I must confess to being a monster movie junkie. I have always thrilled to the basic plot of us against "IT." I think it runs deep in our being, the need to tell the tale of the hero against the beast, of innocents endangered, and of seemingly hopeless darkness made brilliant through the never-say-die fighting spirit of a warrior.
A good monster movie should have some primary elements: first, a darn scary monster, second, a hero who is a regular person, and finally, an innocent or innocents at great risk.
One of my very favorite monsters ever created was the critter in "Alien;" that was one crew-eating, sneaky, fast, nasty fellow. I first met him in 1979 at a theater in Cortez, Colo. I was working the Navajo Reservation and living in Teec Nos Pos.
The next night I was telling Navajo DPS officers Yazzie and Begay about "the alien." They just laughed. "We don't need to go to movies to see monsters, Smith." Begay said looking at Yazzie for support.
"He's right. We have skin-walkers here on the reservation," Yazzie said not smiling. "They come out on nights like this with a new moon, people who draw power from other creatures and do bad things and cast hexes."
They then proceeded to tell the strange things they had seen growing up on the reservation, and I stood there spellbound. It wasn't the first time I had heard similar tales. The fire crew I had worked on in college had been a half Hopi, half non-Hopi crew, and the Hopis had delighted in sharing their experiences that were eerily similar to my Navajo brothers' stories.
As we talked, a vehicle I had seen parked in an odd area earlier on my shift drove by. It had just been one of those hinky things and the fact the vehicle was going the wrong way from where it was registered this late at night hit me wrong so I decided to check it out. I told my buds I would see them later and headed out on US 160 following the wrong-way car. I casually caught up to the vehicle a few miles down the road and decided to give it another run through the computer. "Your vehicle comes back as stolen from Window Rock," dispatch confirmed, and on cue my quarry took a dirt road toward Utah…which was only two miles by the way.
With my lights flashing and siren blaring, I headed for Utah in pursuit of the thieves and called for my two amigos that were still back at our rendezvous point. Suddenly the vehicle slammed to a stop and the driver ran left into the arroyo and the passenger headed for the rocks and hills. My patrol Blazer quickly caught up to the driver who surrendered in my headlights, but the other fellow would require a tracking in the pitch black night of the reservation.
Flashlight tracking is easy in inky darkness; just hold the light low and the footprints will stand out in the dirt like painted shadows. Outside of the cone of light cast by my flashlight was a darkness that seemed to absorb all light that tried to defeat it. As huge boulders rose on each side of the track, I began to think about the possibility of an ambush, of the suspect creeping around in the darkness, of the alien and skin-walkers joining up with him, just to take me down. Man, I was outnumbered!
When I got back to my vehicle, the two tribal officers told me I was crazy to go up there on that track, and I didn't argue. But I did think that the worst monsters aren't the ones we see in movies. They are the people who really do hurt and steal from innocents. That means that each of us who wears a badge and a gun gets to live a real-life monster movie. We get to be Ripley, Beowulf, and whoever that guy was that Arnold played in Predator.