Opinion: ‘We Have Never Been Modern’ – Vampires, Zombies, and now….Homunculi?

Came across this trailer yesterday:

With recognisable set designs, blades, flying monsters and Bill Nighy (why, Bill why?), the film looks every bit like an Underworld clone. And Aaron Eckhart? He excels in roles where he plays smooth talkers (Thank You For Smoking, The Dark Knight), and as his performance in TDK shows, he is also capable of a lot more than exuding suave charm in a suit. But action/horror? Interestingly, I Frankenstein is actually based on a graphic novel from Darkstorm Comics, and the screenwriter is Kevin Grevioux, the bloke who played one of the werewolves in Underworld. Kevin’s actually written quite a few comic book titles of his own.


Seeing the trailer for the film, I can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers are trying to start a new ‘monster’ trend. The mid-noughties saw an explosion of vampire-themed films – the Underworld franchise (2003-2012), 30 Days of Night (2007),  Let The Right One In  (2008), Twilight (2008-2012), Daybreakers (2009), Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter (2012). Neil Jordan’s Byzantium (2012) looks interesting, and can be added to the list too. From vampires, we then had a zombie renaissance: The Walking Dead TV series, I Am Legend (2007),  Quarantine (2008), Zombieland (2009), Para Norman (2012), Warm Bodies (2013), World War Z (2013), and Raimi’s Evil Dead remake (2013). Perhaps, with I Frankenstein – the creators of the film are attempting to make homunculi popular in the same way that vampire and zombies are/were?


I prefaced this post with a quote from philosopher Bruno Latour. In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour comments on the concept of modernity:


No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There has never been a modern world. The use of the past perfect tense is important here, for it is a matter of retrospective sentiment, of a rereading of our history. (p.47)


In thinking about shifting cultural trends such as the vampire and zombie film, I can’t help but meditate on this concept of ‘modernity’. The vampire flick might be a ‘modern’ product of the 21st century cultural industry, but in relation to the zombie film, can it still be considered ‘modern’? If we flip the coin and look at the zombie film, what if I, Frankenstein sets off a new trend? Should a ‘homunculi’ trend be kickstarted by this film, films like WWZ and Warm Bodies will undoubtedly be, as a consequence, seen as products of a particular zeitgeist, one that is dated. If we think of vampire and zombie films as repeated iterations of a singular theme, are these any different from the predictable plots of the eighteenth century Gothic novel?  A satirical poem from 1810 pokes fun at how predictable the plots of Gothic texts are, proposing that the ‘apparatus’ for a Gothic novel can be swapped with that of a sentimental novel:


Take the following, which may, like machinery in factories, accelerate the progress of the divine art. Where you find——

A castle……….put a house
A giant………..a father
A bloodstained dagger…………..a fan
Skeletons and skulls……………compliments and sentiments
A gliding ghost…………….a usurer or an attorney
A midnight murder……………a marriage


As is evident from this satirical poem, popular Gothic novels were awfully predictable. In this,the craze for Gothic novels in England in the eighteenth century mirrors the popularity of vampire and zombie films in the 21st century. Many popular Gothic novels of that period did not become literary classics in the way Shelley or Stoker’s novels did. The same goes for vampire and zombie films. Maybe there is something more to be said about universality, predictability and popular appeal.


But for me the real question, the biggest question of all is: If we have vampire/zombie films in the 21st century, and Gothic novels in the 18th/19th century, what about the time period before the ‘invention’ of the English novel? What were the ‘people’s monsters’, so to speak, of earlier cultures?


That is a question I hope to answer in time.


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'horror': Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’.

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