Size in Horror (Article by Thomas Pass)
Size doesn’t scare us enough anymore. The idea of a lone Greek warrior standing against a titan, whilst still very cool, doesn’t inspire us with the same awe; at least, it doesn’t for me. Humanity has since overcome great fearsome beasts with technology. If we saw a giant kraken moving across the sea toward New York or Tokyo, we’d have tanks and jets and cruise missiles at the ready. It’s not the size of the creature that is terrifying, not inherently. It’s just the by-product of its size – the destruction it can cause, that is.
A lone warrior, a sword, maybe a shield, and a being the size of a mountain. Fear is always about the imbalance of power – being powerless against a force that takes from you what it wants. That’s why modern horror is more focused on what we can’t see, the evil that is smaller than us, or invisible, yet still so much more powerful. We’re scared of things that break down society or hunt us in the night, despite all of our supposed security in the urban jungles. One of these horrors, are Zombies… But—
Zombies, a modern horror, have fallen out of their own genre. They tend to fall into more action-oriented media because we have standardised the idea that they are weak, that a single headshot will stop them, that they shamble instead of run. That’s why movies like Train to Busan, or games like the Resident Evil 2 remake, are such a shock to modern audiences. They break and subvert the rules of what a zombie is supposed to be.
In Train to Busan, they are quick, erratic, twitchy. The inherent body horror is played up too, going less for bloody gore focused on organs and entrails, but instead on the breaking and twisting of bones that the zombies have no care for. Watching a zombie sprint at full pelt with its broken arm twisted over its head is simultaneously a funny sight and something deeply uncomfortable to watch for an extended period of time.
But you don’t need speed to make zombies scary. In the Resident Evil 2 remake, zombies lumber and shamble like the brainless beings they are. They tumble over corpses and desks ahead of them, always trying to get to you in a straight line if they can. So why are they scary? Even if you have a handgun and you’re at the other end of the hallway – they can get to you. How? They just keep walking, slowly, ignoring every round you put into their head, chest, whatever. They feel unstoppable, a waste of already scarce bullets. Your best option is to disable their legs and run away, or try to stagger them with the force of the bullet and not its capacity for lethality.
I’ve got a little off-track. The point is, modern fears are not focused on the pure power of one being, but instead creatures and forces that mess with society and its security. We’re afraid of viruses spreading through our packed cities (a very relevant fear unfortunately) and we’re afraid of serial killers and psychos getting into our ‘safe’ homes, because those are things we feel powerless against – or at least far less empowered to stop. Even if it isn’t true, a giant kaiju making its way through our city feels like a force a country can come together against, with all of our weapons and technology, and that makes the fear of giant beasts far less palpable.
Godzilla is a creature steeped in horror. It is a horrific recreation of the effects of nuclear weapons following the end of the Second World War and the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet the two modern renditions of the creature focus on the military efforts to contain it, and the epic battles between titans. Both are fun, but they do not paint themselves as horror movies, because that doesn’t work with a modern audience. There are exceptions of course; the original Cloverfield is an effective horror movie utilising the shadowed existence of a giant monster terrorising a city, but it is more a fear of the unknown as the film barely shows the creature, just the civilians in fear of it.
That said I think it is still possible to induce the kind of fear and awe Greek titans used to, it is just far more difficult to write a modern ‘lone warrior’ type of character. The simplest way would be to use Lovecraftian horror, creatures so large and so far out of our realm of understanding that the mere idea that they could exist is the horror in of itself; however, I believe the majority of that horror stems from their nature, rather than their size.
So yeah, thanks for reading my ramble.