Blood on His Lips

Whisky and soda mix, not whisky and science.

– Dr. Frederick Buckell

Monster stories often revolve around addiction, denial and loss of control. The monster is at once victimizer and victim, gripped by uncontrollable desires that grow into a raging conflagration of violence even as they seek to deny what they have become. The monster desires, denies and destroys.

The 1958 independent science-fiction/horror film, The Hideous Sun Demon, is no different; a film in which addiction first leads to monstrousness, and then to death. Written, directed and produced by Robert Clarke, who also stars as the titular monster, the film was shot in only twelve weeks and quickly remanded to B-movie status. Critically panned, it has nonetheless achieved a cult status and perhaps for good reason – it is a pure distillation of the theme, shorn of all unnecessary gloss and utterly lacking in pretence.

Clarke’s troubled scientist, Gil McKenna, suffers from an addiction that results in his accidental exposure to radiation, and subsequent transformation into a savage reptilian creature. After discovering what has happened, McKenna immediately seeks to drown his sorrows at a bar, a decision which leads to the what is only the first of his scaly alter-ego’s many rampages. Throughout the film, McKenna’s alcoholism acts as a prelude to his transformation; his inability to control himself results in death and injury. He hurts his friends, his family – innocent bystanders.

Even so, one cannot help but feel some pity for the hapless McKenna, despite his flaws. He is a man at war with himself, struggling against internal treacheries for which he has no recourse. His fearsome other self is no less a victim, a beast trapped in a world it cannot understand, surrounded by hostile forces that seek to trap or kill it. Yet for all that they are victims of compulsions that they cannot control, McKenna and his alter-ego are no less dangerous to those around them.

As McKenna seeks to hide from the truth about himself and his affliction, he only makes things worse. His refusal to see what he has become leads to him becoming a killer. His fear of the consequences compounds his mistakes – more death is the result. McKenna is consumed by his addiction, buried beneath his mistakes. He desires, denies and destroys. He loses himself in the beast, becoming that which he fears.

And then, at last, he is destroyed by it.

Unsubtle, perhaps, but powerful for all that.