Monster is as Monster Does

1995. The movie Species had just come out in theaters and there were a lot of problems with it. Let’s put aside the terrible science (as a friend of mine put it, “Breeding doesn’t work that way. After a few generations, the worst you’ll have is someone with the occasional tentacle…”). Let’s put aside the misogyny, the implicit fears of miscegenation, and the really terrible CGI at the end. My first question was the one I kept asking since I was a kid:

“Why is Sil the monster here? Why can’t she be the main character?”

Sil was designed by H.R. Giger and brought to life by Natasha Henstridge and Steve Johnson. And she was beautiful. As anyone who’s even glanced at my blog knows, I have a penchant for the biomechanoid look. This is the first time since the original Alien and Debbie Harry’s videos for Koo Koo that the aesthetic Giger created was properly translated to the screen.

But, of course, it’s brought in as a thing of evil. For someone who looked at the original Alien and started writing stories where the xenomorphs could talk, had a civilization, and were struggling with oppression. I had the same feelings for the Creature from the Black Lagoon (and I wasn’t the only one), and most werewolves as well.

The werewolves in particular – I love wolves, and studied their behavior. The more I got to know to know wolves, the more I realized they wouldn’t want to go hunting their loved ones in the dead of night. Packs are FAMILY organizations. They’d be more a threat to the local geese and rabbits than people. So why drove them to kill?

The human. The more I looked into it, the more I saw that for the most part, the human monsters were really the dangerous ones. They’re the ones creating bioweapons. They’re the ones making human-alien hybrids without asking, “So, is this really a responsible act?” They’re the ones invading quiet areas of the amazon with noisy boats. It’s the human that feels the power of the wolf and decides to act out, letting themselves loose.

Guess this is why I rarely liked vampires. They were too human. They acted in human ways.

For me, acts were what defined something as ‘monstrous.’ More importantly, the motivations behind those acts. There’s a difference between committing a monstrous act because there’s no choice and jumping right to that act as the default. The monsters are the company men who said, “We can write off the crew. We need the valuable IP the alien represents.” Or the epitome of 50’s male virility who uses his privilege to feed cruelty and bloodlust. Or the zealot who sees himself as right, powerful, and Gods voice in the world. “The missiles are flying. Hallelujah.”

This is where the line between horror and fantasy comes in. For most, the horror is this alien thing impinging itself on your comfortable reality. But the moment you treat the ‘monster’ with more care, it ceases to be a monster. It’s just an alien or extraplanar being to understand. Or, as one person put it, “How do you do? I’m the Doctor. Would you like a jelly baby?”

PS: As a final note, I think I’m not the only one who thought this way. Even starting with the original film, Sigourney Weaver herself said very, um, open-minded things about the sensual beauty of Giger’s creations.  I’ve seen more publicity photos of her cuddling with the alien than anything else. I think if someone pitched her on a romance film between her and a male version of Sil, she’d be all in.