In anticipation of the coming New Year (and perhaps more specifically, what the New Year will bring so far as new films), I’ve been brushing up on old episodes of Dark Shadows, the famous gothic horror soap from the 1960s that featured the likes of Katherine Leigh Scott, Alexandra Moltke, Joan Bennett, and of course, Canadian actor Jonathan Frid in his portrayal of the nefarious blood-sucker of Colinwood, Barnabas Collins.
2012 could very well be bringing with it the end of the world, as many doomsday theorists have suggested already. But hopefully before that happens we’ll have a little time to enjoy the all new film rendition of Dark Shadows, which will star Johnny Depp in the role of Barnabas Collins (and hence part of my reason for brushing up on this unique series of sixties soaps). But in addition to a renewed enjoyment of the old television series and its cast, my anticipation for this film has also spurred in me a sense of… well, could we call it “monsterphilia”? Hey, if you’re like me, and you enjoy watching old horror movies, you probably aren’t just watching them for the set designs or the music; no, you too must be a monsterphile!
Another favorite in my mental stockade of classic monsters featured in films is King Kong, the giant ape that was eventually brought to New York, where he subsequently escaped and wreaked havoc in the name of love. Kong is a particularly interesting character, in my opinion, because classic descriptions of the beast recount Kong as bearing a strong resemblance to a gorilla. In truth, I might go so far as to say that many fellow monsterphiles take for granted that King Kong was, in fact, just a very large gorilla, and nothing more; but let’s not forget how the monster, during many of his on screen appearances, was actually a bipedal creature, walking about on two legs. Kong also exhibited uncanny intelligence, for an ape, and of course, an attraction for a particularly lovely human lady interest. Wait… is this beginning to sound familiar to anyone else, or is it just me?
Even more evocative what appears to be a growing association with cryptozoological lore is the fact that, in 2005, a mockumentary featured on 2005 King Kong remake DVD release even gave the hairy brute a scientific name, Megaprimatus kong. Furthermore, it was suggested that Kong’s species may have evolved from an earlier creature known to exist, called Gigantopithecus. Those who have immersed themselves in the serious study of cryptozoology will know that, much the same, Gigantopithecus has been linked to a lineage of giant apes in a very different (and real) way, in terms of being a possible precursor to the creature known as Bigfoot in the modern day. The fact that a monstrously-gigantic ape would be wandering around on two legs must indeed seem far too perfect for exclusion from the entire Bigfoot mythos… no matter how vague the reference may have ended up being.
In all likelihood, the slow anthropomorphizing of King Kong had less to do with trying to make him resemble humans–or a Bigfoot, for that matter–but instead stemmed from the necessity for featuring a human actor in a costume, rather than a wire model (like in the original 1930s interpretations of the character on-screen). Nonetheless, this kind of trend toward making monsters more human-like is something we often begin to see in horror films: with time, King Kong and his gigantic reptilian nemesis in the East, Godzilla, would both begin to trend toward being more human-like in their behavior and appearance. Even Freddy Krueger, as the Nightmare on Elm Street series progressed over the years, began to become goofier and goofier with each installment (sparing only the last few film renditions of the character). And, as many fans of Dark Shadows are well aware, Barnabas, who begins the series as a blood-sucking bastard, eventually grows to become something of a hero in the series, protecting his family and associates time and time again from various perils.
Indeed, it seems that our psychological necessity for having monsters is something that allows an extension of our inner fears to manifest, so that we can cope with them in a more tangible way. Naturally, diminishing the fear factor by “humanizing” our fictitious brutes in certain ways could be interpreted as a further coping mechanism, of sorts, where we seek to diminish the monster’s terrifying aspects, and thus reducing our own inner fears and insecurities.
So in reality, despite how our mothers told us watching monster movies would rot our brains, an interest in monsters might actually be healthy for some of us, in a sense. They allow us to deal with things that trouble us, which we have difficulty expressing outwardly in any other way; hence, we create devils of the night, and then we slowly befriend them and turn them into rubber dog crap from Hong Kong, so we can laugh at them. In retrospect, this all sounds about as logical as anything else our minds might engage in… and by comparison, it still seems far more logical than the perils inherent to those hopeless romantics among us. Hey, no wonder horror movies make such a great excuse for first dates!