Classic Halloween Monsters: The Real Story Behind Horror’s Most Iconic Characters
Halloween monsters go hand in hand with Hallow’s Eve, I’m pretty sure that this Halloween (and every Halloween) there will be at least one person in your social group who will be wearing an outfit representing one of societies classic monsters, after all, it’s not a real Halloween party unless at least two Dracula’s or Mummies turn up.
Creatures like this have become so much part of our culture for decades but have you ever given any thought as to when and where they originated from? These creepy looking guys were around long before the movies and literature made them famous, but i wonder how many of you know their true origins?
So take a look at four of the most classic Halloween monsters of our time, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula and Warewolves and get yourself schooled on some valuable titbits of information about horror’s most iconic characters that may just come in very useful. Especially for small-talk if you just happen to be standing next to an attractive(?) one by the punch-bowl at your Halloween party. Halloween monsters can seriously up your game.
Classic Halloween Monsters: Frankenstein
The story of the story began one unseasonably dark and stormy night in the July of 1816. Mary Godwin (aka Mary Shelley) and her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley were staying with Lord Byron (imagine a 19th century Russell Brand with talent) in his Swiss villa. The previous year’s gigantic volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora had blasted enough gases into the atmosphere to alter the weather of the entire globe.
A persistent fog covered the eastern seaboard of the United States for nearly six months, the atmosphere was so saturated you could stare directly at the sun without fear of blinding. The Thames river in London was so firmly frozen it could support a large open air market for nine months of the year, crops failed all over the northern hemisphere, famine, disease and death followed. The 1810s remain the coldest decade on record. Ominous times indeed.
Trapped indoors by the wild summer storms, which came complete with portentous thunder and lightning, Byron and his guests read ghost stories before challenging each other to come up with their own macabre tales.
Godwin took inspiration from the scientific discovery of Luigi Galvani ( the word “galvanized” is derived from his name). 30 years previously Galvani made a shocking discovery. While preparing frogs’ legs soup in his workshop he dropped a dead frog onto his electric supply and was startled to observe it convulse ferociously, launching itself off the transformer. Had he discovered the secret to life itself?
After presenting his finding to the world the scientific community began experimenting with admirable vigour, wasting no time in scaling up from amphibians to humans.
Galvani’s nephew Giovanni Aldini spent the last few years of the 1700s perfecting the technique. By removing skin from heads he was able to identify which muscles were used to form facial expressions, he worked out which tendons to jam electrodes in to make dead hands squeeze hard enough to crush the hands of his assistants. He could make legs kick with enough force to throw a grown man across a room and on one occasion he thumped a positively massive current into a corpse making it convulse so hard it snapped its own spine.
The experiments drew huge crowds, by the 1810s recent victims of the hangman were regularly being brought to medical schools in Europe to be filled with current for what had become as much about macabre entertainment as scientific discovery. So the young Ms Godwin was making no huge leaps of imagination when she created Dr. Frankenstein and his doomed monster. She was only postulating on what would happen if the crazy bastards in the world around her ever succeeded. Halloween monsters don’t come better than Frankenstein.
Classic Halloween Monsters: The Mummy
The Mummy’s curse may seem as established a horror trope as any, especially when it come to Halloween monsters. But hieroglyphs were not decoded until the 19th century so until then tomb raiders were merely being confronted with weird pictures of eyes, birds and dog-headed men carved into pyramid walls.
It was Howard Carter’s 1922 excavation of the Tomb of Tutankhamun that gave rise to the modern mummy myth. One of the first people to enter the tomb was Lord Carnarvon. He was bitten by a mosquito on the cheek and later slashed the bite open while shaving. It became infected and he died. At the same time a preliminary examination of Tutankhamun’s body revealed that the young king had a strange lesion on his cheek.
This coincidence prompted a media frenzy and the further death of two other people involved in the discovery within the following couple of years cemented the myth of the Mummy’s curse. Major newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic carried the story of Egyptian vengeance from beyond the grave with near hysterical fever.
However, of the 58 people directly involved with the excavation only four died within the following 12 years. Excavation leader Carter lived with worldwide renown and wealth into his 60s and died of cancer. Hardly vicious revenge from the boy king.
And most tellingly, there was no curse carved into the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb anywhere. Not even so much as a “F*ck Off Dickheads.” Sometimes sh*t just happens.
