I love a good horror movie, and the monster movies are my favorites. But I don’t have any patience for a horror movie that isn’t scary. At the risk of sounding absurd, I hate those supernatural slasher flicks that dominate the genre. It’s certainly not because I have a problem with the gore and guts. They just aren’t scary. What is the point of being gross if there isn’t any real terror behind it. So, Freddy, Jason and Chucky don’t do it for me.
By the same token — and recently it seems sacrilege to say this — I’m am not a fan of zombies. The whole concept of the walking dead is gross, maybe adventurous, but not scary. There are all these discussions among horror fans about how to and who would survive a zombie apocalypse, but to me its ludicrous. There is as much likelihood of a zombie apocalypse as there is that my underwear will suddenly come to life and strangle me in my sleep. The concept is ridiculous. It’s not going to happen.
So, what does make a great horror movie? In a word: “reality.” It can’t be truly scary if it can’t actually happen. Zombies simply can not happen. You can spout all the imaginary pseudo-scientific rational you wish, and it might make for a good story, but in real life it’s about as realistic as gamma radiation turning a man into a hulking green behemoth. The dead do not rise and walk among us to eat our brains.
Frankenstein’s monster, on the other hand, now there is some potential for real terror in that creature. Frankenstein created his monster through electrical reanimation, which is the method we use to this very day to restart hearts that have recently stopped beating. There is a certain logic to the concept, even now, nearly two hundred years later.
Essentially, the idea behind the classic monster is a crude version of our modern cloning. The body is sewn together from dead parts, rather than created afresh in a lab, before being brought to life as a new creation. When it is reanimated it takes on a whole new personality and life of its own, independent of any of its previous parts. Scientifically speaking, this horror is at least plausible. We can clone animals, we’ve mapped the human DNA genome. The only thing really stopping us is this pesky ancient idea that we might be creating a monster first brought up by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. That’s a scary thought no matter which side of the issue you support.
For the same reason Frankenstein’s creature captures my imagination, vampires and werewolves do not. The logic of their existence just doesn’t play out in any meaningful way. Elementary school math disproves the possibility of their existence in the traditional sense. If there were even one of either of these creatures, they would have to bite someone to survive, and then there would be two. The next night (or full moon as the case may be) both would have to bite someone and then there would be four. Then eight and 16 and 32. In the first 30 days (or months), at the rate of one meal a night, there would be 1,073,741,824 creatures of the night. Three days (or moon cycles) after that every person on the planet would be an undead beast, and about 1.5 billion of them would be starving for lack of human victims. So, no good, not scary, obviously not real.
I like the idea of cryptid beasts such as the Chupacabra, Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, or Jersey Devil, and that these creatures sometimes kill makes a great premise for a scary story. It makes sense that there might be undiscovered species or mutations of existing species that fit these descriptions. What we don’t know about our world far surpasses what we do. People get excited, but no one is surprised when we discover new species of animals in remote places on our planet. So why could there not be undiscovered killer beasts out there lying in wait for unsuspecting human victims.
Aliens are also a pretty scary concept because of the potential for reality. The greatest scientific minds of our generation agree or at least concede that alien life in a universe as vast as ours is not only likely, but probable. Whether it can actually get from where it is to here is the only real issue. We have realized this for a long time. Why do you think people were so quick to believe the Orson Wells War of the Worlds radio broadcast. As much as we would like to believe an alien invasion is a fiction, we have to at least consider its possibility in a universe as vast as ours. Hence, it makes a great premise for truly frightening entertainment.
This brings us to the final and most frightening horror monster of them all — ourselves. As scary as the unknown, and the possibility of destruction on a personal to planetary level may be, nothing can top the terror of a person gone wrong. Whether it be delving into the psyches of serial killers, mad men, or simply the desperate and alone, nothing is as disturbing and horrifying as a human monster. Why? Save for a bit of good breeding, upbringing and daily choices that monster could be us. I can’t be Chupacabra and I’m certainly not an alien, but what stops me from being a Hannibal Lecter? I like fava beans and Chianti. He is a human being like me. Biologically I’m no different than a mad man or killer. That is what makes them the scariest of all.