Week 3: A History of Modern Horror

Q. Carroll (2003) and King (2010) discuss how the “monster” is really a defining feature of a horror story. Using references, explain in your own words how a monster in horror differentiates from monsters in other popular genres.

King (2010), by asking himself what the exact meaning of the monster is, he figured out himself that the monsters are “symbolic” especially when it comes to horror genre (King, 2010, p.11). Apparently, horror genre cannot be explained without the monsters; the comprehensive meaning of the monsters such as ghost, devil, and other awful-looking creatures. He also stated that the genre of horror is different from science fiction or fantasy. He defined that the “horror film is an invitation to indulge in deviant, antisocial behaviour by proxy – to commit gratuitous acts of violence, indulge our puerile dreams of power, to give in to our most craven fears” (King, 2010, p.12). Like this, the monsters in horror genre are basically stimulating our fear rather than any other feelings.

However, the monsters in other genres such as science fiction or fantasy are sometimes awakening us to get away from the stereotype that ugly creatures always harm innocent people, or even they can touch our mind emotionally. The monsters (alien and beast) in Steven Spielberg’s ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ or Gabrielle-Susanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ are the examples of not-harmful monsters. The cute alien, E.T. has broken down our fears of unknown creatures in the universe, showing that the alien can be friend of mankind. For the beast, he was just a lonely and handsome prince who was waiting for the true love to kiss him. Those monsters are totally different from the monsters that appear in horror genre.

Similarly, Carroll (2003) stated that “the monsters can be of either a supernatural or a sci-fi origin.” (Carroll, 2003, p.15). This author argued that whereas science fiction genre has given us opportunity to explore the alternative societies and technologies in the holistic view point through depiction of the new world, the horror genre is solely focusing on the depiction of dreadful monsters. Following quote is supporting this argument:

“Boreads, griffins, chimeras, baselisks, dragons, satyrs, and such are bothersome and fearsome creatures in the world of myths, but they are not unnatural; they can be accommodated by the metaphysics of the cosmology that produced them. The monsters of horror, however, breach the norms of ontological propriety presumed by the positive human characters in the story. That is, in examples of horror, it would appear that the monster is an extraordinary character in our ordinary world, whereas in fairy tales and the like the monster is an ordinary creature in an extraordinary world” (Carroll, 2013, p.16)

In other words, the monsters in horror genre are from the unknown world which will make us tremble with fear, while the monsters in other popular genres are just from ‘another world’ which co-exists with ‘the normal world’ in ‘the same planet’. In other popular genres rather than horror, the monsters are also the ordinary creatures although they are not human.

For example, my favourite video game, ‘Undertale (2015)’ can explain this. Before explaining why monsters in this game is different from the horror genre’s monsters, I want to introduce how to play this game and two different routes differentiated by whether game players choose to kill the monsters or not. Basically, the players can start the game by controlling a child who has fallen into the Underground. The players meet monsters during the way back to the surface. While meeting monsters, the players can pacify or subdue monsters to release them instead of killing them. As I mentioned, these choices affect the game, with the dialogue, characters, and story changing based on outcomes. Some monsters keep attacking the players although they choose to pacify the monster.

However, the players themselves could feel warmth at the end if they keep on choosing the dialogue not to kill the monsters. By contrast, if the players choose to kill the monsters, they might feel guilty. The reason why the players could feel guilty is, in this game, these monsters keep notify us through the dialogue that they are our friends who just live in Underground world. Mostly, the monsters in the horror genre is horrifying because they will harm us. However, while playing Undertale, you could be attracted by those adorable monsters who have will to become friends with human.

To sum up, although the monsters’ appearance is disturbing in the horror genre, the characters of monsters could be differentiated by which genres they are from. Moreover, monsters’ character also could be differentiated by how human beings respond to them. Their character might be perverted because they are craving for human friends’ concern.


Carroll, N. (2003). The philosophies of horror: or, paradoxes of the heart. New York, NY: Routledge.

King, S. (2010). Danse Macabre. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Undertale [Video Game]. (2015, September 15). Boston, MA: Toby Fox.

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