For me, the word monster conjures images of classic Universal Horror creature features from the 1930s and 1940s. Popular literature has its fair share of monsters, but the principles behind a good beastie apply to both cinema and books.
Frankenstein (1931) starring Boris Karloff is the first film that comes to mind when I think of a classic monster tale. The title character was a brute who did horrible things, but he was also rejected by his creator and mercilessly tortured before escaping into a world he could not comprehend.
Monsters, like people, are defined by their actions. Before a character can be considered a monster, it must establish itself by doing something that is a clear violation of the rules of society. Causing death and destruction or harming and imprisoning another character are quick ways to accomplish that. Coaxing the reader into hating/loathing/fearing the monster is the easy part. Making the monster three dimensional is the challenge.
Memorable monsters transcend the cut and dry boogeyman concept from children’s fairy tales. Frankenstein’s monster attacks when enraged, but is terrified of fire and desperately craves human contact. Jason Voorhees, the hockey mask clad monster of the original Friday the Thirteenth motion picture sequels, was a meek child who drowned after being ostracized and neglected by lustful camp counselors. Freddy Krueger from the original Nightmare on Elm Street films (can somebody please tell me why we need to remake this series?) was a cold-blooded killer who preyed on children. Though Freddy had virtually nothing that could generate sympathy, he had another quality: Freddy was funny. Against better judgment and taste, the audience laughs at Freddy’s bad jokes. It may only last as long as the laughter, but a connection is made with him.
The Swedish film Let the Right One In (2008 – Låt den rätte komma in) portrays a centuries-old vampire as a bloodthirsty predator in the body of a young girl named Eli. She kills to satiate her thirst with no remorse whatsoever. Despite her feral actions, she becomes friends with a human boy, even coming to his aid against a violent gang of bullies. Eli is no less a monster, but her human longing for friendship forges a connection with the audience. By the end of the film, it is virtually impossible to hate her despite her heinous actions.
Anyone can write glowing red eyes and bat-like wings onto a baby-eating poodle and call it a monster. Once a writer coaxes the audience into feeling something other than fear, hate, and loathing for the creature, then they have created a memorable monster.
M.T. Murphy is the author of Lucifera’s Pet, a violent and sexy dark fiction tale of werewolves and vampires. Connect with him below: