17 votes

With rich folklore traditions why have movies collapsed to just a few monsters?

Tags: ideas, ask

We have about a million films showing vampires, zombies, werewolves, and ghosts.

But despite rich folklore traditions we see very few films about other creatures. There is a handful of films dealing with leprechauns, pixies, trolls, fairies, witches, goblins, gnomes, etc. And that's just the western traditions. We have huge range of unexplored creatures from around the world. If I had to sit through yet another vampire film I'd rather it was based on adze traditions than Bram Stoker reinventions.

Why are there so many films that tread the same ground about vampires, zombies, and ghosts, and so few films about everything else?

14 comments

  1. [6]
    moocow1452
    (edited )
    Link
    Monsters reflect what society finds terrifying. Vampires- Rich people are literally draining the life out of normal people and can pick and choose people to enthrall and empower over the masses,...

    Monsters reflect what society finds terrifying.

    Vampires- Rich people are literally draining the life out of normal people and can pick and choose people to enthrall and empower over the masses, but are still loyal to their masters.

    Werewolves- Human Nature is secondary to our uncontrollable Id, anybody could be a terror under the right circumstances, yourself included, and you might not even be aware of it.

    Ghosts - Sometimes people will literally subvert death to spiritually harass you, sometimes because you deserve it, and sometimes because you are there and they are in pain.

    Zombies - The ultimate other. You may be smarter, you may even be faster and stronger depending on the cut, but there's always more of them, they can take more pain than you, and if there's too many of them, society completely breaks down. Remind you of anybody?

    If you want scary myths, your creature of choice has to map to a primal fear. Wendigos are new and on the up because it's easy to grok a person eating a person and being cursed with eternal hunger and cold aura, because if its life or death who knows what you would be capable of? So if you want a new scary myth, find an existential horror, get something old and make something new.

    EDIT: You may want to look into Gegege no Kitaro, anime about Japanese Yokai or Spirits that are trying to mesh with the modern world, one of them being a childlike ghost who's notable in that he likes to hang out with humans and solve the intergration problems that crop up.

    10 votes
    1. [3]
      ibis
      Link Parent
      I dunno, imo people don’t seem to be afraid enough of the rich. I always thought vampires were more related to fears around sex and blood born disease.

      Vampires- Rich people are literally draining the life out of normal people and can pick and choose people to enthrall and empower over the masses, but are still loyal to their masters.

      I dunno, imo people don’t seem to be afraid enough of the rich.

      I always thought vampires were more related to fears around sex and blood born disease.

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        moocow1452
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Well that's not fair since everything is about fear of sex and disease. Vampirism is more about pre-WWI antisemitism among other things, rich and powerful guys who live in weird places who take...

        Well that's not fair since everything is about fear of sex and disease. Vampirism is more about pre-WWI antisemitism among other things, rich and powerful guys who live in weird places who take the womenfolk and change them into something unnatural with their power and influence.

        3 votes
        1. ibis
          Link Parent
          Well vampire mythologies have existed for centuries, so it stands to reason that they have (and will) represent a lot of different fears through time. Also, I think a lot of modern Zombie stories...

          Well vampire mythologies have existed for centuries, so it stands to reason that they have (and will) represent a lot of different fears through time.

          Also, I think a lot of modern Zombie stories seem to feed on our fear of a global pandemic.

          5 votes
    2. [2]
      the_walrus
      Link Parent
      From what I understand based on your comment, I'm under the impression you're implying that these truly are the scariest monsters out there. I totally disagree. There are way scarier monsters from...

      From what I understand based on your comment, I'm under the impression you're implying that these truly are the scariest monsters out there. I totally disagree. There are way scarier monsters from stories from other cultures. I also think you're giving too much credit to both the creators and the audience regarding the depth of these characters. I'm not so sure that Twilight was an extended metaphor about the 1%, for example.

      Your comment provides an interesting perspective, I just think that if there is any truth to it, it accounts for a very small part of the answer to OP's question.

      Good storytelling, especially in horror, is about balancing familiarity with the unknown. I think the reason we have so many stories focused on a handful of monsters is because people are attracted to the familiarity. When someone goes to see a vampire movie, they expect to see a pale humanoid that sucks blood from other humans. If a wodnik (a monster from Polish folklore) movie came out, for example, most Americans would not know what it is, and may be less interested.

      I mean, look at Frozen. It wasn't pitched as a movie about Satan and the Snow Queen (like the Hans Christian Anderson story from which it was derived), it was a princess movie! Kids love princess movies, so Disney knew they could capitalize on that familiarity.

      2 votes
      1. moocow1452
        Link Parent
        Nah, I'm not saying those were the scariest monsters, OP just was asking why those monsters were classics. There are of course bigger and weirder monsters and cryptids, but the ones that we see on...

