Throughout history, monsters have enjoyed a particular place in movies, books and all storytelling mediums. From tiny bugs to the vast, never-ending void of the universe, human fears are explored in representations of all sizes- some more subtle than others, some more metaphor than plot. From religion to war, the past fifty or so years has offered plenty of inspiration for a good scare.
In the sixties, the western world was experiencing a social break from the nuclear family (Bauer, 2019) and fears about things like the contraceptive pill, people moving away from religion, the rising rates of divorce and single parent families became major concerns of the day. Explorations of Satanism were growing, too (Hendrix, 2018). Such topics were explored in films like Rosemary’s Baby (1968), where a happy housewife is forced to give birth to and raise the son of Satan. In the same vein of religious horror, The Exorcist, (1973) is about a single mother with a film career who’s daughter is possessed by a foul mouthed, sexually vulgar, god hating demon. Both films represent ideas of 2nd wave feminism and the changing role of women in western society. In both, too, monsters are representative of the same basic fear- the fear of sin and it’s repercussions.
Stephen King, for many the master of the horror novel, touched on the religious themes with Carrie, his novel about a girl who gets her period – and telekinetic powers alongside it. (Far from the superhero story that would be if it were MY novel), Carrie’s journey is symbolic of not only fear of original sin and the Judaeo-Christian depiction of womanhood, (King, 2000) but of young adulthood in general. The all American high school had become a difficult place for kids who were bullied or unaccepted (Bauer, 2019), and the ever imaginative King saw how a young teenage girl could feel like a kind of monster in her own skin while going through such bodily changes. Carrie, as both book and movie, is an exploration into all the confusion of teenage shame, the need to fit in and create an identity of one’s own, separate from that which the parental home has imbued in a young person.
Teenage movies and horror novels were aplenty as the 80’s rolled in. (Bauer, 2019) featuring youths in various drug, alcohol and sex fuelled romps, meeting bloody demise at the hands of various killers, monsters and the like. Also on the screen came the anti-capitalistic Dawn of the Dead (1978), George Ramiro’s classic zombie film. With the rise of neoliberalism and Reaganomics (Malone, 2018) Marxist Zombies taking over a shopping mall is no small metaphor. The implications of body horror too, such as in The Fly (1986) or The Thing (1982) where human beings are turned into monsters through infection were reflective of the growing AIDs crisis, or so it is theorised. (Bauer, 2019). Essentially, the 80’s were all about excess – whether it was to do with sexual promiscuity or teenage drinking or rampant consumerism, 1980’s horror did it big and covered it in record amounts of fake blood. (Horror Film History, n.d.)
Then came the 1990s. Nirvana was infiltrating the charts with Kurt Cobain’s signature chronic depression, and the Clinton era economic stability meant a lull in the need for blood curdling terror on the silver screen. (Bauer, 2019) (Horror Film History, n.d.) Fears turned inward- to the psychological dark side and grotesqueness of human nature. In Se7en (1995), director David Fincher creates a world that is steeped in pain and apathy, where two detectives desperately try to stop a serial killer from completing his megalomaniacal plan to prove that humans are fundamentally evil. In Silence of the Lambs (1991), a woman with the FBI works with convicted killer and cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter to find serial killer Buffalo Bill. The serial killers that dominated the 1990’s were nothing new, but the lack of (or boredom of) “outsider” forces threatening to maim, infect or demoralise society meant a look inward at grim truths about human nature and the monster within regular people. The 90’s saw a LOT of silver screen serial killers – I Know What you did Last Summer (1998), Scream (1996), American Psycho (2000(written in 1991)), and Kalifornia (1993), to name a few. In thriller Natural Born Killers (1994), the audience is encouraged to sympathise with the killers themselves, holding up a mirror to society’s obsession with murder, and perhaps the catharsis people experience en masse as a response to the free and easy carnage of the serial killer trope.
Whatever reason people watch horror films- whether it’s purely for a good scare, to answer deep, dark questions about human nature, or to imagine themselves in the murderers shoes (and perhaps, their department manager in place of the victim), the monsters are clearly around until humans have squeezed the fruit of catharsis dry – that means they’ll be around a long time to come.
Bauer, J. (February, 2019). How HORROR Movies Changed – Wisecrack Edition. Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqW_ElEnLGI
Horror Film History (n.d.). Psychos And Po-Mo: Horror In The 1990s. Retrieved August 5, 2019, from http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/index.php?pageID=1990s
King, S. (2000). On Writing. New York, Scribner. ISBN: 978-0-684-85352-9
Malone, T. (October, 2018). The Zombies of Karl Marx: Horror in Capitalism’s Wake: ‘The Void’. Literary Hub. Retrieved August 5, 2019, from https://lithub.com/the-zombies-of-karl-marx-horror-in-capitalisms-wake/
Paperbacks from Hell (Hendrix, 2018)