One thing I love about studying monsters is that stories have quite literally always contained them. There is arguably something universal, or near-universal, about imagining these unique, often antagonistic beings and situating them among their non-monstrous counterparts. The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example, is the first story we know of that was written down instead of transmitted orally. Etched first in a language called Akkadian (and then in other languages), on stones that have become faded and smooth so that some parts of the story are now indecipherable, the tale of Gilgamesh (technically a poem) tells us about a warrior, Gilgamesh, and the difficulty he experiences when losing his friend Enkidu and facing the reality of his own mortality – a difficulty that at some point in our lives, we’ve probably all been able to understand. After all, the thought of dying is scary.
On Gilgamesh’s initial journey with his bestie, Enkidu, one of his goals is to slay the forest monster Humbaba – a task that is framed in different lights, depending on which version of the story you read. I find it fascinating that both the monster and the monster hunter exist in the world’s earliest written story, and this complicated binary persists through the ages, up to both early and contemporary horror films. It is interesting, I think, to consider what we can learn from monsters, monster hunters, and the relationship between the two beings. Various monster theorists take up the subject of the monster and the monster hunter, but the topic is not central to most Monster Theory. To be honest, it’s not a relationship that’s proven central to my work so far – part of the reason why I want to give it some attention tonight. I argue in this piece that the role between the monster and the monster hunter is rarely simple, and that we have much to learn from their relationship, and how it transforms through space and time.
There are probably a lot of reasons why Wicked was my favorite book to read with my students during my Reading the Monster course. This assertion may be surprising, on the one
hand, because Wicked doesn’t fall
under the traditional “horror” umbrella like many other texts on the syllabus. And, as is obvious from reading this blog,
I’m an avid fan and proponent of what might be called, more specifically,
“art-horror”—the creation of fictional horrific events, morphed into cinematic
and literary experiences. Conversely,
there’s so much imagination, and so much problematization (a la fiction) packed
into Wicked, that Gregory Maguire’s book
provides plenty of fodder for speculation, discussion, and debate, even as it
delights, challenges, and entertains—all on a fairly consistent basis. What’s
more—and this may be a far from ancillary point—I taught Wicked after my dreaded comprehensive examination was (more or
less) over, so I had more time to put toward lesson planning and making the
text particularly engaging to students.
The emerging result, for me, was a stronger interest in a text that I
already enjoyed, but that I didn’t fully appreciate until reading a second time.
Well, unsurprisingly, it’s three in the morning and I’ve
decided to write a blog post. You see, I
was reading On Monsters: An Unnatural
History of our Worst Fears by Stephen T. Asma, and his writing is so fluid,
his stories so interesting, his points so insightful, that I got inspired to
write. In general, I find that as I read
more for my comprehensive exams, I tend to get so enthusiastic that I feel I
absolutely must release some of my
excitement through writing. And, I have
the perfect fodder for a blog post this evening. Michael and I went to see a showing of Escape Room tonight, and we both really
enjoyed the film. Given that I’ve been
reading about monsters and horror non-stop over break, my mind started playing
with the movie in light of what I’ve been reading, and I jotted down some
thoughts earlier. So, here’s what will
probably be a fairly short little post on Escape
Room. I’m not one for rating or
grading movies, so while I won’t give it a rating, I’ll say it’s an interesting
example of a horror archetype we’ve been seeing a lot of recently, and it’s a
genuinely engaging film with (my favorite!) mostly
likable characters! As such, I
highly suggest you check it out. But…I’m
no good at writing without spoilers, so those will inevitably follow this
I read Stephen King’s Misery earlier this summer for my comprehensive exams. Then, I let the book rest for a while and didn’t do much with it. It juxtaposes fascinatingly with the film, which depicts an Annie Wilkes who’s incredibly true to King’s story, courtesy of the monumentally talented Kathy Bates. And, like the film, it explores concepts like female madness, and madness depicted as monstrosity, but in more depth than the film does. Wilkes is at least a somewhat complex character who King—and his protagonist, Paul Sheldon—come close to virtually humanizing at times, despite her atrocious actions. But the fact remains: Annie Wilkes is a madwoman, and she’s depicted as a monstrous madwoman. I thought I’d use this post to look at more of Annie’s personality, and what the madwoman—and the monster woman—is, if we take Annie as an example of both. So, let’s do this. Continue reading “Objects of Abjection: The Mad Monster in Stephen King’s Misery”→
A few nights ago, I decided to enjoy a little casual viewing of a horror classic. Christine, the story of the monster car, is a horror staple that, with a well-written script and believable characters, delivers ample entertainment without ever really terrifying the viewer—at least, if the viewer is me. Because Christine doesn’t situate itself in the realm of the typical horror movie, rife with ghouls and vampires and traditional monsters of all sorts. Christine – if you don’t know this, and you probably do – is about a vicious, killer car with unusual superpowers. I chose the film, as I’ve insinuated, because I think it’s a fun watch for a low-key night – nothing as scary, say, as watching Sinister. And unsurprisingly, as I watched the film, a few thoughts came to mind that made me ponder. Continue reading “Cruisin’ With Christine: Attack of the Monster Car”→
Whoa. I’m writing for my blog. Gasp. What a strange phenomenon this is—something I haven’t had time to do for months. I almost forget how. How do I start? What do I say? Gahhhh!!! The pressure weighs on me so. (Searching brain for an apt metaphor to describe this feeling – coming up with nothing). This blog-writing business is, indeed, a weird sensation, after such a long hiatus. It is, loosely stated, my summer vacation, and so I have time to write again. But having not written recreationally in quite some time, the task seems a little daunting. Of course, I write papers all the time, but blog-writing is a different beast, all together. Still, like I said, it’s my sorta-summer vacation (I still have lots to do) and Michael and I sat down earlier today to watch the first two episodes of Evil Genius. The show got me to thinking… … …so I decided to take a break after the first two episodes to write about it. Continue reading “How We Construct the Monster: Thoughts on Evil Genius, Parts One and Two”→
In a rare turn of events, I got off work early today (woo-hoo!) and had to decide how to occupy my time. I was thinking about a post I could write without re-reading anything, or re-watching anything – so I could just start writing for the sake of writing, and get a post up today before my plans tonight. And it occurred to me that while I’ve talked about evil a lot on this blog, there is a rich pantheon of evil horror characters I’ve never discussed.
