Thursday, November 5, 2015

Elements of Horror: Mutants

Of all the creatures in horror, mutants (besides maybe killer robots) are the most modern of monsters. Mutation, as a concept, didn't even take a firm hold until Darwin. Sure, things that cause people to change are always a good place for horror to start but they were formerly all about magic. With the coming of the atomic age, mutants took on a whole new role, to reflect our fear of messing with nature.

Now, mutations that come with inbreeding have been a good source of horror for quite awhile. And, in a later installment, I plan to tackle the inbred mutant clans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. The mutants I want to talk about tonight are descendants of the Morlocks from The Time Machine. Instead of mankind having devolved into mutant beasts over the course of millennia, science can create mutations in the blink of an eye (or the flash of a bomb).

Post-Apocalyptic scenarios are rife with mutants. The Omega Man is a great example. After a nuclear conflagration, Charlton Heston is the only normal human left in a world filled with mutant cannibals. Ironically, the anti-war statements of lots of mutant movies gets lost in the violence that is inherent in the storytelling. Be peaceful, but here is some conflict is an age old storytelling trick.

Unlike Aliens or Mummies, the trick of the mutant is that they are us. If we had just had our evolution tweaked a little here, developed some evil traits there, we might have developed into subterranean beasts like those in The Descent (seen above). Only with the relatively recent popularity of characters like the X-Men have mutations been seen as a potentially positive (if not downright awesome) experience to undergo.

Like the Gothic killers of Poe, mutants are representative of all our worst traits, heightened and multiplied. Robert Browning's Freaks may have tried to humanize the workers at a carnival freak show but they are still used as nightmare fuel by the horrific ending. Almost without fail, the development of a mutation (which should signal an advancement in evolution) brings out the primitive and animal instincts of a humanoid creature.

Speaking of animal, this is a little side note. Animals get mutated in movies a lot, too. Usually, in movies with an environmental message like The Prophecy, these super aggressive animals become another form of scolding us for too much science. If we didn't meddle with nature, we wouldn't have to deal with the human-looking cockroaches from Mimic.

This continues to speak to a theory that is developing in my mind, that horror is a rather conservative medium. Fears of outsiders categorized aliens and mummies but it is fear of progress that makes mutants scary. Best not to rock the boat. Best not to upset the status quo. Change can only lead to getting your face chewed off.

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