One of my classes this semester is Journalism. This is the second news story I wrote for class. The assigment was to report on a speech and this one was almost disturbingly coincidental. This guy was really full of himself…of course, I couldn’t report that.
Terror then and now
March. 23, 2000
On March1, author and documentarian David Stall spoke on campus about the evolution of horror legends in the twentieth century.
Using slides, Stall illustrated how some of the most well known characters have changed with the mediums and society.
Dracula and Wolfman are based in thousands of years of tradition. Most European cultures have a mythical figure, which shares the ability to morph into animal forms and stealthily prowl the night.
The ancient creatures show little resemblance to their modern counterparts.
In older descriptions, these beings tend to more closely resemble beasts than man. They were predators existing only to hunt. The wolfman character is actually a relatively recent creation; initially the ability to change into a wolf was simply one of the vampire’s shape shifting abilities
The legends developed in parallel to society. During the Victorian era, the vampire changed significantly; the beast became the honorable Count Dracula. This nobleman in a tuxedo was at home in the parlors of the time and is now the most recognized image of a vampire.
Not all horror characters are so firmly rooted in tradition. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and the Frankenstein monster are both very modern.
According to Stall, these monsters are reflections of people’s fear of science and technology. Frankenstein, for example, is able to give life to the dead using only the tools of science; God is replaced by a mortal man.
Stall believes that the First World War was the guiding light of horror into the 1950s. The trenches of Europe were filled by thousands of rotting corpses. Many of the men who returned were no longer whole; nerve gas, hopeless infantry changes, and trench living conditions left many disfigured. Never before had the world experienced casualties on such a large scale.
By 1950, the atomic bomb had become the driving force behind horror. Building on the destruction of the two World Wars, a new ghoul emerged – the mutant.
Movies and books were filled with images of giant insects and devolving men. Stall feels that at the time, horror films provided a sort of therapy for society. In the face of very real terror associated with nuclear brinkmanship, Hollywood offered absurd evils.