Our October theme of the month, Bump in the Night: Horror Tropes, continues with The Monster of Piedras Blancas.

PAUSE IT: What do you see? A sea monster cradles a lifeless young woman in his arms in Director Irvin Berwick’s The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959). Director Berwick uses the scene to elicit an audience’s sympathy and concern for the woman as she finds herself in peril. The above scene fits into a long line of what has come to be known as a beauty and the beast tropes. As old as stories themselves, this trope has become a fixture of art, literature, and film because it elicits our strong feelings about beauty and the role it plays in our society. The depictions of beauty, typically taking the form of a woman, and her captor can often be viewed through a sexist or patriarchal, even xenophobic, lens–the virginal maiden and the monstrous brute who threatens to overturn the natural societal order. After all, what could be scarier or worse? Yet, what these depictions also remind us of is the privileged position beauty occupies within our society. Continually, beauty and the beautiful are shown to be covered. We wish to be, to own, and to protect them … and at great cost. With such reverence are they held that the very thought of a once-desired beauty being sullied disgusts, if not horrifies, us to the point of revulsion? This, then, is a trope perfectly suited to the contours of the horror genre, a place where our anxieties about everything from sex, race, and power can be played out in the relative safety of the darkened movie theatre. While the trope has gained momentum in the many incarnations it has taken, the beauty and the beast phenomena probably finds its iconic zenith atop the Empire State Building in Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong (1933). Other notable examples such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Possession (1981), and even an animated family film like Shrek (2001) have each in their own way added to the trope’s lineage and in some cases helped to rejuvenate and breathe new life into the form. Despite these revisions and iteration, basic elements do tend to remain constant–a monster, a captive woman, and the harrowing search and rescue attempt that will inevitably restore order.

So, what’s your favorite example of the beauty and the beast trope? Leave your response below and be sure to watch The Monster of Piedras Blancas this Halloween season!

The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)
Director: Irvin Berwick
Cast: Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon
Cinematography by: Philip H. Lathrop

The Monster of Piedras Blancas is available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.