The monster movie genre has been refined over the years, but the unholy triumvirate of Aliens, Predator, and Jaws set down the laws of hunting the ultimate hunters.
Aliens: The biggest lesson learned in Aliens was that there is such a thing as alien intelligence, humanity is corrupt, and as such we’re all just big eggs sacs waiting to breed the next generation of Aliens. Aliens is quite cynical about humanity – the most upstanding character is an android – and it takes considerable pleasure in demonstrating how the gung-ho marines are useless against an unknown threat. Leaders fall apart in combat, weapons can’t be leveraged effectively in the environment, and the only effective response is to blow the whole place up.
Always remember to demonstrate how useless a typical authority figure – the military, corporations, or even religion – are in the face of an amoral force. Part of the fun of horror is watching the guys in charge completely lose control.
Predator: We’ve lost touch with our heritage. All the Predator movies imply a sort of lost nobility of modern men. Whereas other cultures are rich with warrior legacies, the average cubicle worker doesn’t kill men with his bare hands. Predator is a fantasy reclamation, a sort of totem spirit-warrior testing the supposed best-of-the-best. Like Aliens, it reinforces the fallacy of trust placed in weapons and the military. Instead, Dutch has to rely on killing the Predator with good old fashioned survival skills.
It’s easy to have players shoot monsters with big guns. It’s a lot harder to have them kill the monster with just their wits and a sharpened stick. Overwhelming force, if played correctly, can reduce PCs to their core essentials. Don’t be afraid to strip them of their gadgets – they might surprise you!
Jaws: There was a time when we worried about being eaten by animals…now we stride the Earth like we own it. But we don’t; the ocean covers much of the planet, and it’s very dark down there. We feast off the ocean, swim in it, even crap in it without a second thought. Jaws reminded us that there’s always a bigger fish, and if you sufficiently tick Mother Nature off it might just decide to eat you.
Jaws is all about taking a normal animal predator, like a lion, tiger, or bear, and giving it serial killer qualities. The animal is distinguished from others of its kind by its cunning. It may even hold a grudge. Given the right circumstances, practically any animal with teeth can become a fearsome foe. The key is to catch the players by surprise by not revealing its apparent intelligence until its killings create a pattern of thought.
Horror movies have taken elements of all three of these movies and turned them into a sort of monster gospel. It’s not about an acid-blooded face raping alien, a green-blooded skin-stripping alien, or a really angry shark. It’s about stripping away civilized authority.
Your Turn: Have you ever used the tactics – not the monsters – of any of these movies to good effect?
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