As my partner reads DreamHaven Books’ lavish reprint of the novelization of Creature from the Black Lagoon, I am reminded of my response to monsters in movies: rather than terrify me, they are a source of fascination, casting a spell over me, demanding my rapt attention. When watching horror movies as a child, I was bored until the monsters were on screen. I wasn’t attracted to the monsters because they scared me, as was the case with the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, especially when Dorothy and her companions encounter him for the first time in all his horrific spectacle. In fact, the Wizard terrified me so much that when I was two or three, I had to turn away from the TV as the Cowardly Lion trembled and whimpered his way down that long, empty corridor to the Wizard’s chamber, in spite of the fact that I knew in the end that the Wizard was really an innocuous old man and that, because of how frightening he was, I really wanted to see him.
But that’s not how I usually respond to movie monsters. Instead, I identify with them; or at least I used to. For example, when I initially saw Lon Chaney, Jr.’s The Wolfman in fourth or fifth grade, the Wolfman didn’t frighten me. I didn’t pity him either, as tragic as Larry Talbot’s story—and the story for most monsters—may have been. Rather, I felt a sense of nostalgia, not because it was an old movie, I was too young for that type of sentimentality, but because he resembled a human, or rather was once human, was no longer human, yet you could clearly see his humanity through his monstrousness. According to Freud, such dissemblance in resemblance would evoke a sense of the uncanny, awakening in me a feeling of horror and dread toward the Wolfman.
Instead, the Wolfman seemed to express something about myself. Something lost, something not real. Like him, I wanted to be extraordinary in such a way that it was manifested in my very being, for everyone to see. I felt like I didn’t belong in the world I was in, but that sense of displacement hadn’t marked me as special as it had the Wolfman. Still, I knew: wherever the Wolfman was from, it was my home, not the home where my family lived, which was a complicated mixture of love, anger, fear, and resentment, but a more elemental home, a more primal home from the world of dreams or found in those moments of stillness when the world moves and shakes around you but you are filled with a profound calm, as in a late August afternoon, when you lie on a blanket in the front yard reading Around the World in Eighty Days, a steady wind blowing the leaves of the box elder so they sound like a distant crowd cheering or the whole day sighing. Perhaps the Wolfman reminded me of that home because he was no longer there, though he longed to be, even though he was really no place else.