Hardcore horror fans are sometimes dismissive of “creature features” – horror narratives that build their scare tactics around a monster. Obviously there’s a very respected classical canon of monsters (vampires, werewolves, zombies, demons . . . ) that sit close to the heart of the horror genre and partially define it. But then there’s a host of other beasties that are exiled to the outer darkness – or the Black Lagoon, 40,000 fathoms, outer space, the Korean sewer system, wherever it was they came from in the first place.
I can see the distinction, to be honest. You look at a vampire (sparkly or not) and you think horror. You look at the spiky cactus beast from The Quatermass Experiment, or the lolloping mutant in The Host, or Godzilla stomping on a toy Tokyo, and you think sci-fi. Or depending on your tastes, maybe you think “that tea isn’t going to make itself . . . ”
There’s a deeper distinction to be drawn, though. It concerns our relationship with the monster and the reaction that it draws from us. Creature features are predominantly about spectacle, and they probably share more DNA with thrillers than with horror stories. They can be scary, but it’s a fairly uncomplicated fear. The fear of being eaten, say, or having your head ripped off. Monsters in horror have the potential to scare us or challenge us in different ways. (more…)