Tor.com content by

Robert Lamb, StufftoBlowYourMind.com

Monster of the Week: The Mirocaw Harlequins

Author Thomas Ligotti possesses a rare talent in his ability to expose Lovecraftian horror just beneath the surface of daily life. And in his anthropological work “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” he provides fascinating insight into the monstrous truth behind the town of Mirocaw and its bizarre clowning traditions.

At first the festival appears to be just another drunken celebration of clown abuse in small-town America. Then we learn the festival masks a far older and darker reality: the gathering of ghastly, pale-faced humanoids. They eventually leave the town for a network of earthen tunnels, and here the harlequins transform into humanity’s secret, primal, wormlike form.

[Read more.]

Monster of the Week: The Genestealer

Xenobiologists and gaming enthusiasts alike know the intergalactic threat posed by the Tyranids. These voracious aliens wage a war of extermination against all organic lifeforms in an endless attempt to consume all biomass and incorporate all genetic codes.

But first they send in the Genestealers. These monstrosities plant gene-seeds in their victims, spawning devious cults of loyal hybrids to spread chaos across the soon-to-be-invaded world.

[Get to the science!]

Monster of the Week: Incubi and Succubi

Last time we looked at the mara or nightmare, a chest-crushing entity that preys on the breath of troubled sleepers. While we discussed several varieties of mara, we didn’t explore the sexual world of incubi and succubi.

The incubus: Translated as “that which lies upon,” incubi carry out the same basic torment tactics as your common nightmare, only with more grinding. Not content to merely crush its victim, the incubus also pursues sexual relations. Most commentators describe the creature as male, but according to folk historian Carol Rose, the shape-shifter can take on both male and female forms, though it preys exclusively on the ladies. This is interesting as it shows how deep homophobia ran in medieval culture. As Walter Stephens pointed out in Demon Lovers, witchcraft theorists of the day concocted all sorts of bawdy demon-on-human scenarios for accused witches of both genders, yet balked at the notion of male demons engaging in gay sex.

[But what about the succubus?]

10 Sci-Fi VHS Boxes that Blew My Mind

Growing up, I spent a lot of time walking the aisles of various video stores, enraptured by all the flashy and trashy VHS box art.

Last time I focused on the horror movie covers and how they affected the young me. But it wasn’t all Slumber Part Massacre II and Ghoulies. The pinewood shelves of that mom-and-pop video rental store also offered some amazing sci-fi visions. Like their horror counterparts, the sci-fi boxes tended to advertise far more than they delivered. I wouldn’t see most of them till years later, but the box art alone filled me with futuristic dreams.

So in this series, I’m running down the 10 films I remember the most, starting in 1980 and following the boxes up through 1992.

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Monster of the Week: The Nightmare

This week’s monster takes a variety of forms, but its modus operandi is always the same. It attacks during the night, a dark and oppressive form that slithers on top of us in bed, crushing our bodies and stealing our precious breath.

The most common English name is of course “nightmare,” stemming from the Anglo-Saxon “mara,” which translates to “crusher.” The fiendish mara looks like a small elf or imp, much like the chest squatter from Henry Fuseli’s famed painting. Other species of nightmare, however, take on wilder forms…

[Get to the science…]

Ergotism: How an Entire Town Becomes a Psychedelic Nightmare

Imagine an entire town overcome by a collective waking nightmare. It’s the stuff of fantasy to be sure. Just read Brian McNaughton’s The Return of Lrion Wolfbaiter or play a little Skyrim. You’ll get there.

But is it also the stuff of history? Is there a scientific explanation for events such as the Salem Witch Trials, when a sleepy, repressed new England town erupted into an orgy of superstitious accusations, urine cakes and heart-wrenching persecution?

It brings us to ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus (Claviceps purpurea) that contains toxic compounds similar to LSD. When it infests grains it sometimes makes its way into contaminated bread. And if everyone gets their bread from the same baker, then you can imagine how bad things get.

[Read more…]

Monster of the Week: Rougarou the Lenten Werewolf

So we’re in the midst of the Lent. It’s 40 days of Christian fasting that stretches from the Ash Wednesday to Easter—which is why folks tend to blow it out during the Carnival/Mardi Gras season.

Generally it’s all an act of devotion. You decide to give up something like booze or chocolate for Lent and you stick to it in order to prove something to yourself or God. Aside from the personal shame or God’s displeasure, there’s generally nothing at stake.

Unless you live near the Bayou.

[Read more…]

Monster of the Week: The Long One (Slither)

The 2006 horror flick Slither is an excellent mash-up of VHS horror influences and it relishes the monstrous, parasitic lifestyle of its central alien menace.

