Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


HORRORS! Melissa Alles

Everyone loves a good mystery. (If you disagree, let me clarifythat mysteries which end with the lead character drawing everybodyinto a room, announcing his/her outrageous accusation based ona series of completely implausible conclusions, and the guiltyparty admitting his/her guilt by breaking down, running away,and/or becoming violent are not really “good” mysteries.) Anything which sparks one’s curiosity may be a mystery, and thereis a lot to be curious about within nature. Take the vampireoctopus, a brilliantly red cephalopod which has developed sharpspikes on its tentacles in place of suckers. Yikes! That iscertainly curious, leaning toward downright disturbing. So itshould come as no surprise when people are fascinated by reportsof Sasquatch, lake monsters, Mokele-Mbembe, and other creaturesas yet unverified by the scientific establishment. Their existencemay never be proven, but there will always be speculation andinterest. In time, they may become myths or legends themselves.

In my own personal vocabulary, there is a semantic differencebetween myth and legend. Myths are normally the result of storieshanded down from generation to generation within a culture toexplain the way things are. Mythological monsters are not mythsin themselves, but rather parts of a greater whole. Legends,on the other hand, are usually based in fact (e.g., “WayneNewton: the man, the legend”) and get exaggerated or changedover time. Most myths are relatively localized. Many towns havetheir own stories, such as an old haunted mine shaft or the BooRadley house at the end of the street, which give the place “character.” The ultimate value of these creatures of modern legend are astourist attractions. For that reason alone, people will wishto perpetuate the belief in their existence.

One profit area still largely unexploited is that of the filmindustry, which in recent years has been dominated by aliens. So far, creatures like the Loch Ness “monster” andthe Sasquatch have had no real opportunity to enter the horrorarena. Personally, I am tempted to say there just is not anythingfrightening about the creatures, especially since they have notbeen proven real. They are only borderline nightmares. Thereis a great potential for terror, but for some reason no one seemswilling to explore the possibilities. If hundreds of hikers disappearedevery summer in the Pacific Northwest, presumably fodder to giantprimates, or tourists reported spouses snatched by some unidentifiablemenace of nature and dragged into Loch Ness, screaming and gurglingas they went under, then there might be a universal terror ofthese creatures. Just the possibility of such an episode certainlyseemed to do wonders for ruining the reputations of sharks. Jawsis a fun movie, but if you are truly convinced you will be eatenby sharks the next time you swim in the ocean, you just don’tswim in the ocean; it is an avoidable menace. Most of the creaturesof legend which seem to get people riled up, however, are terrestrialor landlocked aquatic/amphibious forms. They will get you ifthey want to. Perhaps if more people were confident that theseundiscovered animals were pure fiction, we would feel comfortabledemonizing them and turning them into the stuff of nightmares. It may well be that unconsciously people do not want to fearsomething which may turn out to be real. Notice that there arevery few mainstream movies about familiar animals on a purelymalevolent rampage. In the movies which do exist, the offendinganimals are generally diseased, exposed to some sort of radiation,or part of an evil plot by the Russians; because the justificationfor their behavior is usually easily dismissed as improbable,the fear inspired by the film is often short-lived or based purelyon suspense. Take the case of the Sasquatch: many people believeat least in the possibility of their existence, but for obviousreasons know nothing about their intelligence or natural behavior. Will it make anyone happy to see a film which leads them to believethat there is a terrible, diabolic race of fiends hiding in thewoods? That is why the only film anyone is familiar with aboutBigfoot is “Harry and the Hendersons.” Yes, watchingthis movie may be a truly frightening experience, but it has nothingto do with the filmmakers’ intentions.

There is certainly great raw material for the creation of monstersout of our modern myths, but maybe the film execs just do notfeel they will sell at the box office. Still, I can see the moviepromo for the Sasquatch film even now:

“In the sleepy little town of Harmony, the townspeople areabout to be contacted by the original inhabitants,” saysthe man with the gravelly voice.

We see a barn with a hole ripped out of the side where two menare looking at the half-eaten carcass of a horse. “Whatd’ya think could’ve done it, Sal? A bear?” “To ripthrough your barn like that? It’d hafta be one crazy mother–“

Switch scene. A little boy picks up a dog collar from the groundand then, facing the dark, impenetrable woods behind his house,calls out, “Scruffy? Scruffy?”

Gravel Man says, “They’ve been biding their time, and nowthey’re coming to reclaim their territory.”

A look of terror on the boy’s face. Switch to woman in a kitchendrying dishes. Suddenly she hears a child’s panicked scream. “Bobby?!” She runs outside to an empty yard, staggersaround crying his name hysterically.

“There will be no compromises, no negotiations.”

Switch to more dark woods with the vague impression of a large,hairy bulk crashing through the bushes. Continue with scenes,mostly at night, of men running to get their guns as somethinghuge crashes through the window behind them. Men with guns meetingin a town hall at night to organize a defense. Men with gunsout in the woods, at night, yelling in fear, “It’s a trap!” Women without guns trying to get their cars started in a panic,at night, in the woods. Women without guns grabbing their childrenand running through a house, at night, slamming doors behind them. Women with guns trying to figure out how the damn things work.

Promo ends with a shot of the woods at night, a full moon hangingoverhead, with some unearthly scream emanating from the trees. Black screen with white print which reads, “The Reckoning,”or some other completely innane title. Then, for shock factor,just so the people going to see “The Smurfs’ Christmas”know that this really will be a scary movie, a quick shot, withsome horribly loud, sudden noise to accompany it, of a snarlingSasquatch face jumping practically out of the screen at the audience. “Coming May 18.”

And that is only if the producers decide to do a relatively tastefulfilm. With an adequate budget and the special effects and qualitycomputer animation available to Hollywood filmmakers today, thereshould not be anything to prevent the creation of an effectiveSasquatch, especially since there is no physical specimen withwhich filmgoers can compare the movie version. I think they shouldgo for it.

What it really comes down to is that the hillfolk of Alabama aremore frightening to most people than giant hominoids roaming thebackwoods of British Columbia. Anybody ever seen “Deliverance?” How about “Abducted?” I think this guy was in Montana,but he definitely qualifies as backwoods. Likewise, the Scotsare more frightening to the English than any amphibious beastieroaming the lochs. If the existence of any modern myth is proven,the novelty will wear off as soon as it is placed in a zoo, andthe residents of the area will have to find another way to luretourists.