One thing is for certain: not all villains are made alike, and not all behave similarly. I thought about this when considering the difference, in Star Wars, between a Vader and a Palpatine. Vader becomes pure evil, but he becomes evil because he falls; the prequels tell us that he was once the promising Jedi, Annakin Skywalker. And ultimately, Vader is redeemed. Palpatine, on the other hand, is more or less bad to the bone, as the cliché song goes. So I started thinking about all the evil horror characters who are insane, who are sympathetic, who have at least strands of humanity that sometimes surmount the darkness and show themselves a bit. And then, I thought of the horror characters that don’t have any of that – no really human tendencies, no back story, few redeeming qualities. For the purposes of this post, these are the characters I’ll label “truly evil,” and I’ve chosen five of them. I couldn’t put these five characters in order, because they’re all pretty damn malicious, but here’s the list, nonetheless, with my explanation: My five favorite truly evil horror characters: Continue reading “Evil is as Evil Does: Five of Horror’s Vilest Villains”→
It is a truth well-known – well known to would-be writers, to stressed humanities students, to anyone who writes or blogs – that some projects seem more formidable, more demanding than others. For me, some are also more exciting than others. What I am about to attempt – the film analysis, if I can call it that – that I’m about to write, sits at that complex nexus of those two statuses, at the point of conjuncture between tantalizing and daunting. All of that is, of course, a credit to the film I’m about to write about, a film that re-configures the monstrous and re-imagines the monster movie with delicate, aesthetic aplomb and attempts to alter, completely, what “monster” means – what it means to be a monster, to be close to the monster, and to use the term “monster” at all. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water inspires me with a sort of excitement and terror, because there’s so much to write about in this rich, innovative film, but because I’m writing about such a unique piece, I want to proceed carefully and, to quote Aerosmith, “I don’t wanna miss a thing.” In some strange ways, I suppose it is far easier to write about a mediocre movie than a really fantastic film, especially when some time has passed, when one is afraid – if that one is me – that she’ll forget critical parts of this film. Which is all to say that I write this piece three days after seeing The Shape of Water and I write with the personal belief, as a student of film and “the monster,” so called, that this film’s probably doing more than I can write gracefully and cohesively about in one blog post. Nevermind that; I take this project seriously enough that writing about The Shape of Water has been nagging at me since I saw it, infiltrating all of my free moments, and so I’ll give it a try. And I’ll start by saying The Shape of Water was nothing like what I expected it to be, and it’s a really phenomenal film – one that says surprising, complex things about what it means to be a monster. (P.S.: Spoilers to follow) Continue reading “Of Monsters and Men in The Shape of Water”→
As I’ve shared before, of the delightful Christmas presents Michael (at My Comic Relief) got me, one of my favorites was definitely a set of four “My First Fright” essays by fellow bloggers who were willing to contribute to my series. I unwrapped a manila folder and was thrilled to see its contents. Here, then, is one of those accounts, from Jeff at The Imperial Talker. Jeff’s first fright is a super-creepy story, and his blog is a way awesome collection of all things Star Wars, so I highly recommend checking it out!
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I love monsters. If you’ve never read my blog, that may indeed be a secret to you. If you’ve read a few articles already, I’m stating that which is laughably obvious. I’m a huge monster fan, in their varied manifestations, and I’m especially fond of figures like the mad monster, or, the entity under examination today, the monster mom. Yesterday, I wrote a brief analysis of Insidious, and before delving into an examination of what the film says about things like the existence of other worlds and the specter, I simply defended the film’s merit. Many detractors of contemporary horror films slander them for being “formulaic,” but if I’m looking really closely, I find much modern horror incredibly creative and interesting, and fueled by a powerful amalgam of writing, acting, directing, and producing talent. I would like to, by and large, stand by that defense today, but I’m going to focus on discussing one thing a bit more specifically, I think, instead of writing a defense of the second film’s merit and then analyzing a sampling of elements. So, if you’ve not guessed it, today I’ll be focusing on the ghostly villains in Chapter 2 of Insidious – on Parker Crane, and more importantly, on his Monster mom (and what said Monster Mom indicates about gender anxieties in contemporary culture). Woo-hoo! Let’s get started. Continue reading “Insidious Chapter Two: Thoughts on the Monster Mom”→