On The Infinite Endurance of Some Bogeymen by William Alan Rieser

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are very few bogeywomen. I can recall the 50 foot woman of the Hollywood C films, Medusa, various and sundry spider ladies and an abysmally rare glimpse of a gigantic breast in a Woody Allen film. I don’t think it’s a deliberate slight, but it does make one pause to consider the implications. Women simply don’t make very effective monsters, except perhaps in the bedroom. On the other hand, they can’t be taken for granted. After all, one of the most truly horrific conceptions in literature, the Frankenstein monster, was imagined and fully developed by the wife of the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley. You can’t tell by looking at the lady’s photo that she is other than the delicate flower she dissembles to be. Once filmdom became a real venture, Boris Karloff turned her creation into a lingering image of horror and instituted a very short list of equally talented club members.

Bram Stoker probably deserves his reputation as a monster maker because, like Shelley, his Dracula, initially portrayed most effectively by Bela Lugosi, riveted audiences and generated hosts of imitators and those seeking to cash in on his genius. Another monster constantly being resuscitated is the Mummy, again initiated by Karloff and the precursor of thousands of interpretations. Still another member, the Invisible Man as first depicted by Claude Raines, is an enduring bogeyman, though more mad than monster. That brings us to the less formidable heavyweights.

Probably first among the dimmer lights is the Wolfman, initially generated by Lon Chaney Jr., the son of the more famous actor. His icon does not threaten to vanish anytime soon. A less famous, but still vibrant monster, was the Creature From the Black Lagoon. There were three moderately successful films before it was consigned to cult status. There was the Fly, another black and white film that received modern treatment but more intriguing to me was the Incredible Shrinking Man, even though it didn’t actually qualify in terms of horror specifics. You will undoubtedly remark that after Frankenstein and Dracula, the written horror genre has been mostly replaced by screenwriting. Sadly, that seems to be the case.

Some may want to include Poe and Lovecraft. I don’t buy Poe, because his brand of terror tended to be alcoholic. Lovecraft, on the other hand gave us Cthulhu, but it lacks a connection to human anatomy and makes itself less susceptible to eternity. Others might want to include the Worm, Ourobouros, but I think it fails for the same reason. Ghosts, goblins, witches, warlocks, devils, changelings, psychos, serial killers and ex-wives are little more than diluted versions of those mentioned above.

So much for the eternal giants, because nothing else has come close. You might want to argue about the Abominable Snowman, but that question is still unresolved. Also, the Phantom of the Opera is nothing more than a disfigured man. It looks to me as though the membership has achieved closure, unless you want to admit aliens which is patently unfair. The Thing, though a lively concoction played by James Arness and revitalized with modern techniques, was not from here. I like my monsters earthy and bipedal if you don’t mind. So, too, the Predator and the Alien. They’re just not clubbable. That’s not to say I’m unwilling to champion a new one. It’s just that I haven’t read about or seen anything that can compare with the greats who had their feet on the ground. Have you?

You can email the author of this article at WRieser@juno.com

Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 William Alan Rieser, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.

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