In the 1910s to the 1950s, many classic movie monsters, such as Frankenstein (1910), Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931), The Wolfman (1941), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1953), made their first mainstream appearances. These monsters leaped from the literary pages of their respective novels to the big screen. Few would consider these finds appropriate for children, but the shift from print to film did popularize them. The horror genre, in general, has always been adult oriented. However, over time and in a society of relative safety, fear can become alluring.
With the rise of slasher films in the 1970s and 1980s and the subsequent gore-horror films, it seemed the final coffin nail was hammered in for classic horror monsters. Yet, they would rise from the grave from a new angle–as the good guys and friends to children. In fact, in the 1990s there was a resurgence of horror in a fun way with Beetlejuice, Ghostbusters, Tales from the Crypt, The Addams Family movies and cartoons, and with Goosebumps books. The horror themes that used to terrify generations before now brought mostly nostalgia and delight. Now, this generation of viewers is beginning to raise children of their own. Most of these new parents seek out books, movies, and various other forms of children’s entertainment–including the more recent form of media that is the website–which invoke a sense of delighted dread in children while avoiding the true horror aspect of it.
Hotel Transylvania (2012), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Monsters Vs. Aliens (2009), and Monster High (2010 – Present) are prime mainstream examples of monsters evolving from the antagonists to the protagonists. These franchises borrow their themes from the horror genre but keep the tone heartfelt and comedic. These features are echoed in children’s books, as well. On top of the book formats of the aforementioned movies, there are books such as Where the Wild Things Are, and Monster Trouble, I Need My Monster. Some of these new takes on monsters have grown beyond their original stories to accommodate the new connected world. For example, the Monster High and Teach Your Monster to Read websites utilize the World Wide Web to reach new audiences and utilize new tools to give a more interactive, educational, and engaging experience. With these fresh and inventive takes on werewolves, vampires, banshees, lagoon creatures, and other monsters, the new casts of creature characters are certainly unique and something that will tickle many-a-funny bone.
Overall, it seems the classic horror monster theme will not fully waste away. At worst it will remain undead for a few years, but given the new trend of monster-themed children’s books and media–a genre that expands by the day–the horror theme may soon creep more and more into mainstream children’s media and delight new generations. Perhaps, in time, even the popular idiom ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ will be changed to ‘Judge a monster by its manner.’ In any case, the kid-friendly horror theme is alive and well and nowhere close to an early grave.