Monday, May 17, 2010

Metal Monster of the Day: 'Murray' (Murralsee)

A Light in the Black

I wasn't going to start veering off into more niche monsters until some fundamental ones laid the framework, but I couldn't miss the opportunity to honor one of metal's last true heroes, lost this past Sunday morning: Ronnie James Dio. I don't think anyone can disagree with me saying he was taken too early- even if it was at the claws of a mighty dragon (I will not hear any other explanation). In any case, the only way this page can pay tribute is through the telling of the demon's story, so let's get right to it: today's subject is the Dio mascot, 'Murray'.

The oddly-named 'Murray', or Murralsee, as we are about, was designed by Randy Berret and Gene Hunter. The original inception graced the cover of Holy Diver, Dio's easily most iconic cover, and though he was used in two more album covers, the artists in charge of illustrating him changed each time. One would think there is not much more to say- cool looking demon on a metal cover - what's new there? He is no where near as recognizeable or loved as say, Iron Maiden's Eddie the Head. But the fascinating truth is, Murray has got a hell of a lot more history! Dio's 1987 Dream Evil tour produced a souvenir booklet in which his story was told for the first time (and to my knowledge, the last), written by Heidi Ellen Robinson. Some research shows she is a music publicist apparently still working today; a Scientologist whose interests include fantasy, horror, historical and science fiction. Here is his origin in its entirety (my personal must-read segment in bold):

"Aeons and aeons ago, when the Earth was still young, there were two tribes who lived on the planet: giants, known as Malacovians, who ruled with much benevolence - and the Cyclops, a tribe of one-eyed monsters whose evil was a constant threat to the peace and contentment that existed. Roncador was the head of the Malacovians, and his reign yielded a golden age, with his people feasting on an abundance of fruits and fresh spring waters, spending their days dancing, laughing, and singing in the magic of the forests and meadows. Meszrio, the leader of the Cyclops, wanted to rule the earth, so he prophesied to Roncador a lie that brought an abrupt end to the Malacovians' happiness. Meszrio told Roncador that he would die by the hands of a son.As Meszrio had hoped, Roncador went completely mad when he heard this prophesy, and consequently had each of his male offspring brutally killed as soon as they were born.

However, one escaped, Murralsee, thanks to the ruse of his mother. Murralsee was hidden in the Cave of Feneralia, ostensibly until he reached the age of maturity, whereupon he could be returned to what would be his birthright as head of the Malacovian tribe. Murralsee's mother was the only living soul who know of his existence and whereabouts, yet instilled in him a fear of his father so great he would never leave the confines of the cave. To further insure his safety and life, Murralsee's mother fed him a strong, magical sleeping potion made by the Fakreddin Faeries. Murralsee slept, completely oblivious for nearly a trillion years. When Murralsee awoke, he had no idea how long he had slept or of the changes that had occurred in the world. He did not know that Meszrio had indeed, taken evil possession of the Earth. He did not know of the ensuing decay and degeneration that held the descendants of the Malacovians trapped in misery. Nor did Murralsee know that his father, Roncador, had long been dead. Murralsee was also unaware of the horrible mutations that had taken place while his body grew from that of a young child as he slept. Where should have been a magnificent and beautiful (albeit giant) creature, was instead a frightful monster, disfigured apparently by the dank and stale environment of the cave. Murralsee's eyes had become an eerie blood-red color, and his skin tone had discolored.

Nevertheless, with a great sense of trepidation and an overwhelming hunger (and still ever-fearful of his father), Murralsee took his first steps outside of the Cave of Feneralia. This first venture out proved not to be an enjoyable experience whatsoever. When the now tiny creatures of Earth (called Human Beings) saw him, they screamed in horror. Over the years, further chance glimpses of Murralsee provided the same reactions, and legends were born of a great monster who inhabited the hills.

And then, one day about five years ago, something special happened.Ronnie James Dio was a singer in a rock'n'roll band who held a great fascination for the magical myths sprung from the Earth's past. On this particular day, he jumped into his car and set off in search of a myth or two. The sun was still high when he pulled the car off to the side of the road, and then began to walk deep into the forest. That's when he stumbled upon the gigantic creature, Murralsee. At first, Murralsee figured that this Human Being creature would run away in horror as all the others had done. But this one did not; in fact, Ronnie James Dio was the first Human Being creature who DIDN'T run away. At first, their conversation was tentative. Murralsee wasn't actually used to talking, so he was a bit difficult for Ronnie to understand (Ronnie never did properly hear Murralsee's name, and to this day, calls him "Murray"). But Ronnie James Dio, the Human Being, singer in a rock'n'roll band, and Murralsee, the only living giant Malacovian, became friends. Ronnie James Dio frequently returned to the place deep in the forest where he would meet "Murray." During these visits, he would delight Ronnie with stories of what he remembered from when the Earth was young, and Ronnie would go home and write songs about them.

