Where have all the Scary Monsters gone?
I’m noticing a trend that fewer and fewer works of Monster fiction are being classified as “Horror.” Stories containing non-humans characters such as Demons, Vampires, Ghosts, Werewolves, Aliens, and anything with Tentacles, used to be clear-cut Horror. Now they’re about as frightening as getting a flat tire.
Have we gotten used to the idea of monsters? Have they been watered down until they just aren’t scary anymore? “Diet Horror”? “Horror Lite”?
Of course, media geared toward kids have always brought monsters down to an un-scary level; nothing new there, and Disney certainly isn’t helping things. Monsters, Inc. turned monsters into cute, cuddly creatures who were Frightened Of Kids! And now Monsters vs. Aliens turns monsters into our allies!
But that’s all kids stuff. What I’m talking about is more than simple cartoonification of monsters. Media across the board have sucked the horror right out of the monster market.
Before I get started, just a disclaimer that I don’t believe that all horror stories must contain a monster. I bet the majority of horror stories written don’t have a “monster” in them. I’m just suggesting that the modern monster has lost some – if not most – of its bite.
How far have the horrific fallen? Let’s take a look:
#1 – The Fanpire Shift
I’m going to single out Vampires for two reasons. They really weren’t that scary to begin with, and they have become more popular than all the other monsters combined. These two points perpetuate each other in what I’m going to call the Fanpire Shift.
Think Vampires are scary? Guess again. If there was a list of “Pleasant Ways to Die” then getting your blood sucked out of your neck in the embrace of a hot vamp would be at the top of it. If you think Twilight or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any of the Underworld movies depict vampires as scary, try watching 30 Days of Night. Then you will understand why I think the way modern vampires are depicted, they barely classify as monsters at all.
Keep in mind the original Dracula by Bram Stoker was more Gothic than Horrific. Simply the idea of someone drinking the blood of others to prolong their own life was horrific enough. But Dracula-Done-Right had a sense of inhumanness about the vampire character that was at least unnerving if not flat-out frightening. 30 Days of Night was able to capture the alien feel of vampires, but the majority of books and movies today portray vampires as regal, bureaucratic, pompous socialites. Well-dressed dandies with pointy teeth who drink blood from wine glasses with their pinkys out while listening to Bach. In other words, about as frightening as 70’s fashion.
Because of (or in spite of) this, the popularity of the vampire genre cannot be contained. From the massive success of Anne Rice’s series of vampire books, and the Buffy franchise which took the vampire genre out of Horror and into the Throap (Part Thriller, Part Soap Opera) vampires are IN. People can’t get enough, or water them down enough. Stephanie Meyer is doing her best to continue this trend, placing vampires in the least frightening genre ever created; heartfelt, awkward, teenage relationship stories.
Adding the popularity of the Vampire genre to the fact that they’re barely tall enough to make it into the monster pool without a parent or guardian, means the entire monster pool gets watered down.
Hey, if it gets kids to read, I’m all for it. But even if the surge in interest of Vampires actually Raises the number of monster books across the board, if sure feels like there’s less and less media focused on the particularly horrible horror monsters when the market is drowned in Horror-Lite.
#2 – The Paranormal Romance
Proof that Romance will sleep with anything, Paranormal Romance is the bastard offspring of Horror and Romance genres that extends on the notion of ‘Love Conquers Death’ – the belief that Love persists beyond the demise of one or both partners. Paranormal Romance takes ‘love from beyond the grave’ to its extreme. Ghosts and spirits used to be something that you AVOIDED. But Paranormal Romance bravely stepped from the shadows to explore the ATTRACTION to the (un)dead!
Borderline necrophilia. Spirituophilia? But there’s more than just ghosts to love here. Romance knows no bounds, especially in the Para-normal.
One would have expected that werewolves might have escaped being dehorrified, (with the exception of Teen Wolf, natch) A quick search of ‘werewolves’ on Amazon.com will show you the truth. Out of the 1529 Werewolf books, 279 are Werewolf Romance.
Borderline bestiality. Lycanthrophilia? Like I said, love knows no bounds. Even Sharks are finding themselves subject to loving de-horrification:
What’s next? Borderline Tentacle Porn? Chuthluphilia? A search for ‘chuthulu romance’ returned no hits. Thank the gods. Maybe someday when the stars are right…
I don’t dislike Paranormal Romance stories any more than I dislike Romance stories. But turning monsters into love interests wrings the horror right out of them. The rise in popularity of Paranormal Romance alone is enough to un-horrify the monster market.
#3 – The Zombidy and Horror/Comedy
Zombies have always been funny. Undead, true, but they’re slow; both physically and mentally, which makes them more disturbing than frightening. That is, until you add in the fact that they generally come in large numbers, and the whole “Eat Your Brains” thing (crossed with poor table manners) gives them a more secure seat on the horror bus than Vampires nipping daintily at your Jugular vein.
There’s nothing new about horror/comedy, but the success of well-done films like Black Sheep and “Zombidys” like Shaun of the Dead and Fido, which raised the bar and ushered in a new wave of films and books that weren’t just laughably bad low-budget B-movies like Chopping Mall or Jack Frost.
Even people who don’t like Horror can appreciate a Horror/Comedy, making that market larger, and simultaneously eroding the pure Horror market; which includes our Scary Zombie and Monster friends.
#4 – Chasing the Horror-Lite Market
Dark Fantasy is the kissing cousin of Horror. It appeals to a wider audience, and it’s growing.
Part of the rise in this trend comes from the explosion of the Young Adult book market. Ever since the success of the Harry Potter series, the publishing and movie industries have launched a massive assault on the teen market. In this market, it seems that monsters are less of a main course and more of a side dish adding flavor to a plot, and not a plot in and of themselves. For example, each book of the Harry Potter series contains some kind of monster or terrifying creature, but the books are labeled ‘Fantasy-Adventure’ not ‘Horror’.
Because of the larger market for Dark Fiction, Horror authors and other artists looking for a bigger audience might tone down the Horror and play up the Dark Fantasy aspect in order to give their work a broader appeal. The results are stories like The Graveyard Book, and Twilight, books that were inspired by, but never intended for, the horror section.
So where are the scary monsters?
I want to reassert here that I’m not opposed to any of the genres or movements listed above. Mostly. But I like my monsters scary damnit, and I’m on the verge of calling scary monsters an endangered species.
While horrific horror monsters might not be extinct, there’s no question that the points listed above have conspired to shove the monster market back under the bed. The increase in Vampires, Paranormal Romances, Horror/Comedy and the growth of the Young Adult market may have increased interest in works of darker fiction, but it certainly seems to have drowned out the small slice of authors and filmmakers creating frightening Monsters.
But like the things hiding under your bed, just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there, lurking in the dark and forgotten corners of the bookstore… Stories about creatures that could kill you just by stepping into broad daylight, their very wrongness would rip your sanity asunder.
They might even lurk in the minds of dark fiction authors such as myself. You might come back here and find some one day… if you are brave enough.
If you know of any scary monster stories, please share!