Friday, August 17, 2012

Creature Features: Wendigo

Marvel Comics' Wendigo, courtesy
Editor's note: Erin Lilley is a filmmaker and producer with Fighting Owl Films, a production company that has produced the paranormal comedy The Night Shift and is in pre-production for the horror, The Jersey Devil Expeditions. She has joined us to discuss some of her favorite monster movies, and the stories behind them with the Creature Features column.


When you think "creature," your mind probably jumps to the iconic images of the Frankenstein monster, Bigfoot, or maybe even that funky Metaluna Mutant dude from This Island Earth. For me, though, one of the scariest creatures has to be the Wendigo because it can look human, and if it doesn't eat you, it can possess you.

Sure, that sounds similar to a zombie, but where a zombie is a dead person brought back to stumbling, groaning life, a person afflicted by the Wendigo curse retains motor functions, so you might not know anything is even wrong with them until it's too late. If that's not scary enough, the Wendigo can also come at you in the form of an enormous, emaciated giant, desperately searching for the meal that can end its eternal starvation and suffering.

Pop culture is full of references to the Wendigo, although many diverge from the Native American legends. He emerged in Algernon Blackwood's 1910 story, "The Wendigo," and has been name checked in Stephen King's Pet Sematary and appeared on The X-Files, Charmed and Supernatural. He's shown up or been referenced in movies  (Wendigo, Ravenous), and made cameos in Dungeons & Dragons, Final Fantasy and Warcraft games. Within comics, Marvel heroes Wolverine and The Hulk have faced off against The Wendigo (shown here), and he was the focus of a storyline in the Hellboy-universe B.P.R.D. comic series by Dark Horse.

For my purposes, I've pulled two of my favorite television appearances - from Syfy's Haven and the short-lived Fear Itself anthology series - that I think well represent the different facets of the mythology...

"Who, What, Where, Wendigo"
Season 2, episode 10 (Sept. 16, 2011)

Due to the mysterious nature of this show, it's darn near impossible to give any sort of synopsis without sending out spoiler alerts, right and left. Instead, I'm just going to explain how the Wendigo is portrayed. In Haven, Maine, citizens can become afflicted with varying "troubles" of differing degrees of severity and danger. In this case, the "trouble" is very much along the lines of Wendigo Psychosis, where a person suddenly develops cannibalistic urges, even if there is plenty of other food available. The disorder finds its beginnings in aboriginal communities, and there are documented cases of Wendigo Psychosis dating as far back as the late 19th century. Generally, if a person found themself developing the symptoms of the psychosis, he or she would first attempt to find a cure from a doctor or Native healer. If that didn't work, and the person started to endanger themself or others, the victim of the psychosis would then, most likely, ask to be euthanized. This very rarely ended up the case, but it did happen. At least the troubled folks of Haven have FBI Agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose) to look out for them.

"Skin and Bone"
Season 1, episode 8 (July 31, 2008)

No doubt you've seen Doug Jones' work, even if you can't place the name or face. Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy 1 and 2, Fantastic Four, Buffy the Vampire Slayer... I could keep going. Jones has made a career of generating memorable performances from beneath a figurative ton of makeup and prothetics. In this episode of the anthology series Fear Itself, Jones shows his face and gives a tour de force performance as a man possessed by a Wendigo. Symptom by symptom, minute by terrifying minute, you watch an average family man become a truly grotesque eating machine with a taste for human flesh; always on the verge of starvation, and never able to satisfy his hunger. From a writing standpoint, it's fairly basic and a little predictable. For Jones' acting prowess, it's must-see television.