Saturday, January 26, 2013


When I sat down at the keyboard, I had a totally different idea to begin this new series of posts on the subject of “monsters carrying girls”. However, “Fortune Favors the Brave” as the motto goes, so I’ll forge ahead on the never-ending and tangential narrative path, Quixotic-like, with lance in hand to ward off the skeptics and cynics along the way.

While reading various blogs and websites, I frequently come across certain catch-phrases and other colorful labels used to conveniently describe oft-occurring and familiar thematic features found in seemingly countless horror films. One of the terms used to define this phenomenon is the word “trope”, which is commonly used to describe any familiar motif or device – usually, but not always, visual – that crops up repeatedly (like either a flower or a weed depending on your perspective) in horror movies. So easy can the term be used for monster flicks that, for their example of the use of the word, the venerable Merriam-Webster opts to go with the phrase: “the usual horror movie tropes”.

As in the case of numerous other decorative, academic, and other, highfalutin-sounding words, I believe “trope”, at least in the context of horror film criticism (and of the kind found online mostly), is very often incorrectly used. I also happen to believe it’s one of those words that come so close that it seems to best fit what the writer is trying to express when otherwise too many more words, and perhaps a little more thought, would more clearly delineate the idea. You see, the proper use of the word “trope” means something – like in the aforementioned theme or scenic image – that is (eek!) overused, even to the point of being – heaven help us! – cliché!

Now, I think that most readers, when they come upon the word “cliché”, they know that it is most certainly being used to mean “overused”, maybe to the point of being “trite”, “dull”, or even “hackneyed”. Conversely, I suspect that writers really mean something a little less negative when they mention tropes. As a matter of fact, I fancy that often they should really be using another term: “iconic”.

Maybe some horror film situations, plots, and themes deserve to be labeled as a trope, but I prefer to think lots of these same ideas are considerably less tiresome than the term implies, and should instead, be more properly relegated to the loftier realms of the iconic.

But then again, perhaps using the term “iconic” is not quite accurate, either. An icon, you see, is usually reserved to define a sculpted bust or statue that has been memorialized, sometimes even being exalted to the state of being symbolic. All this just might take us down still another, entirely different road, and end up with the possibility of discussing yet another term -- like “tangential”, wouldn’t it?

Hey, I’ve told you many times before: this is my blog, and this is the place where I get to write what I want. And that, dear readers, is what I could honestly call a trope! So let’s get on with the post, shall we?

Scene from Universal's MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS.
 As the title of this post implies, the subject contained in this feature is “monsters carrying girls”, and the image has been seen many, many times in horror films. For the sake of argument, I’ll call it iconic.

Besides the immediate feeling of anxiety, the sight of a monstrous troll or other unsavory, hulking beast carrying aloft a beautiful woman, whether she be tramp, trollop, or the All-American Girl Next Door, there is something mighty unsettling going on – especially in the “what if” department. I think you know what I mean; it’s one thing to see a beast on two legs carrying away a damsel who’s fainted dead away – it’s another to think what’s next? And with all that leering, slobbering and grunting going on, it’s not hard to figure out.

The device of the monster menacing the maid is not only ubiquitous in horror films, its damn near expected. This morbid and more than slightly perverse interaction has not been lost on critics, reviewers and historians alike. Even monster movie magazines picked up on the recurring theme. For example Jim Warren’s FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine often showed pictures of monsters carrying girls, a feat not hard to accomplish as many film studios posed their mon-stars and maidens in this way on photo stills and lobby cards to transfix the viewer in an instant of quasi-sexual tension, hoping, I'm sure, to stimulate ticket sales. After FM’s first half-hundred issues, Editor Forrest J Ackerman ran a series of features with the title “Girls and Ghouls” (later expanded to "Girls and Ghouls Gallery"), replete with photos of swooning and innocent girls being dragged, carried, or otherwise man . . . er, monster handled. The first installment appeared in issue #64 (April 1970), and featured the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It didn't take long, however, for FJ to show what was expected -- the Mummy, with a hapless, swooning beauty under his arm (FM #66, June 1970).

[To be continued...]


Doug said...

Didn't FM have a similar feature, "Carry on Monster"?

John said...

You are correct -- a one-time feature in FM #33.


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