Spooky Halloween monsters are all make believe, right? Actually, many villainous creatures of the science-fiction stories we know and love were inspired by the science of their time.
We’ve found three Halloween monsters that have their origins in true science.
1. Frankenstein’s monster
Still from House of Frankenstein, 1944.
In Mary Shelley’s famous novel, a scientist uses electricity to bring to life an 8-foot-tall man-monster forged from the sewn together body parts of corpses.
This may seem fantastical to us today, but in 1818 when Shelley’s science fiction stories were published, scientists were staging frightening public exhibits of Galvanism – the use of electricity to make muscles contract.
Public crowds would gather to watch a scientist poke metal rods into dead corpses, usually a recently-hanged murderer. As a current of electricity flowed, the body would writhe and move, open its eyes and grimace its mouth. This shocking display led some spectators to believe the corpse was coming back to life.
The supposed restorative effect of Galvanism made electrical shocks a popular treatment for a vast array of medical conditions in the 19th Century and beyond.
2. The Blob
Still from The Blob, 1988 remake.
In the 1958 horror movie The Blob, the title monster is an amorphous, jelly-like creature who digests flesh on contact, grows relentlessly bigger and bigger, and consumes everything in its path.
The Blob’s true scientific counterpart is a culture of chicken heart cells that captured the public imagination by remaining alive and growing between 1912 and 1946 in the lab of French surgeon and biologist Alexis Carrel.
Carrel and his associates were attempting to develop tissue culture techniques for long-term tissue cultivation. Since these chicken heart cells outlived the lifespan of a normal chicken, the cells were thought to be immortal, constantly dividing, and perpetually growing.
Further experiments in the 1960s challenged Carrel’s original findings, but not before the ever growing cells had inspired a Blob monster of movie-sized proportions.
Still from Alien, 1979.
The 1979 Ridley Scott movie Alien brought us a dramatic chest-bursting monster with stomach-churning origins.
After a ‘face-hugger’ creature hatches from an egg, it attaches itself to a host’s mouth, and implants an embryo into the host’s stomach. Later, the fully grown Alien creature explodes its way out of the chest in gruesome, movie-magic fashion.
This creepy life cycle was inspired by real-life parasites found here on Earth. The movie’s screenwriter Dan O’Bannon extensively studied parasite behaviour to invent his iconic monster.
In a case of life-imitating-art, a species of Australian wasp was recently discovered that matches the Alien monster’s gruesome trajectory. The parasitoid wasp, named Xenomorph, injects its eggs into live caterpillars.
The baby wasp larvae slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside out, bursting out once grown. After changing into adult wasps, they begin the hunt for new caterpillars in which to lay their eggs. Truly scary.
Author: Carmen Spears
Carmen is a freelance writer who won the opportunity to intern with Refraction Media in October of 2018. She is constantly curious and enjoys sharing intriguing stories about STEM.