Parodies seem to be a staple of mainstream media these days. Characters will frequently reference popular culture, and more overt spoofs will have scenes or entire episodes stylistically and narratively rip off well-known works, usually for comedic effect. The Simpsons is the first TV show that comes to mind, including countless parody episodes throughout its ongoing run. For example, the famous ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episodes have spoofed classic horror films such as The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Shining.
Obviously, The Simpsons isn’t a horror TV show (perhaps in an alternate dimension), despite delving into the genre for parody purposes. Supernatural, on the other hand, had its own recurring tropes and lore that gave it more scope for horror parodies. Season 4’s ‘Monster Movie’ is a prime example of this. The episode is a spoof of (yep, you guessed it) classic monster movies, both in the cinematic style of it and the plot itself. However, pre-existing monster lore within the show interplays with these more traditional tropes, adding an extra layer to the genre exploration.
The opening credits instantly set the scene, with a black and white filter plus ominous music over the top of the old fashioned fonted credits. Pathetic fallacy is utilised in the first scene, as an ominous storm rages on through the eerie night to set the tone. As the Impala drives along a rainy road, we see a road sign that says “Welcome to Pennsylvania”, flashing to “Transylvania” with the lightning. The latter location is a region in Romania synonymous with the vampire myth, home to Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s abode. We immediately know what the episode is alluding to, and the on-the-nose nature of it suggests a parody right away.
In addition to ‘Monster Movie’ being entirely in black and white, many other stylistic elements nod to classic monster movies. The soundtrack borrows German polka music and classical music such as ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’ by Johann Sebastian Bach, and combines it with original compositions by Jay Gruska as an homage to monster movie soundtracks. It sets the old-fashioned tone right away. Accompanying visuals include an ‘Intermission’ card halfway through the episode on top of an image of cinema curtains and a ‘The End…?’ title card at the episode’s conclusion. The editing in general is of a traditional style, with a few wipe transitions throughout. For example, an iris wipe closes on the Impala in the first scene.
Since ‘Monster Movie’ is set during Oktoberfest, lots of characters are wearing lederhosen and traditional German-style outfits, adding to the old-fashioned, European vibe. Later in the film, Dean Winchester is captured by the monster and strapped to a wooden table wearing a lederhosen. The costume is used for comedic effect, but also fully integrates our protagonist into the monster movie world. A spooky laboratory-type room that appears to be in a castle is where he finds himself, clearly a nod to Frankenstein. The crumbling brick walls, creaky wooden doors and furniture, and collection of test tubes and scientific equipment all feel like part of a set from any classic monster movie.
A lot of other parodic elements in the episode are within the narrative and dialogue. For example, at the start of the episode Dean describes the case as an “honest-to-goodness monster hunt”, just “like the good old days”. As well as referencing how this monster-of-the-week episode is simplistic compared to the apocalyptic and increasingly complex arc story in Season 4, it represents a nostalgia for basic, classic monster movies from times gone by. He also calls it “a straightforward, black-and-white case”, making a humorous little nod to the actual black and white style of the episode. It ends up being not quite as straightforward as expected, however; the monster turns out to be a shapeshifter manifesting as various classic movie monsters.
Lots of classic monster movies and novels are explicitly named in the episode; mostly Dracula (1931 and many, many other versions), as the monster originally presents as a vampire. In his inconspicuous human form, the monster is a woman called Lucy—a reference to Lucy Westenra from Dracula. It turns out the body is actually “Bride Number Three from the first film”, who the monster has a poster of in his castle. When interacting with the main characters, the monster also refers to them by the names of other characters from Dracula; Dean is Jonathan Harker, Jamie (Dean’s love interest) is Mina Harker, and Sam is Van Helsing. Aside from Dracula, The Wolf Man (1941) and The Mummy (1932) are mentioned, since the monster manifests as a werewolf and then a mummy. In the mummy scene, a security guard asks if “Helen” might know about the delivery—Helen is the female lead in The Mummy.
At another point in the episode, Dean says to Sam, “We need to catch this freak before he Creature-From-the-Black-Lagoons somebody”, making a reference to the 1954 film. Sam later saves Dean from getting electrocuted by the monster, which Dean describes by saying, “Guy was about to Frankenstein me.” When Jamie fatally shoots the monster, he says “It was Beauty that killed the Beast”, a direct quote from King Kong (1933). Yeah, the references aren’t very subtle, if you hadn’t noticed already. Posters for the horror films Them! (1954), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), and House of Wax (1953) are all seen in the old-fashioned Goethe (a reference to the author of Faust) movie theatre Sam enters.
