Don't You Hear the Screams? (Part 1)
Alfredo Diaz Roman
The birth of every monster goes always accompanied by screams of terror.
As it is well known, every man desires by nature to know, and ultimately to know what things are. Now, when man does not manage to know what something is, doubt rises, that rough little voice inside of us that formulates over and over again that simple question “what is it?” And if afterwards, that which we have failed to know presents itself as a danger, the doubt becomes fear, because there is something which potentially could harm us and we don’t even know what it is.
Later on the question arises of what would be of fear once it gets to know the unknown object. Well, there are two options: the first is the disappearance of fear the moment you know what you ignored and you realize that it was something of which there was nothing to be afraid of; the other alternative would be the reassurance of fear when knowing that indeed there is something to be afraid of, and then again two paths open: a serene, dimensioned, prudent and controlled attitude, or rather the crude and despairing terror. We will now discuss a type of this crude and despairing terror, its causes, consequences, and remedies.
Literature and cinema are filled with monsters, with things or creatures that make us tremble, have nightmares and maybe even wet our pants. In short, the culture of entertainment is filled with elements that make us fear. From Frankenstein to the famous zombies, the generations of the past two centuries have grown with the idea that there exists a specific literary and cinematic genre whose sole purpose is to provoke terror or horror in its readers or spectators.
This is irrefutable and the whole world knows and agrees that the famous horror genre exists; and yet some questions present themselves: How is it that it all started? How does it work? How do monsters rise? Are they perhaps fantastical creatures that are simply products of our imagination, or do they come into existence by something specific? Because, let’s face it, we live among monsters, and that if we have not become one of them ourselves.
We know well that every effect must necessarily have a cause; the horror genre, monsters objectively speaking are effects, things, ideas, concepts that did not appear out of nothing and consequently they must have had a cause. Let us then search those causes and try to understand the relationship between monsters and reality.
The logic behind the monster
The human being, just like any other being, has a matter, a form, an efficient cause and an end, a purpose, a reason of being. Every being that exists, necessarily and essentially has an end, a purpose, a reason of being. Man is a spiritual being that has a human soul and for instance, being soul and body, man’s end cannot be merely material, but also spiritual. The Catholic Faith clearly teaches it: man’s end is his eternal salvation. In order to attain his end, a man has to know and love God in this life and follow His commandments, through which he will obtain the eternal prize.
To not follow what God has commanded through the natural law and the divine law is to turn away from Truth and Goodness. To turn away from Truth and Goodness, to choose falsehood and evil, knowingly and willingly, is to sin, is to reject and refuse the end set to man by God.
To sin, then, is the most horrific act that any human being can do; because of original sin our nature is wounded, we are ignorant, weak and we can be malicious, for we can act evil knowingly. Man has a free will, but it is imperfect and can make mistakes in respect of Truth and Goodness, and therefore we can do evil; by acting this way man is not attaining to his end, he becomes a decomposed being that has denied his ultimate end in order to get that which appeals more to his will and fallen nature. He rejects his end to embrace his sin.
Every man sins, engenders monsters, for every man is weak and none perfect. Yet every man can repent of his sin and start over. The problem lies in the fact that not every man repents, and here is where the monster is given birth and terror is born, that desperate fear in front of the reality of the feared object.
Sin causes guilt and remorse; the sinner who knows to have done evil resents it because he has gone against what God has ordered, and also he knows that because of that he has offended his Creator and has brought upon himself a punishment for having rejected for a moment his ultimate end to satisfy a whim. The correct thing in such a circumstance is repentance, which when genuine has as a consequence to ask God’s forgiveness. By going to confession and asking the forgiveness of God, God washes away the sin and gives a new opportunity. It is a rebirth, a new beginning, and the monster disappears without the lightest opportunity to inhabit the earth.
