We all love a good monster movie, don’t we, even if it’s viewed with just one eye open from behind the safety of our sofas?
Year after year, Hollywood favourites such as Count Dracula and the Wolfman, and other classic fiendish figures continue to draw crowds of eager horror-movie-lovers. But when and where did our preoccupation with the "bogeyman" arise? Is there any basis in truth to the stories of mythical monsters?
Greg McDonald, director of forensic medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, says that like many myths and scary stories, both Dracula and the Wolfman stemmed from a poor understanding of medical maladies.
Porphyria, for example, is a group of disorders that affects the skin and nervous system. Symptoms of that disease include sensitivity to sunlight, insomnia, and skin redness, which might make the skin look bloody. Sound familiar?
“In the 10th or 11th century, Romanians at the time often didn’t bury their dead in very deep graves,” McDonald says.
"Sometimes, the bodies would shift. So imagine you’re a peasant, and you come across a body that is pale and looks like it has blood around the mouth. You might think he’d been walking around, feasting on the blood of others.”
While that condition helped fuel the myth of the vampire, McDonald notes that the first appearance of the character Count Dracula occurred in 1897, with the first printing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Another hallmark of Dracula? An uncontrollable temper, which can also be attributed to porphyria. Rage issues can also be linked to another disorder—rabies—which, along with its symptoms of panting and foaming at the mouth, helped give rise to the myth of the Wolfman.
“And of course, hypertrichosis—the excessive growth of unwanted hair—was also a factor,” McDonald adds.
Armed with this knowledge, Dracula and the Wolfman might seem less frightening the next time they appear on screen to stalk their prey. According to McDonald, they may not be fearsome, just in need of some medical attention!
A monster that is the hunted and not the hunter is the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, an elusive beast usually described by witnesses as having a long neck, a horse-like head and a humped back , typically displaying one or two humps. Solid evidence to substantiate the existence of the mythical creature remains sketchy, though the possibility of catching a glimpse of "Nessie" still draws thousands of tourists to the area each year.Even Prince Philip apparently has a keen interest in the beastie, and allegedly, in the 1960s, he urged Tory MP and Nessie-obsessive David James to enlist the help of the Royal Navy in tracking down the mystical monster. Sightings have decreased over recent years, however, and there have been reports that Nessie may even be dead!
Whether you believe that the almost limitless depths of Loch Ness could be hiding this elusive beast, or whether you believe the legend to be as flimsy as a Scotch Mist, certain documents have recently come to light which reveal that the monster’s existence was taken very seriously back in 1934, and that its life was in mortal danger. David Clarke’s new book," Britain’ s X-traordinary Files," describes how the Natural History Museum plotted to slaughter the unwitting cryptid and display its carcass, and even encouraged bounty hunters to track it down:
“Should you ever come within range of the ‘monster’ I hope you will not be deterred by humanitarian considerations from shooting him on the spot and sending the carcass to us in cold storage, carriage forward," said an unnamed Museum official. "Short of this, a flipper, a jaw or a tooth would be very welcome.”
This radical stance caused the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh to stake their own claim to Nessie’s corpse by writing to the Scottish Secretary Sir Godfrey Collins:
“The museum urges strongly that the RSM have the reversionary rights to the ‘monster’ if and when its corpse should become available,” the letter read.“We think the monster should not be allowed to find its last resting place in England.”
Of all fabled monsters the beast of Loch Ness seems to be the least offensive, with no records of it ever causing harm or injury; therefore most would argue that, if it does exist, the poor creature should be left well alone.