Interesting monsters and friendly cannibals

It’s human to want to look at scary things, to queue up to see what that cheeky scamp Gunther von Hagens has been up to in his workshop, and for the source of a terrible smell in the house to be a dead mole brought home by a six year old and secretly kept under the bed .

If horror is good art, it’s a healthy way to deal with darkness. Philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham said we should have corpses in our gardens so that we get really, really used to death (I’m not sure what he thought people who lived in flats should do, I don’t think they make window boxes that big). He thought we would enjoy life more. That might be a little much, but I do think hanging out with the deceased a lot makes me appreciate living. And can horror be beneficial in that sense, without the need to drape a granny over the rhododendrons? I think so, if handled correctly. Deeply, artfully, even humorously, just not flippantly.

I’m annoyed the TV series ‘Hannibal’ has been cancelled as it had art, and relationships. The last couple of decades have seen a glut of horror where a bunch of idiot kids minus personalities get butchered by an equally blank killer. Is that really a whole lot different from Romans cheering on a lion as it crunches up slaves? The essentially motiveless killing the nameless in what just becomes a blah of blood.

Or some weird games master taking out revenge on people by slaughtering them in innovative ways (I’m looking at you, ‘Saw’). And what makes it worse as these people are often portrayed as ‘bad’, and so deserve it. What the hell? It would be on thing if they were Hitler or something, but stop trying to make it okay to cheer-on death, we don’t sit and knit by the guillotine any more.

In all the best horror we remember the names of the characters, the way they resonate with us, or our fears, means they can’t help but become iconic. I have seen all the ‘Hostel’ films, I have no recollection of what happens, or any of the character’s names, so I know I didn’t care about them, and they said nothing. With Frankenstein’s creature I was shocked when he killed Victor’s younger brother, and his best friend, but still winced when he was chased, tormented and rejected, and not just when played by Benedict Cumberbatch.


Hannibal Lecter’s and cannibalism is fascinating. I know I watched ‘Alive’ about the Brazilian rugby team’s 1972 plane crash impatient for the eating fellow passengers bit to start, discussing with friends what bit of each other we would eat first in that situation, and Queequeg the chirpy cannibal chap is the best thing about Moby Dick. We are worried when he gets ill, because eating people doesn’t make him bad.


The problem is, if the type of horror that makes people think, connect with character, examine themselves and put some actual work in to process the concepts involved becomes cancelled, and flippant, shallow horror rises, I fear more potentially damaging it could become. Just as Madame Bovary can teach a person a lot about the complexities of love and the hideousness of heartbreak, and Fifty Shades can be an effective guide to stalking.

What I like best about thoughtful horror is how messed-up the other characters involved can become. The streaks of grey hair and nervous ticks. I don’t know anyone professionally for whom death, and especially murder, just bounces off. The fact that in the book and film versions of Thomas Harris’ work Will Graham’s mind often resembles spaghetti and Play-Doh, comforts me, and probably everyone else who works with death and has freaky dreams, and maybe a little cry on the drive home from work (although for an enormous bawl, I will pull over. Safety first, people).

I think that’s why I need to be nice to my people, to wash them with warm water, even though I’m well aware they can’t feel the difference. I always call them by their names, never ‘the body’, and if a procedure requires a little more pushing, pulling, cutting than usual, my mouth automatically apologises, just like I did back when I was nursing and turning someone’s arm into a pin cushion looking for a vein.

Although, we can only pick up one radio station in our mortuary, so they are going to be listening to hits from the 70s and 80s whether they like it or not, but hey,  lots of people secretly like a bit of Abba, even dead ones.

* This rambling post was sponsored by my sadness about Hannibal, and also Jon Snow.