What was the first monster that scared/moved you?
I think I had the same horrifying yet nebulous Dust Monster Under Your Bed fears as most kids with overactive imaginations do, so if we’re being sticklers, that’s probably first. But the first monster that really captured my imagination was the Red Bull from The Last Unicorn, specifically because it was both frightening and sympathetic. It was my first experience with a monster that was aware, that had troubles, that had an inner life and was monstrous half through nature and half through obligation, and it left a big impression.
Does a great monster have to evoke pity as well as fear?
I guess it depends what “great” means. From a character standpoint, many of the great monsters do have an aspect of pathos that stirs us. The Dracula-style vampire is faster and more powerful and more suave than you are (much, much more suave), but those vampires watch those around them grow old and die, and they pine over unattainable paramours just like the rest of us. Werewolves lose their humanity in animalistic rages and in the morning have to face the consequences of their violence; zombies are doomed to wither and fall even if they succeed in eating every last brain there is.
However, often the most terrifying monsters have absolutely no relatable traits, and their power lies in that unknown. The vengeful poltergeist, the black oil, the Fog – you can’t sympathize, you can’t bargain, you can’t reason with them, and there’s greatness in that, too.
If you could be a monster, which one would you choose and why?
As much as I’d like to be one of the fearsome murderers that stalks the night etc., it sounds like a lot of work and tends not to end well for anyone. I’ll settle for being one of the scaly yet benign monsters that groups of jilted suitors rarely try to track down; knowledgeable, protagonist-assisting sea serpent, maybe.
King Kong, or Godzilla?
Their recent remakes are equally horrifying. I guess Gozilla gets the edge. Barely.
What are the challenges of writing about a monster, as opposed to showing it on film?
Besides the conveniences of being able to skip monster description? I think the right actor will be able to convey chilling, gripping terror with facial expression and body language; it’s a shorthand that “Then I was so scared you can’t even imagine” just can’t compete with.
Who are the new monsters of the 21st century? Recommend a monster story/book/movie from the past ten years.
A lot of horror tropes are a dialogue with the surrounding social climate. Given a lot of the monsters in the horror stories of the 21st century so far (Teeth, Deadgirl, Jennifer’s Body, Splice, and if we’re stretching the definition to psychological horror, I Spit on Your Grave and The Last House on the Left), I’d say that a rapidly-emerging trope is the avenging woman whose supernatural capabilities allow her to take revenge on those who have belittled, objectified, or violated her. If this is in response to media saturation of the sexy-quirky-supportive archetype and a backslide in women’s rights in American politics in the last decade, I can’t say (except that it probably is).
And if that’s too political for you, you can always watch Priest, a horror movie that contains motorcycles with NITRO settings and a 200-mph train full of vampires on which it’s possible to casually stand and have a conversation at normal speaking volume, and which was one of the greatest horror comedies of the year. (By accident, but still, a laugh’s a laugh.)