Monster Family Portraits
My previous collection, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, was specifically and self-consciously assembled around an idea of tracing the history of horror cinema through short stories inspired by films from different eras. Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales has no such underlying modus, but movies are a huge part of my mental vocabulary, and monster movies, especially, creep into my fiction, often whether I intend them to or not. So, while the stories in Guignol weren’t all chosen because of their relationship to the cinema there is, to paraphrase the 1995 Tobe Hooper film The Mangler, a bit of the movies in all of them. For Heavy Feather Review, here are fourteen ghost and monster movies that inspired or influenced the fourteen stories collected in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales:
“Dream House” – “Pickman’s Model” Night Gallery (1971)
I mention a lot of films in “Dream House,” which opens at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, and goes on to chart the lost history of a fictional supernatural soap opera. Something I mention just in passing is the “Pickman’s Model” episode of Night Gallery, starring a pre-Piranha Bradford Dillman. It’s actually one of the better Lovecraft adaptations to ever hit the screen, big or small, and I dearly love the faintly ridiculous rubbery ghouls that inhabit it.
“The Lesser Keys” – I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Obvious cinematic inspirations on “The Lesser Keys” are fewer and farther between; I drew much of my inspiration here from music and stories about music, comic books like The Damned, and Goetic demonology. But I like to think that if “The Lesser Keys” had been an old black-and-white movie, it would have been directed by the great Jacques Tourneur, and there’s certainly something of the feel of it in I Walked with a Zombie.
“Guignol” – Dolls (1987)
The title story in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales was directly inspired by one particular scene in this odd-duck killer doll movie from Stuart Gordon, the mastermind behind such Lovecraftian splatter flicks as Re-Animator and From Beyond. Nowhere near as gory as those films, Dolls is still gruesome enough, often in unexpected ways that tickle the particular parts of my brain that generate stories.
“Shadders” – Graveyard Shift (1990)
“Shadders” is a story about chimney sweeps who are just trying to do their hard, dirty, and thankless job, when they hit an unexpected snag in the form of the titular “shadders.” Graveyard Shift, adapted from the Stephen King story of the same name, is about some people just trying to do another hard, dirty, and thankless job—cleaning out the basement of an old textile mill, in this case—who run across something unpleasant down there in the dark. I wasn’t thinking of Graveyard Shift when I wrote the story, but the parallels are certainly there.
“The Blue Light” – Screamers (1995)
“The Blue Light” is another story not directly inspired by any particular film. While I was writing it, I was thinking of fairy tales and the art of Moebius, and the monsters themselves were inspired by the xenomorphs from the Alien franchise and the art from an old Image comics series called Weapon Zero. However, I think that the feel of the world was probably influenced by the decaying industrial futures of movies like Richard Stanley’s Hardware and this film.
“A Circle That Ever Returneth In” – Matango (1963)
This is a movie that actually comes up several times in the course of the stories in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. One of my favorite movies of all time, Matango is an amazing Toho rubber suit movie directed by Ishiro Honda from the heyday of the Godzilla films, adapting one of my favorite weird short stories, William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night.” While “A Circle That Ever Returneth In” is inspired mostly by Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, there’s one particular scene that I probably couldn’t have written had it not been for Matango …
“Programmed to Receive” – Banshee Chapter (2013)
From Beyond is the obvious choice for a story written for an anthology inspired by Lovecraft’s story “From Beyond” and Stuart Gordon’s 1986 adaptation of same, but a lot fewer people seem to have seen Banshee Chapter, a pretty great 2013 flick about MKUltra, weird radio stations, and other bizarre stuff that was definitely rattling around in the back of my head when I wrote “Programmed to Receive.”
“The Well and the Wheel” – The Ring (2002)
Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but while I wasn’t directly thinking of Gore Verbinski’s 2002 remake of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu when I wrote “The Well and the Wheel,” that film’s waterlogged imagery—not to mention its steady accrual of worse and worse secrets—has been imprinted in my brain ever since I first saw it in theatres.
“Haruspicate or Scry” – Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Sure, the plot of Rosemary’s Baby, not to mention its claustrophobic structure and the meeting of old and new styles of horror, figured into the writing of “Haruspicate or Scry,” but maybe more importantly for the purposes of this list, its famous Scrabble tile reveal was the direct inspiration for this story’s climax.
“Dark and Deep” – She Creature (2001)
As I say in my author’s notes for “Dark and Deep,” I actually wrote this story long before The Shape of Water came out, though the two go together so well that you wouldn’t know it. While the fish man in my story owes something, as pretty much all fish men must, to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, I think that the image of the mer-person in the carnival sideshow tank probably came from my vague and musty memories of the 2001 remake of the 1956 schlock feature The She-Creature.
“Invaders of Gla’aki” – Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)
Apparently, there is a segment of the 1983 horror anthology film Nightmares that’s a take off the Polybius urban legend, featuring Emilio Estevez going up against a haunted arcade machine, but I’ve never seen that movie, so it can’t realistically make this list. That urban legend definitely influenced my story “Invaders of Gla’aki,” though, along with Ramsey Campbell’s “The Inhabitant of the Lake,” Michael Bukowski’s drawings of Ramsey Campbell monsters, and way too much time spent playing video games when I was a kid. If I was thinking of any movie while I was writing this story, it was probably some bonkers old movie about space ships and monsters, like Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet.
“Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet” – Son of Kong (1933)
I could have picked countless monster movies to represent “Baron von Werewolf Presents: Frankenstein Against the Phantom Planet” on this list. Matango shows up here again, under its American title Attack of the Mushroom People, and there are specific scenes drawn from the original King Kong and its lost “spider pit” sequence, as well as The Black Scorpion, where some of the models from that sequence probably ended up. Of course, the biggest influence on this story was a movie that never got made, Willis O’Brien’s sketches for his proposed King Kong vs. Frankenstein idea. Of all those, I’ll recommend the quickie follow-up to King Kong—released later the same year—Son of Kong, particularly its fantastic cave dragon fight, which is mentioned in the story.
“The Cult of Headless Men” – The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
A sort-of prequel to the title novelette of my previous collection, Painted Monsters, “The Cult of Headless Men” tells the story of a 60s schlock horror movie producer fleeing his creditors to Britain to make monster movies. As such, there are an endless wealth of films that went into its creation, but the germ of the story came from the odd twist in this charming little 1959 drawing room horror film.
“When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars” – The Devil Rides Out (1968)
The title of “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars” comes from a great 2014 cosmic horror movie called Black Mountain Side, but the most indelible image in the story is heavily inspired by the devil in one of my favorite Hammer horror films, The Devil Rides Out, starring Christopher Lee in a rare good-guy role.
About the Author
Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. His stories of monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and been gathered into three volumes, Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, and Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales. He also writes licensed fiction and other odds-and-ends for Privateer Press, and he likes to play Hordes whenever he gets the chance, where he is utterly devoted to his beloved Gatormen. His writing about film has appeared in places like Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld, and his column on vintage horror cinema from Innsmouth Free Press has been collected into the book Monsters from the Vault. John Langan once referred to him as “the monster guy,” and he never lets anyone forget it.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Zero Saints. Find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias
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