Nobody may believe in ghosts and goblins and witches and ghouls (if you do, tell me where I can send the men in white coats), but a good horror story should make its audience take its monster seriously. If you’re writing a goofy campy horror flick, where more often than not the focus is on the villain rather than the heroes, then go ahead and have a silly, chill serial killer making wisecracks. In more straight horror stories though, we really have to believe that the monster or monsters will kill the heroes, that they would kill us if they were real.
Sometimes there are horror stories that are supposed to make us feel afraid, but we aren’t afraid because the monster isn’t scary. And sometimes the monster not being scary isn’t really the author’s fault. Maybe the story was good when it was written but has lessened over time. Maybe the story has been parodied a lot. Maybe the story had a bad sequel from another author which diluted the monster or ruined the mystery about him by introducing his kleptomaniac mother-in-law.
So there are some monsters that I should be able to take seriously, but can’t, due to their representation in media other than their original stories. Here are some examples of undead monstrosities that need better PR people:
Why he should be taken seriously: Just look at that name: Slenderman. Slenderman. Nobody would be afraid of “Thin Man” or “Lanky Man”, but Slenderman? Sssleeenderman? That sounds like one bad mofo. Originating as a series of posts on the Something Awful forums, Slender Man is a faceless, gangly entity that stalks people, mostly children, and either kidnaps them or psychologically torments them, either is good.
Why he shouldn’t: Let’s face it, Slenderman has something going against him from the start. His schtick has been done better by another monster and his/her name begins with “I” and rhymes with “shit” (which is what Slenderman is, PWNED!) IT’s more effective at his/her job than Slendy is, considering s/he can turn into a clown and thus lure children to him/her, but I don’t think kids are going to flock to Slenderman, even if he looks like a giant bendy toy.
Plus, Slenderman is a product of the internet. THE Internet. Not the internet you use for work or to send cards to Grandma, the cold, dark place full of flying rainbow cats and incessant Portal quoting. Every new idea that enters becomes stale in about two months time, and Slenderman is no exception. I’m not talking about the stupid parodies, I’m talking about the poor attempts at trying to recapture the horror of the original Slenderman stories. Crappypasta, a collection of poorly written horror stories rejected from Creepypasta (and usually for good reason) is full of stories where nothing happens but ‘OMG SLENDERMAN GOT MEEEE’. What was an interesting visual and a nice idea for a monster became a crutch for Stephen King wannabes and thus Slenderman ended up not even being Dean Koontz.
The lowest moment for the monster: The masterpiece Slenderman vs Commando. I will reprint it in its entirety:
it was a lonley night commando is 9 and he is slender the thing is weird things happen to him all the time he thinks it is his enemy but no just a moth so then there was a night when he was alone and he got on his computer and played level up he was cold scared and distraced at the same time he wanted to play something else and he found slender he died….alot and then the moment came he had all 8 pages slenderman got him and he thought there would be credits but instead he heard a deep deep voice it said “im glad you beat my game so ill give you a prize a fight” so commando looked behind him and there it was a tall thin ya that it was the slenderman slenderman grabed commando by his face commando head butted him in his faceless face and slenderman let him go then commando ran to the pool slenderman teleported to him commando grabbed him by his suit and threw him in the pool slenderman was burning melting commando watched him knowing it was not enough to kill the slenderman so he blessed the pool and it was holy water slenderman burned and burned he sat and watched and slenderman died commando saw the souls go back to there bodies and the bodies go to there homes and commando knew that he saved the world but your wondering who or where is commando well hehe im commando
So next time you’re playing Slender, and you get the willies, tell yourself, ‘This is the thing that got killed by a nine year old with brain damage.’
Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster
Why they should be taken seriously: I’m lumping these two together because they have similar pros and cons from their portrayals in popular culture and I guess their original stories too. Both Drac and Frank are creations of classical literature, thus giving them a bit more prestige than your usual movie monster. Dracula is the quintessential embodiment of evil, with an appearance and manner that fascinates and disgusts at the same time, and is the very reason for the popularity of vampires. Frankenstein’s Monster is an interesting and tragic figure, a walking allegory on the dangers of playing God.
Why they shouldn’t: Where do I even start? Okay, you’ve heard me rant on silly kiddie cartoons featuring these characters before, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much when it comes to that, but you’ve got to admit, going from this to this is quite baffling.
