Published on July 12th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
The Monster-Horror Genre
So after the narrative disaster of “The Swarm” I realised that perhaps I should learn to manage my expectations when approaching books and learn to perhaps be more open-minded about different interpretations to the monster-horror genre. Or perhaps not.
There is a very strict structure in Monster-horror, and yes, I have coined this as the new term for the genre as you can’t go around calling it “monster-movie genres” all the bloody time.
Almost all Monster-horrors stick to the basics and tweak it just enough to be interesting and identifiable.
I think I already mentioned a lot of the basic issues with the book, but here I am going to outline the formula for a Monster-horror, which borrows a lot from general horror and may be useful and interesting for you to note when you next watch a film, so you can be just like me, a cynic who forgot how to enjoy life.
DEFINITION AND PREMISE
The beginnings of the Monster-horror genre can be said to have begun with The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, whose titular tripods follow many of the same tropes of Monster-Horror, oversized, unknown and unexpected.
The monster in question is always hostile and inhuman, lacking any communication skills and with no real reason as to its ultimate goal however destruction of humanity is one of the by-products.
All monster-horrors, even ones like Alien, start with a semblance of normality, showing the people who we are expected to deal with for the rest of the book or film in their normal routine and trying to make them as relatable as possible. This is where the main character’s personality is established and their relation to other people. This entails showing that the protagonist is a normal person with some abnormal traits like being able to actually think and are also either extraordinarily well-equipped to deal with the monster due to some hobby or in the less inspired stories, their occupation directly relates to the specialising in or destruction of the monster in question.
The creature appears and almost instantly starts causing problems. This gets dismissed by local authorities despite deaths happening.
Protagonist notices this and is promptly ignored by an idiot in authority.
People can’t possibly fail to notice as the shit hits the fan good and proper, the main character is forced into action and never makes full use of saying “I told you so”. They begin to assemble a team and this is also where love tends to blossom between the main character and an under-developed bint who the author/director thinks will escape criticism because she’s occupationally relevant and her IQ is good on paper but not in application.
The team makes a plan and works really hard on it, character bonds are formed and personalities developed. Some bright spark, either main character or the inevitable weirdo comes up with an ingenious plan, which is needlessly over-explained to the viewer/reader.
FALL & DESPAIR
They go to execute the plan but it doesn’t work, the creature is too overwhelming and the plan only serves to boost the power of the monster, the public lose faith in the team and their good cause – someone important usually dies here in the attack.
DEUS EX MACHINA/DESPERATE ATTACK/ANNIHILATION
Here is about the only place where things differ between books and films. There’s the easy route out, like in The War of the Worlds where, out of the blue, the aliens are struck down for seemingly no reason by bacteria, a lot of Hollywood stuff use this, it’s especially good for ones with romance in as then the woman can feebly cling to the man as they await their fates, only to be embarrassingly saved at the final second.
The other one is for the main character to use a last ditch attempt, something seemingly impossible to get a “lucky win”. This is just boring, at least there’s potential desolation with the former! But this one is usually reserved for more in-the-moment monster-horrors featuring lots of action like Jaws.
The final one is just failure, like in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The hero never succeeds and humanity is doomed. I like these ones best, if you hadn’t guessed.
There are also some other common tropes that are usually dotted about the narrative like false alarms/misplaced fears, as I said in my last post, but this can also mean danger from things other than the monster like other characters etc.
The monster is indiscriminate in its killings, but in a predictable way. Basically they are written to kill characters that are good purposely to show that they couldnae give a toss.
Zombie movies are a bit like Monster-horrors however they typically don’t feature the same tropes as above.
The main characters are often completely normal with no special abilities, knowledge or anything, frequently other side-characters are shown to be more capable all round than the protagonist is.
When the shit hits the fan, it does it steadily and somewhat slowly in comparison to the explosion of chaos seen in other monster-horrors.
The plan that is created is usually to escape and not to eliminate the zombies, it’s due to this that the end of zombie films is usually just the survivors finding a place to hang out relatively zombie-free until help hopefully arrives.
The Thing is singularly exceptional in that it deviates nigh all conventions throughout the course of the plot, this is why for me The Thing is the best monster film ever made.
With the release of Pacific Rim it looks like some of these tropes are being crushed, but in a good way. The Lovecraftian-style untameable horror mixed with Japanese Kaiju VS giant mechs? This is a brilliant way of dealing with monsters!
Monster-horrors have no singular theme or underlying message in common, however the closest there is, is that humanity is to blame for their own downfall, if we looked after this better, if only we hadn’t done that. However this feeble message I feel often means squat when twinned with a happy ending where we win. How exactly are we taught a lesson to change our ways if brute force won out?