Hotel Transylvania and Monster Literature.

I was wandering in Rome a couple of days ago, and I could not help recognizing posters of the new Dreamworks 3d animation movie “Hotel Transylvania 2”. Captain Obvious says “Guess what? It’s a story about monsters.” Apart from the obvious Dracula reference, the film is more bound to literary work than what I thought.

There is a sub-branch Gothic and Horror called Monster Literature which permeated so well in popular culture to allow monsters to be chosen as protagonists of a kid’s movie. Scholars have investigated the matter, and have produced a bunch of very cool responses.
Patricia Donovan wrote on University at Buffalo’s site that “professor Schmid says the concept of ‘monster’ has been used in many historical, geographical and ideological contexts to dismiss and demonize that which is considered marginal, deviant and abject” and that doctoral student John Edgar Browning added that “Definitions of the monster […] change over time and with each generation”. That’s why, for example, from post-WW2 literature, monsters (“the other) is not a supernatural creature anymore, but humans instead (the Shining, 1984, contemporary TV series’ plots as Dexter)

At this point, one might ask “why do we love these things? Why are they so popular?” Well, professor Castillo knows the answer, and encloses it in a creepy but effective metaphor: ““The door ajar proves irresistibly dangerous; it frightens us while simultaneously awakening our curiosity about the lurking monsters that might inhabit the other side and their ‘excessive enjoyment'”. In “Unmasking the Monster: The New Erotic Identity of the Monster in Contemporary Literature” Christopher Stabile asserts that ” The image of the monster has shifted radically from an archetype that inspires fear and enforces social norms to a malleable exotic other who elicits desire and longing” as Western society underwent a transformation in society from more interdependent relationships between people because of less resources (like, the “asking a cup of sugar to my neighbor” thing, both from a material than moral and spiritual point of view), o a more individualist approach “seeking not merely self-benefit, but luxury and excess”.

In Justin Edwards and Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet’s book “The Gothic in Contemporary Literature and Popular Culture: Pop Goth” a very interesting statement comes up. While analyzing about Lady Gaga’s (Mother Monster, you know) performances the two authors stated:

“Her evocation of monstrosity as recuperable, as potentially
familiar and domesticated is part of a larger trend in contemporary popular culture to ‘de-monster’ the monster. That is, monsters in pop culture at the end of the twentieth and beginning of he twenty-fist centuries are sill recognizably linked to their previous, horrific and liminal incarnations bu their symbolic resonances have shifted. Monsters in contemporary culture embody difference diferenly from their predecessors. Historically, monsters were irretrievably “other”, hey were “embodied horror” (Halberstam Skin 2) and threatened the culture from which they arose.[…] These figures still contain some of the symbolic significance of their earlier representations -vampires sill, horrifically, need blood to survive and can still become inhumanly violent- but overall, their position in contemporary narratives is as a misunderstood outsider who is, after all, not that different from those ‘non-monsters’ around them”.

That’s the crucial point. Monsters as the creatures which used to scare to death damsels in stately homes of the 18th-19th centuries are now seen as outcasts and they are “de-monstered” producing sympathetic responses by the audiences hat face them in pop culture products.

Interestingly, Hotel Transylvania’s script follows the same characteristics of a standard piece of monster literature, and adds new elements to it. Let’s explore the main features together:

Duality: Believe it or not, the majority of monsters do have a Gollum problem. They are often portrayed with a double personality (since they are not people, should I say monsterality? Okay, excuse me for my monstrous pun. Sorry again, I can’t stop) which affects the almost nonexistent number of people around them and themselves. In Hotel Transylvania all of the monsters have a wild side, for example Frankenstein’s fear for fire (he keeps saying “Fire.. bad..”), and Dracula’s angry moments, which are kinda hilarious in my opinion but which actually represent a more instinctive part of them.

Isolation, Loneliness: Big deal, monsters are not social butterflies. Just think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or also the more recent The Shining, they were not very hey-let’s-go-out guys. As the monstrous creatures embody ‘the other’, they are marginalized beings, both by society and by themselves, as their behavior follows a completely different path than the rest of the characters of the story. That is why the settings are usually greatly isolated, with almost no social interactions. In Hotel Transylvania, that’s kinda the same thing. Monsters we hidden to human eyes and the only place where they can live happily and express themselves in without restraints is the Hotel Dracula has built for them, in a protected area inaccessible for humans.

Science: I think that in the movie these last three features intertwine. In lit, monsters are frequently “creatures”, “created” by humans who usually are doctors or scientists -who most of the times do not enjoy the happy ending-, but the interesting and new thing about Hotel Transylvania is that the traditional monsters are “de-monstered” by making them treat humans as they were the monsters themselves, the beings which will undermine their tranquillity, their society. Indeed, the outcast and “antagonist” is really the little “Frankenhomie” a random guy who finds the Hotel by chance and pretends to be a monster not to create panic in the guests of the hotel. Besides, this movie shows a point of view which is internal to the creepy world of monsters, and the story is told in such a way that monsters just behave like humans, with heir quirks and flaws, as well as their strengths and pains.
Definitely, in Dracula’s presentation about the human world we can see a concealed interesting critique about contemporary -human- society, examined as a strange species.

Below, you have the full movie, and if you want to see what I’m talking about, jump to minute 9:20 to minute 10:00.

Cheers, grim readers!

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One thought on ““Are these monsters gonna kill me?” “Not as long as they think you’re a monster.”

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