Among the many well-known apocalyptic worries, the idea of supernatural creatures rising up and destroying our world, while hardly unlikely, captivates many people.
Doomsday Scenario No. 3: Vampires, Zombies & Monsters, Oh My!
Supernatural monsters have been a mainstay in many cultures going back centuries. They were convenient scapegoats for things that went wrong and filled in the dark void of the shadows. These monsters either won so that a moral could be learned or were vanquished by the forces of good. Lately, stories have appeared where the monsters have triumphed and defeated humanity en masse. Certain monsters are more popular than others and fit into a doomsday scenario more easily than others. Of course, these supernatural monsters are impossible, right? Well science fiction has found ways to make them plausible.
Vampires In The Blood
The stylish and grotesque vampires have populated many blood curdling tales for centuries. As true creatures of the night, vampires arose from their coffins after sunset to prey on the living. The way to become a vampire isn’t to just die but to be bitten by one. That suggests that these creatures probably transmit a virus that transforms a living person into a vampire.
Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend has a vampiric virus decimating humanity and resurrecting them as vampires and taking over the world. The book and the films based on it (The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and most recently I Am Legend) presented us with an empty, decimated world with a sole human survivor and his desperate fight not just against countless vampires but to develop a cure. There are other works about viruses that turns people into vampires and imperils the world. Two books that come to mind are The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan and The Passage by Justin Cronin. The Passage is set in the near future where a virus quickly transforms most of humanity into vampire-like creatures who take over the world. The anthology novel Under The Fang features several short stories about humanity conquered by vampires.
As for films about vampires ruling the world, in addition to I Am Legend, there was Daybreakers, which took place a few years after a virus turned most of humanity into bloodsucking creatures. Daybreakers showed a world literally turned upside down as the vampire denizens populated major cities, but lived underground away from the sun and basically carried on with their lives. They just needed to farm the few remaining humans for nourishment. A variant of the vampire virus is the sci-fi film Lifeforce, which was based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. This time vampire-like aliens were brought back to Earth by astronauts and it wasn’t blood that the aliens fed on. It was the titular lifeforce of people. As an added bonus, many of their victims also became vampiric and hunted humans for their lifeforce.
The undead flesh eaters are undeniably the most popular monsters to use for post-apocalyptic tales. Look no further than the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. It wasn’t always so, until the late 1960s zombies were relegated to stale horror yarns usually dealing with voodoo. Then George Romero came along and changed the sub-genre forever. His classic film Night Of The Living Dead gave us a world on the brink of a societal breakdown as undead corpses roamed the countryside and feasted on the living.
Romero directed sequels that were very popular but the zombie apocalypse genre didn’t reach maturation until around the millennium, which coincided nicely with all the jitters about the coming apocalypse. Video games like Resident Evil, comic books like The Walking Dead, books like World War Z and films like 28 Days Later (not technically about zombies but it follows the same route) reinvigorated and amped up the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse is so prevalent in pop culture that even the CDC put out a comic book detailing how they would deal with such an event. Zombies are perfect metaphors for the chaos and decay that will follow the fall of civilization as humans are displaced as the apex predators. Also these stories are useful for illustrating how we would behave during the downfall of society. Will we return to our savage ways? Will we use our pluck and ingenuity to survive? How much stress can we withstand before we break down completely? And how will we find that perfect Twinkie? (Note: see Zombieland for more on that last question.)
Humanity has always feared monsters as seen in various mythologies. This morbid fascination continued well into modern times with countless books, stories and movies about monsters both large and small terrorizing the world. An often used motif is that of an ancient, slumbering giant that is awoken by modern humans and then wrecks destruction across the world. Godzilla is an excellent example and best personifies the Japanese kaiju films. But Godzilla had predecessors that need to be mentioned. One of the earliest modern imprisoned monsters is the famous Cthulhu first written about in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of The Cthulhu”. An ancient entity described as part human, part dragon and part octopus, the Cthulhu had a cult that wanted to unleash the giant monster onto our world. This entity has been alluded to in other works by Lovecraft.
In film, the very first giant monster to be unleashed was the fictional rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn”, the rhedosaurus was a dinosaur woken up by a nuclear blast and thus threatened the world not just with its destructive path but by its radioactive emissions. Destructive monsters have since plagued the silver screen with the Japanese kaiju films and American works like Q, Gremlins, John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness, Reign Of Fire, Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods and the upcoming Pacific Rim. In these films, the giants were mysterious and awakened inadvertently by humanity. Once unleashed they outmatched our military might and upended civilization as they destroyed cities and killed many people. Often entire cities and famous landscapes are decimated as seen in Cloverfield. And sometimes it was shown that the monsters won as the misshapen horrors from In The Mouth Of Madness or the dragons in Reign Of Fire overran the world.