Showing posts with label Loch Ness Monster. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Loch Ness Monster. Show all posts

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: 'Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries'


A couple of months ago I reviewed a sweeping debunking of the most famous cryptids called Abominable Science.  While applauding the sound arguments of authors Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, I also lamented—ever so slightly—how their book put such a resounding end to dreams of the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Big Foot, and others of their phony family. Humbug these creatures may be, but they’re fun too. Prothero, the stauncher skeptic of the duo, argued that cryptozoology does more damage than good because the “I’ll buy anything” attitude it allows undermines our faith in science, and before you know it, the wackos are teaching “intelligent design” hooey in public schools.

Fair enough, but I for one protest the unintelligent designers ruining the fun for the rest of us who understand the difference between scientific fact and harmless fairy tale telling. For us, JF Derry’s new book Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries will come as a sweet chaser to Prothero and Loxton’s tart medicine. Derry is a science writer, yet he’s more editor than author of this book, which compiles a century of articles on Nessie, Bigfoort, the Yeti, aliens, and ghosts that were originally published in the UK tabloid The Daily Mirror. Because there is no commentary here (aside from Derry’s brief introduction and his cheeky photo captions) we can just take the articles at face value, and many of them ripple with dry, wry British wit. Case in point: on a Lady Yeti, the Mirror informs us, “the Snow-woman woos her mate and kills him if he refuses. And sometimes she kills him if he doesn’t refuse.” Some of the encounters with these fantastic beasts read like pulp magazine stories. Complimenting the amusing archive of articles are numerous cartoons, illustrations, and photos, all making for a very presentable package. There’s little here in the way of hard science, but there is plenty of fun, which is what Nessie and his mates should forever be.

Get Loch Ness Monster and Other Unexplained Mysteries at Amazon.com here:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Review: 'Abominable Science!: Origins of Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids'


Multiple choice question: 80 years ago this month, a fellow named George Spicer published a letter in the Inverness Courier in which he described a bizarre and terrifying encounter. He and his wife had been motoring around Loch Ness when he suddenly encountered a:

A)   chicken
B)   man-eating robot
C)   dinosaur
D)   man-eating chicken

If your head is at least halfway out of your ass, you will know the answer is c), because if you know one thing about Loch Ness, you know that it is home to the last living dinosaur, the monster her closest friends call “Nessie.” Regardless of whether you take it as fact or fiction, Spicer’s story and others like it have helped spread the Loch Ness Monster’s fame throughout the world. They’ve been reprinted in countless books and repeated in countless documentaries and have fueled more than a monster’s share of speculation, debate, and transcendent wonder.

That last part—transcendent wonder—is why some folks may think Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero’s new book Abominable Science!: Origins of Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids is going to be an abominable drag. The authors are men of science and avowed skeptics: Loxton edits Junior Skeptic magazine and Prothero is a paleontologist. So don’t be fooled by their book’s Weekly World News-style cover; their mission is to debunk a select quintet of cryptids: Sasquatch, Yeti, the sea serpent (including the hippocamp and the cadborosaurus), Mokele Mbembe (a diplodocus-like dinosaur living near the Congo), and of course, Nessie. Loxton and Prothero have found zero evidence supporting the existence of any of these creatures and bat down every oft-told tale with well-reasoned, scientifically sound, and culturally savvy retorts.

So, boo-hoo. Monsters don’t exist. Spicer didn’t really see a dinosaur (which means the multiple-choice question above should have included choice E: none of the above). The cryptozoological parade has been effectively rained on. Right? Not quite.

Actually, you couldn’t hope for a sunnier skeptical exposé than Abominable Science! Despite their academic backgrounds, Loxton and Prothero are lively writers who never talk over their audiences’ heads. These monsters’ origin stories remain great fun to read, and in case their systematic debunking leaves you itching for some legit weirdness, there’s still lots of that to be enjoyed among the hoaxers, monster-spotters, and explorers who populate these pages. A creationist monster hunter claims Ringo Starr and Mick Jagger funded his expedition. A group of 100 jackasses go in search of the Yeti while wearing blackface. Hollywood legends Jimmy Stewart and Gloria Swanson allegedly play roles in the theft of Yeti bones. King Kong may be responsible for creating more monsters than a mere giant ape.

For those who still insist on mourning the monsters, Loxton’s wonderful photorealistic illustrations bring all these debunked beasts back to life and highlight the fact that even though he can’t honestly give us hope that monsters really do exist, he still professes to love them (Prothero is much more hardcore in his belief that romanticizing monsters does more damage than good). That may sound self-contradictory or hypocritical, but speaking as someone who loves the Loch Ness monster, vampires, werewolves, and all the other hokum I write about on this site, and as someone who will always bow to legitimate scientific findings no matter how unromantic they may be, I know where he’s coming from. His and Prothero’s book deserves a place on the bookshelf of every critical thinking class.

