ByMark Capehart, writer at
An academic lover of all things horror and folklore posting my thoughts and observations
Mark Capehart

What is most scary to people. Well if you watch the news it appears to be someone who is even slightly different from them. Actually you don't have to watch the news, its depressing anyway. All you need to do is look at the world of horror entertainment. Outsiders are everywhere and they take on some pretty familiar faces. In this little bit of scribbling I am gonna look at some of these and try to get a bead on why they are scary...cause a lotta them seem to be pretty easy to defeat. OF course this failure to defeat them is part of what makes them scary. They are from outside our experience and won't go away like we want them to. So lets look at some of these.

(note: above picture is by John Kenn Mortensen from his collection. It explores what Lovecraft illustrated by Gorey would look like!) Not sure if it fits this list but who cares, they are awesome)

1. Our favorite, the Zombie (Romero style)

Okay let me just been the annoying, hyper uptight academic for a moment. There are two eras of zombies, pre-George Romero and post-George Romero. What is the difference? The one before Romero knows copyright law and is a submissive servant of its human controller. When Romero came along he took those zombies, threw in a bit of a ghoul, gave them a non-conformist streak and before you can say, "There coming to get you Barbara!" you have reinvented a monster. No i should mention a few variations and aspects on this. With pics to boot

Dawn of the Dead

Who's holding up the damn elevator....oh!
Who's holding up the damn elevator....oh!

One of my, and many other peoples, favorite social commentary movies. We are the zombies and the shopping mall is our world. The comedic elements on this are sometimes missed but it is always worth multiple viewings. Even the remake is worth a glance or two though I always so the original is an all time classic which should not have been messed with. Plus the black guy lives!!!

Evil Dead

Ya miss the comic elements on this one and you would need your head examined. Unless of course you are a bit sensitive to gore and the like then I will forgive you. Should mention that I am kinda implying the whole series here including the recent TV series. Its all beautiful. Introduced so many things into the popular mindset that it would take a full post to list them, (not a bad idea). Now to bring up a point before it is argued at me, this film has a bunch of different monster that could fit into a bunch of places on this list but for now I am gonna leave it here to celebrate the deadites and all the fun, tangible critters that Ash had to battle including his own hand.

Return of the Living Dead

Why door to door sales are a dying art.
Why door to door sales are a dying art.

Gotta love a movie where literally EVERYTHING come back from the dead and they are virtually impossible to destroy. How many sequels in this series, who cares I love em. From terrifying monsters to half a cat, these zombies know what they want....BRAAAAAAAINS!!!! Combine that with some of the least formidable human protagonists and the world is done for. That in itself is a pretty cogent argument presented in the horror genre. Of course you could always just fire an atomic shell at them. Naaaaa! that would be ridiculous. :)

2. It can't touch us, bite us and has trouble talking but it scares the living hell outta us: The Ghost

According to the vast majority of paranormal investigators, no ghost has ever harmed a human directly. The principal cause of injury is when the freaked out person decides to exit through the nearest window rather than the front door. So why are we so afraid of them? Well I will tell you in appropriately highfalutin academic rhetoric. They remind us all of our mortality and the defy the basic rule that once someone is dead they are supposed to stay that way. What is more, since most people do not come back as ghosts plus our cultural symbols tell us that a ghost is an unhappy dead person, we worry about just who it is that is coming back. Furthermore they sort of call back to a pagan legend where the non-physical realm is not neatly divided into heaven and hell. There is someplace else that we should not see or know about. Sometimes though our curiosity just gets the better of us and does it ever work out in these movie. Of course not cause then we would have no movie to watch. Lets look at a few variations on these.

The Uninvited

While this movie is very effective, great visuals, dang good acting and makes us never want to smell mimosa again it does have one big, nagging flaw that i gotta bring up. The protagonists bring all of this on themselves ya know. This is the sort of film where you just want to yell, "LEAVE THE DANG HOUSE STUPID!!!". This is of course the lingering problem with any haunted house movie, not to be confused with an old dark house but that is for another time. Why don't people just leave when the ghosts start showing up. Very few films have ever managed to get around this problem and it may tie into some western cultural values, our obsession with owning land, the ideal of male dominance in a household. Stuff like that. But at some point doesn't fight or flight kick in? But lets me stop ranting for a second and go on to some other aspects of this here monster.

13 Ghosts

Both the original and the remake. Both are campy, both have flaws, both have interesting women in servant roles. It is nice to see the wicked witch of the west back at work and, dang it, the black woman lives again. Sure she is annoying as hell and is basically playing a mistral show character but she still lives. These films are a lot of fun though and both versions have one big aspect i am going to explore at a later time.

They both include audience interaction or "transmedia" as the hip crowd likes to say. Castle had the special glasses which allowed the viewing audience to see the ghosts, the latter had a whole mythology worked out with the dark zodiac. plus both included scenes where bad-guys get squished to death.

The Haunting (1963)

This is the one that covers every part of the outsiders ideology in a ghost story. The spirits are those who intruded on a place they should not go. The protagonists, seen in the pic, are coming into a place they should not have come into. Even the basic tenants of the characters themselves all are outsiders in their own way. From the near-do-well kid, relatives do not like that branch of the family to the woman of implied alternative sexual practices to the scorned academic walking briskly away from respectability all are on the outside looking in and all encounter something even more far away from the mainstream in this house. Then there is Elanor, a person so much the outsider she does not even seem to have a place in the world so....she ends up with a place outside the world. No heroic sacrifice like in the remake it is simply being taken away from all that we call life.

