I just finished watching the latest episode of “South Park” entitled “Pandemic” (watch the full episode here).
To quickly sum up: Peruvian Flute Bands have become a pandemic, and in the traditional “South Park” fashion, things get overblown and out of control, and a new evil is unleashed on the world. It’s in the ending of the episode that I lost it.
A few days ago, I posted this about the insufficiently examined concept of size of the “evil one” in horror films affecting the level of fear it produces. Without giving the episode’s ending away, I referred to something similar to the reveal in the final act.
Seeing that reminded me I didn’t delve into the other end of the spectrum: too big is not scary. Sure Godzilla can crush our house beneath his feet, and King Kong can pick his teeth with our ribs, but we see them as ominous by default. There’s a sense of hopelessness, not panic – a main ingrediant in fear.
Take Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”: the ape himself was not terrifying (in fact, he was the prima(te)ry love interest). Nor were the T-rex’s outrightly so. But those giant insects… and the face-hugger things in the pit… although they were CGI-done-right, they wer able to get the skin crawling.
Now imagine King Kong as 48 inches tall. He waits in the corner of your basement. You flick on the lights, and see his scarred face. He launches at you, roaring. You scramble up the staircase with him only a stair or two behind you. His long arms missing you by inches. He’s big enough to be a manageable threat (as opposed to a two-foot tall King Kong you can keep away with a chair… or a Swiffer or something), and that’s what causes that special kind of anxiety.
Now why not six-foot tall… or eight or ten, you ask? I believe it’s because my brain considers the possibility that it’s a man in costume. That’s why four-foot tall works, because at best, that giant Gremlin or tiny Godzilla is an adolescent or preteen in costume. I can see an adult going loco, but a middle-schooler?
In closing: babies and little kids aren’t scary (depending on who you ask I guess) because of their size, adults are lame, and awkward ten, eleven, and twelve year olds are the root source of our nightmares. (Perchance we remember too well…)
(EXCLUSION TO THE SIZE MATTERS: the homicidal kid in “Pet Sematary” is kinda creepy, but nowhere near as revolting as the adult sister in bed.)