As a tribute to his new friend, Ronnie asked if he could put "Murray" on the covers of his solo albums, and "Murray," quite flattered, agreed.Since doing this, Ronnie has discovered that the Human Beings are still horrified by the sight of Murray. This is why he has just decided to tell the story of Murralsee/Murray and let people know just who and what he is. It hadn't been a very happy life for Murralsee here on Earth, out of his own time and space, until he met Ronnie. Since then, Ronnie has introduced Murray to hundreds of thousands of Ronnie's fans around the world, and Murray has become quite a celebrity himself. As Ronnie found out, even today, in 1987, the Earth still holds many magical surprises. It just goes to show you what interesting and different things you can find on the planet if you're not afraid to have an adventure."

Not just a throwaway mascot now, eh? I guarantee Murray shed some blood red tears last Sunday. I hear ya, buddy.

Friday, May 14, 2010

(Very First!) Monster of the Day: Frankenstein's Monster

"It's Alive!"

Starting off in a bit of a tired state, so I know choosing Frankenstein's monster may not be the best idea- but it seems necessary. To my mind it's appropriate since I'm going to try to piece this thing (the blog) limb by rotting limb, and in the end, hopefully, create something that is both beautiful and dread-inspiring. But mostly dread-inspiring.

The Monster is obviously one of the most prevalent horror icons in history, and interestingly- one of its youngest. While the concepts of reanimated corpses coming to life and wreaking havoc (ala zombies), or making life out of non-living substance (like the Hebrew Golem) have ancient roots, the unique blend of science, romanticism, and human morality that this creature embodies is less than two hundred years old. But as tempting as it is to talk about Mary Shelley's sprawling, layered work, there are two reasons not to: 1, That could take forever, and 2, this blog is all about the monsters themselves.
As most of us know, the prevalent image of the monster is not Shelley's character at all. Where he is intelligent, compassionate (er...when he's not murdering), and vulnerable, today's monster is a simple-minded hulking brute with neck-bolts and a strange aversion to fire at the end of a stick. Oh and I hear he loves strawberry cereal.

Oh, he does.

This simpler, more iconic version of the monster was popularized, of course, by Boris Karloff in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein. So enduring was Karloff's performance, most people think of that black and white mug when they think 'Frankenstein'. Hell, often a cinematic (read: B movie) moan or groan escaping a zombie or mummy's rotting lips will just be a variation on his trademark grunts. So why is this? There are a lot of simple answers. Modern day Frankenstein is what we are first introduced to. Shelley's work may seem bogged down to some in romantic description and borderline flowery prose.

In the end, for me, favor has nothing to do with the fearsomeness of the creature. I find that one page where the creature is described to be more frightening than any on-screen adaptation. The fact that Victor has built him slowly and with exact knowledge of the outcome-yet still manages to be horrified to actually see it in motion- is I think, a simple but brilliant depiction of the uncanny.But it's with that that my real admiration for this story-as a horror story-ends. Without getting too much into book report territory here-the bulk of the novel seems like a contest of cruelty between master and creation, and Shelley's goal is ultimately for us to side with the monster. But throughout most of it, the monster is winning. Her intent is clear- his inherent morality is broken with knowledge and the realization of being an 'other'; and it is Victor's fault for bringing him into creation. But ultimately he sticks out in my mind as being a bully and an assassin who realizes the gravity of his actions after his first few victims, yet continues to take lives just for some acknowledgement from his master. Of course, Victor never says 'uncle', so the bodies continue to drop. Hell, he's like a petulant, rebellious teenager. They both are. I might be judging Shelley's beast unfairly in my time: murderers are a dime a dozen in the modern horror world, and over-educated, manipulative and bloodthirsty? That just sounds like quite a few people I know.

That classic Karloff monster- let's face it, his name is 'Frankenstein'- couldn't inspire me to write endlessly the way Shelley's novel can. But it's the poster I want on my wall. Any kill count over his head is acceptable, in an Of Mice and Men sort of way. Poor lug couldn't help himself. The movie succeeds in having a true monster whose side you are definitely not on- and that monster is man. I guess my point is, under that protruding brow are eyes that lead straight to his stitched-together heart. He's one of the world's favorite monsters, and ironically, it's because of his humanity. Maybe it's flawed (aren't all humans?), but it has a heart. And that electricity fueled heart will beat forever.

Here's a bonus! The monster's first live-action adaptation: an almost 13 minute silent version made in 1910.