Eli Roth’s History of Horror explores our fascination with Killer Creatures


Eli Roth’s History of Horror examines why we love monsters in the next segment of his master class entitled Killer Creatures. So, let’s howl at the moon and enjoy our primal instincts as we explore this subgenre.

Reflections of Ourselves

Eli Roth’s History of Horror continues as we look at Killer Creatures in episode 5 of his master class. Monsters are one of the most beloved subgenres. As children we are enticed and fearful of these beings that are not like us.

From Greek mythology up to The Shape of Water we are steeped in tales of scary creatures that awaken our flight or fight instincts. But why are we so attracted to this subgenre? Perhaps, because they reflect our inner most desires and impulses.

We explore that theory with a look at three movies that delve into the darker side of human nature in the guise of a clown, a cuddly pet and a shapeshifting alien.

IT, Gremlins and The Thing – People Are Not What They Seem

Anyone that has ever read Stephen King knows that in between the fingernail biting horror is stories that touch the heart. IT is a perfect example of that description.

Andy Muschietti, the director of the mega box office 2017 adaptation tells Roth and company that he wanted to bring something to the character of Pennywise that he felt the 1990 mini-series didn’t have. His vision of the demon clown is the stuff of nightmares and it is easy to see why he would be the boogeyman to the children of Derry, Maine.

History of Horror-New plastic Pennywise — Courtesy of NECA

King feels that clowns are “natural disguises for monsters.” There is something about all of the greasepaint and the slapstick humor that could belie sinister inclinations.

Writer Diablo Cody takes her description of the beloved film a bit further and taps into what Pennywise truly represents. For her, the ancient evil is an amalgam of real-life horrors such as “racism, misogyny and child abuse.”

In the case of the movie Gremlins, we are reminded that monsters don’t follow rules as evidenced with Hoyt Axton’s careful explanation of what not to do with a Mogwai. Michael Dougherty who directed Krampus feels that the cute and cuddly creatures represent the worst aspects of humanity.

Which is true because once they transform, they act on all their baser impulses like getting drunk, etc. Just like humans do. When inhibitions are down, that is when errant behavior can occur.

John Carpenter plays upon paranoia in The Thing when we discover that people that we thought we knew are suddenly something totally different. When MacReady has to test his colleagues to see who is human and who isn’t is very harrowing.

The Birds, Cujo and Jaws – Nature Is A Killer

History of Horror -Cujo — Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Nature has no morals. There is no thought process. Everything is black or white, kill or be killed.  What if something familiar becomes the thing to be feared?

The birds that we take for granted, what if they attacked us one day for no apparent reason? That is the premise behind Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, The Birds. However, if we look deeper, there is something more to be seen.

Hitchcock had a very dark side. It was no secret that he was conflicted about women’s sexuality and this film touches on that very issue.

Tippi Hedren’s character starts out as a very confident woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. However, by the end of the movie, that isn’t the case.

Fearful of everything and refusing to leave the house after her ordeal with the crazed avians, she is resorted to relying on Rod Taylor for assistance. Some believe that was how Hitch wanted women to be subservient to males.

Jaws, on the other hand was a fish with designs on killing as many people as possible. He was relentless and like The Birds, came out of nowhere with no warning.

This film still holds up today and terrifies anyone who has a slight aversion to the ocean. Because “Bruce” (the shark was named after Spielberg’s lawyer) wasn’t working properly during the shooting of the movie, Spielberg had to rely on other conventions to create the “edge of your seats” tension and fear.

For a dog lover like myself, Cujo is a hard watch. Dee Wallace’s performance however is the stuff of legends. The Saint Bernard by nature is a very friendly dog for its size. Not prone to violent outbursts, this mammal is known for rescuing people in the snow.

So, when you take such a lovable animal that is a family pet and turn him rabid through no fault of his own, it is horrific to see the transformation from that image to a determined and crazed killer.

American Werewolf in London, The Howling and The Shape of Water – The Beasts Within

History of Horror -Image Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Werewolves are classic monsters. They were born from the mind of writer Curt Siodmak who actually used them as a metaphor for the Nazis taking over Europe in World War II.

The notion that man could revert to a primal state unwillingly and be powerless to stop it is quite traumatic. When you throw superior special FX into the mix as seen in John Landis’ brilliant lycanthrope thriller, An American Werewolf in London the experience is terrifying.

Same with The Howling which focuses on society’s expectations of behavior. Literally, when a person transforms into this beast, they “let their hair down.”

A more recent example would be Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. Doug Jones as the creature is actually the leading man of the picture. Michael Shannon’s character on the other hand is the true monster.

He is the one that takes pleasure out of being mean and torturing the being he is holding captive. That is why this story is particularly moving. It focuses on the fact that as a species, we can be very cruel to one another and the fact that we can ENJOY it is a disturbing notion. That is the real horror in this picture.

The Verdict

Another score for Roth and company with a winning topic. Everyone enjoys monster flicks.

However, the star of this episode was Doug Jones. His recounting of being directed by del Toro to not be human and being growled at when he veered from that direction to get him back on point was amusing.

What was very intriguing about his segment was learning how he had to “train” himself to react to the other actors. In particular, when Richard Jenkins has a monologue where he is telling the creature that he doesn’t know who he is, Jones said he had to resist the urge to give “human” body language so he had to think what would the family dog do when it’s owner would be confiding in him?

That kind of behind the scenes discussion is always extremely compelling to anyone who is interested in filmmaking. Personally, I have learned more about the production side of some of my favorite movies from the insights that are given by the very knowledgeable directors and writers in this series than I did in film school.

Next. Halloween 2018: Best Buy bringing Michael Myers home with Steelbook. dark

If you love horror and all things cinematic, this is the series for you. Only 3 episodes are left but if you have AMC’s Premiere app, you can catch up on the segments that you missed. Tune in to Eli Roth’s History of Horror Sundays at midnight.

What did you think of this episode? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section below. We want to hear from you.