3. It's big, it's bad and we usually brought it on ourselves: The BEM

For the benefit of those living in a black hole the last 70 years of so BEM stands for Bug Eyed Monster. Often used with space aliens, unless you support certain candidates than its aliens from all places. These are probably the easiest to explain as to our outsider fear and they look pretty dang different and scary.It is not just aliens but all monster that come from someplace that get us scared. Some of them are actually bugs..sorta kinda, kinda sorta.


They almost never kidnap men!
They almost never kidnap men!

The 1950s were probably the heyday for these. Why are they "bug eyed"? Well, may be because bugs are pretty creepy....and crawly....and scary. Some of our bug eyed monsters are even bugs but I am gonna leave those out for the time being because they are from here and in this little post I said I would look at things from out there. And where do we most often think of when someone says "out there"? Why outer space of course and as we all know "in space no one can hear you scream".


Probably the most famous BEM working right now but you my ask, "how come it aint in the aliens from outer space category which comes up later? Well, I will tell you. One big argument I always get into is the difference between horror and science fiction. I mentioned this before and people usually go that if there is a spaceship it is science fiction or, even more annoyingly, if it is not someone carrying a knife it is science fiction. Science fiction has to do with mans relationship with technology. There is very little technological about these guys. They are ugly Bug Eyed monsters that seem to have no real goal or plan or nothing except the desire to kill things so they can procreate so to speak. Anyone remember seeing them even eat in the films?


This fellow is suddenly hip all of a sudden. Santa's dark side companion. Karma with a long tongue. Now he is scary, a tad more snake eyed than bug eyed but I am bringing him up to point out something that is always an issue when dealing with horror. At that popular topic is...........cultural transferance!!! your excited i can tell. What I mean is this. Krampus is an image of horror here but in Austria and that region he is a beloved cultural tradition. See the film clip below. Talk to you after the clip..........

See what I mean, the kids love em. This is cropping up all over the place now that the world grows smaller with the spread of social media and the like. Recently heard a Mexican scholar get more than a little pissed with the use of Day of the Dead as a subject for horror films. That festival is a celebration, not a horror movie. Same has been done with carneval and just about any other holiday that did not originate in the US. Can we still use these, that is a big issue that is being dealt with everywhere but just something to chew on for a while. And speaking of big things that the segue? Here is my personal favorite.

Anything Lovecraftian

How outsider is Lovecraft? One of his most popular stories is actually called, The Outsider for crying out loud. All his monsters come from "out there". Where is "out there"? He is a bit vague on that but you can figure it out. As a true outsider himself, and good old fashioned xenophobe, everything from "not here" is a threat that is coming to destroy us. And boy are his monsters bugged eyed. Or fish eyed as the case may be. Gotta do a post just on him in a bit.

Now for a bit of a guilty pleasure on my part in this category........


I gotta admit, I LOVE this movie. What does it add to my discussion of the outsider? Not a whole lot but it is just so much fun and the monster are from outside. Plus you got one of the "gooviest" theme songs even. Ya hear a bit at the end. Anyway, just wanted to get this one in.

4. They are actually acting just like scientists of the non-mad variety: Aliens

There are two schools of thought on visitors from outer space, and one interesting theory that i will explain a bit later will prove they are utterly harmless and at certain points in history people thought it would actually be kinda cool to meet an alien. Recently, not so much. Outer space both fascinates and terrifies people. It is a great mystery that deep down we are kinda afraid to solve. What if something up there does not like us or does not want to be found? Eep!

One thing that has always bugged me is much about the relatively recent alien abduction phenomenon. What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Well, having worked at museums, with scientists and doing a bunch of research myself I have come to the conclution that all they are normal biology field work. Think about it and watch some nature documentaries. What do the scientists do when they are in the field? Try to observe unobtrusively, they take samples from the animals and their surroundings. They do experiments in the lab. Sure you say, but those are just lower animals and the BEMS are doing this to us. Well, to them there BEMS we are the lower animals and nowhere near as cute as a lab mouse. It is not precursor to an invasion, its just science. Well then, you say, why do they not try to communicate with us in the open scientifically. Watch the news, would you walk up to us and say "howdy"? Nope, means getting shot at. Got a lot more to rank about here but that is for another post. One thing that is nice though.......

They seem to have infinite varieties of outsiders to play with. and they are always good to throw in for a good scare and fight even in films that are almost all talking and actually quite depressing. See above film for instance.

5. The real horror in all this, paranoia aka the area you tackle if you want to win awards.

Now we are getting to a serious topic that will both help you win awards for your film but brings up some specific social issues. It also explains why some films are so much scarier and stand the test of time over others. Even if your film includes one of the ones from above ya gotta have a bit of this. Screenwriting class will also tell you that you need to have something like what we talked above to make this topic work. How is that for a cumbersome sentence!?!? Anyway you cut it or state awkwardly, you need paranoia for horror to work and what are we more afraid of than that which is outside our experience. (you all know which Lovecraft quote I am paraphrasing). The images below are from classic films where the monster look just like us or we never even see them and let me tell you, they work.

So what is "the outsider"? It is anything that can take our image of comfort and make it uncomfortable. In a roundabout way it is not even there fault that they are considered a monster. Look at all the things I mentioned and see how many are just doing what comes naturally to all species. Eating, procreating, learning. All perfectly natural till the affect our property values. Then its on!!

Gonna do some film reviews in the next week. Short films and mainly Lovecraft themed. May through in the Green Slime just because. Talk to you soon.


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