Monster of the Week: Cropsy ('The Burning')

Cropsy, not afraid of a little fire. Miramax Films

We have of course covered the North American slasher before, both in the form of Homo Vorrhees and Homo Myers, but our study of these fascinating creatures would not be complete without mention of Homo Cropsy, a slasher evolved to thrive in a fire-prone environment.

As with all apex predators, Cropsy is a rare and secretive monster. The most notable specimen comes to us from a 1981 encounter at Camp Blackfoot. Perhaps you remember the account? A sadistic caretaker survived a horrifying 1976 fire (caused by a horrifying prank-gone-wrong) only to return five years later and massacre multiple oversexed teenagers with a pair of hedge clippers.

Cropsy is yet another unnatural creature, but once more we find his reflection in the natural world.

Fire Ecology

Despite humanity's long-standing mastery of fire, it is of course a natural phenomenon. In fact, naturally occurring wildfires play a vital role in the ecosystem.

(Phantom City Creative)

Many species of plants and animals evolved to not only survive regular burns but also to depend on them. This of course ranges from flame-resistant and flame tolerant trees (such as the Ponderosa Pine) to animals that seek shelter either beneath the ground (such as the eastern indigo snake) or beyond the fire's reach (such as the Florida panther).

Fire is an agent of change, and natural selection favors those who can make the most of a post-fire environment. We're talking breaks in the oppressive tree canopy and a new shot at sunlight. We're talking less competition for resources, as well as vegetation and structural changes that benefit a whole new population of organisms.

So that's why some plants boast leaves coated in flammable oils to intensify the heat and ensure their fire-activated seeds germinate -- and it's also why predators like the Florida panther move in and rule a post-burn pine forest in the first year following the blaze [source: Tall Timbers].

The Cropsy Connection

So this brings us back to Homo Cropsy. As this slasher makes its home in gin-soaked groundskeeper sheds and highly-flammable pro-wrestling mortuary families, it boasts increased resistance to fire, much like the Ponderosa pine. Both suffer damage, but nothing that limits the organism's ability to function.

Campfire tales of a sadistic, mutilated groundskeeper leave fertile ground for horrifying campfire tales and urban legends -- accounts which, like horror movies, may produce heightened levels of sexual attraction following a high-anxiety situation [source: Datton and Aaron, Szczucka]. If teenage campers are more aroused, then they're more likely to engage in the very sexual activity that slashers are drawn to when choosing prey.

For more on this form of predation, see "Monster of the Week: Jason Voorhees."

Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.