Humanizing the Monsters
Since Marcus Nispel remade the Tobe Hooper classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 2003, nearly thirty years after Leatherface first terrorized moviegoers with his maniacal ‘chainsaw dance’, it has become the fashion to try to put a human face to the monsters that haunted our collective childhood. Leatherface was no longer simply a demented cannibal, intent on butchering anyone unlucky enough to cross his path; in Nispel’s version, he was cursed with a facial deformity that drove him to make his masks, to hide his face from the world. A horribly dysfunctional and abusive family transformed a frightened child with special needs into a violent adult, whom they used for their own foul purposes. In Nispel’s view, Leatherface was as much victim as killer. Six years later, he would do much the same for the character of Jason Voorhees, in the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th.
A year later, Samuel Bayer, in his remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, would take the character of child murderer Freddy Krueger, despicable enough in his original form, and plunge it to new depths of perversity by making his Freddy not just a demonic killer who preyed upon children in their dreams, but the ghost of a child molester, killed by the parents of the children he molested, who is now murdering his original victims in order to take revenge on their parents.
The most glaring example of this penchant for transforming our monsters into some manner of relatable human beings has to be Rob Zombie’s reboot of the Halloween franchise. In an inexplicable decision, he stripped from the character of Michael Myers everything that made him, and John Carpenter’s original Halloween, so effective. Carpenter’s Michael was a mystery, an enigma. A heretofore normal child, who one Halloween evening picks up a butcher knife and murders his older sister. A man who sits silently in an asylum for years, until escaping one rainy night. A remorseless, unstoppable killer, focused on one thing, and one thing only—going home for Halloween. There is no deeper meaning in his actions and nothing that remains in Michael Myers that is human. When Loomis tells the Sheriff that Michael is, purely and simply, evil, you believe him. You have no reason not to.
That is something that Michael, and Jason, and Freddy, and Leatherface, the Monster-men who dominated the mid-1970s through to the end of the 1980s, had in common. All were enigmas—inhuman monsters who killed because that’s what they did. If a shark attacks a surfer, you don’t wonder why the shark did it; it’s a shark. That’s what it does. We who are fans of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre don’t care what put the gas in Leatherface’s implement of choice, we just want to hear it fire up. We knew Jason was screwed up long before he saw his mother decapitated by Alice on the shore of Crystal Lake. We knew that Freddy was a demonic child-killer; we didn’t need to be confronted with a version of him that was far worse, and brought him uncomfortably into the reality of the world we inhabit. And we didn’t need the unexplained evil that was Michael Myers replaced by Rob Zombie’s step-by-step primer on the making of a psychopathic serial killer, with no secrets, no mysteries … and no capacity to instill fear in the audience.
Zombie, Nispel, and Bayer took the creations of our nightmares, and transformed them into creatures of the daily headlines. And as far as the Unimonster is concerned, it was not an equitable trade.
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Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2023
Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor