Monday, January 12, 2004
One of the minor things you come away from this book with is a sense of how common the motif of the "mad doctor" or "mad scientist" is in American popular culture of the mid-twentieth century; nearly all of Lugosi's non-Dracula roles were one of these. Though born in the literature of the nineteenth century (Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll), the mad scientist never became a commonplace figure until twentieth-century popular cinema.
Cinema has always regarded science and scientists with deep suspcion. Today, when the mad scientist is no longer taken seriously as a dramatic figure, we have instead the incompetent scientist. In any movie made today featuring a scientific breakthrough as a plot point, it can be predicted with absolute certainty that something will go Horribly Wrong, as in Jurassic Park et al.
As to why that is, I am not sure. Horror movies have been called "conservative" by a number of critics, but that's not strong enough: I would go all the way to "reactionary." Horror movies tell us: Have sex, and Jason will gut you like a fish. And, like the medieval Church with Galileo, horror movies view scientists with a suspicious, prejudiced eye.