Monsters Mailbag: Horrifying Questions, Terrifying Answers. Life is Scary, People.

A new feature here on the blog, my opportunity to answer various questions that have come in on e-mail, twitter and our facebook page and to talk with the very cool readers of Monsters in America.

Growing up in the 70s as a Famous Monsters in Filmland fan, I loved, and still enjoy looking back on, the old “Fang Mail” feature. Those of us who loved our monsters way back when thrilled to the idea that you could write a letter to and get a “fangtastic answer.”

I actually quote horror director Joe Dante in the book to the effect that finding a copy of Famous Monsters at a New Jersey Safeway changed his life. Not just because of the grey, smudgy print filled with the information about the fantastic we all hungered for. Not even for the still shots of classic horror films and shots of our favorite current franchises (FMF became very Star Wars-oriented in the late 70s) but mostly because, in Dante’s words, “this magazine was validation that there were people out there like us.

I love the idea of a community of monster lovers, freaks and geeks and all around cool people, talking about the world of monsters and the monstrous. So, lets get started with our first question. And keep ‘em coming.

Patricia in Seattle heard me on the radio there around Halloween and picked up the book. She says she “stayed up all night reading it” and has passed it around to her friends.

However…she wonders why I talk so much in interviews and here on the blog about feminism and the horror tradition but don’t spend as much time on it in the book?

Great question although I disagree with the premise a bit. A significant portion of the chapter “Undead Americans” looks at both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Twilight phenomenon through the lens of third-wave feminist interpretation.

So, its very important to me to make the point, for example, that Twilight functions as a monster tale that tries to defang it monsters. I think this is an effort to create a narrative not so different from the “princess” themes that have traditionally been a part of the American wedding industry, Disney films and the kind of pro-family propaganda that emerged in the late 70s as part of the Christian Right’s effort to assert a “Christian America” and “family values.” And, obviously, I’m only into Addams Family Values.

I also try not to cover some of the same ground that other authors have dealt with in detail. So, for example, if you want to read more about the idea of the “final girl” and the complex relationship between feminism and violence in the slasher film, I’d urge you to give Carol Clover’s great book Men, Women and Chainsaws a read.  I also really like Isabel Christina Pinedo’s Recreational Terrors: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Thanks for picking up the book, Patricia and glad you enjoyed the interview.  Sorry I kept you up all night!

Another question comes from Ben Ortiz in Chicago. Ben runs his own blog over at and wrote to me about a number of interesting ideas in relation to immigration and the monster tradition.  He notes that the book could have talked a bit about the work of author Richard Rodriguez whose memoir Hunger of Memory makes use of the Frankenstein tradition in talking about the Mexican-American working class experience.

Ben’s right, I think this is a place the book could have done a lot better. I focused too much on the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the nineteenth and early twentieth century and not enough on how supernatural elements play a role in the moral panics over immigrants from Latin America.  And I’m sad I missed the chance to write about Richard Rodriguez, a favorite of mine. However, our e-mail exchange did give me the chance to geek out with Ben about both Battlestar Galactica and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete and From Dusk Til Dawn…two of my favorite films!

Finally, I’ve got a question from Sean in Minnesota. Sean wants to know why, in my view, did John Carpenter refer to Michael Meyers simply as “the Shape” in the original Halloween?

The answer is really connected to Carpenter’s very sophisticated conception of the monster. Carpenter never intended Meyers to become the fully developed personality that he became in the sequels (Laurie Strode is his sister…wait, what?)

I also think he wanted to stay away from what Rob Zombie later did…an effort to explain the murderous Meyers through intense childhood trauma. Carpenter wanted to say something about the enigmatic nature of the monster, to create a terrifying aesthetic of impassive, unstoppable evil. He certainly succeeded in that wonderful, unrecreatable original. Sequels and remakes? Not so much.

This is fun. As you can see, I don’t mind critiques and criticisms and, in fact, love having the chance to respond to them and either make my case or, just say I blew it. So, waiting on your questions for the next Monsters Mailbag. Tell me if you want me to use your full name, if I can quote you, etc. A few other questions have come in as we were getting this blog up so a new Monsters Mailbag will be up soon-ish.

Lets have a few moments of quiet reflection on pop culture goodness

What I’m listening to: Lot of folk revival era blues lately…indeed a favorite John Lee Hooker album simply called The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker. A few nights ago, I spent an hour with Led Zeppelin II. “Ramble on” competes with “Stairway” as my favorite Led Zep song. Oh, and John Bonham on “Moby Dick.”  Good grief, mad skills. Right this second, I’m enjoying a favorite album…The Decline of British Sea Power by British Seapower. I didn’t like their newer one so much but this is classic.

What I’m Reading: My student’s research papers.

What I’m Watching: Netflix putting every Star Trek franchise onto instant streaming has made Captain Jean Luc Picard an almost constant companion for me. I did get to see the crazed, over-the-top, obscene, inappropriate and wonderful film Chillerama this week. See it…but don’t tell your mom.

What I’m playing: I’m a female Nord with serious archery/blacksmithing/thieving skills.  I have badass haircut.  I have problems with the authorities all over Skyrim. Also, for some bizarre reason, I feel guilty that there are all these other games I’ve thrown over and not finished yet while this thing gets all my gaming attention.

See you soon, monsters….

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