Four Big Divisions in Movie Monster Portrayals

  • October 29, 2010
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Vampires – Brooding Whiners or Horrific Fiends

The Subject:

The vampire has never been more popular. Probably the most diverse of “movie monsters”, they can be heroes, villains or forces of nature, often in the same movie. The variation on the mythology is pretty piecemeal; every franchise has to set out the rules early to avoid confusion. Still, they are typically variations on a theme; from creepy bloodsuckers, like the 1922 German Expressionist “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror”:


To less creepy bloodsuckers like 1931’s Dracula:


To vampires that are just boring:


The Division:

It may come as a surprise to some that vampires are monsters of folklore. Though they pretty much all drink blood, the line drawn in the sand is whether they’re presented as horrible creatures or just misunderstood. Even some vampire films and shows, like 2009’s Daybreakers or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aren’t sure which camp they’re in.

Some movies humanize vampires to such a degree that their angst seeps off the screen. While they have many of the attributes that make vampires awesome, they generally spend most of their time neglecting them in favor of talking, dressing in Victorian clothing or being in love. Films like Interview With The Vampire, Underworld and the Twilight series or shows like True Blood make their money off the drama and sex appeal of the actors.


Rebelling against the trend of the increasingly charismatic vampire, you have the inhuman monsters. These guys don’t care about their hair (if they have any), they don’t weep over not seeing the sun and they certainly don’t sparkle. All they want to do is kill people and swim in big pools of blood. Movies like 30 Days of Night, John Carpenter’s Vampires and Salem’s Lot return vampires to the “monster” genre.


The Winner:

We’re on team monster. While it was pretty interesting at first to see vampires as tortured souls, struggling with their humanity and cravings for sweet, sweet heart-juice, it’s pretty old hat. The overabundance of vampire fiction and it’s cooption by the tweenybopper set requires a return to demonic, bloodsucking roots.


Zombies – Shambling Moaners or Fleet Footed Horrors

The Subject:

Unless you’ve been frozen in time for the last decade or so, you’ll know the huge hard-on humanity has for zombies. The idea of the dead returning to life to feast on the living is chilling and a surprisingly versatile metaphor. Whether it’s due to magic, cosmic rays, a virus or some other, no doubt poorly explained phenomenon, zombies are pretty badass.

Imagine your dear family members dying a horrible death, only to rise and come after you, like in “Day of the Dead”:


Or you can go the other way with it and just make it ridiculous, like in films such as “Zombie Strippers”:


The Division:

There is one issue that divides zombie fans even more than whether they eat whole body or just the brains and it’s perhaps the most contentious one in the horror genre today: are zombies fast or slow?

In the first incarnation (Night of the Living Dead, 1968), we had slow, lurching, brainless monsters. From this tradition, we get most of what is commonly accepted about zombies. In fact, this film lead to five more in George A. Romero’s “of the Dead” canon (Dawn, Day, Land, Diary and Survival of the Dead), as well as the spinoff “Return of the Living Dead” series of five movies. It has also spawned countless imitators and spoofs of varying quality, such as Shaun of the Dead or Zombie Flesheaters. All are united under the mantra that when you get back up, you’re not getting anywhere fast.


More recently, many remakes and reimaginings have lead to a new breed of undead: the fast zombie. These guys aren’t content to just moan and grab wildly. They are fully prepared to run you down and nibble your unmentionables. Films like 28 Days Later, it’s sequel 28 Weeks Later or the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake all utilize this new ghoul. It’s even accepted enough to make it into the spoofs, such as 2009’s Zombieland, starring that guy from Cheers and that kid who founded Facebook.


The Winner:

It’s gotta be the slow zombies. Yes the fast ones are more dangerous, and yes they mean your grandmother’s chances of survival in the zombie-apocalypse are virtually nil, but the slow zombies have a deeper terror that the fast ones lack. Fast zombie movies are great for action, but they make the brainless hoard easier to demonize. The slow zombies retain a more human feel and sell the fear that comes from being a small group against the hoard. It’s only a matter of time before they get you.

Looking to pick a fight about the portrayal of fictional creatures? Look no further than the comments below! You can agree or disagree with Kevin Mack directly by threatening/following him on Twitter.

Written by Kevin Mack – Copyrighted ©

Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - Werewolves – Shapeshifters or the World’s Worst Case of PMS:
  • - Frankenstein’s Monster – Lummox or Conniving Douche :
  • - Vampires – Brooding Whiners or Horrific Fiends:
  • - Zombies – Shambling Moaners or Fleet Footed Horrors: