I’m not sure which is worse, really, to be feared but respected as a villain or to be adored and mocked while being chased around by screeching fan girls…Either way, things don’t seem that great for monsters. Those guys just can’t catch a break.
Yes, I’m aware there’s some kind of Frankenzombie in the mix, learn to love him.
I’ve talked about the evolution of monster mythology and done a few comics on the topic before, so I’m sorry if any of this seems like you’ve heard it before. The topic is just very interesting to me. Where others may point to the growing supernatural romance market and simply laugh at it or mock it mercilessly, I see a process that has occurred frequently in the past (as well as a subject for jokes, obviously). The history of monsters is the history of mankind’s own storytelling devices. The evolution of the very concept of what is scary or vile is indicative of a greater trend, namely the repurposing of outdated ideas to meet new demands. This has been an ongoing process in almost every aspect of human culture for millenia, from science and technology to storytelling and religion. We like to laugh and joke about how monsters aren’t scary anymore, but what is really happening is that our very notion of “What is scary?” has shifted in entirely different directions than our ancestors ever anticipated and our old ideas are being used in new ways.
Take vampires as an example. The modern vampire became a part of horror fiction in the late 1800′s because they represented, very clearly, the dark and vile parts of humanity that were present in the power structure at the time. Dracula’s greed and excess, his drinking blood from the innocent and his desire for a woman who was with another man were representative of those in power. Dracula and vampires like him were scary because they reflected something real to people of the time. Vampires also started to become sexy and alluring because sex was so against the Victorian ideal. We like to point to Stoker’s Dracula as if he is the quintessential vampire, the original vampire, if you will, but even that was a new take on an old classic. Before the Victorian Dracula, the vampires of eastern Europe were much like zombies, rising from the grave to drink from their kin or from those who had wronged them in life. Is any one of these concepts more right than another? I can tell you which one I find more scary, personally, but is my personal ideal the “right” one?
The most interesting thing I take away from the evolution of modern monsters is the humanizing of creatures we once looked at as repulsive. Werewolves are still a metaphor for the uncontrollable rage that we sometimes feel inside us, vampires still show us the desire of the strong to prey on the weak, and zombies still take us uncomfortably close to our fears about death and memory and identity. What has changed isn’t the monsters themselves but how we look at them and their qualities. In the past, monsters were simply things to be feared and kept away, but now we embrace them. We look at these harbingers of the darker side humanity and we no longer turn away entirely. Horror has always been about making us examine the parts of ourselves we don’t like to look at, but now our stories have humanity actually falling in love with those elements.
I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s interesting to reflect on it.
Sure, it may be goofy to see the walking dead reduced to the love interest in a story for teen girls or to see the once mighty vampire down from his castle and into the arms of some dude, but it’s not as though there is a shortage of horror stories where our favorite monsters act like monsters. It’s also not as though vampires and zombies being objects of romance keeps them from being subjects for horror either.
It’s all in what you do with monsters and how we see them as a culture and a species. If we have largely outgrown them, then that’s okay. For people that enjoy monsters in horror, there is plenty of material out there to experience already. And if you really love the idea of monsters being scary and you want to be horrified, I guess you can just think about how vampires are used in Twilight. That should probably do the trick.