The problem is that this does not always happen. Sometimes the unrepentant sinner enters a cycle of despair in which the monster is born. Sin causes guilt and remorse, but the sinner does not repent; instead he tries to distract himself and forget his sin. The sinner sees the monster which he has created and instead of repenting, asking for forgiveness, and erasing and defeating the monster, he tries to forget it. The unrepentant sinner will not be able to eliminate the guilt that corrodes him and that will bother him, for instance he will look for distraction to forget the monster he has created. Consequently, the sinner will sin again and the monster will keep on growing and growing until the time to be born arrives; then the monster will be born and entering the world, death will enter with it. The unrepentant sinner condemns himself to live hand by hand with death, death which takes the forms of vice, alcohol, sexual debauchery, drugs, materialism, nihilism, and suicide.
And as incredible as it may seem, this is the logic in general of the monster in literature and cinema. The monsters represent our unrepentant sins and our unconfessed sins. The victims of the monsters are the unrepentant sinners who are consumed and destroyed by suffering and death, the consequences of evil actions not confessed. And if you don’t believe it, think about your classical horror movie:
You have a group of immature teenagers who are all drunk, drugged by having adulterous relationships (sin). Seconds after, screams are heard or strange things happen, (conscience and remorse). Some smart one makes fun of everybody flipping out; someone blames the cat or the wind, (unrepentant sin, unconfessed. The sinner seeks distraction and oblivion to get rid of his fault for a moment). A few minutes pass and it results that the monster is real, the teenagers see it, (terror, horror, despair). The teenagers begin to die, (death, vices: the consequences of the unrepentant sin). And the outcome: either every single character dies (triumph of sin), or the monster is defeated by mere physical strength and human determination, (which is humanism or rationalism that denies God and that results in the sequel, or the unending sequels, because the unrepentant sin becomes a vicious cycle that cannot come to end if it is not through contrition. Or, have you never asked yourself why is it that there are eleven Halloween movies with Michael Myers? Or why is it that there are eleven Friday the 13th movies with Jason? Not that I recommend those disgusting movies, I do not, only that the logical pattern described above is too obvious in slasher movies to avoid it.)
Sin, when it justifies itself, leads to immoral dissonance, to more sins, which leads to terror, to horror, to see what our conscience knew existed but refused to accept, and which, seeing it, despaired. To justify sin becomes a real nightmare.
Frankenstein and the impersonation of God
The monster by antonomasia, the monster which gave life to the horror genre is the ill-called Frankenstein. Really, Frankenstein is the doctor who created the monster but this last one has passed into general knowledge bearing the name of its creator, which is significantly curious once we know what the Frankenstein monster represents.
The monster represents the sin of humanism: the impersonation of God by man; the desire of the creature to be the Creator. To consider this results interesting when we consider the way in which Frankenstein has passed into popular knowledge. Frankenstein is the creator and the monster the creature, but it is the monster who gets called Frankenstein, just like in humanism –sin represented by the monster- the creature man desires to be called and recognized with the name and qualities of the Creator. The monster took over the name “Frankenstein” just as man took over the name “God”.
But, how is it that the monster in Frankenstein represents humanism? In the original story written by Mary Shelley in 1818, (upon which we base all that has been said so far on the Frankenstein monster), doctor Victor Frankenstein is a scientist obsessed with the desire to find the secret of life. This is something belonging to God alone, yet in his pride, Victor persisted and wished to be like God, walking away from his final end and sinning.
In the book Victor achieves his mission but he does it in an imperfect and misshapen manner. Giving life belongs to God alone and for that reason Victor only managed to create a monster. Mary Shelley, the author herself, makes this point clear in her introduction to the novel when she writes: “Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world”. Beholding the horrendousness of his sin, Victor feels remorse, he feels disgust towards the monster, but instead of repenting and taking care of the monster he has created, Victor abandons it and runs away from it.
Victor is unable to forget his sin and therefore he seeks distraction and oblivion; he secludes himself in the mountains, lakes and nature, he sleeps a lot because it is in sleep alone where he can forget the monster completely. Victor is afraid for he knows the monster is there, somewhere, and yet Victor does nothing and remains inside the vicious cycle. Meanwhile the monster grows to finally let itself out into the world, cause terror and eventually death. The story is quite clear about it, because it ends with a hardened Victor incapable of recognizing his mistakes after the monster has brought death upon Victor’s brother, friend, father, wife, and ultimately Victor himself.