Area of Investigation –
In this report I intend to research the ways that movie monsters have changed from the 1950s to the present. I have chosen this topic as the craft of monsters has interested me since watching things such as Alien or Predator. I believe that the way that monsters are designed can significantly impact a film’s reception and as such wish to look into what makes them effective and not so effective.
Intended research –
Within this essay I shall focus on the first Alien film, The Thing from Another World, The Thing (1982), The Thing (2011) & The Babadook. These films interest me as the way they offer horror is different depending on their time period. I will most likely get most of the sources off websites as I have struggled to find books relating to this topic
Practical Experiment –
In my practical experiment I will be designing three original monsters that I will draw up and present to an audience. I shall then question which the audience finds the scariest and then what makes them so. With this information I believe I will be able to improve future designs and understand why people are scared of some things.
How this will help me –
This research will help me to improve as a film maker as I will understand the strengths and weaknesses of different techniques of showing movie monsters effectively. I will also understand what makes different elements of designs work allowing me to create more memorable characters.
Analysis of Alien (Ridley Scott – 1979) –
(H.R. Giger’s original Alien design)
The film alien is an interesting film to study as it blends sci-fi and horror effortlessly, creating a memorable yet still scary piece of media. The use of tight corridors of the Nostromo juxtaposed with the emptiness of space lends a more classic horror element and with the introduction of the xenomorph, standing at 7ft within the claustrophobic corridors, gives the film it’s unstoppable killing machine.
The “Bio-mechanics” of HR Giger’s designs are particularly interesting to analyse because of their radical and cutting edge properties. A huge part of what makes the design so interesting its human features, such as the torso, which while clearly in the fashion of a ribcage it is altered by the bio-mechanical pipes on the back of the figure lending it an unnatural look. As Ciseri L.M (2014). says “ultimately, it is the monster that gives the world the gift of normality.” This quote is rather interesting as it muses that while monsters may be horrific they are necessary to give the world its sense of rightness, as there cannot be a right without a wrong.
The texture of the creature gives it an archaic quality, as if the creature is a part of some myth. The way the creature is posed also leads to some mystery as it seems to be in a foetal-esc position which could lead the viewer into believing it is either a child or the start of life, which is interesting as it spends most of its time killing all other life.
The human-like face of the creature is also interesting as the creature lacks eyes. This is particularly important as animals and humans have evolved to determine someone’s intentions and emotions through their eyes. This immediately gives the audience an unnerved feeling as the creature’s intents are hidden.
“At its essence, Giger’s art digs down into our psyches and touches our very deepest primal instincts and fears.” (Scott, 1996). I think this quote is thought provoking due to the implications, as it says that Giger’s art reaches our deepest fears. While this is rather vague may be relating to the fact that Giger’s art seems to be centred on disfigurement of the human form, perhaps a metaphor for people becoming monsters through their actions.
Analysis of The Thing series (Howard Hawks 1951/ John Carpenter 1982 / Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. 2011) –
(The monster from The Thing from Another World.)
The monster from Howard Hawks’ Thing from Another World (1951) is interesting, from a historical perspective, due to its significantly human-like appearance, using simple makeup and prosthetics to create the costume. However, the design for the monster is pretty tame nowadays, perhaps due to the oversaturation of monsters such as Frankenstein or Dracula or by the fact that monsters have got increasingly gory as the decades have gone on and as Nathan Rabin (2011) explains, “…the film’s egghead scientist breaks the news that the creature menacing them is essentially an evolved houseplant” This is rather interesting due to the fact that the reviewer isn’t scared by the monster at all, meaning that while the monster might have been scary at the time it has lost its impact on modern audiences.
It was pared with the feeling of isolation that being in an Arctic outpost cut off from the rest of the world. This feeling of claustrophobia is empathised by the fact that the monster stood well above the rest of the cast contrasting by the tight corridors and even further contrasted by the wide open nothingness of the Arctic, which plays on the common phobias of claustrophobia and isolophobia.
