Novelist Scott Sigler’s horror column appears every Thursday.
Last week we took a look at monster taxonomy, which might have caused a flashback shudder of high school Science 101 (and for me, 90210, feathered hair and a smack-talking USSR). We examined the classification of gorillas, reptiles, piggies, hungry plants and the omnipresent “He who walks on two legs” weapon-slinging horror of Homo sapien serial killers. That covers terrestrial biological classification. (Yes, I just made that phrase up. I’m quite impressed with it.) Literary grandstanding aside, we’re left with a few major gaps in the taxonomic structure: Aliens, the undead and “everything else.”
Death From Above
You simply can not overstate the impact of aliens in horror. The pesky critters are everywhere. From Predator to Critters to Alien (including the 1,529 movies that were basically exact copies of Alien), things have bombarded our little planet and racked up an impressive body count. Since the vast majority of alien killers look an awful lot like a human wearing a funny suit and an ugly mask (I’m not pointing fingers here, Killer Clowns from Outer Space, I’m just saying), we must assume that the human biped is basically the end result of any and all evolution throughout the galaxy. Well, at least the evolution that produces psycho killers. So for aliens, a few observations:
• Kingdom: Animalia. There are few exceptions (the original The Thing , Invasion of the Body Snatchers ), but most of the extraterrestrial killers have the get-up-and-boogie vibe of an animal.
• Phylum: Chordata. Yep, they have spinal columns
• Class: Extraterrestria (We can’t exactly call them mammals, or lizards or bugs, because there are many shapes and sizes and probably, flavors — if you care to eat the parts left over after the Mandatory Big Explosion Finale).
• Order: Primate. Even though we couldn’t go with mammals for Class, the fact that most of these aliens have bilateral symmetry, two legs, two arms and opposable thumbs means we can call them Primates. That does not insinuate that 95% of movie aliens are actually a dude in a foam-rubber suit!
•Family, Genus, Species: This is where it gets hard to nail down, as it depends on the chemical composition of the foam rubber … er … I mean, the biological construction of the alien. So we’ll list a few educated guesses here, listing just the Genus and Species.
Alien: Acidosis chestbursticus
Predator: Dreadlockicus youareoneuglybastardea
Critters: Dwarfea younameitwe’lleatiticus
Microbial Terror, aka Zombies
Zombies are often considered “undead,” but they shouldn’t. A zombie is an infected human — shoot them in the head and they drop like rock. Most people think that zombies are created by a virus, but that’s not right either. A virus replicates by tricking a cell into making more copies until the cell fills up and bursts like Tom Cruise’s career. A more likely suspect is bacteria, which can reproduce without destroying the host cells in the process. They hang out in saliva (which is, apparently, like a singles bar for the happenin’ microbes), and that means they get passed on when a zombie or vampire bites you. Fast-replicating, spewing mind-altering toxins, bacteria have cased many recent zombiastic outbreaks, like, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later , 28 Weeks Later (which is like 28 Days Later, only minus any semblance of a logical plot), Dawn of the Dead , I Am Legend and Shaun of the Dead . Turns out the zombie bacteria has a simple taxonomic breakdown:
• Kingdom: Protista
• Phylum: Apicomplexa
• Class: Conoidasida
• Order: Eucoccidiorida
• Family: Sarcocystidea
• Genus: Toxoplasma
• Species: Musteatbrainea
Undead: Vampires, Mummies and Ghosts
Unlike the zombies, vamps, mummies and ghosts are really dead. Which
means they are hard as heck to kill (yeah, yeah, I know, “How do you
kill something that’s already dead?”) The king of the
undead hill is clearly the vampire. But how do you classify something
that can actually turn into a bat? Up yours, Darwin, let’s see you
“Survival of the Fittest” that one. Aside from being the most
unoriginal and unimaginative monster of all time ( Interview with the Vampire to 30 Days of Night ) you just can shake these pesky evil-doers. But since vamps are also reanimated dead people, let’s classify:
• Phylum: Chordata
• Class: Mammalia
• Order: Primates
• Family: Hominidae
• Genus: Homo
• Species: Bloodsuckicus
Mummies are the same, save for their species is mummicus. And with
ghosts, let’s just say the intangible doesn’t fit into the
classification system at all and therefore we’ll just ignore them.
(Yep, true science leaves no stone unturned…)
How do you classify the hybrid monster from 1997’s Species ? Whatever that thing was in John Carpenter version of The Thing?
I say, you don’t classify them. We’ll call them “hybrids” and let it
lie. Maybe if any scientific-type readers want to weigh in on this,
we’ll come up with something.
So we’ve taken a good scientific look at monster classification.
Hopefully, my list of monsters in this blog post scares you far worse
than memories of science class and blocks out any ’80s flashbacks of
Ian Ziering and Sara Jessica Parker in Square Pegs. Unfortunately for me, that’s just not possible, but I hold out hope for all of you.
Scott Sigler writes tales of hard-science horror, then gives them away as free audiobooks at www.scottsigler.com. His hardcover debut Infected is available in stores now. If
you don’t agree with what Scott says in this blog, please email him
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