Many specific monster movie, horror movie, and vampire movie tropes are parodied or referenced in ‘Monster Movie’. The second attack takes place in the woods while a couple make out in their car, a staple of many horror (usually slasher) movies. Upon describing the attack, the witness directly likens the appearance of the werewolf to “the old movies”. Again, there are no two ways about what the episode is paying homage to.
In regards to vampires specifically, Ed Brewer, witness of the first murder, mentions fangs, slicked-back hair, a fancy cape, and “the little medallion thingy on the ribbon” as well as the Dracula accent. These are all typical tropes of how vampires were traditionally represented in films, particularly Dracula. The comedy of this stems from how fake the description sounds due to Supernatural vampire lore omitting all of these tropes except fangs, and even those look very different. Dean later speculates, “Hey, you think this Dracula can turn into a bat? That’d be cool”, playing off the animorphism ability of Dracula in the original novel.
Certain scenes play off tropes for comedic purposes. When the monster attacks Jamie, she pepper sprays him, and the surprise causes him to drop his fake Dracula accent. It draws attention to the exaggerated nature of the performance, inviting us to laugh at and ridicule the falsity of it. Shortly afterwards, the monster also flees the scene on a moped, still in his full Dracula attire; the contrast is hilarious. Perhaps my favourite scene in the episode involves a pizza delivery guy showing up at the monster’s house, looking extremely tired and done with his job while the monster dramatically asks, “Tell me: is there garlic on this pizza?” to mimic the stereotype of vampires being averse to garlic. And showing his little coupon as well—amazing.
As often happens in parodies, the fourth wall is broken many a time throughout the episode. After the mummy segment, Sam points out that the ‘sarcophagus’ is actually from a prop house in Philly, and Dean notices a bucket of dry ice used to create a fog effect. The supposed spooky laboratory and castle Dean later wakes up in is also revealed to be a set in the basement of the monster’s very normal house. Addressing film props and sets breaks the fourth wall by acknowledging the process used to create films and television shows. Sam realises that the monster is “trying to re-enact his favourite monster movie moments”; this essentially sums up the entire purpose of the episode.
From the monster’s own perspective, we get a traditional villain monologue towards the end:
““Real” is being born this way. Different. “Real” is having your dad call you “monster”—it’s the first time you hear the word—and he tries to beat you to death with a shovel. Everywhere I ran, everywhere I tried to hide, people found me, dragged me out, attacked me. Called me “freak,” called me “monster.” Then I found them. The great monsters. In their movies, they were strong. They were feared. They were beautiful. And now I am like them. Commanding. Terrifying.”
His whole outsider persona is typical of the monsters in monster movies. The way he describes his upbringing reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster in particular; feeling different from birth, familial rejection, societal exclusion and discrimination. Being empowered by the great movie monsters is an oddly wholesome aspect of his story, and it also adds to how the episode expresses reverence for the classic monster movies.
In addition to deconstructing monster movies, ‘Monster Movie’ also draws attention to the facade of the TV show Supernatural itself. Jamie compares Dean and Sam to Mulder and Scully at one point, and Dean replies, “No, The X-Files is a TV show. This is real.” This is an obvious ironic statement, as Supernatural is also a TV show in the same realm as The X-Files. As if to hammer this point home, the monster says “And scene” when knocking Dean unconscious shortly afterwards, and the screen fades to black. By this point, we know the monster is putting on his own performance within the story, but this moment nods to the whole episode being fictional as well.
In the confrontation with the monster, Dean asks him, “You do realise what happens at the end of every monster movie?” He is referring to how there is a standardised format for classic monster movies. However, the monster replies, “Ah, but this movie is mine”—he is attempting to subvert the usual narrative and reclaim it for his own by positioning himself at the centre of the story. Of course, it doesn’t end the way he wants it to. The episode being from the perspective Dean and Sam (i.e. the monster hunters), and the fact that it’s a standard monster-of-the-week episode, already tells us the monster will die at the end. When the monster is dying, he mournfully claims, “Perhaps this is how the movie should end.”
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, ‘Monster Movie’ sticks with the usual structure and doesn’t subvert it. Instead, it leans into the classic monster movie narrative and celebrates it. After all, shows like this likely wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the pioneering monster movies and novels paving the way. Sure, the format may be predictable, but that’s part of the comfort and nostalgia of it. As Dean summarises, “Hero gets the girl, monster gets the gank. All in all, happy ending.” That’s what we get out of it—nothing more, nothing less.