TOP TEN MUCK MONSTERS
|#5 - THE POLLUTION POKéMON
Pokémon or Pocket Monsters come in hundreds of different varieties, categorized into
seventeen "types" including fire, water, dragon, bug, psychic, and my personal favorite, poison.
Most poisonous 'pokes are based on venomous plants and animals, but three special cases
are living, breathing embodiments of inanimate, man-made pollutants.
Grimer is the sludge Pokémon, a googly-eyed purple menace said to have been born when
industrial waste was exposed to "x-rays from the moon," because SCIENCE. Craving a diet of
sewer water, its rubbery, goopy body is so saturated with bacteria and toxic fluids that the
slightest touch can cause serious illness and no plant life will grow in its wake. At level 38,
Grimer evolves into the bigger, meaner and even more virulent Muk, whose stench even seeps
out through a pokéball container.
Miyazaki's beautiful animated film Spirited Away tells the story of Sen, a little girl working at a
magical bath house where a variety of supernatural entities seek spa treatment. My personal
favorite is initially referred to as a Stink Spirit, which causes quite the ruckus when it drops by
for a bath. Gorgeously animated, you can almost smell the monster yourself as it slops about the
screen, writhing innumerable little pseudopodia and sweating thick, syrupy globules of purple
pus. It's a design as beautiful and lovable as it is gross, though unfortunately only temporary
(minor plot spoilers follow)
One of my favorite movies as a kid, Fern Gully: the Last Rainforest was a big budget attempt
to spread the message of environmentalism to a young generation, noble in its effort but
arguably misguided in its approach. Set in New Guinea if the wildlife is any indication, the film
reveals that humans once lived in harmony with nature and the magical fairies who protect it,
until a terrible disaster tore the two races apart...a disaster performed by the vocal talents of
Hexxuss, the "spirit of destruction," is the very embodiment of poison, a spiteful godlike entity
whose fixation on toxic waste borders on a sexual fetish if his classic villain song is any
indication. Imprisoned for centuries in an old tree, Hexxuss is accidentally freed by a logging
operation as a sort of tiny "larva," a wormy clump of ooze with such a neat appearance that I
stole it as an imaginary friend after my first viewing.
|#2 - MARJORY THE TRASH HEAP
Arriving to Earth as a meteorite laden with extraterrestrial spores, Hedorah begins its wave of
terror as millions of tadpole-like larvae whose inorganic chemical makeup is deadly to all
Earthly life. Thriving off Japan's horrendously polluted coastal waters, the tadpoles eventually
merge into a single humongous monster, a stinking, corrosive slug that spoils everything it
touches. In an alien mockery of evolution, the conglomerate organism undergoes spontaneous
leaps of adaptation, sprouting legs and a tail as it crawls onto land like a titanic, dripping
salamander and guzzling fumes directly from factory smokestacks.
Next, the toxic titan takes to the sky in a hovering saucer-like configuration, leaving a vapor trail
that horrifically reduces human beings to bleached skeletons in mere seconds. Scientists
deduce that the monster's ultimate goal may be to terraform our environment, transforming it
into the same sort of chemical wasteland it undoubtedly came from. We will never know just how
many more shapes the monster may have taken, but its final form before its defeat is a biped
that towers over even Godzilla himself, and comes closer to killing our reptilian antihero than
almost any prior opponent. Ultimately, Hedorah falls to the combined efforts of the lizard and a
man-made electrical trap, marking one of those rare Godzilla films where humans actually
Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster was met with poor reception in its day, and still turns off many
fans of the series with its environmental messages and surreal, psychedelic imagery, including
surreal animated sequences. Personally, I always thought these made it one of the coolest
Japanese monster movies, and the environmental aspects quite reasonable for their time.
The perfect counterpart to Grimer, Koffing is the poison gas Pokémon, a bizarre, balloon-like
monster that thrives off air pollution and can vent dangerously toxic smog from the pores
throughout its membranous skin. Due to the volatile chemicals swirling inside it, it can even
explode like a bomb at any moment. At level 35, it evolves into the adorably hideous Weezing,
actually two Koffing grotesquely melded together in a molecule-like arrangement. I always loved
that faceless, vestigial little body between the two heads, and I've always been amused by the
sheer misery on Weezing's faces. Koffing looks blissfully happy just to be alive, but Weezing
seems to have realized that its existence is an unnatural abomination. Actually...the same can
almost be said of Grimer and Muk up there, as well as our next two:
Introduced a whopping fifteen years after Grimer and Koffing, Trubbish (could it be any cuter,
name and all?!) is an obvious homage to the both of them, consisting of an entire trash bag
brought to life by industrial waste. Both the bag and its contents are a part of its being, forming
amoebic limbs out of pure refuse and belching a malodorous gas as a defense mechanism. At
level 36, cute little Trubbish evolves into the delightfully monstrous Garbodor, its plastic bag
skin torn to shreds by the bulk of its own bloated garbage guts! I especially enjoy that mad,
screaming monster face and the "skeleton" of pipes showing through its misshapen arms.
