Just gotta say it: I love the Creepy Comics, now being published by Dark Horse Comics. Originally started in 1964, the late aughts run of the series has stayed true to its original narrative roots and tells B-flavoured, campy, spooky tales about ghosts, ghouls, and other glorious Monsters of the Week. These are the types of spooky tales that would feel at home with Vincent Price narrating, or on an old-time radio horror broadcast, such as Creeps By Night(hosted by Boris Karloff for a period of time).
In B-horror films and in campy scary stories, such as Creepy, usual conventions of reality are stripped away, so the horror comes from realizing that we cannot explain it or rationalise it. We have to accept it in a way that we are not prepared to do so. For example, Creepy features tales about succubi-prostitutes, dead men coming back to life to reclaim their stolen goods from grave robbers, demons also coming to life, and swamp-zombies murdering and then marrying their victims, who also turn into swamp zombies (Zombie Weddings: They’re For Life Because You’re Already Dead.)
For me, I’d say that these B-side narratives are immensely better than “realistic horror movies” such as Saw and Hostel, which threaten on the basic survival level, i.e. this could be real life, real people, and these things could happen because people are incredibly insane. To quote the indomitable Dean Winchester: “Monsters, I get. But people are crazy.”
With this realism element there is much merit in that Saw and Hostel can force us to become a hardened, ill-trusting and paranoid species, which, admittedly, will better serve us in our day to day life and our international travels. They serve as warnings (or at least in my family, they do — why else did I watch Jaws right before going on a family vacation to Florida?) and are horrifying in their potential correspondence to real life.
But in absurdist thought, humans are irrevocably alienated from the world, or as Camus puts it “His is an irremediable exile.” Life, reality, truth are all devoid of an inherent meaning, and accordingly, absurdist art plays on a rejection of these essential beliefs and values in traditional cultural thought. And this is exactly what B-horror stories do: they reject traditional modes of conceiving reality.
This is why I am constantly drawn to flicks like the 1940′s Inner Sanctum series based on absurdity and with the drive-in-monster-movie mentality. For me, they speak more to us, to our demented and terrified psyches and why we fear the unknown. We cannot account for it; the absurdity breaches our accepted cultural/realistic codes, defies strict meaning-making and positions us in a place that we cannot assimilate. ‘Roided-up serial killers with mummy issues, we get (thank you, Freud, for explaining why I understand Norman Bates’s mind — I can sleep peacefully now).
But giant leeches killing people (Attack of the Giant Leeches, 1959) makes no sense and hurts the tiny part of my brain that wants to be a rationalist — and also I hate worms and insects, and I especially hate when they’re giant. The other, more dominant part of my brain that loves surrealist and absurdist art, says: RIGHT that giant leech is gonna eat that bitch! (Because, yes sometimes, in my head, I lose all decorum and talk like a drunk frat boy who just did his first keg stand.)
Which brings me to my point as to why the new Creepy comics by Dark Horse are so fantastic. They refuse to fall victim to the trap of realism for thrills and screams: we all know the world is a terrible place and while this scares us, it’s on a level we’re prepared to grasp, because as I alluded to before, we ALL have mummy and daddy issues — and as Avatar Press’s Crossed teaches us, we’re what’s inherently wrong with the world, not the monsters.
What Creepy offers, instead, is the same idea that horror grew out of: monstrous concepts that are unthinkable, unknowable and irrational, that prey upon our deepest fears. The fears we cannot dispel through our appeal to reality. The traditional notion of reality is bagged and sent off to the morgue. It’s the Swamp Things, the monsters from various lagoons, lakes, oceans, and planets, the women who can turn living humans into miniature dolls, the dead who become re-animated and the demon tattoos that are actually demons that are terrifying in their absurdity. If we’re faced with a Michael Myers-esque serial killer, we know to NOT run up the stairs but to get the fuck out of the house.
But when we’re trapped in a ruby (because a Mr. Hyde-type fellow asked you to take a look at the jewel he has hiding in his coat!), where we’re being chased by Ruby Demons in order to be fed to a Giant Ruby Monster (Deep Ruby, Creepy 7, January 2012), we’re rationally paralyzed.
And this is the fun. What’s scarier than what we cannot comprehend? The suspension of disbelief is insanely powerful because it pulls the ground out from under our feet. We’re no longer playing by our rules. We’re playing by the Mud Monster’s rules (and he don’t play fair).
Don’t get me wrong, the fun is perverse. But it’s right in line with my own philosophy of life: life is absurd. Eugene Ionesco said of absurdist theatre that “People drowning in meaninglessness can only be grotesque, their suffering can only appear tragic by derision.” It is through the farcical B-elements of campy horror that we can access true horror because our previous symbolic codes of meaning are deflated and powerless to move us. If we don’t embrace the absurd, if we decide to stick to our ideas of rationality, then we’re all just monster-fodder for when the giant space egg descends to earth — metaphorically speaking of course.