Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monsters Caught on Film by Dr. Melvyn Willin

Welcome to Day Four of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

I've always been fascinated by the idea of monsters existing in the real world.  Maybe it was part of my interest in dinosaurs or reading comic books from an early age or watching horror movies a few years too early.  The answer is lost to time, like some of the legendary beasts captured in this book.  Regardless, my ears always perk up at the news of a sighting of Bigfoot, a Yeti, or the various lake creatures that dot the world, allegedly of course.

(I think I should add "In Search of..." to that list of things that spurred my interest, come to think of it.  Who can argue with Mr. Spock?)

When I saw this book on the shelf at the library, I simply had to grab it.  I haven't really followed the legendary creature genre for awhile, so I was curious to see what the internet age had done to the myths I'd grown up with.

If this book is any indication, time has not been kind to the idea of beasts not on your biology test.  Thanks to the ability to Photoshop just about anything, it's possible for anyone with time on their hands to craft a beastie, fog the picture up, and claim it to be original--as long as you "lose" the negative, of course.  As a result, this book trips over itself talking about how so many of the photos included in the book are likely to be fake.  Dr. Willin's solution to this problem is to add something along the lines of "Wouldn't it be cool if this were real?" to the bulk of the entries, and after awhile, that gets old.

While this book does have a lot of interesting pictures, many of them are the same ones I've seen hundreds of times, and the new ones are, if anything, worse in quality than their predecessors.  A section on wild beasts has blurrier photos than when the news reports on television about a celebrity porn video.  Other pictures are blatant forgeries, such as the models of a T-Rex taking down a rhino, but they are mixed in with screen captures that might just be real.  There is no clear separation between the impossible and the plausible, leading me to believe that the author is entirely too skeptical to be the collator of a work like this.  Despite protestations to the contrary, Dr. Willin seems not to regard anything in here as true, with the exception of real "monsters" like the Portuguese Man of War or the Komono Dragon. It would be like me trying to put together a book on Scientology--my credibility in their beliefs is so small that I'd never be able to make the work seem passable to someone who even at least partially gives credit to their faith.

When it comes to things like UFOs or mythical creatures or ghosts, I remain open-minded but generally doubtful.  It seems like Dr. Willin has a similar opinion, but ironically, I think books like this are best-served in the hands of true believers.  While their opinions may be wrong, they have a seriousness that Monsters Caught on Film lacks.  The tone is just wrong, keeping the reader from really getting into the idea of things like Nessie actually being real.  In addition, the use of verified creatures confuses things too much for my taste.  If you are looking for books about urban legend creatures, there are better ones out there.  If you really do believe in Bigfoot, then give this work a berth wider than that of an alleged yeti footprint.

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