That which we most deeply fear is the utter
depravity of which we each are capable.
To distance ourselves from this personal darkness, we often externalise the danger and personify it in different ways; a technique that is used so effectively in films of the horror genre. The struggle of the protagonist in each of these scary stories represents our desperate yearning not to succumb to our darker urges.
The werewolf is a man or woman (most often a man) whose curse it is to viciously murder the one whom he best loves – especially when external forces beyond his control (symbolised by the full moon) bring his animal nature closer to the surface. Is there a better profile of fatal domestic abuse? But after the death of his beloved, the werewolf isn’t free of his curse; he then becomes the loner who feels compelled to objectify, stalk and murder those unfortunate enough to rouse his monthly ire.
Zombie rage is perhaps Hollywood’s best metaphor of the rampant, mindless, seething mob. They are the sick; the destitute; the hungry – often ravenously so. And their rage is contagious, like a virus. In fact, a virus (whether from space or homegrown) is often held to blame for their actions in most screenplays. But how many missed paychecks are any of us from becoming dispossessed scavengers?
Vampires are creatures of privilege who drain the peasantry dry. They live for centuries, or even thousands of years, in mimicry of the royal houses whose progeny are to the manor borne. Lately, vampires have been getting more favourable play in films such as Interview with the Vampire, Underworld and Twilight. They have often been portrayed as somewhat less odious than other monsters, but today’s cinematic vampire is sexy, rich, bold and immortal – almost cool enough to make one forget their parasitic nature.
Under the category “Fear of the Unknown”, we find such monsters as The Blob, The Thing, ghosts, poltergeists, invisible aliens, demons, unseen psychos, etc. Given enough of a budget, superior visual effects, mass advertising, hype and hysteria, I imagine that it is possible to make people afraid of just about anything.
But, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered in his first inaugural address:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
And, as Frank Herbert wrote in his epic novel Dune, “Fear is the mindkiller.”
Or, as Pogo once observed, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”