Interestingly, the fluid Grimer is said to favor water as its environment, while Koffing floats in the
air and the relatively more solid Trubbish can be found on land. What we have here are almost a
perfect set of polluted "elementals," if there were only an appropriate fourth...but what on Earth
could that be? Radiation? Oil?
The selfish ghosts and goblins of the Bath House leave their most odious customer entirely in
the hands of Sen, who refuses to fail and boldly tackles the endurance test head on. I'd swear
the animators must have spent a lot of time looking at peanut butter, here. At least, let's hope it
was peanut butter.
As Sen tends to the sluggish glob, she finds something strange lodged in its body; an entire,
rusty bicycle. Believing the creature must be in pain, she pulls out the foreign object along with a
massive clot of tangled trash, discovering that she hasn't really been dealing with a "stink spirit"
at all, but a (rather spooky looking, albeit benevolent) river spirit polluted by man's refuse. It's a
sweet moment, though I like to think there are still "actual" Stink Spirits elsewhere in this fantasy
realm. The mistaken identity certainly implies that there must be.
Finding plenty of nourishment in the bowels of the logging machine, Hexxuss gruesomely
transforms from cute little slime to not-so-cute smog man, and guides the wave of destruction to
the central home of the fairies.
In the film's climax, Hexxuss transforms yet again into what may be his "true" form; a titanic,
flaming skeleton with a cloak of dripping sludge! As with many villains however, looking insanely
badass is no protection against moral values and hippie magic, as he is defeated when he
accidentally swallows a seed and transforms once again into a gnarled tree.
Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock was an ambitious, sometimes thought-provoking family series
starring fun-loving subterranean critters called Fraggles, who shared their world with the tiny,
industrious Doozers and towering, ogre-like Gorgs. Much of the series dealt with complex
social dilemmas, ranging from everyday friendship to issues of racism, and when the Fraggles
had nowhere else to turn to, they came to the Gorg's sentient, motherly trash heap for wisdom.
Our only muck monster with absolutely no destructive tendencies, this weird, living mountain of
compost seemed to be the most intelligent being in the series, though her advice was
sometimes misinterpreted by the child-like Fraggles. Like a parent, she often had to simplify
concepts for the little guys to learn anything, even inventing "magical" explanations for mundane
Marjory was always accompanied by a pair of shrew-like vermin named Philo and Gunge, her
friends, helpers, spokesmen, and somehow or other, the very source of her sentience. Though
they only appear to be simple scavengers, we learn in one episode that the trash heap was
inanimate until the little guys took up residence amidst her decaying mass, and if they ever
leave her, she'll fall ill and presumably "die." This surprisingly deep symbiosis between these
seemingly silly creatures ties in well with the overall message of the series to appreciate the
relationships we all have with one another, no matter how minor they may seem.
Possibly the great granddaddy of half our list, Hedorah, A.K.A. the Smog Monster is by far my
favorite of all giant, rampaging Japanese movie monsters, and a fan favorite of those who have
squared off against Toho's legendary king of the monsters, Godzilla.
I always found it interesting how Hedorah gradually takes on a more anthropomorphic shape,
and how those penetrating, emotionless eyes are so eerily human, albeit in an alien
configuration. He's just a bug-eyed movie monster at the end of the day, but Hedorah still holds
a pretty poignant mirror up to humanity, reminding us that through generations of stubbornness,
apathy and unsustainable consumption, we may yet succeed where he failed. Sadly, the real
results of a polluted world aren't kick-ass mutations, musical supervillains and adorable, walking
trash bags (if it were, believe me, I would never recycle), but a premature and permanent loss of
all the weird, wonderful life that already makes our planet as amazing as any fantasy.
|My own Bandai Hedorah figure - I've had this guy since I was ten!
|painting assembled from screengrabs - click for the huge version!
|Click to see more from this cool animated segment!