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Who Are Real Monsters in King Kong, Peeping Tom, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

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Part I: Identify

Monsters are “dangerous and repulsive creature(s)”. A monster represents the horror in a physical form. However, just like all physical things, a monster has the ability to be destroyed (Kawin 2012). The movies King Kong (Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933), Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) all involve a monster as the center of horror in the films. While all three monsters in the films mentioned are horrifying, they differ in their outward appearance, which in turn affects how other characters in the film act toward the monster.

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The monster in King Kong, an unrealistically large ape, deals with his outward appearance of being non-human. Kong’s classification, according to English and Film professor Bruce Kawin goes under “giant”. When Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) first lays eyes on King Kong, she becomes petrified with fear, all due to Kong’s initial outward appearance. Although Kong has yet to commit monstrous actions, his monstrous appearance is enough to induce horror in not just Ann Darrow, but the audience as well. King Kong contrasts greatly from a monster like Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm). The film Peeping Tom features Mark Lewis, who is a human monster (Kawin 2012) with no outward ferocities in his appearance, allowing the majority of the horror he creates be done through his actions. His appearance is what the audience regards as normal. Mark Lewis’s lack of a monstrous appearance allows him to fill the role of a monster in a horror film (Kawin). Mark Lewis creates horror through his actions of murdering innocent women, while Kong’s horror is vastly created off his appearance and qualities being a giant gives him.

Not all human monsters fail to create horror with their appearances. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the monster Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) mercilessly slaughters with a chainsaw. Although human, his appearance is anything but what an audience would consider “normal”. As the name states, Leatherface literally appears to have a leather mask sewn into his face. He also makes animalistic sounds like squealing and grunting, as opposed to coherent words. Leatherface’s appearance alone creates horror. His chainsaw and actions of slaughtering people are obviously major contributors to the horror Leatherface creates, but based on appearance alone, Leatherface appears horrifying. While both Mark Lewis and Leatherface are human monsters, Leatherface is able to create horror based on his appearance, while Mark Lewis cannot.

King Kong, Mark Lewis, and Leatherface, while all monsters, create horror differently from their appearances. King Kong’s horror derives solely from his appearance and above-human capabilities, but Leatherface’s horror is a combination of his appearance and actions. Creating horror from a non-monstrous appearance means that the horror surrounding Mark Lewis is based only from his actions.

Part II: Contextualize

Horror that comes directly from characters and horror that is derived from outside, non-character, sources display themselves in different ways, but both are able to create horror in the film. The films Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, 1999) create horror that is not character-based, whereas in Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) and Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960), horror comes from within the characters. Other than these horrors differing by being from internal or external sources, the horrors show themselves in either a monstrous creature or human form, yet both horrors are combatted through the actions of other characters.

The horror in Jaws is obtained by the presence of an immensely ferocious shark that is killing the people of Amity Island. Few full shots of the monster are actually shown in the film, but the horror is more derived from the damage and destruction the shark creates, as opposed to his physical presence. The horror in The Blair Witch Project is similar to Jaws in the sense that the horror the film creates is not from the characters, but a source outside of their control. The source of horror in The Blair Witch Project comes from the monster that is never shown. There are only signs that the monster exists. Even without fully appearing in the film, the monster in The Blair Witch Project creates intense fear in the characters and audience because it antagonizes the antagonists in the woods, leaves suspicious signs, and abducts one of their members. The characters in Jaws are able to destroy the monstrous shark through a series of attempts, making them heroes of the film. The characters in The Blair Witch Project, also attempt to combat the monster but just surviving and trying to escape the woods. Although they are not successful in their attempts and ultimately die, the antagonists, similarly to the ones in Jaws, try to combat the external horror by extinguishing the source.

Horror films Psycho and Peeping Tom achieve its horror internally, through the characters Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and Mark Lewis( Karlheinz Böhm). The horrors these characters create are directly from their murderous actions. Horror is created when Norman Bates, or Mrs. Bates slashes Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) to death in the shower. Similarly, horror is created when Mark Lewis kills him females of interest. Both of these killings are, to the audience, senseless. The victims were undeserving of their demise, which does contribute to the horror created. Having characters as the source of horror instead of external factors, as noted in the films Jaws and The Blair Witch Project, is a more unsettling horror. Seeing horror being created in a human figure, one that appears normal causes the horror to become more localized and “closer to home”. The external factors in Jaws and The Blair Witch Project are very specific ways the horror was derived from. However, when horror is derived from characters that to audience members appear normal, the horror becomes more real to the audience. Similarly to the combatting of horror for external factors, humans also combat the internal horror figures in Psycho and Peeping Tom. Other characters discovering Norman Bates’s and Mark Lewis’s wrongdoings either ended in imprisonment and suicide.

Horror from external factors appears more distant, while horror from internal factors, like human characters, is made to appear more realistic, which in turn is more frightening.

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