The Legends of Sea Monsters: Terror from the Depths Below
For years gloomy and murky bodies of water have brought about absolute terror in the hearts and minds of many cultures. While most people cannot explain why they fear these seemingly peaceful locations, researchers argue that most people are not afraid of the water itself but what might lurk below it. Some children are terrified of pools and lakes because sea monsters or sharks might be swimming in them, even though most children know these creatures could not live in such a small location. Many adults are horrified by what terrors lurk in the oceans and refuse to go near them, but why are so many people terrified by sea monsters and aquatic beasts? Fear of the unknown and being out of our element has led many scientists and researchers to believe that people who fear water (or things within it) really fear being vulnerable and unaware. However, some may argue that legends passed down over many centuries from various cultures around the world involving sea monsters may still be present in many people’s minds even today.
While sea monsters have been known to lurk in the depths of the vast ocean, according to legends and folktales, these creatures may also be present in other bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. The term aquatic horror relates to the form of an aquatic monster usually attacking people in or under the water. While aquatic horror incorporates a large variety of monsters from different watery locations, aquatic horror does not include films like Dark Water (2002) and The Ring (2002) where bad experiences happen to people around water. The key to a film being classified as an aquatic horror film is some sort of aquatic creature wreaking havoc on the humans throughout the film. Similarly to many other monster genres, aquatic horror first began back in the late 1920’s. However, the sub-genre really took off after the 1933 version of King Kong was released, opening the way for overgrown beasts, including underwater ones to take hold of the horror genre.
Stories of aquatic monsters have been around much longer than the silver screen has and through these fairy tales and legends does society build the foundation for aquatic horror today. Throughout the centuries, several different cultures have created stories surrounding creatures that lurk just below the water’s surface, waiting to strike. The ancient Greeks were known for their variety in mythical beasts, however, unknown to popular society, the ancient Greeks had several different water monsters within their mythology. One of the most frightening of these creatures is arguably the sirens. These creatures would lure weary sailors from the open oceans to shore so they would crash their boats on the rocks and sink to the murky depths below. According to Greek mythology, sirens would lure sailors through their voices and songs that would put people in a hypnotic state. While many believe sirens to be a type of mermaid, their physical appearances according to the mythology resembles an ugly bird-like creature. Another popular beast in Scottish mythology that is known to lurk in Lake Loch Ness is the Loch Ness monster, also dubbed Nessie. While the mythology of Nessie has been around for thousands of years with actual stone carvings of the beast, her physical description has changed quite dramatically. The image of Nessie being an extinct aquatic dinosaur did not emerge until the late 20th century. While Nessie has not been known to do anything bad towards people in or around the lake, it is never too late for the creature to strike.
Modern aquatic monsters, though, are very different representations of fear and death. While most legends and fairy tales surrounding aquatic monsters represent the fears of the unknown and unawareness of the environment, more modern aquatic monsters represent the fears of atomic radiation and atomic warfare. Monsters like King Kong and Universal Studios’ Godzilla (1954) are the ultimate beasts of atomic warfare that were awoken by the blasts from their underwater slumber. However, Godzilla merely paved the way for aquatic monsters. That same year, Universal Studios also released its iconic Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), which took the country by storm. The realness and humanity of the creature was the first time a major film production company portrayed a monster with human emotions, let alone an aquatic beast. While the film was the latest canon monster in the Universal Studios universe, the inventiveness of the monster along with his loneliness and a great story make the film one of the most impactful and remembered films from the studio. Fortunately for society, its fears of atomic warfare were almost completely forgotten, however, this does not mean aquatic horror was forgotten. One the contrary, aquatic horror saw a resurgence in popularity throughout the summer months over the years, as people began to once again fear those that lurk below the water.
However, the silver screen wasn’t the only entertainment that jumped on the sea monster trend, years prior of course. Authors for generations have been spreading tales and legends from ancient societies monsters in the form of well thought out stories. From Henry Melville to H.P Lovecraft, famous authors seem to love the fears of the dark oceans. One of the most famous novels of American literature, Moby Dick originally titled The Whale, features a man going into the deadly ocean to seek revenge on an enormous beast, the whale who bite his leg off. While the fears of the whale do not necessarily represent fears of the unknown, the fears they do represent are very real, and possibly more relevant than when the novel was first published. For instance, the fears of capitalism and the havoc it can ensue in a society. While the whale is not necessarily a sea monster, as it is an actual aquatic animal, the whale in Moby Dick could easily be associated with the actions of some sort of sea serpent. However, real life boat sinkings by a sperm whale in the same years prior to the publishing of the novel have shown the capabilities of real creatures in the oceans.
While aquatic horror has evolved into a sci-fi horror genre as of late, there is so much possibility for creative producers and directors and authors to create amazingly scary stories that reflect our fears of what may lurk below.
Moby Dick (2010) Trailer