Long before the moving picture, tales of the terrible and fantastic were shared worldwide. The imagination of the listener gave tangibility and substance to the beast introduced by the narrator. Oft times, these stories were tools used to warn the listener—most frequently children—about the consequences of improper behavior.
Using a tale of terror as a morality parable is an ages old practice. A horrifically inhuman monster was usually symbolic of man’s evils. Every monster, no matter how horrible, possesses a weakness exploitable by mankind. This assured that humanity would always triumph over its own flaws and shortcomings.
Certain stories in every genre are usually singled out as path-forgers or standard-bearers. Two stories in horror must be acknowledged as Matron and Master: Frankenstein and Dracula. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelly breathed life into her monster in the summer of 1816. The world should be thankful that Switzerland was hit with a dreary and rainy season that year. Bram Stoker would introduce the term “undead” and usher in the rise of Count Dracula in 1897. Both stories would see their film adaptation as well as countless knock-offs over the decades.
The genre of horror would unleash beasts of every shape and size. Many of the featured monsters were deformed manifestations of our fears...or evils. Oppenheimer’s atomic creation would inspire hordes of mutated fiends bent on mankind’s extinction. One of the most notable “stars” of celluloid from that era would be Godzilla. This monster was Japan’s physical embodiment of the two bombs dropped on their homeland.
A couple of decades after the Second World War, a man from Pittsburgh would serve up an unwitting icon of monsterdom. In 1968, George A. Romero would Americanize a Haitian legend. The flesh-eating ghouls of Night of the Living Dead would be the image makeover that gave modern horror the zombie.