        From what I understand based on your comment, I'm under the impression you're implying that these truly are the scariest monsters out there. I totally disagree. There are way scarier monsters from stories from other cultures.

        Nah, I'm not saying those were the scariest monsters, OP just was asking why those monsters were classics. There are of course bigger and weirder monsters and cryptids, but the ones that we see on film have something that ties them to a fear we have as a society. You aren't just seeing Jason Voorhees slashing up teenagers, you're seeing the works of Stranger Danger Culture and the supposed consiquences of moral degeneracy. To equate Horror completely and totally to the unknown is to miss something important. The Horror is known, the thing jumping out at us is it's Horseman or it's Avatar.

        Also, Twilight is a literally a billionaire romance novel involving a guy who happens to be a vampire, so it is totally about the 1%.

  2. JXM
    Link
    It’s simple: branding. For the same reason that we have tons of franchise movies coming out, they reuse the mummy because everybody knows The Mummy (1932).

    It’s simple: branding. For the same reason that we have tons of franchise movies coming out, they reuse the mummy because everybody knows The Mummy (1932).

    8 votes
  3. [4]
    ibis
    Link
    I would love some more stories about the fae. Harry Potter is very imperfect, but JKR was really good at drawing from a broad range of folk lore in the books. Anyway, to try and answer your actual...

    I would love some more stories about the fae.

    Harry Potter is very imperfect, but JKR was really good at drawing from a broad range of folk lore in the books.

    Anyway, to try and answer your actual question : my guess is that it has something to do with why so many remakes / sequels are getting made. Executives find it safer to invest in movies that are familiar.

    5 votes
    1. moocow1452
      Link Parent
      Fae folk as horror would probably something similar to changelings and human replacement which has been done as Body Snatchers, Aliens, the Thing, Robots and AI, pretty rich vein for human...

      Fae folk as horror would probably something similar to changelings and human replacement which has been done as Body Snatchers, Aliens, the Thing, Robots and AI, pretty rich vein for human subjugation. You could also explore an attempt to explore humans running afoul of Fae law that they had no idea existed, or Humans being second class citizens in a world run by Tolkien Elves, but since non-allegorical Racism is kind of a thing, you have to be very sure that you're saying what you want to say.

      4 votes
    2. 0lpbm
      Link Parent
      Check out BBC's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' a very good series after Susanna Clarke's eponymous book. Best representation of a fae antagonist I've read or seen in pop culture.

      Check out BBC's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' a very good series after Susanna Clarke's eponymous book. Best representation of a fae antagonist I've read or seen in pop culture.

      1 vote
    3. Greg
      Link Parent
      If we're diving into literature as well as film, I can't think of an author with more breadth in folklore than Terry Pratchett. Many, many times I've found that an oblique half-remembered...

      Harry Potter is very imperfect, but JKR was really good at drawing from a broad range of folk lore in the books.

      If we're diving into literature as well as film, I can't think of an author with more breadth in folklore than Terry Pratchett. Many, many times I've found that an oblique half-remembered reference from his books was actually a nod to one piece of mythology or another.

      Oddly, wayyyyy at the other end of the spectrum in terms of style, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (not the film!) also builds a quite interestingly woven world where a wide array of existing mythology and magical folklore plays together.

      Anyway, to try and answer your actual question : my guess is that it has something to do with why so many remakes / sequels are getting made. Executives find it safer to invest in movies that are familiar.

      Couldn't agree more!

      1 vote
  4. nsz
    Link
    Zombies are a bit different imo, plenty of stuff online about how it's a reaction to the direction society is taking. The Walking Dead literally takes place in a shopping mall, so consumerism etc....

    Zombies are a bit different imo, plenty of stuff online about how it's a reaction to the direction society is taking. The Walking Dead literally takes place in a shopping mall, so consumerism etc. It's not really about zombies or folklore stories, it's just a tool for examining ourselves, society and it's fears.

    3 votes
  5. tunneljumper
    Link
    The same reason why we keep seeing remakes, sequels to twenty-year old movies, and superhero flicks -- people don't actually want anything new, and studios don't have to spend (as much) screentime...

    The same reason why we keep seeing remakes, sequels to twenty-year old movies, and superhero flicks -- people don't actually want anything new, and studios don't have to spend (as much) screentime on exposition and character introduction when they can make a profit doing the same thing over and over again.

    2 votes
  6. mrbig
    Link
    Many of these monster are very similar. So you have the Brazilian werewolf, the Russian vampire, the South-African zombie etc.

    Many of these monster are very similar. So you have the Brazilian werewolf, the Russian vampire, the South-African zombie etc.

    1 vote