Alternative monster ideas for when zombies, vampires, and werewolves don't cut it
People, we are currently depleting one of our most precious natural pop-culture resources: monsters. In an era where the tenor of the times seems to be "everyone around me is a mindless automaton who wants to rip me apart for not being one of them," the Zombie Apocalypse has become as well-worn a trope as "two awkward people fall in love" or "this cop bends the rules but he gets things done." Thanks to Twilight, vampires have also worn out their welcome, dragging the feral savagery of werewolves down along with them into a sparkly morass of chaste, moon-eyed, twerp romance. Mummies have been tarnished by being in the general proximity of Brendan Fraser, the most interesting thing with Frankenstein's name on it in the last 40 years has been an Edgar Winter Group instrumental, exceedingly "quirky" nerds have run aimless Cthulu name-drops into the ground, and any monster that made its name back it the '80s--Freddy, Jason, Predator, Dolph Lundgren--has been bled dry for that crucial nostalgia dollar.
Let's face it: familiarity breeds a lot of emotions, but fear isn't one of them. So where do we turn when we need a new, less worn-out monster fix?
We have two options. The first is to hope that people with actual talent somehow get the idea to work with these familiar properties, in the hopes that more stuff in the spirit of The Walking Dead and Let the Right One In becomes prevalent enough to overcome the trend-hopping schlock.
The second option is to try and come up with something different for the schlockmeisters to glom onto, so that the once-fearsome zombies and vampires and other unspeakable horrors can get a breather and eventually regain some of their power to creep us out. So here's some candidates for a new wave of ridiculous monster-based media trends, conveniently scary in ways that says something about our anxious times.
Identity theft is big right now, whether it's email spoofing, hijacked Facebook accounts, stolen credit cards, or phony celebrity Twitter accounts ("I eat my own farts and they taste like Dairy Queen" [email protected]). So we're ripe for buying into the notion of actual sinister shapeshifting creatures who are out to replace us in an attempt to create havoc, murder everyone we hold dear, and generally make us look like complete assholes. There have already been a couple takes on Invasion of the Body Snatchers to stoke peoples' nerves when it came to creating allegories for Cold War paranoia (the 1956 version) and solipsistic self-help actualization (the 1978 version, pictured above), along with some less-allegorical (and less-good) versions in 1993 (Body Snatchers) and 2007 (The Invasion). And while yet another remake of this particular scenario would (ironically) seem like the thousandth example of Hollywood churning out diminishing copies of things that already exist, it could make for some ideally wicked--and creepy--satire in the right hands. Maybe replace the aliens with robots, which would then make it entirely original again by modern film standards.
2. POSSESSED AUTOMOBILES
Not to be confused with repossessed automobiles, which there really only needs to be one movie about, the idea of the malevolent, possibly unmanned, and definitely-out-to-kill-you motor vehicle has a strong lineage that hasn't been diluted over the years. Entries from the '70s, like the early Steven Spielberg classic Duel, along with more supernatural fare like the amazingly-titled Killdozer, and the less-amazingly-titled The Car, set a precedent that Stephen King went completely apeshit for in the '80s via Christine and Maximum Overdrive. Contemporary entries into this horror subgenre could have the subtext built right in, too: dwindling oil, America's struggling automotive economy sector, a dangerously distracted behind-the-wheel populace, and an increasing reliance on the self-identifying countercultural cachet of bicycling means that a relentless murdermobile is a monster for our era. Plus, damn, how easy would it be to make a Pontiak Aztek look like a demonic kill-machine?
Look out! They're everywhere and they're all angry because of cell phone towers messing with their heads and they are going to gang up on us and ruin our shit! Just ask Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man if you don't believe me. Granted, the big flaw with a bee-based horror trend is that anyone who lives far enough above the equator will notice a distinct lack of a major bee presence in their general vicinity during prime Halloween-scare times. That, and the idea of people dressing in bee costumes either invokes Blind Melon or a particularly ridiculous/great Paul F. Tompkins stand-up routine. But real actual things that can really actually kill us (if there's enough of them) make for pretty good fictional monsters, especially ones that are, in a bitter twist of fate, more idealized and less gross/crawly/freaky than pretty much every single other insect out there.
4. JUST MAKE SOMETHING UP
People in Victorian England liked to mutter in hushed tones about someone or something called "Spring Heeled Jack," who was described as possessing extraordinary leaping power, super flame-spitting abilities, some kind of crazy bat-cloak/helmet getup, spooky fireball eyes, metal fingertip claws, and possible occult origins. This is something that people came up with over 170 years ago, and with all our advances in science, technology, societal structure, art, and cross-cultural exchanges, the best our current vanguard of creativity can come up with now is "well, maybe we make this zombie run fast"? Come on. Reappropriating ancient mythologies and old folklore is all well and good if you can put a new spin on it, but our new monsters have to come from somewhere, and they might as well originate from some deranged attempt to desperately come up with something nobody's considered before--a blood-drinking weasel with stilt-legs, or a hairy man-ape that runs upside down on its hands and strangles you with its feet, or the soul of a serial killer trapped in an air hockey table, or something like that. And if inspiration fails them, maybe our screenwriters and comic book artists and TV producers should just throw up their hands, take the Axe Cop route, and ask a six-year-old kid for ideas.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.