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teratology

Recently I’ve become sort of addicted to these Funko blind box Horror Classics figures. The first one I got was Sam from Trick ‘r Treat, who I ordered from eBay because I absolutely had to have him, and I wasn’t willing to keep trying blind boxes until I got one. After I got him, I was showing him off to some friends and one of us referred to the line of figures as “slashers,” to which another friend replied, “Is Sam a slasher?”

That stopped us all in our tracks for a minute. The conversation moved on, but the question stuck with me. Because the answer, of course, is no, whatever he is, he’s not a slasher. But at the same time, he’s obviously related to them in some way. If he’s not the same species as the other figures in that set, then he is at least in the same family or genus. Which then, of course, led me to the question, “What family or genus is that, exactly?”

Looking over the figures in the set, you’ve got a wide variety of characters, but it’s obvious that there’s something connecting them all together. (For the purposes of this post, I’m ignoring the presence of Ash, maybe the one time in history that the protagonist in a horror film ever became more popular than the villain. Two if you count Pitch Black.) In trying to figure out what, I ended up going back to the oldest film in the set, Halloween. In that movie, Tommy Doyle sees Michael Myers standing outside and identifies him as “the boogeyman,” and I don’t think he’s wrong.

So yeah, what do all the villains in the Funko series have in common? They’re all the boogeyman. They’re functionally stripped of personhood, having become personas rather than people, rendered down to just a recognizable form (it’s telling that, in the script for Halloween, Michael Myers is simply referred to as “the Shape”) and a pathology. Almost all of them wear a mask of one kind or another, something that effectively erases their identity, that means that they could be anyone, or no one at all, the mask ripped away to reveal only a blankness. They’re impossible to reason with, because they don’t want anything that normal people want. They all have some kind of thematically-relevant “magic powers,” which are explained away in various ways, or sometimes not at all. (The guy from Scream, for example, has the “magic power” that he’s actually always more than one guy, allowing him to do things like be in two places at once.)

Perhaps most telling, though, is that pathology I mentioned. When reading up on the boogeyman before writing this, I came across the following line in the Wikipedia entry for same: “Bogeymen may target a specific mischief—for instance, a bogeyman that punishes children who suck their thumbs—or general misbehaviour, depending on what purpose needs serving.” Which, yeah, pretty much everyone on this list has their “thing.” With the slashers, of course, it’s generally the teenage “sin” trifecta of booze, drugs, and sex, but the others get more specialized. Hannibal Lecter kills people who are rude, Sam kills people who don’t respect the traditions of Halloween, Jigsaw (as represented here by Billy the Puppet) kills people who don’t cherish life enough, etc.

In a recent discussion about Manhunter and the Hannibal Lecter mythos in general over on my Facebook, fellow author Sean Demory introduced me to the term “murder wizard” to describe Lecter, which, yes, is perfect. That’s exactly Lecter’s species, right there. And in that discussion I said how werewolves and vampires in most modern fiction have ceased to be monsters in the usual sense, have become instead a kind of Tolkienesque fantasy race, the contemporary equivalent of elves and orcs, and I said that the modern monster was the magical serial killer, which is also not really a modern monster at all, is it, because that’s pretty much just the boogeyman.

So that’s my argument, then, for the taxonomic nomenclature of these figures. It’d probably take some more deducing to decide whether what we were dealing with was family or genus, but whatever it is, that’s the one: It was the boogeyman.

[Spoilers here, for Cabin in the Woods, mostly, so heads up.]

If I live to be a hundred, publish ten-thousand bestsellers, and cure cancer, one of my proudest achievements will still and always be that John Langan once referred to me as “the monster guy.” I love monsters (it’s right there in my bio), and I love movies about them, and it’s always been my intention to have a sort of unofficial award for Best Movie Monster of the Year every year, though I’ve never managed it. This is me, trying that again.

There are an almost unprecedented number of monsters in the movies these days. If I were ten years old right now, my head would probably explode. Except that somehow the monsters in the movies these days don’t really feel much like the monsters that were in movies back when I was ten years old and in love with monsters. Maybe it’s their very ubiquity that makes them feel different, maybe it’s the fact that CG monsters, no matter how good, will probably never feel quite as “real” as practical ones did. Or maybe it’s that most of the monsters these days aren’t really in “monster movies.” The majority of monsters I can think of on film in 2012 are in movies like The Hobbit (which was chock-a-block with creatures large and small and mostly large) or Men in Black 3 or Snow White and the Huntsman or even Prometheus, which is closer to a monster movie than the others, anyway. There are even the aliens in The Avengers, along with their giant flying prehistoric fish creatures. Basically, almost every big-budget action movie of the year had some kind of monster or another. And none of that’s taking into account kids’ movies like ParaNormanHotel Transylvania, or Frankenweenie (of which I’ve only seen ParaNorman).

[ETA: Shit, John Carter came out this year too? There’s another one for the list of big budget action adventure movies that were packed to the gills with monsters.]

Of all those monsters, though, none of them really stand out for me, none of them have the kind of personality that I’m looking for in a Monster of the Year. So this year, the award is going to go, not to any one specific monster, but to all the monsters in one particular movie: Cabin in the Woods, specifically to one particular sequence, one that anyone who’s seen the movie will instantly be able to identify, which is basically everything I’ve been waiting for my entire life. A representative segment is embedded below, but, and I cannot possibly stress this strongly enough, do not, under any circumstances, watch it if you haven’t seen Cabin in the Woods. It will ruin the shit out of it.

There are, of course, movies that had a chance of being in the running that I just haven’t gotten around to watching yet. Off the top of my head, I can think of the aforementioned Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania, as well as the (terrible, I’m told) sequel to Silent Hill. If I’ve made any startling or distressing omissions, please do not hesitate to let me know.