Not that the “serious” adaptations of these two generally fare any better. Yes, I love me some Nosferatu and yes, the Universal versions are good, but what else? I kinda liked how the Hammer Frankenstein series focussed on the Doctor rather than his creation, but the Hammer Dracula series always brought the Count back in bizarre ways; the most hilariously stupid was when a fake-looking bat hovers over Dracula’s remains and spits blood at them in Scars of Dracula.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as in the movies by Francis Ford Capella and Kenneth Branagh, were also pretty laughable since they were so pretentious. Dracula added an unnecessary melodramatic backstory for the Count which even Gary Oldman’s great performance couldn’t save. That, though, was nothing compared to the overblown speeches and acting of Frankenstein, especially from Branagh himself. Yeah, the novels themselves had big speeches and hamminess, but that’s forgivable because they’re 19th century literature and they’re smart like that.
The lowest moment for the monster: 2004’s Van Helsing wasn’t the worst movie for these two, but it’s when most of us realised they didn’t really have that much life in them, no pun intended.
Why he should be taken seriously: Because he’s pretty much the big cheese among monsters. The ultimate evil, Prince of Darkness etc. We’ve been talking about IT and Dracula earlier, well, Satan is like those two combined than multiplied by ten.
He should also be a pretty hard figure to screw up in movies and stories; he is one of the few monsters where being made goofy or charming can work in his favour. You are supposed to want to agree with him and follow him, that way he can twist you into learning his ways. Jack Nicholson’s Satan in Witches of Eastwick was demonic, but also came off as a fun guy. The Devil is supposed to look like someone you wouldn’t expect to be The Devil, thus John Goodman was a good choice for the kinda-sorta-I-guess-Devil in Barton Fink.
Why he shouldn’t: Like Dracula and Frankenstein, The Devil has been hurt a bit by cartoons and Halloween novelties. The stout little man with itty-bitty horns and a large salad-fork. Granted, this stereotype was born from Christian artists basing him off of Pan, but Pan isn’t very scary, is he? Dude was in Wind in the Willows. (No, I don’t count Pan’s Labyrinth). Attempts to make this stereotype look scary end up going laughably over the top too.
Look at this. He looks like Walter White; the Devil should be more like Saul Goodman, really.
A lot of so-called Christians don’t really do him much favours either. I don’t want to get into a big discussion about religion, but you’ve got to admit, some of the things they say about him are pretty silly. Saying the Devil worked his will during Jesus’ trial and World War II? Okay, I can buy that. Saying he’s behind Harry Potter? Um… Saying he’s behind Dungeons and Dragons? Halloween? Yeah, sure, devious plans there, mate.
The lowest moment for the monster: Jack Chick’s comics, surprise surprise. Chick’s tracts are basically the religious version of Captain Planet, and thus Satan is lowered to cartoon villain status. He has the big horns and the red pyjamas in almost every tract and surrounds himself with idiot henchmen. You’d think him being underestimated like this is the type of thing he’d want, but no, let’s have him wear a pumpkin mask and carry around a chainsaw.
Zombies (You knew this was coming, don’t deny it)
Why they should be taken seriously: Well, for one thing, zombies do have a pretty fucked-up origin. In their earliest forms, they were dead bodies given new life by Voodoo, where they became the slaves of a sorcerer. That’s pretty creepy. Their more modern incarnations have some things going for them too; inanimate corpses are scary to behold so an animate one should be even scarier, the idea of someone you love losing everything that makes him him and transforming into a beast driven by hunger, a monster whose mind only focuses only satiation makes them more feral and less human.
Why they shouldn’t: I’m not the first to talk about the negatives of zombies, but here goes. All those pros I said about zombies? Other monsters have done those things better. Sure, your loved one becoming a zombie is scary because he’s become a mindless killer, but your loved one becoming a werewolf also makes him become a mindless killer and gives him time to regret being a mindless killer. Also werewolves can run fast and thus kill you easier thus being scarier. Ghosts are undead like zombies, but also have thoughts, so they can formulate a plan to get you, and have supernatural powers to boot. In Ghost Story, one ghost terrorised the protagonists as much as twenty zombies would’ve. Zombies are slow and only really work in numbers.
And then there’s the products they’ve spawned. Zombie comedy rarely works because zombies really only do one thing and thus zombie comedy has only one joke. That hasn’t stopped us from having The Very Hungry Zombie, nor has it stopped the Marvel Zombies comics from having a billion more issues than the concept needed.
The lowest moment for the monster: The Cabin in the Woods (SPOILER ALERT) was a good movie, but let’s face it, a lot of us watched it and said, ‘Why’d the kids have to pick the boring old zombies? Why not one of the cool monsters?’
Then again, not being able to take the monster seriously isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I mean,I just talked about Satan being a joke up there, but I really love Old Harry’s Game and recommend that you lot give it a listen. I’ve seen some campy Dracula and Frankenstein movies that I’ve really enjoyed. I even love the shit out of that Slenderman vs Commando story. Or maybe it’s better that we don’t take monsters seriously, there are better things to take seriously, after all.