Painted Monsters: “Strange Beast”

For the month of October, as part of the Countdown to Halloween, I’ll be revisiting each of the thirteen stories in Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts and suggesting movies that pair well with them, for your viewing pleasure!

While “The Murders on Morgue Street” was original to this collection, I had already written it before I started putting Painted Monsters together, it just hadn’t been published anywhere. “Strange Beast” is the first of a pair of stories I wrote explicitly to finish out this book. Its title is a reference to the actual definition of the word kaiju, a term that for most of us has long been synonymous with giant monsters.

The most obvious movie to pair with “Strange Beast” would be Pulgasari, the Korean giant monster flick whose real-life making of backstory inspired my tale. But I’ve never actually seen Pulgasari–somehow it seems like watching it could never live up to that behind the scenes drama–so I guess we’ll have to cast our nets further afield. The next most obvious place to look seems to be someplace like Cloverfield. After all, my “notes toward a book about a documentary crew making a movie about the tragic events behind the making of a movie” approach to “Strange Beast” obviously owes a lot to the found footage format that’s become popular in recent years, and there aren’t a lot of found footage kaiju movies. (This is probably a good thing.) But I also don’t much like Cloverfield, so instead I’d be more likely to suggest Troll Hunter, a movie whose monsters are somewhat more modestly-sized, but whose documentary conceit is much more credible. And just a much better movie, all around.

The biggest cinematic influence on “Strange Beast,” though, has nothing to do with found footage and nothing to do with kaiju. It’s an episode of the 1976 Nigel Kneale-scripted British horror anthology series Beasts called “The Dummy.” In it, a suit actor who plays a monster in a series of successful movies has a nervous breakdown in which he begins to identify with the monster that he’s playing. Take that episode, put it in a blender with the strange true events that led to the creation of Pulgasari, and you’ve got the genesis of “Strange Beast.”

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