Who’s YOUR Monster?

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.



  1. There is a mummy at the Kalamazoo Museum. Before they moved to their current location the viewing window was at the back of a circular tunnel. Of course they displayed all sorts of info and such about the mummy along the walls. They even had the mummified cat that was found in the tomb.

    The display was horrific, the kind of thing that would give children nightmares (me specifically). The big dare was to go alone and look in the window on the display of the tomb.

    When they moved they completely changed the display. The viewing window is now in front, in the light where nothing bad happens to the unsuspecting.

    The mummy isn’t my first choice for monsters. But as I think of it now it is one that has always scared the bejeebus out of me.

    • Candy

      The Museum of Natural History in NYC was once wonderfully creepy. Now, it’s a beautiful museum with coherent exhibits but… sometimes I miss its scary past. The best Mummies in New York are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have a world-class Egyptian section and, at least for me, there seems to be a dance between the ART and the spookiness of the entire section. If you’re read BRAM SOTKER’S SUMMER SUBLET you’ll remember one of the exhibits — not a mummy but pretty amazing — as it plays a role at the end of the story.

      But getting back to scary mummies, the last time I was in Argentina I went to the museum in Salta to see the mummified Incan children. It was equal parts horrifying and cool. The children were human sacrifices and the weather conditions conspired to mummify their remains. Just contemplating their fate, their lives and the role they played in their community, sent shivers down my spine.

      • The interesting part of this too, the case of real mummies takes us back to how scary real people are. This is even more apparent in your mummified children.

        Only human beings could be so terrified of the unknown that we not only create shrines for it, we sacrifice children to ward off the evil.

        • Candy

          And those children — the children sacrificed to the gods — were the chosen children, the special ones.

          We’re a pretty weird species!

  2. I’ve never been a big horror fan, but sci-fi monsters are another matter. I saw the original movie version of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers when I was about eight and that movie remained by benchmark for scary until I saw Aliens in my twenties. I just about broke the fingers of my date’s hand I was so scared. Mind you, he didn’t complain, and I have a sneaking suspicion he wasn’t quite as stoic as he appeared!

    In real life, however, I’m with you – there is no monster like a human monster. 🙁

    • Candy

      The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES! I remember seeing it on TV. I loved it so much I was afraid to go to sleep! It was particularly scary because it was so real and so plausible — as science fiction goes. You weren’t being asked to accept an improbable MONSTER and the idea of something that creeps into you when you are most vulnerable is wonderfully scary!

      One of the reasons I included science fiction/speculative fiction in my All Hallows Read selections as scariness comes in all stripes — not just horror. Science fiction has a fantastic scary side, but real life still beats it. At least as of right now…

  3. I think one of my first monsters was Lon Chaney Jr playing a werewolf maybe n an Abbot and Costello film. I remember feeling rather sorry for him.
    The man recently found to have held 3 women captive fr a number of years, and the German who was found to have held a youngster for a large number of years, fathering children on her are real monsters in my eyes. Humans are really the most vicious of the lot and take pleasure in the misery they cause.
    xxx Cwtch xxx

    • Candy

      A lot of people comment on the way a cat will play with its prey before the kill, but we are much, much, much scarier than anything in the feline family. LOL… I know you are NOT cat person.

      The weird men who hold women or young girls captive for decades are a distressing phenomenon. The idea makes me shiver in fear.

  4. While I quite enjoy monsters of the paranormal sort, I’m even more fascinated with the human sort who have some sort of humane piece of their psychological makeup missing. I used to have sophomore English students do a research paper on a person, and I didn’t limit it to figures who’ve had a positive impact. There was always a Hitler paper or two, but teenage boys really find serial killers fascinating. I also had a book on serial killers and they nearly thumbed it to death by looking through it so much.

    • Candy

      As long as those teenaged boys’ fascination is limited to books & movies and they are not experimenting with the classic indicators of a future sociopath — arson, animal abuse and bed-wetting. I understand the boys’ interest in that it’s an interest in true-life MONSTERS. Whether it’s a dictator ordering the extermination of millions or a serial killer picking off the prostitutes working near the 10 Bells pub in London (Yes Jack the Ripper), people who are both HUMAN and totally monstrous invite study. They are the outliers that help us understand the negative aspects of our animal selves.

  5. Angry mob. It terrifies me on a number of levels. First the idea that human beings who were quite normal can get turned into savages through mob mentality. We like to think we’re civilized, but we’re just not that from from the edge. Second, an angry mob can inflict a godzilla amount of death and destruction. Well. Maybe not godzilla. But baby godzilla, for sure.

    • Candy

      I think an angry mob is much scarier than Godzilla senior! The way people act in concert — without care or conscience — is truly MONSTROUS! The video of the motorcycle club guys attacking the car, the rampaging through the streets of Germany on Kristalnacht, young men swarming girls in a swimming pool, the group suicide in Jonestown, a lynch mob… all of those widely varied (in scale and outcome) events happen only when people lose themselves in a group mentality. As you may have gathered, I’ve been terrified — and fascinated — by this phenomenon for years. Much scarier to me.

      Now, a mob of monsters… that’s extra scary!