October 12, 2006

Evil Scientists Play God

Heresy? Do they still burn men for heresy? Then burn me, monsieur. Light the fire. Do you think your poor candle will outshine the flame of truth?
-- Dr. Mirakle (in Murders in the Rue Morgue)

As part of my October horror movie quest, I've been watching many classics from the 1930's and 1940's. While these films were made 30-40 years before I was born, I find many of them to be more enjoyable than much of the crap being made today. During the month of October, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been showing many of these gems on Friday nights.

Cropped screenshot from the trailer for the fi...
Cropped screenshot from the trailer for the film Murders in the Rue Morgue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For this past Friday, TCM selected the theme of the "mad scientist" and showed several appropriate classics. It was fascinating to see how the stereotype of scientists as evil, arrogant, crazy, etc. started in early film. A theme that came up again and again was that scientists are evil because they "play god." In other words, they explain and manipulate things that are supposed to be "sacred." In light of today's battles over abortion, stem cell research, global warming, etc., I saw an uncomfortable number of parallels between these primitive views from the 30s and 40s and today's Christians.

1932's Murders in the Rue Morgue, starring Bela Lugosi and based very loosely on Poe's story of the same name, involves one of those evil "Darwinists" who is killing women by injecting them with ape blood. It seems that he is trying to prove this crazy theory that humans descended from apes by showing that both human and ape blood can coexist in the same body. There is a great scene in which members of his audience at a carnival laugh at his crazy assertions about evolution. I had to remind myself that this was a movie and not a Republican convention!

As much as I wanted to dismiss this and other classic "mad scientist" films as artifacts from a primitive time, I could not do so. You see, this subject has remained popular throughout the history of film and continues to be so today. These classics would give way to Eyes Without a Face (1960), Re-Animator (1985), Darkman (1990), Malice (1993), Hollow Man (2000), Serenity (2005), etc. In other words, it appears that science has lost little power to scare audiences.