The first thing I do when trying to create a new monster for one of my stories is think about the monsters I already love and why it is that I love them. What makes them scary? And in some cases, what makes them lovable? The following is a list of my five favorite fiends and a few honorable mentions.
Every modern, dreamy vampire has a tribute to pay to this guy. And this suave, ruthless, and lovesick vampire deserves that tribute. While I’ve always considered Stoker’s novel (and all of the movies made of the novel) more of a dark love story than a horror story, one can’t deny that Dracula, no matter how beautiful, is just plain scary. And why? Dracula (and the mythology of the vampire in general) is a manifestation of humanity’s own darkest desires; sexual desire, the desire to escape mortality, the desire for strength and power. Dracula represents the things about which many dream, if the many can handle the dark consequence of damnation. To me, Dracula represents the darkness within all of us, and that’s why he made the top of my list.
The Phantom of the Opera
I cannot express the extent to which I love The Phantom of the Opera. He’s my number one crush. So painfully unattractive that he goes about in a mask and lives underground, the beauty (and often horror) of his talent and of his obsession with Christine Daae fuels some of my most lustful dreams. I love all things Phantom: the Gaston Leroux novel, Lon Chaney’s silent film performance, and yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. What makes Erik (the Phantom) so scary? He’s human. Absolutely human. To quote the musical, “You said yourself he was nothing but a man, yet while he lives, he will haunt us till we’re dead.” The Phantom is merely a brilliant, talented, and often blood thirsty human who brings terror to all those in the Paris Opera House. Being someone who respects a brilliant mind, I had no choice but to fall in love with The Phantom.
What can really be said about Freddy? In an earlier post, I reviewed the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I think I amply expressed my love for the dream killer. He’s funny, he’s evil, and he’s out for blood. Moreover, there isn’t a one of us who isn’t vulnerable to his malice. He kills in dreams, and we all have to sleep sometime. He feeds on fear, and the more frightened we get, the stronger he becomes. What’s scarier than our own worst fears? A killer who feeds on them. I could not have done this list without giving a shout out to Mr. Krueger.
I love that shark! The movie franchise actually gave us a couple of those great whites to fear, but any way you cut it, a human’s natural habitat isn’t water, and the shark gives us something to fear when we’re already out of our comfort zones. As if the ocean isn’t scary enough (have you ever wave crashed and realized how much strength you actually don’t have?), Jaws gives us a natural predator that calls the crashing waves its home. In the great white’s world, we’re not the top of the food chain anymore. Not being the top of the food chain is just about the scariest thing I can imagine.
I also have a nostalgic connection to the shark. As a kid, I repeatedly watched the first Jaws movie on the edge of my seat waiting for the famous line, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” And while I’m mainly indifferent to the second and third installment, my brother and I loved Jaws: The Revenge(the fourth movie) so much that we wore out the tape. We still quote it. That said, every time I go to the beach, I listen to John Williams’ Jaws Theme. It adds a little excitement (and nostalgia) to the fun day in the water (because we thought it was safe), and makes me scream like a little girl when I get a bit of seaweed wrapped around my ankle. Since great white sharks actually exist, the fear is just a little more real. “Shark Week” reinforces that fear. Way to go Jaws!
The Big Bad Wolf
Consider this my shout out to the fairy tale world. I have always maintained that original fairy tales (i.e. before Disney got a hold of them) are horribly frightening. The Big Bad Wolf stories warn us against things that are within our own nature. The lesson about laziness (The Three Little Pigs) and the lesson about female virtue (Little Red Riding Hood) use the wolf as a symbol of the consequences of not doing what we’re told. And because the temptations to take shortcuts and to give in to instant gratification and desire are always there, the wolf is always at our door. The wolf is ever-present. Why did I choose to include the wolf? I’ve never liked doing what I’m told. I frequently give in to desire. The wolf holds an interesting place on my list because I’m not afraid of him. I embrace him. I’ve always preferred the presence of wolves to the presence of sheep. Never let it be said that I’m not a dog person.
There were a couple of characters I wanted to include, but upon further thought, they didn’t make the list for one reason or another. Here they are.
The Operative (Serenity)
I’m scared poopless of this guy. But he’s not a monster. The Operative plays Javert to Captain Reynolds’ Jean Valjean. That is to say that the Operative believes that he is doing what’s right while Reynolds believes that he is doing what’s right. No one here is evil. The two are driven by a belief in what’s “right” and both will fight to the end. While I applaud that drive, what is scarier than someone driven by pure belief? I think that’s what Joss Whedon was trying to convey, and I think he did it successfully. I’m terrified of The Operative because I’m more aligned to Captain Malcom Reynolds’ side, but if I was aligned elsewhere, would I fear Captain Reynolds? I couldn’t include The Operative in the list because he isn’t a monster per se, he just sees things differently.
Leslie Vernon (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon)
A friend introduced me to the film Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon which is a mockumentary about a serial killer striving to be what Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers are. The movie is full of references to horror favorites and hidden tributes to them. Leslie Vernon did not make the list because he’s hilarious and pokes fun at what horror fans have loved since the invention of horror films. He gets an honorable mention for the qualities I listed above.
Jason Voorhees (Friday the Thirteenth franchise)
Like it or not, I had to mention Jason. I’m a Freddy fan, but not mentioning Jason does a disservice to Freddy. Why? Well, I saw Freddy vs. Jason and the outcome, the apparent beating of Freddy made it so that I had to mention Jason. I don’t understand how Jason “beat” Freddy. You don’t want to encounter Jason? Then don’t go to Crystal Freakin’ Lake! You can’t avoid Freddy because you have to sleep. My brother and I both found it a travesty that Jason won. We ask: how does that even happen? Frankly, I think Jason’s pretty lame, but the makers of Freddy vs. Jason saw fit to make Jason the winner, so he had to be mentioned.
I have listed my favorites, but I’m just one fan. I invite all horror fans and anyone who has seen a good horror movie to consider their list of fiends. Who do you love? Who do you hate? Tell me. I look forward to the readers’ insight.
I hope you enjoyed this and I hope you will share. Happy nightmares to all!