I recently had a conversation with a modern "master of horror" who came at me baring fangs and claws, telling me I didn't know what I was doing with one of my creature designs. After looking at the thing with scrunched nose and a derisive sneer, he told me it was too round.
WTF does that even mean? It's like that scene in Amadeus when the emperor tells Mozart that there are too many notes in his music.
This guy went on to say that "round" wasn't "scary"... that pointy, angular features were scary. He said it's the angry "rawr" face that's terrifying. He then instructed me to look at some of his films for examples of how his well-chiseled creatures were utterly terrifying and how he'd keyed into what "really" scares people. I might take note of that, he said, with a condescending paternal tone...
My first reflex was to mention HAL, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees' mask, Michael Myers' mask, Cujo, The Blob and about a thousand more creatures that terrifed without sharp features, but I didn't. Sometimes it's best not to get drawn into the morass. In the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Who's the more foolish. The fool, or the fool who follows him?"
So I just smiled, nodded and thanked him for his sagely words. I mean seriously, was I just told that certain shapes were scarier than other shapes? Did that really just happen?
Afterward though, I admit that I had to scratch my head and laugh because apparently I missed the memo from the great gods of fear, stating that there were any absolutes in the human psyche, let alone the emotion of fear. That is to say, what scares you might make other people laugh, and vice versa. I mean, did this guy not see Monsters Inc? I think that film summed it up pretty well, don't you? A different monster for every child's closet door...
It's not that I'm a proponent of rounded versus angular, or dark versus light, or any juvenile argument of "my monster can beat up your monster". It's that someone would be dumb enough to come at horror with such a narrow concept of what scares people.
It's like those English teachers who try to rate poetry with their charts and tables, insisting that there's some empirical method to show that one piece of writing is absolutely and undeniably better than another.
Like there's even a way to do that. Like you'd even want to if there was.
At the end of the day, what irked me wasn't the criticism. I mean, my art lives on the internet for crying out loud. So I'm constantly bombarded with anonymous trolls who tear me to shreds. I've also been working in Hollywood for over 15 years so my skin's pretty tough.
No, what bothered me was how confused this guy was, while at the same time being so convicted in his beliefs. I stay out of religious and political arguments for this very reason, but here was the same kind of ferver and conviction normally saved for Washington protesters, armchair quarteracks, and angry bar drunks being spewed in my face over the shape of one of my creatures. What the hell?
At the end of the day though, I don't think it's the pointy creatures that are the most frightening, but rather, the pointless arguments...
Gaudium per atrox.