(The Thing – 1984)
The Thing in John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing from Another World (from 1951) is an intimidating monster in my opinion as rather than it be a visibly malevolent monster such as the Xenomorph from Alien, it spends the majority of the film disguising as members of the cast. The fact that The Thing hides within people is particularly intriguing as it plays on the fear that people could be something or thinking something and you wouldn’t know until it’s too late. This is particularly compelling as John Carpenter (1998) says during the director’s commentary, “The paranoia is the glue that holds the movie together.” This shows that he had a clear understanding on what makes the concept scary. The fear from the monster also comes from the fact that despite the cast’s best efforts to destroy “the Thing” It doesn’t die, however it doesn’t seem to be malevolently hunting down the cast, rather it is simply using its abilities to survive like a wild animal, only fighting back when its discovered. I believe that this is instrumental to the fear factor of the thing as it has such sophisticated mechanisms for blending in and protecting itself.
This style of presentation is consistent with the era as most monster movies around the 1970s and 80s didn’t have the budget or the CGI to properly render out an intimidating or horrific monster so were limited to using practical effects and suits, as such the monsters were saved for more dramatic moments rather than being constantly on screen. This works in favour of The Thing as while the times that the monster isn’t visible are the films downtime, there is the constant threat that the monster will pop out at any moment due to it hiding within the cast.
(The monster from 2011 The Thing)
Moving onto the 2011 prequel for John Carpenter’s imagining of The Thing, we can see monster is more open in its monstrosity and while the majority of the CGI is well made it doesn’t hold up to John Carpenter’s 1982 version in my opinion as it doesn’t feel real enough. The monster also seems to be more visual for its horror as it shifts into its more horrific form more frequently probably due to the change in audience and increased budget.
“The state of the horror industry is hotly contested. With the genre seemingly relying on churning out remakes, reboots and endless sequels, many argue that it’s languishing in the doldrums once again with little originality to offer a modern audience.” – (Helen Kantilaftis. 2015) This quote is engaging as it talks about what has changed within cinema as a whole. The explanation of a lack of originality resonates well with me as I believe there are too many sequels within the horror genre on its own, not to mention the entire industry.
Analysis of The Babadook (Jennifer Kent – 2014)
(The book in the film The Babadook)
While the 2011 The Thing is a bad example of modern horror a good example would be The Babadook, a psychological horror that tackles the subject of grief. Within the film there isn’t a physical monster that stalks the characters rather the monster only makes its true appearance towards the end of film. The films main tension comes from the reoccurring book The Babadook, a children’s book that shows graphic imagery and generally disturbs the main characters. The film also does a masterful job of keeping tension throughout with the use of clever uses of the Babadook’s jacket and top hat. The actual design of the monster is very simple, a pale faced figure in a dark jacket and top hat constantly trying to “get in”.
“On the other hand, glimmers of hope shine through with examples of extreme originality and artistry. Cabin in the Woods (2012) has been heralded as this decade’s Scream, and the recent releases of The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (both 2014) have breathed new life into the genre.”
(Helen Kanilaftis 2015.) The above quote is thought-provoking to me as it explores how many newer, more indie horror films are getting ahead and bring more horror to the horror genre.
It also interests me that the Babadook is reprehensive of grief and loss. In the film the main characters; a mother and her son, are constantly dealing with the grief of losing her husband (and his father) to the point where the mother asks people to refrain from saying his name and where the child breaks another child’s nose for saying that they didn’t have a dad. The fact that everywhere the two go their grief follows them is parallel to the common phrase within the book, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook”
In finalisation, I believe while modern day horror has a long way to go there are clearly some outliers that subvert genre tropes and make some genuine scares. I have discovered that sometimes the best thing to do with a horror monster is to make it barely visibly present a technique used by the first Alien, The Thing (1982) & The Babadook. I have also learnt about the use of mental anguish, depression and anxiety being personified or rather ‘monsterified’ to create a relatable abomination.
Scott, R. (1996) As quoted by Giger, H. (1996). HR Giger’s film design. 1st ed. Beverly Hills, CA: Morpheus International.
LM, C. (2014). Leonardo Da Vinci, the genius and the monsters. Casual encounters? – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25702382 [Accessed Feb. 2017].
Kantilafis, H. (2015). How Horror Movies Have Changed Since Their Beginning. [online] Available at: https://www.nyfa.edu/student-resources/how-horror-movies-have-changed-since-their-beginning/ [Accessed Feb. 2017].
Rabin, N. (2011). The Thing From Another World/The Thing. [online] Avclub.com. Available at: http://www.avclub.com/article/the-thing-from-another-worldthe-thing-52444 [Accessed Feb. 2017].
The Thing. (1998). [DVD] Hollywood: John Carpenter.