So, I have this inappropriate habit of answering honestly when asked a question. I’ve failed personality tests this way – multiple times. And it’s not because I’m a terrible person (it’s because I’m an awful person ahahahaha – classic gags never retire), it’s just that I give these questions thought and merit. Maybe too much thought and merit.
During one uncomfortable icebreaker at a work function, my questions were: my name (easy, it was given to me a while ago), my job (easy, it was earned), and my favorite animal. I should have said dog. Dogs are great.
I did not say dog. I said Protoceratops. But that requires an explanation, which then goes into the book by Adrienne Mayor that posits that it was the fossilized Protoceratops bones and nest/egg fragments, found by ancient Scythian nomads, that were the inspiration to the myth of the griffin. You see, the Protoceratops had a beak-like mouth, much like an eagle. The ridge was very delicate, so if it were to break apart from the head and fall near the back…
And there were about thirty people that realized too late that they had asked a mundane question that I was going to answer: honestly, painfully, specifically, and disgustingly.
So, what am I leading to?
Because Haunted MTL asked me a question…
Oh, dang. Here we go.
As part of the contributor’s profile, Parzz (and boss) asked a “simple” question: What is your monster of choice?
So, first of all – what is a monster?
Okay, no, we’re not going that far into it. I could, but I would never see life again and I would miss parts of it.
No, instead, we’re going to do something a little different. And it all has to do with identity.
Since November, I’ve been a contributor to Haunted MTL, kicking around the tufts of cult classics, newer shrugs, and beautiful hidden gems. But this month, Imma get real, kids, because this is a weird month for me. You see as I am a gender-fluid –nonono, it’s cool, come back. I barely identify as Apache helicopter or whatever Millennials, Boomers, and Zoomers are making fun of these days.
But with who I am, “monster of choice” is not an easy “tea or coffee” pick for me. Since I’m the type to write an overly-complicated essays about surfing Nazis and HIV zombies, you can see I take my horror seriously.
So, let’s explore the monsters who are the “others” of gender for this Women’s Day as I narrow down to my monster/villain of choice. Join me, won’t you?
Brain Roll Juice
Gender and horror itself are interesting elements fused together more closely than most would think. There are masculine horror icons and traits – serial, insane, sadistic, carnal. Just as there are feminine – sorrowful, vengeful, jealous, and…well, a more complex insane, shall we say?
Masculine; we have the bloodthirsty hookman, lumbering Jason, sadistic Freddy, carnal Candyman, serial Jason. Their motives are not complex. They are killers, and they kill. On the other hand (more often seen in legends) feminine icons are more personal and complex. They are La Llorona, Bloody Mary, Kuchisake-onna, banshees, and the hag/witch (Baba Yaga, the Bell Witch, and the like).
In movies, the roles can be pretty stringent – usually if a female villain/monster is introduced, she is the mate of the male – the supporting role. This is most apparent in the older films like Bride of Frankenstein, but even can be seen in films like Basketcase 2-3. They’re usually cis-gender and adhere to gender norms in one form or another.
Even in legend, monsters are generally gendered via society’s gentle nudge. Bigfoot = hairy dude. Sea creature = scaly dude. Zombie = rotting dude. Vampire = fanged dude. Loch Ness Monster = dino lady. New Jersey Devil = a devil dude into some weirdass cakes.
You get my point.
However, there are characters that fall into a more grey area, regardless of sex (very loosely: gender is how you feel, sex being the dangle or non-dangle parts). These are a few of my favorites, 7 to be precise, all taken from movies. Take note – there are some spoilers to old movies.
#7 – The Blob
“You can’t say ‘the blob’. it’s…like…just a blob. It’s not anything!”Glorious Spouse, 2020
Au contraire, mon petit fermier (my French may be rusty). But, yeah, I can count the blob. Why not? Just because of its absence of sex and gender doesn’t mean that I can’t identify and add it to the list, honey-pie.
In fact, the concept of the blob, as a growing, expanding, overwhelming alien creature, is a perfect metaphor for that cool gender-fluid anxiety that sometimes hangs around. Out of control, amorphous, and just seen by other people as “icky” and untouchable. It’s gross. People don’t want to explore it, they want to avoid it, and the more you avoid it, the larger it gets. The more suffocating it becomes because it’s a weird, gross problem that just gets in the way.
And like the end of the movie, it never really goes away. It can be quiet sometimes. It can lie dormant. But it’s never really gone, and it’s never really dead.
#6 The Cenobites
I might get push-back on this one (well, maybe all of them, who knows). The cenobites have clearly defined sexes, yes, but when gender is concerned, they are fluid because gender just doesn’t matter. Some call them angels, others call them demons, but no one says that they adhere to social norms, especially not typical, standard American.
Pinhead himself is small, lithe, and femininely sleek in his costume, the only imposing parts of him are his voice and presence. The female cenobite is not portrayed as a mate, but just another vessel of their main mission – the experience. Their whole fixation is on pain/pleasure in the experience of eternity, not hierarchy or power (I’m just focusing on the first movie).
#5 Kenny from “Terror Train”
I really dig this killer on a few different levels. I mean, haven’t we all wanted, at some point in our lives, wanted to kiss Jamie Lee Curtis and then turn into a human tornado?
