As it is with most children growing up, my sanctuary was my home. Home is where my parents raised me, where my older brother taught me what I needed to know of the world, where my toys promised to teleport me to another world when the earthly one got to be a little too much for me to handle.
Watching horror movies also became a home of mine. Watching scary movies would become a place where I strangely felt safe, mostly because no matter how grotesque or otherworldly or supernatural or unbelievable the monsters that threatened me from the horror movie screen, the more I quickly understood that every horror movie would come to an end, extinguishing the potential for horror with it. As soon as the credits of a horror film would begin to roll, my heart and my mind would shove the terror of its unimaginable creature back into some harmless recess where I knew it couldn’t reach me.
It was make believe, after all.
And I would have to imagine that if horror films have proven to be problematic in my own life then they present a bit of a challenge to others as well. Some people hate horror movies because they are legitimately frightened watching them. Meanwhile, I love horror movies because they remind me of what scares me about everything around me. Because I discovered through a horror movie that home can be a very terrifying place too, and Creature from the Black Lagoon taught me that lesson.
When first introduced to the creature, I imagined that his physical image alone would give me nightmares when I’d see him ambling about on the screen. But I found that I wasn’t afraid of him at all. On the contrary, I gravitated to the creature. I wanted to understand this thing that looked nothing like me but seemed to feel things that I could also feel. To my understanding, he loved nature. He appreciated beauty. He felt at times like he was different (and that didn’t always feel like a normal feeling).
And when I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon as a child – like the creature – I suddenly felt threatened too.
But I wasn’t threatened in a horror movie by some malformed creature that defied description. In fact, I was threatened by people who looked – for want of a better word – normal. Like real, everyday human beings. And they were invading this creature’s home and they were discarding their cigarette butts into this creature’s home and they sought to abduct the creature from his home. To my way of thinking, Creature from the Black Lagoon is a home invasion film, and the creature itself is the victim. And if I’d come to understand anything about the sanctity of the home, it is that you must always defend it.
Somehow, then, I understood that every home on my block was part of the neighborhood watch program. Were my family far from home, someone would defend our house if threatened by a burglar. And if a fire threatened to burn my home to the ground, a fire brigade would save my house from a smoldering fate. And if a tornado warning was sounded over the radio, the rest of the family would whisk away to the basement, and my dad would stand watch on the house’s front porch, waiting for the first glimpse of a cyclone. And I knew my father would provide first-hand accounts of the storm’s assault on our home rather than be whisked away by terrible winds himself. I knew at all times that my house was protected in these ways.
But watching Creature from the Black Lagoon as a child, I would never have thought that normal people could be monsters, that people seemingly as similar to and familiar to and innocuous as you or I could inspire terror by entering my home – especially with me in it – by taking my home from me or by removing me forever from my home. One could imagine, then, that my sympathies lied with the creature when I watched that film. To this day, my sympathies still do. Even when I rewatch the movie today, I hope that the conclusion will somehow be different, despite the fact that I’ve seen it so many times. I champion the gill man and hope that he will not only save his home but perhaps even discover sympathy, if not love. And for those familiar with this classic Universal monster movie, you know that the monsters win, in the end. The heroic creature, alternatively, does not.
And I’ve since moved far away from that house that I once called home. That house where my parents raised me, where my brother taught me what I needed to know of the world, where my toys promised to teleport me to another world when the earthly one got to be a little too much for me to handle.
And I’ve tried hard since then to forget the lesson that I learned there – watching that 1954 film – that sometimes, the monsters win. Sometimes, home is a place – like a memory – to be abandoned, when it both cannot be defended and when the movie always seems to end the same, no matter how many times you watch it.