The Problem with the Unkillable Monster Trope

How Can We Survive?

Image: Gore Magala from Monster Hunter

Horror fiction is full of tropes. The invincible or unkillable monster is one of them. Although in fairness, this is more prevalent in horror movies and video games.

The characters reach the point of the final confrontation with the monster. They are frightened but toughen up from all the trauma from their previous encounters. They throw everything at it.

Except the monster does not die. Instead, it starts killing them, one by one.

Similarly, you reach the final level, the last boss fight. You throw all your enchanted weapons and potions at it. You call reinforcements. And then, you die. Fast. Easy.

Game over. Did someone say survival horror? No thanks. I thought the point of it was surviving.

How much punishment can Jason Voorhes take? Pinterest

You throw the controller (or break it). And swear, profusely.

Why will the monster not die? Why? How can we survive it? What is the point? So unfair.

If this was a novel, this will be the point where the reader closes the book in anger and incredulity. Why?

Because we live vicariously through the characters we read, watch, and play. Therefore, it is like we die if they die.

Again, frustrating.

If we are Powerless, Where is the Suspense?

Azatoth by Endostyles, Deviant Art

If our characters are powerless against the monster if they cannot kill it, what is the purpose of trying?

I would guess they want us to be scared (the main objective of horror fiction) by raising the stakes from difficult to impossible.

But should unkillable mean invincible? Should it mean immortal?

In fairness, there are some actions your character can take. None of them are good ones. For example:

  • They can run
  • They can hide
  • They can pray
  • They can give up
  • They can become “turned” into a monster themselves.

I told you their options were not pretty ones.

Chaos Beast from Dungeons and Dragons

Conversely, I get it. What can be more stressful than an unstoppable behemoth chasing you that refuses to die?

Horror fiction plots need conflict and tension. High stakes and lots of danger too. Furthermore, the impossible odds make the final victory more satisfying for us.

Granted, readers lose interest if there is no tension and victory is assured from the beginning. That is boring. We need formidable monsters.

But what if they do not win? What if the monster keeps coming at them? Helpless and hopeless situation indeed.

Moreover, it can be a symptom of lazy writing.

Thus, to summarize, horror authors need to make the monster hard to kill, not impossible. Right?

How Can You Stop the Unstoppable?

giant warrior monster, Wallpaper Flare

So, you are writing horror or playing a game campaign, and you create one of these unkillable monsters. What can you do? How can you stop it for once?

In effect, how can you survive these encounters and tell your grandkids about them?

In fairness, most of the monsters and creatures we encounter in horror fiction are immortal and undead–the very definition of unkillable.

Vampires and zombies are undead. Ghosts, elder gods, and demons are not of this realm. Ghouls and witches are magical creatures.

And yet, folklore and literature have given them weaknesses for this very reason. Whether it is holy water, sunlight, crosses, white magic spells, silver bullets, salt pentagrams, etc.

Hence, we must fight the supernatural with supernatural means.

Shadow Fiend from DOTA 2

Moreover, your characters can rely on those old-school magical rituals, interdimensional portals, and banishment spells. If they have the time, know-how, and materials.

But alas, magic always demands a sacrifice. You were warned. This is why summoning evil entities never ends well.

Likewise, the characters can always try to outsmart the monster.

In horror, we don’t usually get a traditional ending. Instead, we get a return to the world before the supernatural evil entered.

To conclude, there is a right way and a wrong way to write an unkillable monster. But beware, modern readers are cynical of this trope. Thus, use it sporadically.

Reader, do you prefer an unkillable monster or one with weaknesses? Share in the comments.


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January 2023