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The evolution of monster movies

Right now, it’s that time of year where just about everyone is looking for a good scare. Many people spend their October telling ghost stories, making scary costumes, or watching horror movies. There’s nothing quite like the sense of terror a scary movie can evoke. The genre has been around for a long, long time and due to this, this genre has changed a considerable amount. However, some of the older horror movies are still extremely iconic. If I were to scream “It’s alive!” with the sort of glee that only mad scientists can display, most people would probably understand what I was referencing. The images of these old monster movies—Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and more—live on in society’s collective consciousness. These are the monster movies of the past.

The genre hasn’t gone away by any means, but it certainly does not look the same today. If I were to compare both “The Invisible Man” movie that came out in the 1930s and the one that came out earlier this year, it’d be no surprise to find the differences between the two would be monumental. In the nearly hundred years between these two movies, how did the monster movie genre change? Well, to begin with, horror movies nowadays are a lot more gratuitous. In 1931, Bela Lugosi could terrify entire audiences by just giving a menacing stare. Nowadays, that wouldn’t exactly cut it. These older monster movies were extremely reliant on tone and aesthetic. Through detailed sets and creative angles, filmmakers could shock audiences into terror. 

However, as the years passed, audiences wanted something more out of their horror. Movies like Psycho in 1960 were less gothic than they were brutal. Then, out of the many suggested scenes of violence in Psycho, came much more gratuitous ones. This eventually led to the slasher movie genre. While characters like Mike Myers and Jason Vorhees may not be considered monsters by some, their seeming immortality and distinct, chilling characterization were very reminiscent of older monster movies. If there wasn’t a place in cinemas for the Wolf Man to kill in the shadows, then Mike Myers could take his place and do it in gruesome detail. 

This isn’t to say that monster movies all went away. There were certainly films about vampires and werewolves in this era, and zombie films gained a tremendous amount of popularity. However, in the last years of the twentieth century, it wasn’t quite the trend that it once was, and it definitely was not the trend that slasher movies were. With the dawn of such violent movies, the monsters of old just seemed tame. Who’s even scared of Dracula anymore? Eventually, the slasher genre also went away. Just like monster movies, they’re still around, but their heyday is long behind them. Yet, their influence still lingers. By focusing so heavily on the supposed monsters in these films, our collective vision of these characters is incredibly well-defined. Frankenstein is born to be a monster, trapped in a hostile world he was forced to be a part of. Wolf Man is forced to abandon his civilized, gentle nature and become a violent beast when the moon is full. Dracula is pure evil, menacing the world with his bloodlust for all of eternity. These movies may not be as scary as they once were, but these monsters still have a place in modern cinema.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at another example. The original “The Invisible Man” focused on what a person might become if they could do anything without being caught. The remake focused on this same idea, except with a more modern focus. The main character is stalked by her ex-boyfriend, who has turned himself invisible and therefore cannot be caught. By making the story center around believing victims of abuse, a social issue that has gained much more attention with the advent of the #MeToo movement, the story feels fresh while still exploring the same general themes of the original. 

So, while monster movies look much different now, with a focus on violent creatures like zombies and demons, they still serve the same purpose. They ask dark questions about the ugly parts of human nature. The Wolf Man questions whether people will ever truly escape their basic animalistic natures. Frankenstein and his monster ask whether science can go too far and defy God, bringing nothing but death and despair in the process. These are questions that can and are still being explored in modern movies. We are still grappling with many of the same dilemmas regarding progress and its consequences. So, whether Dracula is made to look a little scarier in his next film or the Wolf Man acts a bit more violently, the true core of the stories asks the same question. Who are the real monsters?

About the Contributor
Kyle Makkas, Humor Writer