Now Let Us Praise Famous Monsters

Published on September 29th, 2008 in: Editorial, Halloween, Horror, Issues |

count dracula
Count Dracula, 1977

In reviewing a series of horror and ghost story anthologies, literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote that the “sudden revival of the appetite” for such tales arose in part from:

“. . . the instinct to inoculate ourselves against panic at the real horrors loose on the earth. . . by injections of imaginary horrors, which soothe us with the momentary illusion that the forces of madness and murder may be tamed and compelled to provide us with mere dramatic entertainment.”
—From Classics and Commercials, 1950

This piece was written in 1944, during World War II, which encompassed a series of real-life horrors more sinister than any celluloid monster from Universal Studios.

Yet Wilson’s essay was also written months before the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, and since then, the world has witnessed countless horrors, each one escalating in scope, until it seems we will need to become numb to them to avoid going insane. In terms of the popular culture of horror, it too has transmogrified in those ensuing four decades, and we must now ask again: what is the reason we return to such “tales of horror?”

As a child, I was scared stiff of most things Halloween-related; even the tame haunted houses put on by the eighth graders in the school rec room filled me with dread. The first horror movie I remember watching—a Great Performances adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula which aired on PBS in 1977—terrified me so thoroughly, I took a crucifix, rosary, and bible to bed with me and spent eight exceedingly panic-filled hours worrying about the fate of my immortal soul.

dracula sisters
Count Dracula, 1977

Yet throughout my teens and twenties, I became fascinated with scary stuff—cemeteries, skeletons, vampires—and eventually developed quite an obsession with Halloween. Horror movies are the most recent facet of this obsession, but I find myself more absorbed in pre-1990s films than the more recent spate of what is often called “torture porn.”

Perhaps that’s just my Catholic baggage talking. Or perhaps it’s because my explorations are more recent, and thus I have not become numb to the effects of these films. Or perhaps its because many of them they touch upon real life terrors—disillusionment with society, aging, failed relationships, losing one’s job, losing loved ones, and even losing one’s mind—which might seem to pale in comparison to anything a movie could conjure.

Obviously fear is a powerful force, one that can paralyze us into inaction, or propel us off a cliff to discover either safe haven or doom. Watching horror movies helps me to embrace fear in an attempt to understand and deal with it, not inoculate myself against it. In fact, it’s the horror films that capture some of the terrors listed above and amplify them to fantastic, grotesque, or supernatural proportions that frighten me the most. It’s partly because that scared little kid inside me thinks it could happen and partly because the adult I’ve become knows it can.

If you want to feel the fear, check out Popshifter‘s tribute to Halloween Horrors, including candy, comics, costumes, culture shock, festival of fear 2008, haunted houses, horror movies, terrifying tuneage, and true crime.

If Halloween isn’t your thing, we’ve got plenty more for you, like an interview with the Melvins, music, television, and movie reviews, top five slang expressions, part two of “The First Synthpop Song” and Waxing Nostalgic on heavy metal mania.

Less Lee Moore, Managing Editor

One Response to “Now Let Us Praise Famous Monsters”

  1. Popshifter » A Horrible Problem To Have:
    October 1st, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    […] five years have I gone into overdrive, perhaps trying to make up for lost time. I understand my motivations and thus, I have accepted my fandom fate, even though other people might think it makes me a bad […]

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