Ask Chris #167: Monsters Unleashed (Once They Are Properly Categorized)
Q: What makes a monster a Halloween monster? Why is Dracula okay but Godzilla is not? — @chudleycannons
A: If you’re following me on Twitter, then you may already know that earlier this week, I got into a heated argument with comic book writer and holiday enthusiast Benito Cereno over what does and does not constitute a “Halloween Monster.” The whole thing sprang out of a Halloween-themed musical countdown that Benito’s doling out over at his Tumblr — stick around to find out how the Garfield Halloween special got him in trouble as a youngster — that included Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.”
My argument — which I posed to my ex-friend in a very civil and conversational manner that definitely did not start with “hey stupid” — was that this song wasn’t a good fit because Godzilla, while he is definitely a monster, doesn’t fit thematically with Halloween. Benito’s argument was that it was a fun song. But obviously, as we all know, you can’t have fun without rules.
What it really comes down to is that there is a big difference between scary and spooky, and Halloween favors the latter. A few people who got involved in the argument as it progressed pointed out that Godzilla is extremely frightening, and that’s a point I will readily concede. I mean, he’s a 400 foot-tall lizard who breathes atomic fire and is capable of leveling an entire city in a fit of nuclear rage. If that thing showed up outside my door, I would be absolutely terrified. I would also be very confused as to why Godzilla was stomping his way through South Carolina, but as far as emotions go, that would definitely be a distant second behind paralyzing fear. But I don’t think I’d really be creeped out.
That’s the necessary element for a Halloween monster. Halloween as I understand it is, at its heart, about the unknown and the fear thereof — and, to a more precise extent, inevitability. Ghosts and spirits are a big deal because they exist as part of that unknowable realm beyond death, which, one way or another, is waiting for us all. They’re not something that you can get your head around logically, which is why most ghost stories are about people having to figure out what they have to do to get rid them. Except Ghostbusters, of course, which is more about just shooting them with lasers until they explode, which is exactly why that is one of the best movies ever made.
The same goes for other traditionally Halloweenish monsters, too. Jason Voorhees has that inevitable, unstoppable walk (and machete) that those horny teenagers can never quite outrun, Freddy Krueger stalks the weird, illogical world of dreams, and so on. Even masks and costumes are things that hide and obscure the person underneath them, all of which adds to the creepiness inherent in not knowing just what’s going on.
And a lot of this is why Dracula remains the best monster ever, particularly on Halloween.
It’s been pretty well established over the years that I am very much in favor of Dracula in all his varied forms — except for that one time Kain from Soul Reaver showed up in X-Men in red leather armor and insisted that he was Dracula for like a year — and a lot of that is because, as a villain he hits that perfect balance. He’s a mysterious supernatural monster who’s also a physical villain that can be fought and beaten, at least for a time. Vampires in general have that nifty thing where they’re dead enough to be beyond what we understand in the normal world, but not so dead that they can’t come back and drag you down with them, draining your blood and spreading their curse on various horrible nights, all while masquerading as humans even though, underneath it all, they’re something completely different. Plus, Dracula himself, as written by Bram Stoker, also has that thing where he’s an evil, unknowable, moustachioed foreigner who sailed in to corrupt the formerly chaste teenage daughters of England, but, you know. That’s a discussion for another time.
The point is, there’s a certain amount of subtlety and mystery that you get from a Halloween monster that Godzilla just doesn’t have. I mean, you never really know when a Dracula is going to strike, but Godzilla and his crew aren’t exactly going to sneak up on you. If nothing else, those little women who live in the clamshell just will not shut up about it.
Benito’s counter-argument to all of this was that Godzilla is more than just a giant pissed-off lizard, and that he functions as a very tangible representation of the fear of nuclear armageddon, and that a fire-breathing dinosaur made entirely of existential apocalyptic dread ought to count for something. Still, I don’t really buy it, for the simple fact that Godzilla and his attendant nuclear fears are all based, however loosely, on science. I mean really, there are scientists all over those dang movies, always explaining what these monsters are and building robots. They always seem to know exactly what they’re dealing with, and since they have all the knowledge they need, the only real problem is figuring out how to apply it. Which, to be fair, is a pretty big problem.
Science and Superstition are two diametrically opposed forces, and Halloween is about the latter. So generally speaking, when it comes to spoooooky monsters, I tend to just chuck out anything that’s based on science.
And then Frankenstein comes along and screws it all up.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Frankenstein — and before you tell me that “Frankenstein” is the scientist, I would ask you just what the hell you think the monster’s last name is — is definitely a Halloween monster. Benito had me pegged pretty solidly when he guessed that my list of Halloween-appropriate monsters would be the Universal Monsters plus ghosts, but how could Frankenstein not fit in? He’s a reanimated corpse! He’s a bunch of reanimated corpses! There’s nothing more Halloween than that!
But at the same time, Frankenstein is exactly as thematically rooted in the consequences of man tampering with scientific forces that are beyond understanding as Godzilla is. He’s built by a doctor in a lab, and mad science is still science. I can argue all I want that they didn’t even have science in 1642 or whenever Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, or that being largely set in a spooky Bavarian castle puts it into the creepy horror genre, but really, I’m just making excuses. The only reason I lump Frankenstein in with Halloween is that the same people who made Dracula movies also made Frankenstein movies, and they ended up hanging out in comics for the next hundred years.
So maybe my definition of what constitutes a Halloween monster could use a little adjusting, and if so, I propose this: A “Halloween Monster” is anything Hellboy fights. That’s pretty simple, right? And it gives us a definitive list seasonally appropriate spooky stuff: Ghosts, werewolves, Draculas, trolls, witches, troll witches, Babas Yaga, and Satan.