One of my regular horror symbolism article readers sent me a message this morning asking me about the symbolism of tentacles in horror movies and horror literature. I was very surprised by the fact that in all of the horror symbolism articles that I have done, I have never mentioned about tentacles in horror.
Many science-fiction writers near the beginning of the twentieth century portrayed aliens as having tentacles. The most famous of these would be H.P. Lovecraft who threw tentacles on many of the creatures and gods of the Cthulhu mythos.
Around the same time, many political cartoons began to portray large businesses and some political leaders as having tentacles. These cartoons would show these leaders of politics or business as creatures that have their arms around everything. Carrying this into horror symbolism was a fairly natural step.
A tentacles is something that creatures of the deep have. In the early part of the last century, these creatures were rarely seen by humans, and were often given horrific qualities. In the example of the giant squid, stories told of squid that could be bigger than football stadiums. While giant squid have been discovered since then, none have been found to be anywhere close to this size.
In reality, a tentacle is a long appendage that can reach long distances. The suction cups that are usually found on a tentacle will grab on to an object in such a way that it is almost impossible to get away. The slime and other goop that one might find on a tentacle also transfers easily into horror symbolism since it would be considered as, “unclean.”
When one thinks of many of the popular antagonists in horror movies, one brings to mind thoughts of Jason Voorhees, Dracula, the Wolfman, zombies, and other short-armed creatures. These creatures essentially need to be at arms-length to do true damage to you. Throw a creature in to your thoughts from the Cthulhu mythos that can be a block away and still grab you with a tentacle and pull you towards it. Which do you have a better chance of getting away from?
One further part of the symbolism of tentacles in horror comes in one of the new special effects tricks of modern horror movies. Seeing a tentacle coming out of the mouth of a person is something that is becoming prevalent in many horror movies these days. This symbolizes the hidden evil that lies within a person. If a person regurgitates the tentacle for it to some out is means that the person is not evil per say, but something inside of him or her is.
The next time that you red a horror story, or see a horror movies that shows a creature with a tentacle, think of this article. You might be surprised how your perception of that creature is different now that you know the symbolism behind tentacles in horror.