There's nothing like a movie about a giant killer ape to relax you after a really stressful day. Here are five reasons why a monster movie can be the most soothing thing in the world.
1. They require nothing of you.
Some films take you on deep emotional journeys. They make you fall in love with their characters and feel their challenges as your own. They question your values and make you see the world in a new way. They are great films. You do not want to go home to one of those every night of the week. A creature feature is at best a thrill ride and at worst an eye-roller. It doesn't make you feel sympathy for the hapless characters who are about to get chomped – in fact, it tries for the opposite. You can give it nothing, and still be thrilled when the dinomoose gores the evil timber baron. It's a wonderful emotional bargain.
2. They're little time capsules.
There are movies that transcend their time and place and speak to core human emotions, and then there are creature features. Everything about them is of their time. Their themes have gone from cold war invasions to genetic engineering worries via good, old-fashioned toxic sludge. Their leads are long haired hippies and huge haired eighties women in thong bikinis to disenchanted teens and hacker nerds in the nineties. Even if the film itself is no good, it always provides a peek at a different time, usually in a way that makes you glad you're not in it anymore.
3. They're always funny.
How many comedies are funny? Didn't think so. Now, how many creature features make you double over with laughter at least once?
4. They follow a comforting pattern.
Pop quiz, hot shot.
There are a couple of teens frolicking on a beach at night. What happens to them?
There's an adorable little kid in terrible danger. What happens to him?
A reckless man and his uptight female superior hate each other at the beginning of the movie. What's their relationship
like by the end?
There's a slimy, evil corporate dude skulking around the edges of the film. What happens to him?
The movies are as repetitive and comforting as a novena. At this point, they're practically ritual. They take the stress out of anything.
5. They make you feel safe.
The key to a real scare is uncertainty. Good horror films maintain uncertainty about the characters, and about the monsters. Most importantly, they introduce uncertainty into your world. How can you say that what happened to the couple in Paranormal Activity won't happen to you, if you don't even know what happened to them? How can you be certain that that person standing next to you at the bus stop doesn't have a knife? How can you be sure that the shadows are safe when you don't know what's in them? Horror films take everyday fears – noises in the night, strangers, the dark – and amplify them so expertly that the fear lingers on afterwards.
Creature features make use of the most outlandish concepts available. I can be scared of a shadow, because I don't know what's concealed in it. I'll never be scared that the ocean will yield a land-walking octopus-shark hybrid because that's never going to happen. I'll be scared of a person I don't know, who acts weird, because I don't know what they'll do. If I see a bearantula, I know what it will do; tip over when I push it because it's not real. Horror unsettles you. Creature features may shock or gross you out, but leave you feeling supremely sure of your place in the world. It's a wonderful way to be.