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Creating a Monster

“Where did that idea come from?” and similar questions are among the most often posed to anyone who spends time creating a story, whether a movie, opera, cave painting, or whatever — and are also among the most deceptively difficult to answer, because one imagines that there should be a good reply, and yet the first thought that comes to mind is, “Hell if I know.”

I’m not sure precisely why I even decided to make a movie with a monster in it.  I know my imagination is naturally drawn to fantasy, and I also know that, when I conceived Spike, I had access to a budget which could provide for perhaps one fantastical element at most.  Figuring that an invented creature could serve as that one fantastical element, I researched monster movies and found an endless array of them, the vast majority of which were meretricious knockoffs of Jaws and Alien.  (I’m not disparaging Jaws or Alien; it’s just that they’ve been done, and the idea of hundreds of other movies trying to emulate them does not appeal to me.)

So I proposed for myself the experiment of attempting to make a “monster movie” that would stand apart from the countless monster movies made before it.  My first step was to develop the character of the monster; to make it, or him, a three-dimensional individual with a back story, goals, needs, idiosyncrasies, secrets, flaws: in short, an inner life.  This of course isn’t unprecedented: there have been other monster-as-character stories, from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame to No Such Thing — but at least monsters with human qualities haven’t been filmed as incessantly as have mindless flesh-eaters.

The idea of a humanized monster, or a monsterized human, brought to mind the fairytale motif of the “animal-groom”, i.e., a hideous beast seeking transformation through love.  To root the beast in reality, I researched freak shows and deformities, and extrapolated scientific ways for someone covered with spiny growths to exist plausibly (or at least with a veneer of plausibility) in the real world.  Following that, and more importantly to a story of relationships between disparate characters thrust into extreme circumstances, I tried to imagine how such radical disfigurement might affect a person’s life and character, my goal being for Spike to manifest as a believably real and unique individual, driven by his dreams and passions while unable to master the frustrations and sorrows which lead him to cause suffering.

Creating the monster was just the beginning of a long process of building all the characters and their various potentials for interaction and conflict.  Once all the characters became defined individuals with back stories, idiosyncrasies, flaws, etc., then coming up with ideas seemed practically irrelevant: all that remained was to strand the characters together in a dark and wild forest, and see what they would do.

Spike is available everywhere on DVD August 3rdBuy it, Rent it, or Queue it up!

 ~Spike writer-director Robert Beaucage

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