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Wild Things: Transformation in Horror (Overview)

In days of old, in order to get with the ladies, Zeus would Wonder Twin Powers Activate with his brother Poseidon and they would take the form of a bull or a swan or a cuckoo – whatever would wet the whistle of the Lady of the Day. Other times these gods would use animals as a curse to transform their subjects into some monstrous hybrid, like when Medusa dared to let herself be raped by Poseidon, and Athena, offended at the loss of virginity, turned the woman into a hideous creature with hair of snakes. Then, of course, there’s that strange little tale from Crete. Taking the punishment for her husband’s arrogance, Pasiphae is tricked into falling in love with a bull, the unholy union of which produces the half-man/half-bull Minotaur.

Greek mythology tells us many such tales, of gods that take the forms of animals, of humans turned into monsters as punishment, of monsters born to humans for sundry reasons. The intermingling of human and animal into monstrous harmony exists across most cultures. In Japan, the Joro-gumo transforms from a spider into a beautiful woman. The Aswang passes for human by day, but ravages the Philippines at night in various terrifying forms. In the United States, the Jersey Devil, the cursed 13th son of Mother Leeds, still roams the Pine Barrens, or so they say. Whether by chance, by curse, or by choice, these transformations reveal a darkness in humanity’s relationship with the world around it.

So welcome to “Wild Things,” the topic that explores the use of transformation in horror. Most pieces in this Topic will fall under three tags:

  • “Born This Way” will feature explorations of the inhuman born to human parents. Like the Minotaur, sometimes these creatures are born because of inhuman or unholy dalliances, while other times science or genetics or family curses or just plain dumb luck are to blame. Think Basket Case (1982) or It’s Alive (1974) or The Fly 2.
  • “She Turned Me Into a Newt” focuses on those characters who are transformed into the monstrous later in life by outside forces: people who are bitten by wolves or cursed by gypsies or some such bad luck. Sometimes the curses are deserved, other times – not so much.
  • “He Chose…Poorly” explores those characters whose transformation stems from arrogance and poor decision making skills. Seriously, who messes around with an experimental teleportation machine after a night of binge drinking? WHO, JEFF GOLDBLUM — WHO?

Ultimately, this Topic explores why transformation is such a powerful metaphor in horror. When combined with the natural world, transformation can reflect the arrogance of humans who believe themselves superior to nature. It can bring forth the primal part of our nature suppressed by society. Perhaps most of all, these hybrid monsters summon forth the grotesque in a way that fascinates and disgusts our imaginations.

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