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With the modern-day violence surrounding the Colorado gunman at the Dark Knight Rises screening and infamous serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, it seems that the word “monster” has gotten quite a dramatic redefinition and alteration since Vincent Price’s classic hallucinogenic 60s horror films. Considering our definition of “monster” has transformed from a pale bloodthirsty creature to the charming neighbor next door, what exactly makes a monster a “monster?”
While the classic universal monsters provided the origins of horror and imaginative creatures, modern horror monsters reached deeper into our unconscious fears and exposed the innate evil we all possess by blurring lines between morality and immorality, hauntingly authentic backstories, and the exposure of our unconscious fears.
What are the characteristics of a “monster?” Moral ambiguity? Unforgiveness? Hideousness? The classic Universal Monsters, such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dracula and the Mummy were introduced as dimensional characters, each with their own backstory, weaknesses and distinct personality. But unlike their modern descendants, these creatures seemed to lack that hint of indescribable evil and insanity that could better define them as “monsters” now in 2012.
Around the 70s time period, “slasher” films were introduced to the public, creating serial killers with abnormal, almost god-like capabilities, and extremely violent and unforgiving motives. Classic horror, once a “good vs. evil style of film,” has changed into a more confusing and morally ambiguous story with more ethically hazy perspectives. In these movies, the audience is more apt to not sympathize with the killers, unlike monsters such as Quasimodo, because these killers are more ruthless and innately evil.
Slasher films have turned away from distant and fantasy-driven places to everyday realistic and familiar settings. Jason Voorhees resides at Camp Crystal Lake near Wessex County, NJ. Michael Myers can be found around his hometown of Haddonfield, IL, which is actually inspired by Haddonfield, NJ; as if all these killers give you another reason to not go to NJ. In 1957, in Plainfield, WI, police entered a premise thought to be owned by a suspect in the disappearance of a store clerk but what they found instead was her hanging corpse, mounted human skulls, and lampshades fashioned out of human skin.
This man was Ed Gein, and he has been credited for being the inspiration for countless modern horror films such as “Psycho”, “Silence of the Lambs” and most infamously “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. By using reality scare tactics to create a slight sense of realism and blur lines between the imaginable and unimaginable, modern monsters showed that real life is truly stranger than fiction.
Our definition of “monster” has come a long way since the creation of iconic creatures such as Dracula and Wolfman, but it has reached a new level of universality that includes things not normally seen as scary or frightening, such as the handsome law student next door who just happens to have a body in his closet.
Whether or not you find yourself fraying over the ruthlessness of Jason Voorhees and his everlastingly sharp machete or the charismatic colleague who seems to oddly know too much about you, you’ll never view the reality of your invulnerability the same way again.