I’m not gong to lay out the life cycle of the Long One as I think the Alien Species Wiki does a pretty fine job of it. But what you have here is your typical biomass-consuming world breaker, with certain similarities to terrestrial slugs and snails. In its primary form, the organism infects its primary host via a needle or dart—perhaps inspired by the “love dart” used by some slug and snail species to flood hormones into a mate. And when the primary decides to reproduce, it uses a pair of  tentacle-like organs to impregnate a host.

[Read more]

Monster of the Week: Tweak (2000 AD)

The central United States is a hotbed for monstrosity—or at least it’s been that way since the Atomic Wars of 2070. As related in the Judge Dredd stories of 2000 AD, that’s when nuclear fire storms ravaged America’s “flyover states” and left it a radiated no man’s land.

As such, more refined denizens of the 22nd century tend to steer clear of the Cursed Earth and its many mutants, cannibals, genetically-resurrected dinosaurs and killer robots. But every now and then, you do find some decent folk out there—and even a decent monster on rare occasion.

[Get to the science…]

Monster of the Week: Winged Devourers (Beastmaster)

For a certain class of vorarephile, no fantasy is more enticing than one that ends inside a monster’s stomach. These strange fetishists crave the confinement of a Sarlacc’s belly. They lust for the Rancor’s gaping maw. It’s totally a thing.

Yet vores rarely fantasize about the winged creatures of Don Coscarelli’s 1982 film The Beastmaster. These nameless man-eaters haunt strange woods, worship the eagle and boast one of the more disgusting feeding methods in the monster world.

Tall, gaunt and bipedal, the monsters are unique anatomical specimens even among other monsters. For starters, their large bat-like wings grant them at least limited flight—an impressive feat for such a large organism.

But their wings have another purpose.

[Get to the science!]

Monster of the Week: Rat Kings

At the local Trader Joe’s they hide stuffed animals amidst the groceries—and the lucky child who finds one wins a strip of fruit leather.

The rattenkönig was something of a medieval variant of this little game. Only instead of a cuddly stuffed animal, the item in question was a grotesque bundle of rats tangled together in a ghastly lump of broken, knotted tails and congealed filth. And if you found it hidden under a floorboard or between the walls of your European home? Well, the prize wasn’t so much fruit leather as it was the ravages of Black Death.

[Get to the science!]

Monster of the Week: Dr. Edward Pretorius (From Beyond)

In the film From Beyond (watch it on Hulu here), Dr. Edward Pretorius pioneered use of the Resonator, a device that expands human perceptions of reality via wave manipulation of the pineal gland.

As the photos illustrate, things didn’t work out all that well. Pretorius lost his corporeal form and crossed over into an alternate dimension of amorphous hedonism. Mistakes were made. Brains were eaten. Things got a bit sticky.

[Get to the science!]

Monster of the Week: Jason Voorhees (and the Sound of Sex)

You probably dismiss Jason Voorhees as just another rampaging psychopath, one with an intense desire to murder nymphomaniac teens. And indeed, the subject’s propensity for pro-abstinence bludgeoning knows no bounds—but were you aware of  the science behind his modus operandi?

Like other North American Slashers of his species, Jason preys on copulating teens because the act of mating provides an irresistible target. But it’s not because the teens in question are naked, intertwined and preoccupied. Nope, it all comes down to the sound of their enthusiastic boning.

[Get to the science…]

Monster of the Week: C.H.U.D.s

Hurricane Sandy’s impact on New York City’s subterranean rat population made the news this week, but let us not forget the other denizens of the Big Apple’s dreary underworld. No, I’m not talking about the giant alligators, subway ghouls, Judas bugs or the hoary Fathers who dine on butchered commuters.

I’m of course talking about the C.H.U.D.s.

These Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers were a common sight during the early 1980s, frequently venturing out from their homes in the sewers and subway tunnels to chow down on transient tartare. By the end of the 90s,  Rudy Giuliani exterminated most of New York City’s C.H.U.D. population (their mounted heads still line his Manhattan office) and recent flooding no-doubt depleted their already reduced numbers.

[Get to the science…]

Monster of the Week: Dr. Freudstein

The annals of mad science are full of great men who selflessly put their bodies and minds on the alter of scientific research.

They cut corners.

They employed questionable logic in the pursuit of their grand dreams.

But hey, at least they had the certitude to experiment on themselves rather than the crop of buxom teens imprisoned in their basement.

Which leads us to our monster of the week: Dr. Jacob Freudstein.

[Get to the science…]