Classic Halloween Monsters: Dracula
Everyone knows that Dracula was loosely based on Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad III Prince of Wallachia or Vlad the Impaler. Vlad’s father had been recruited into the Order of the Dragon, a Catholic Church-sponsored group charged with keeping the Muslim Ottoman Empire from making any more land gains. The country of Wallachia was the front line of the Christian/Muslim battlefield leading to Vlad senior being given the honour of heading the Order, thus acquiring the name “Dracul” or in English “The Dragon”.
When Vlad junior came along he naturally became “The Son of the Dragon”. Dracula. But to become known as Vlad the Impaler would require something a bit more grandiose.
After his father’s death Vlad assumed control of Wallachia. His first act was to invite the Wallachia’s nobles to a meal where he laughed and drank wine with them until he announced that they were now being sent to work as slaves fortifying his castle.
By decapitating the only group capable of opposing him he set himself in a position of complete power and immediately set out his new program of law and order.
No matter what the crime, there was only one punishment and it was death. Although Vlad doled out different kind of deaths depending on the crime. Thieves would be impaled, adulterers were skinned alive, and the lazy had their hands chopped off, and were then impaled.
You could say he ran on a strict law and order platform. Impalement was his preferred method of execution because it took a long time, better to allow the impaled time to consider the moral shortcoming that lead him to be hoisted 10ft in the air with a large stake through his stomach.
In fact it is more likely that victims were killed by exposure to the elements rather than by the stake. Vlad would keep his castles courtyard full of the dead and the dying raised high on stakes. Rumour has it that he would dine in the middle of this grim forest, would collect the blood that fell in wooden bowls and eat hunks of bread after dipping it into the blood.
When the Ottoman Empire finally did invade, Vlad attacked its advance unit and destroyed it. He ordered the survivors and the dead to be impaled. The Ottoman Sultans account says when they came across the battlefield 20,000 men were staked in what can only go down as the most emphatic warning of all time. Even given the more than likely exaggeration of the numbers, consider this: if that figure is even 1/10 of the truth, the Turk army still discovered 2000 impaled comrades. Enough to make even the ballsiest think twice.
However, vampire myths were not uncommon before Dracula author Bram Stoker’s time. But until Dracula they were more like werewolves, primitive animals. Dracula endured because Stoker gave the eponymous Count a cultured, seductive personality based on Stoker’s friend Sir Henry Irving. This mix of sophisticated and murderous rewrote the vampire myth until Twilight came along and made them all whiny pussies.
Classic Halloween Monsters: Werewolves
Shape-shifting is and old, old tale. The Greek gods frequently appeared in animal form to mess with humans. Zeus came down to earth in the form of a bull to rape the wife of someone who pissed him off. The devil took the form of a snake in the Garden of Eden. This kind of thing happened all the time. Halloween monsters rock.
Nailing down the first occurrence of werewolves is beyond me and Wikipedia, but there is the interesting case of the first werewolf to be convicted in a court of law. In the German town of Bedburg during the late 16th century local farmers began finding mutilated cattle. The cows had wounds that were unusually savage but the farmers concluded that the wolves who infested the nearby forest were becoming bolder and venturing closer to humans.
The attacks on cattle continued intermittently for years until one year children began going outside and never coming home. Partial remains were found that hinted that they were being torn limb from limb and then partially eaten. Soon after women, especially pregnant women, were disappearing and when their bodies were discovered the signs of sexual abuse forced the townspeople to accept that this was not the work of a particularly ravenous wolf pack.
The men of the town formed hunting parties and patrolled the countryside. Eventually they spotted a strange figure on the horizon. Walking on two legs but seemingly covered in fur they ran it to ground in the woods and discovered local farmer, and respectable member of the community, Peter Stubbe cowering in the dirt wearing nothing save a wolfskin.
Stubbe was returned to the town and placed on trial for the murder of 13 children, four women and two men. He claimed that at the age of 12 the devil had given him a magic belt which would transform him into “the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like brands of fire; a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth; a huge body and mighty paws. (via)”
Stubbe additionally confessed to raping his daughter and sister, to murdering his first born son, taking the body into the woods and feasting on the brains. Also to ripping the foetuses out of the pregnant women and eating them, describing them as “dainty morsels.” And in true serial killer style the people of the Bedburg were aghast that such a quiet, friendly man could hide a secret so pitch black.
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