Recently Curt Percell of the Groovy Age of Horror blog suggested to those of us in the League of Tana Tea Drinkers (LOTTD) that we tackle a question: “What Do Cute Versions of Monsters Tell Us About Horror?” It’s an interesting question to explore, and some of my fellow LOTTD members and I will try to offer some thoughts as we reflect on it.
To begin, I would have assumed that I like my horror more monstrous and terrifying. But as I look around my office I see this is not necessarily the case. Yes, there are wall posters, action figures, and toys from various horror films that are miniature representations of their scary counterparts on the silver screen. But I also have my fair share of not so scary monster items. In fact, many of them could be labeled cute. As I swivel my chair around I see zombie finger puppets, plush toys from Monsters vs. Aliens, a Frankenstein’s monster toy that dances to “Monster Mash” when the button is pushed, a dancing werewolf toy, and several pieces from the Lemax Spooky Town collection. Just today I received my copy of a Twilight Zone bobble head in the mail, the Kanamit alien from the episode “To Serve Man.” And every Halloween season I scour the local stores to try to find boxes of Count Chocula cereal, and maybe a box of Boo Berry on the shelves. So it would seem that I like my horror in a variety of ways, from the scary to the cute.
Given the large number of monster toys available it would appear that I am not alone. It’s not just the types of toys that are geared directly to horror fans (which has been going on for decades as The Gallery of Monster Toys illustrates), those great items produced by companies like Sideshow Toys, Funko, Entertainment Earth or McFarlane Toys. There are cute monster toys that are produced for a larger segment of the consumer market. On a recent visit to Toys’R'Us I found several interesting monster items that I wish I could have had access to as a kid, including a Bigfoot with remote control, combining the best of cryptozoology, the paranormal, and a monster toy. An Internet search will find many more, including the one in the first image accompanying this post, a Scary Cyclops Monster Toy Car.
This brings us back to the original question of this post: “What Do Cute Versions of Monsters Tell Us About Horror?” In preparing for my response I did a little research. I looked at the volumes in my library on horror, and found nothing. I also did several Internet searches over the course of a few days hoping to find scholarly research on the subject. It may be out there in a journal or book addressing horror in culture, but I couldn’t find anything.
Off the top of my head I havee a few thoughts. First, we live in a consumer society and monsters sell, both scary ones and cute ones. So as long as a dollar can be made on a variety of presentations of monsters there will be those interested in producing them. But this doesn’t really address why we like cute monsters and how this leads to their production for consumers. A second suggestion might nudge us a little closer to some insights. There has always been a relationship between horror and comedy. It can be seen in films, for example, that are horror but which include comedic elements, such as Bride of Frankenstein and An American Werewolf in London, to those comedy-horror hybrids such as Young Frankenstein, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Slither, and Zombieland. So cute monsters remind us of the close connection between two genres that we might not necessarily think of as having any relationship, let alone a close one. Third, it may be that by enjoying cute monsters we make the real monsters a little more bearable.
I wish I had a better response to this question, and I’m looking forward to what some of my fellow LOTTD bloggers have to say on the topic. Perhaps it can be addressed in more depth in the future, and to that end I’ve suggested it to a scholar contact of mine who recently edited a volume on horror and culture. Until then I’ll have to be content with my meager thoughts above.