I remember seeing the cult film Cat People — the original 1942 version —when I was in college. If you missed it, it’s a tense, horror tale about an average Joe married to an exotic and very troubled beauty. Irena, played by Simone Simon, is from Serbia and she in convinced that when she gets emotional she turns into a panther. It’s an ancient curse based on the folk tales of her homeland. It’s a clever film that allows the viewer to fill in the blanks and respond to shadows and scary noises.
The monsters that lurk in shadows offer fiction writers a great opportunity to explore the dark side of otherwise good people. Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll lets his dark side take over. His alternative persona, Mr. Hyde, acts on the violent impulses that were hidden beneath his benign exterior.
Do we all have a monster inside?
I don’t think I turn into a cat at night, but a jaundiced view of humanity and a slightly twisted imagination seem essential characteristics for mystery writers. Is that a monster inside? Maybe it is, but just a little one.
The same aggressive tendencies that feed violent impulses are the fuel of other passions. Without some darkness, without some little bit of monster, we’d all be pretty dull.
One of my all time favorite episodes of the original Star Trek TV show is the one with the malfunctioning transporter. The atom-scattering teleportation device splits Captain Kirk in two. The ‘good’ Captain is weak and indecisive, but has good intentions. The ‘bad’ Captain is aggressive, forceful and, basically, Kirk on steroids — not a happy thought, with Trek-ian roid-rage.
I guess this is one of those old lessons that are at the heart of many monster tales — take care when you are exploring the darkness inside. Visit, but don’t let yourself get lost there.