I am a huge fan of all things horror (except that Saw tripe and other such dubious nonsense). I’ve got a copy of every Jason and Freddy film. The “archetypes” of Universal monster movies (mummies, phantoms, sea creatures, vampires, werewolves, etc) hold a special and rather large part of my heart. I love these things.
That said, I still feel there is a “right” way to do horror, and a “wrong” way to do horror.
Exploration of my own feelings on the subject come from the fact that I’m currently reading The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks and that last night I watched Werewolves: The Dark Survivors on Animal Planet. Both of these have a common bond. Their explanations of zombies and werewolves are entirely scientific.
Brooks explains that zombies are ONLY created through a virus he dubs Solanum. If ever there were a convenient plot device, Solanum would be one. It is a virus that kills humans (and only humans), reanimates them and then MacGuyver’s their physiology and biology so that they’re as able as a walking corpse and can only be terminated (again) with destruction of the brain, the typical zombie tropes. Whatever, it works.
He then discounts mystical roots for zombies such as voodoo, as not real zombies, but braindead human slaves. I can get behind that, it’s presented in such a way in that it’s believable. He spends the rest of the book provoding common sense, real world explanations on how to survive zombies.
Likewise, Werewolves: The Dark Survivors eradicates any and all mystic creations for werewolves. Gone are silver bullets, and sleeping under a full moon. Instead, lycanthropy (which is terminology they use only once) is explained as a mutated strain of rabies/porphyria that would have been passed from wolves to man. It neatly explains everything. Rabies explains the outbreaks/transformations/heightened strength while porphyria explains the wolf-like appearances. It also builds in inherent physical weaknesses and a reliance on a pack. All things that are important and good in any and all monster.
And you know what? I like it.
Even though I think The Zombie Survival Guide is sometimes too matter-a-fact for it’s own good, it sets such a believable explanation for the world post-zombie that I can’t help but feel as though it is a definitive addition to zombie canon. The same goes for a film like Zombieland.
Likewise, even though the production quality of Werewolves isn’t very good, and the mockumentary feel is sometimes broken by it’s own narration, it is unbelievably engaging in that it feels real.
Neither are sparkling examples of entertainment, and are all that good a presentation. However, they set forth such a manageable leap of faith to explain how we could, in fact face down some of these monsters. It’s more chilling an alternative to mysticism because IT COULD happen, or at least, feels like it could. Monsters, I think, are more frightening when they feel real.
For that reason, I think both of these pieces are important, if not the most important additions to both werewolf and zombie canon. Where other pieces of entertainment like, say, Underworld strive toward this eerie realism, in the end, they sell out for that Hollywood entertainment. Brooks’ and the werewolf mockumentary do not. They simply offer up a creepy, realistic explanation.
They are, if not for everyone else, my boilerplate for zombie and werewolf stories in the future. They are my canon.
Which isn’t to discount mysticism. It has it’s place. It has it’s place in fantasy. Mysticism is good when you need a juggernaut villain to make your Mary Sue Van Helsing seem like he might struggle to defeat it. Mysticism is good for adventure. Mysticism is good for horror when the goal is simply to give gruesome gross-outs.
It’s just not chilling. Sorry.