When I was a child, the world was full of monsters.
They roamed the English countryside and swam through Scottish lochs. They hid in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest and on the snowy caps of Eastern mountain ranges. They haunted the Pine Barrens and spied on couples from the tops of abandoned silos in West Virginia. Monsters were everywhere, especially on my television screen.
Sunday mornings were prime monster gazing time. While my friends were attending church, I sat in front of the television, basking in the glory of giant monster movies. There always seemed to be some Godzilla film playing in the early morning and if there wasn't, there was usually something equally monstrous to gawk at. Whether it was the giant ants of THEM! or the water-logged farcicality of THE LOCH NESS HORROR, monster movies were as essential to my diet as bread and milk.
When I wasn't watching monster movies, I devoured old episodes of In Search Of..., read books on cryptozoology, and memorized Greek and Roman mythology. I filled my school notebooks with drawings of beasts and critters. At night I would lie in bed and think up new laughably ridiculous biological absurdities to fight Gamera. When sleep finally took me, I dreamed of monsters. It was a wonderful time, filled with wonder and terror both real and imagined. Monsters existed.
Then inevitably - and regrettably - I grew up.
I stopped believing in monsters. The ideas of sea serpents, mothmen and werewolves, death worms, and hidden dinosaurs in the Congo River Basin... they all vanished, replaced by the less interesting but infinitely more horrifying reality that the only monsters that exist are human. Though I no longer lived in a world full of monsters, my appreciation for them never lessened. I still loved them but as concepts, as ideas, as metaphors. Which of course is all they ever were.
I began to see them for what they are, as stand-ins and symbols for taboos, terrors, and truths. The werewolf is the unchecked id, the wendigo is uncontrolled consumption, and the vampire is deviant sexual desire. Or are they? They are all of those things or none of them depending on the culture. One society's view of Bigfoot is as distinct and rich as another society's views. Monsters are malleable things, open to interpretation and reinterpretation. They are evergreen and renewable, transcending decades and centuries. That's why they never seem to go away. We will always live with vampires and zombies. The world may be safe from monsters, but our movie theaters won't be.
The splitting of the atom led to a lifetime of nuclear anxiety, a pervasive fear made flesh in the form of Godzilla, the Beast from 20,000 fathoms, and scores of other calamities. The fear of the Russian invasion supplied the nightmare fuel for American filmmakers. In turn, they created films like The Blob and Invaders from Mars. From the deepest, darkest parts of the American psyche monsters crept and crawled, swarming the silver screen.
Like all good horror films, monster movies allow us to face our deepest fears and come away victorious. These films are time capsules and tombstones, the repository for national, even global, anxieties. But more than that, they are also wickedly fun and enormously endearing. There is a great sense of joy that comes from watching a well crafted monster film. When you find yourself swept up in the specticle and terror... you're that little kid all over again, tucked in a blanket on the couch on a Sunday morning, convinced they're living in a world teeming with the unexplained and unexplanable.
You believe in monsters and once again the world seems wondrous.