Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels, The Physiognomy, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl In the Glass, The Shadow Year, and the story collections, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life. His short story “After Moreau,” appears in Creatures.
What was the first monster that scared/moved you?
When I was around 6 or 7, there was a show on TV, channel 9 or 11 out of New York City, called Chiller Theatre. In the montage of monsters and creepy shit shown at the intro of the show, they always played that scene of Vampira and Tor Johnson, from Plan 9 From Outer Space, slow walking zombie-style across the fog shrouded graveyard. Tor Johnson didn’t scare me. I had relatives that resembled him, mostly my aunts. Vampira, though, gave me the yips for some reason. I mean, real, terror. Later when I saw the actuality of how that scene was filmed in Burton’s Ed Wood, I was amazed at how cheesy the whole thing looked. But way back when, that moving image with its intimations of mortality and a whole suitcase of other associations, Vampira was the realest thing in the room.
Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?
Not necessarily. It seems to help more in literature than film if you can evoke a more varied response than just simply terror (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein), but not all the time (I’m thinking of the incomprehensible monster of the kid in Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child.) In film you can make a good monster by just scaring the crap out of people (Alien or the pursuing robot in Terminator 2)
If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?
I don’t think I’d want to be a monster. It’s too much busyness and brutality. A lot of late night shifts and sketchy associates. Seems like too much hard work.
King Kong, or Godzilla?
King Kong. I was more partial to Mothra, and I loved those twins that rode around in the bird cage and sang in unison. They were mesmerizing. My taste in Japanese monsters at the time I became aware of both Godzilla and Kong can be summed up by one film, Matango, which we knew as Attack of the Mushroom People. Kong had such great facial expressions. The monster in the original is a masterpiece. The later versions, and even the most recent, fell flat for me in comparisons of both the figure of Kong and also the plots. The screenplay for that original Kong was wonderfully economical for what it had to convey. No seemingly endless scenes of Jack Black camping it up on Skull Island or Brody emoting. What I found more attractive about Godzilla movies than the monster were those beautiful miniature cities, fishing villages, tanks and cars, etc. that the creature stomped on.
Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.
The 21st century is so fucking scary, people have basically skipped monsters and jumped right to the apocalypse. Wishful thinking. There are plenty of monsters around and unfortunately they’ve broken out of the page and the screen. When you look at the results of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, that kind of devastation is like something wrought by Godzilla. What distinguishes it as the act of a monster instead of just a natural disaster is the fact that there was not necessarily a conscience but a consciousness behind it. Let’s face it, Sarah Palin, Bachman, etc. ad nauseam, could have walked out of the lab of some mad scientist, and the US economy wants to be fed. Two of my favorite monster books of recent years are Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol and Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani. Two very different kinds of monster novels.