And I know that Kenny might get flack as a character for a few different reasons – he has problems with mental illness, he has gender identity issues, he has murdering issues. However, he is a fascinating character as all identities.
Kenny is not just male but also female, “they” are a duality as much as Jamie Lee Curtis is the duality as “the last girl”. In fact, to call her a last girl leaves something to be desired because it’s not through circumstance that she survives, but her duality of masculine and feminine traits that keep her alive and unbroken.They are both unconventional, but Kenny fails to actualize where Jamie Lee accepts. Hence, human tornado.
Anywho, there are times that I wish I could fade into different personas as quickly as Kenny, and blend in with whatever crowd that happens to be there. Especially as Snake Man.
Pumpkinhead is an interesting creature, as it is an interesting movie. It also made me feel feelings (how dare it). I’ll probably get into my P-Head love later (phrasing), but as I mentioned, this creature is interesting. Its role is very fascinating. In my intro I mentioned a few iconic horror figures – male and female. Masculine motivations tend to be gluttonous, wanton bloodlust and power over others. Mostly, stabby-stabby, kill-kill. Even Freddy, although he likes to play with his victims, it’s all a power thing.
Female figures can be stabby-stabs, but more often than not have more complex motivations for murder and mayhem. They are seeking revenge, or haunted by their bloody past. Much like this, Pumpkinhead appears as a manifestation of vengeance. And, maybe this is a stretch, as it is not even spurred its own revenge, but just a supporting figure (a tool) of someone else’s revenge, it is taking a more feminine role. Just like I mentioned many females in horror (and “normal”) movies are there only for the fact of supporting the male’s actualization and his character development. Pumpkinhead is the same. Well, apart from being a mate…
P-head is different from most villains, even “summoned” characters such as Betelgeuse. It gains no pleasure or pain from doing its work, it has only one task and has no say or agency. It has absolutely no power, nor does it seek it. It’s kind of sad, actually. It’s basically a murderous Meeseeks, but with even less agency and dignity.
#3 Angela from “Sleepaway Camp”
This one has gotten some slack over the years and I can’t speak to all sides, nor should I, I can only speak to how I feel about this character and what Angela means to me. Let’s get over the reveal, okay? Go watch it if you haven’t.
So, Angela the Killer is relatable because “she” is forced into both worlds, while belonging to neither. I also want to point out that “she” has been called trans by some, but I’m not sure if that’s even inherently correct as this was not by choice. Angela is attempting to navigate as what she/he/it believes is required of her/him/it, enduring some of the most negative aspects of being “female” (sexual harassment, bullying, predatory behavior).
The murders are a result of the culmination of the abuses Angela faces and the confusion of never being accepted as she/he/it truly is. Every time Angela begins to open up, she/he/it is again met with societal expectations and norms that she/he/it can’t adhere to, and the ultimately crushing disappointment when others can’t accept that.
I’m not saying that killing everyone was the right move…I’m just saying that I think I get it.
Jaws…Jaws is many things, all in one. It is a force of nature, a shark with a badass scar, a mother seeking revenge, a…voodoo spirit seeking revenge…Jaws itself is a strange a beautiful enigma…and also really good-bad sequels featuring beautiful Lea Thompson and not-giving-a-flip Michael Caine.
But I want to concentrate on Jaws #1. The original. One of the reasons that I love the movie (a million times more than the book) is that it’s an examination of male identity – from father/authority figure, scientist/intellectual, to…well, Quint.
But Jaws, itself, is more of a force of nature, an impending doom, than an example of masculinity. It tests their strengths. It prods their weaknesses. It is more monster than man, with only primitive motivation of survival, and perhaps, the hunt.
You could make a claim that Jaws also encompasses a more aloof masculinity, but, again in my own opinion, it is a primordial being of hunger and chaos – sex and gender are too complex for what it represents. Almost like a primeval Leviathan, rising from the bowels of the ocean to cast down the modern man.
Too bad for it that Roy Scheider was a legend, with Richard Dreyfuss on the sidelines, ready with high-fives.
And the Monster of Choice is:
#1 T-Rex from “Jurassic Park”
Here we are. Surprised? Don’t be.
Apart from being one of my favorite films (and a friendship deal-breaker if you don’t like), it has the best female villains.
They just happen to be dinosaurs…
And are also not entirely female…
It’s true. At one point, Dr. Grant finds egg shells and realizes that the dinosaurs are changing their own sex to reproduce (“life will find a way”). While this is a bit of a throw-away line to go into the greater “playing God” theme, it’s a very cool and powerful moment for the creatures themselves. In nature there are animals that can change sexes, “gender roles” and other social dynamics. It’s pointing to the fact that it’s natural. We evolve. We change as a species. It’s okay. To be stagnant is to be the death of our lineage, we must adapt. In the movie, it was the sex of the dinosaurs. For humanity, maybe it will be something akin to gender.
But just as a movie concept, and going back to monsters, that makes the T-Rex incredibly powerful. Not only did she successfully fight for her freedom from forced confinement and exploitation, she can change herself. She can become he, and vice-versa. She has that agency and choice to, which is something lacking by others on the list. She can physically alter her body and hormones by her own will, for the continuation of her lineage and legacy.
By the end, she establishes her boundaries, reclaims her own body, and asserts her own path. And if that isn’t one of the most powerful characters in cinema history, boy, I sure don’t know who is.