Fellow Imagination Connoisseur, Stubble McShave, writes in about monsters and what makes the best ones in films and storytelling.

What’s your favorite monster?

Hi Rob,

I thought that I would discuss a little about monsters in genre media and may be give a perspective that not everyone have thought of on some of these things?

The best monsters in genre media are the ones that reminds us that we are not on the top of the food chain. If you’re designing a monster you should not think ”What is the most awesome beast that I can imagine”. Instead you should start with looking inwards, asking yourself ”What are my greatest fears” and then try to create a monster which fulfill those fears.

The best example of this is probably the Xenomorph from the Alien movies. The Xenomorph is ultimately based on some concepts from Lovecraftian literature and in the first Alien movie it is truly scary and was a killing machine that basically couldn’t be killed by anything (short of being fried by an engine on a spacecraft).

One aspect that not many think of concerning the Xenomorph is this. Sure it’s a horrible monster that truly is in the top of the food chain and can basically kill anything it comes across and is in turn very hard to kill. But what’s maybe even more terrifying is that it procreates by raping it’s victim. It forces itself as a Facehugger onto the victim and impregnates the victim against their will. It’s one of the few examples in media where men to some extent can experience the same horror that a female rape victim can, when they’ve both been violated and also impregnated against their will. It doesn’t help that the birth also results in a busted chest cavity and a rather sudden painful death.

In the second Alien movie the Xenomorphs are still monsters, at least for the first 3 quarters of the movie. When Ripley goes after the queen they stop being monsters and becomes more of obstacles and inconveniences. The Xenomorphs didn’t really feel like monsters anymore, they were just cannon fodder.

In silence of the lambs Hannibal Lecter is built up as a monster. They spend a good 10-15 minutes talking about how terrible he is and after that our protagonist is led through this basement of cells with horrible people and we are led up to him.

To our astonishment he’s presented to us in a well-lit room as a distinguished nice looking man, although he’s a bit creepy. He’s very well dressed and has a cultured demeanor. All this makes him that much more terrifying. If he’s so horrible that they’ve built him up to be in the beginning of the movie, but so far has been presented as a gentleman, it must mean that when he’s bad, he’s very, very bad.

It’s an effective way of setting him up as a monster and later we get to see that it’s to some extent justified. Although I was a little bit let down with the end of the movie. The build-up was so great that I wanted a more monstrous monster at the end.

Zombies, Werewolves and Vampires are classic monsters where one of the major horrific points is that we slowly get turned into one of these creatures and lose our free will. We get to be slaves under a primal desire for food and/or for killing.

In later years Vampires have lost their horrific essence with the introduction of free will for Vampires. In many later works they are not any longer driven by hunger as their motivating factor. Instead they have a free will to more or less interact with normal people without posing a serious threat if they so chooses. There was always a sexual danger with Vampires earlier but now it has been turned into sexual excitement instead which takes away from some of the horrific aspects of the monster.

Werewolves illustrates the fear we have of losing control and giving in to our animalistic tendensies rather than our noble tendensies. It’s again, a fear of losing our free will. A fear of becoming a beast that kills indiscriminately and which has no thoughts other than a basic desire for hunting and killing.

Zombies are the definition of soulless drones, beings without their own free will and agency. Unfortunately they have also been diluted over the years in some modern works. Zombies can be found in many different guises through genre books and movies. The Borg in Star Trek is a typical example of them.

Everyone knows all about Zombies, Werewolves and Vampires so I won’t describe them in any more way. But, I think it’s the fear of losing control and losing ones free will and agency that is most terrifying to the human psyche.

So, those were some of my thoughts on monsters.

What did you think of the aspect that the Facehugger actually rapes its victims and do you agree with that?

Today I will end this with a quote by Terry Pratchett from his book ”Hogfather”.

“Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.”