us a reason to understand his madness — the rich boy Hooper who thinks he’s been challenged by life only to discover he really hasn’t and our hero, Chief Brody, who faces his worst fears in order to save the family he loves and do right by the town folk who have placed their trust in him. This movie works on so many levels: relatable internal challenges, character growth, dire external challenges, suspense and above all a satisfying ending. The shark isn’t a sympathetic creature, but that’s okay. We’re rooting for the flawed characters.
I think the crew of the Orca would draw some comfort from reading Addison Fox’s Only You. Our hero, Fender, still struggles with the trauma of his youth and, in spite of his success, doesn’t believe himself worthy of love. Then Harlow comes along, determined to prove him wrong. But she has her own family issues to deal with. By the end of the book, love has both these characters putting themselves at risk to save those they care about—and a happy ending on the horizon should bring some comfort to our Orca crew as they face their menacing foe.
Then, there is the Creature Feature of all Creature Features: Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. Dr. Frankenstein is the true monster in this movie, not the creature he created but it’s the Monster that has the villagers terrified. In truth, the Monster is not a bad fellow. He’s searching for friendship and unconditional love. Instead he faces torches and pitchforks, fear and distrust. He’s made to feel worthless and hideous.
I believe not only the Monster but all the villagers need to read No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean. The hero, Temple, is thought to have murdered someone. While it’s never proven he committed the crime, people sit in judgment of him. He leaves polite society behind and takes up life on the streets where his fists speak for him until he is known throughout London for his pugilistic skills. Then there is the lady who knows the truth, Mara. While she is responsible for his downfall, she eventually becomes the reason for his exoneration. Since our monster has no one to speak up for him, this story could give him hope that someday he might find his happily ever after if he’s just patient — and after reading the story, perhaps the villagers wouldn’t be so quick to judge those who are different.
Love is a central part of our lives and often a driving force in our decisions. Even in Creature Features, this strong emotion can serve as a motivation, whether it’s the monsters looking for a soulmate or the people striving to destroy them in order to protect those they love. This thought stayed with me Sunday night as I watched The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time and bid the franchise a fond farewell. It brought me many hours of satisfying entertainment but not nearly as much as reading romance does.
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