Classic monsters — vampires, werewolves, mummies, dragons, gargoyles and assorted ghouls — appeal to most of us. We all have favorites. Pick YOUR classic monster. There are plenty of new, and old, stories in each category. At different points I’d have said, with absolute certainty, that I was a vampire girl. But I’ve had phases where a story about a hunky werewolf or a particularly spooky ancient Egyptian mummy might convince me to switch sides.
Still, the scariest of monsters are human.
In fiction we’ve got some extreme human monsters: Hannibal Lecter (a very smart cannibal), Cruella Deville (she still scares me and I haven’t seen the movie since I was a child), Iago (the ultimate bad advisor/master manipulator), Damien (the worst bad seed) and Darth Vader (a dad who embraced the dark side in a big way). But it’s the real life monsters that scare the shit out of me.
American criminal history is rife with serial killers — Jeffery Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz (AKA Son of Sam) and Ted Bundy, to name a few. Of course, on television the percentage of serial killers is amazingly high. In real life it’s a very small percentage of murders — less than 1% according to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit’s famous 2005 report.
This does not diminish the horror of other real life killers. I doubt I’ll ever shake my very specific nightmarish memories of some famous crimes and criminals. These are memories I share with my actual neighbors and, via the media, the rest of the world. Back when I lived on Houston Street (pronounced HOW like in London and not You like in Texas) I followed the disappearance of a six-year-old named Etan Patz.
His face was on posters all over the neighborhood and for years after his disappearance everyone wondered what happened to the little boy. Last year a suspect confessed and was indicted. He’s since recanted his confession, but the prosecution is moving ahead. Will we ever know what happened to Etan? I want the truth to come to light — like in fiction when the monster is caught and his monstrous actions are explained, if not justified. But real life is much more mysterious and the truth is likely illusive.
I think that’s why we like fictional monsters. Human or otherwise, the monsters in books and movies rarely remain entirely in the dark.