A History of Classic Monsters
Although zombies have a long history of appearances in religion and folklore, interest in them as villains in horror films is largely confined to the second half of the 20th century. The explosion in zombie popularity is based on a characterization established by a single film and the fact that the original characterization of the zombi in African folklore and religion, as well as in earlier films, is dramatically different from that of the popular characterization from the 1960s onward. To understand zombies in both their original context and in the role they have come to take in popular culture requires an understanding of two divergent traditions.
The image of a cursed soul doomed to become a werewolf at the rising of a full moon is one of the most iconic concepts in horror. Unlike Dracula or the Mummy, the notion of a “wolf man” or “werewolf” was not cemented by one single actor, author, book, or horror series. It is instead a truly ancient concept dating back to the pre-literate sagas and legends told by Europeans centuries ago.
There are many monsters associated with Halloween. Besides Dracula and his kind, mummies are among the most fascinating of these. The mummies appearing in horror films and literature have many differences, but one thing remains constant: they are cursed to remain alive forever. They also have a doomed romantic attraction to at least one mortal woman and a burning hatred of all other mortals that has endured for centuries.
To date, humans have explored less than 5% of the world’s oceans. Whatever is lying in wait beneath the cavernous dark water is something yet to be discovered. Many scientists speculate that there are creatures such as the giant squid, which live in deep, seemingly endless trenches, hiding in the dark. Can there be other creatures as well—possibly from the Black Lagoon?
In 1941, producer William Alland was attending a dinner party for the classic Citizen Kane, when Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa told him about a myth that involved a half-fish, half-human creature on the Amazon River. Ten years later, Alland wrote a screenplay dubbed The Sea Monster, partially based on the French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. Following the success of the 3D House of Wax in 1953, Jack Arnold was hired to direct the rewrite of Sea Monster which was now Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Many of his readers were surprised to discover that Wells had adopted a third person narrative instead of first person for this particular novel. The protagonist, Dr. Griffin, is a scientist who is interested in optics. He learns how to invent a way to change a body’s refractive index to that of air. Thus, the body neither absorbs nor reflects light, allowing for invisibility. The ambitious Griffin successfully completes the procedure on himself, but he can’t seem to figure out how to reverse it.
Many people find one of the most enjoyable aspects of Halloween to be the myriad creatures associated with it. Legendary villains such as Dracula, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and zombies of all stripes emerge on or about October 31st in the forms of costumes, films, and books. America’s tendency to associate such creatures with Halloween is so embedded in our culture that we frequently forget that most of these creatures—or at least the versions of them we best remember—are relatively recent creations that are often less than two centuries old. This series explores the origins and evolution of Halloween’s and Hollywood's best-loved ghouls and beasts.