A mutant results from a genetic mutation, which is an abrupt change in the structure of a chromosome’s or a gene’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that results in the organism’s acquisition of a new characteristic or trait. Most such mutations have no significant effect on the organism or, when they do have a major consequence, tend to be harmful or disastrous to the plant or animal. Mutations are hereditary, unlike those that result from changes to DNA that occur in as a result of developmental abnormalities or somatic mutations (genetic errors that occur during cell division). Blue lobsters, albinos, animals with extra digits, humans with tails (i. e. extended coccyxes), and fruit flies with antennae in place of legs are examples of mutants.
Beside genetic transcription errors, certain types of radiation can cause mutations, as can some chemicals and viruses. Some plants can transmit somatic mutations to their offspring, but animals, including humans, cannot. Evolutionary biologists explain the transfer of mutations in terms of whether or not they are beneficial to the survival of the species in which they occur. If they are beneficial, more and more mutants that have acquired the new trait will survive, passing the trait to their offspring.
Morphological mutations often produce visible changes, some of which could be dramatic, and DNA has hotspots, or points at which mutations are 100 times more likely to occur than they are likely to occur elsewhere.
A number of novels and movies in the horror genre attribute extraordinary powers and abilities (and, sometimes, monstrous appearances and behavior) to mutants. The Hills Have Eyes, Part 2 (1985) features cannibal killers who attack a motorcycle racing team when they tale an ill-advised shortcut through the desert to the racetrack. In the 2006 remake of the original version, after seeing a distant light, National Guard soldiers split up to conduct a possible search-and-rescue mission near the deserted desert military base to which they were delivering equipment only to need to be rescued themselves from the mutant flesh-eating killers they encounter on the way. Mutant Man (1996) is a rip off of The Hills Have Eyes, with a family of inbred cannibal mutants attacking two women who set off with their children in a trailer to nowhere. Its DVD package bore the following ditty:
There's a creature that lives in the basement
Every night he rises anew
When pretty young girls come to visit
He turns them into beef stew
Inbred militant cannibals are the bad guys in Wrong Turn 2 (2007) as well, this time taking on reality TV show contestants. Mutants are zombies in Mutant (1984), the premise of which is that illegally dumped toxic waste transforms townspeople into mutated zombies who pursue the few of their neighbors who, having remained normal, become the zombie’s food supply.
Mutant sea monsters are the big scare in Humanoids from the Deep (1980). Products of an experiment gone awry, mutated bunnies (yes, bunnies) rampage in Night of the Lepus (1072). Them! tries to frighten its 1954 audience with giant mutated ants. Frankenfish (2004) features mutated fish, the products of a genetic engineering mishap. Hammerhead: Shark Frenzy (2005) features mutated fish, the products of a genetic engineering mishap. Fly and human DNA are scrambled when a scientist tries to transport himself using his newly invented teleportation device, unaware that he has acquired a tiny hitchhiker (The Fly, 1985). Radioactive mosquitoes merge with a human scientist to create a mutated hybrid monster in Mansquito (2005). The Pack (1977) terrorizes moviegoers with mutated dogs, as does Rottweiler (2004). King Cobra (1999) and Trees 2: The Root of All Evil (2004) deal with mutated animal and plant villains, respectively, that were created through genetic mutations.
“Everyday Horrors: Mutants” is the first in a series of “everyday horrors” that will be featured in Chillers and Thrillers: The Fiction of Fear. These “everyday horrors” continue, in many cases, to appear in horror fiction, literary, cinematographic, and otherwise.