Get Abominable Science!: Origins of Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids at Amazon.com here:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Lost World: Hammer Studios' 'Nessie'

Developing a movie project is such a convoluted process that it’s amazing any films ever get made at all. There are the budgetary problems, and the casting difficulties, and the conflicts between directors and producers that have caused more than a few projects to be aborted before reaching term. In this on-going series I’ve dubbed “The Lost World”, I’ll be looking at some of these sweet abortions.

What would have become of Horror had it not been for Hammer Studios? By the 1950s Sci-Fi allegories buzzing with UFOs and the nefarious aliens who piloted them had essentially subsumed their Gothic cousins. Hammer restored the genre, returning tried and true creeps such as Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the werewolf to their rightful places within desiccated abbeys and quaint European villages. The artistry of Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, The Brides of Dracula, The Curse of the Werewolf, and The Devil Rides Out are basically inarguable (at least among aficionados). The value of the sexier, bloodier, kitschier fare that followed—The Vampire Lovers and Taste the Blood of Dracula and Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Lust for a Vampire—is more a matter of taste, so to speak. As wonderful as Britain’s venerated studio surely was, Hammer could never really compete with Psycho or Peeping Tom or Repulsion or Rosemary’s Baby in terms of sophistication. So to continue luring hapless victims into cinemas during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Hammer amped up the luridness and the silliness. For those who appreciate high-camp, there is much to enjoy in these pictures, but they still signaled the unfortunate fact that Hammer was running low on inspiration.



Hammer was not only running low on fresh ideas; the coffers were drying out, as well. Britain was in the midst of a major recession sparked by the oil embargo declared by OPEC in response to the U.S. supplying the Israeli military during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The situation was not aided by the policies of Tory chancellor Anthony Barber or a miners strike resulting in significant electricity cuts the previous year. Britain’s film industry felt the pinch. Hammer went from cranking out 19 films in 1968 to 6 each in ’72 and ’73 and a mere 5 in ’74. Cinemas were closing and transforming into Bingo halls. In 1975, two of Britain’s major production companies, Elstree and Pinewood, produced no films. Hammer was down to a single one.

The origins of Nessie are sketchy. The man most associated with the film is Bryan Forbes. In 1969, Forbes became managing director of EMI, which had just merged with Rank Films, a company that, despite its name, was associated with stodgy tastefulness. Forbes readily admits in Sinclair McKay’s Hammer history A Thing of Unspeakable Horror that Horror was “not really my genre.” Yet he was the man whom Hammer executive Michael Carreras approached about writing the studio’s next feature. As EMI was funding the comparatively profitable Hammer films, Forbes may have had extra incentive for saying “yes” to Carreras’s offer. He certainly had the screenwriting credentials to do the job: The League of Gentlemen, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, King Rat. He’d go on to write even higher profile films, including International Velvet and Chaplin. He’d also proven himself a strong director with Séance, Rat, and The Stepford Wives. But whether the idea of writing a horror film involving the Loch Ness Monster came from Forbes or Carreras is not known.

Bryan Forbes


In his A Thing of Unspeakable Horror, McKay described Nessie as “a sort of cross between King Kong and Jaws.” Forbes completed the screenplay, and according to the official website of Toho Films— the Japanese studio responsible for all those giant monster movies starring Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan —was also slotted to direct. Revered media personality David Frost, of all people, apparently was interested in co-producing the film.

"That's fine, Mr. President, but what are your thoughts on King Ghidorah?"


Less bizarrely, Toho wanted in on the action, as well. In fact, pre-production work supposedly was underway at Toho. Teruyoshi Nakano, who was behind the special effects in all those Godzilla pictures, created the Loch Ness Monster prop, which is possibly depicted in this photo at Tojo Kindom.

Forbes has supplied little information on his script, only telling McKay that one draft involved “underwater oil ruins and oil rigs in the Indian Ocean getting wrecked.” His explanation for why the film fizzled is equally nebulous. “Just disappeared without a trace, really,” he told McKay.

Hammer wound up producing the spectacularly sleazy To the Devil a Daughter, starring Christopher Lee and 15-year-old Nastassja Kinski, instead. The film would be the Studio’s last Horror, if not its last hurrah (that would be the 1976 Hitchcock remake The Lady Vanishes), in its original incarnation. But the Nessie project supposedly persisted. Even as financial backing was vanishing, Toho created an advance poster for the film in 1978. But the film was officially scrapped the following year.



Had Nessie materialized it may have done its part in reviving Hammer. The Godzilla films are certainly perennial favorites and Nakano’s creation is cheesily promising. But fans of Hammer’s Gothic tradition may have only been baffled by a giant sea-monster movie starring a hand puppet. A similar effort written and directed by Larry “Mars Needs Women” Buchanan in 1981 called The Loch Ness Horror produced nothing more than guffaws. But that film didn’t have Bryan Forbes on board. Would he have written and directed a contemporary King Kong or a six-years-early Loch Ness Horror? Only dwellers in The Lost World know for sure…

"Loch Ness Horror? More like Schlock Mess Schmorror. Ha! Good one, Me."


Sinclair McKay’s A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films was indispensable in writing this piece. It is highly recommended and can be purchased at Amazon.com here.
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