Sign up for the
and get $50 off Final Draft 12
By Riley Webster · October 20, 2013
It’s that time of year; to watch movies that scare the beejesus out of you. I’m not a big horror movie fan at all (especially of the modern splatter-fest variety), but when it comes to Halloween Month, you better believe I cram in as many freaky flicks as I possibly can. What sets the mood better than a vampire, or the un-dead, or Hannah Montana? Scary movie monsters are the way to go this month!
So these are the ones I find the best of the bunch. Notice I said “best” and not “scariest”, because, well….is anyone really still scared of Godzilla any more? Probably not, and yet, he’s a great movie monster. Likewise, these are rankings of the characters themselves, not the movies they’re in — I actually find most of the films on this list to be horribly dated and, sometimes, downright terrible. But that doesn’t mean the monster isn’t awesome!
The final note I have to make is that what you consider a “movie monster” might be different from me. For this list, I eliminated any serial killer’s like Hannibal, Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers. They’re monstrous, yes, but I also feel that because they’re all humans (albeit with great rejuvenation techniques), they have a CHOICE to be evil, whereas the true monsters on this list are evil by NATURE. So that was my differentiating point, there.
And for the few that just didn’t quite make it: Zombies, The Wolf Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon, the underground squid things from Tremors, the giant ants in Them, and the Blair Witch (who only missed this list because I’m still not sure, based on the first movie, if she was actually real or not).
Has there ever been a good Godzilla movie? Probably not. I haven’t seen too many of them, in all fairness, and my first encounter was the widely-hated 1998 version, and most of my later excursions haven’t been much better. But Godzilla doesn’t exist for screams — he exists as pure camp, and wonderful camp at that. Watching that dude stomp around a miniature city in a big lizard costume is still, to this day, delightful. Watching him beat the shit out of other monsters like Mothra or King Kong can still get the little kid in you excited. And hell, I’ll go one step further — the 1998 version with Matthew Broderick isn’t actually that bad.
The original film is the one that sings the most, but you better make sure you see the proper version. As a kid, I bought the VHS of it at a garage sale, only to be confused and irritated with Raymond Burr continually popping up (when the film hit the States, they re-filmed several scenes with an American actor randomly plopped in). But the monster himself delivers the hilariously dated goods, stomping around and crushing everything in sight. He’s iconic, and that’s why he deserves a spot on this list.
9. The Mummy
There’s basically two infamous Mummy’s we’re talking about here — Imhotep, first seen in the original 1932 classic Mummy film as well as the Brendan Fraser adventures films from the 90’s, and Kharis, who was actually the go-to Mummy character for every film in between the two Imhotep’s. Most of what we constitute as the “iconic Mummy” stuff is actually Kharris; the lumbering walk, the bandages, the stealing of women to sacrifice to the Egyptian God’s….that’s mostly him, and in fact, the original Mummy is usually seen without any bandages or even scars, and instead we just see the already-disturbing face of Boris Karloff.
While Kharris is often little more than a zombie, he is in fact a very cool looking zombie, and has more personality than those overrated movie monsters. But Imhotep is still the one that shines — Karloff gave a wicked performance in the original, and the reveal of the Mummy from his tomb is one of the better, and more subtle, moments in all the Universal horror flicks. I’m also partial to 1999’s The Mummy; sure, the sequels all sucked, but Imhotep (played then by Arnold Vosloo) had an awesome habit of continually regaining his skin and muscle tissue, and the CGI at the time was revolutionary.
8. King Kong
Here’s another movie monster that has survived countless terrible sequels, remakes, and re-imaginings, and yet still has the power to captivate an audience. The original King Kong was probably the most shocking film of its time; there were sequences (such as the now-lost giant insects scene, restored in Peter Jackson’s remake) that were so intense and scary, audience members fled the theatre. It’s funny watching the film now and thinking anyone used to believe the obviously stop-motion Kong as being real, but believe they did, and he became a permanent mainstay in pop culture.
I love the original flick (one of the best monster movies of its era), and I love the 2005 remake even more, although Kong is less a monster there than a misunderstood beast. For any Kong film, top-of-the-line special effects are used to create the giant monkey, and while modern day CGI makes him look very convincing, I kinda prefer the weird, surreal stop-motion effects of the first. Either way, there’s no denying that when that giant ape goes on a rampage and starts climbing the Empire State building, we’re seeing perfect movie magic, and as far as big animals go, I’ll take Kong over Godzilla any day of the week.
This may be the most “human” monster on this list, in that he was specifically made, I believe, to resemble man’s bloodthirsty attitudes towards “lesser” animals. The Predator films are as much action/adventures as they are sci-fi/horror (and, if you are especially inclined to giggle at Arnold Schwarzenegger, than it’s a bit of a comedy, too). But Predator himself remains an intriguing and frightening monster. They come down to various planets specifically to hunt and kill, and that’s it; rarely do motives get more simple and heartless than that.
It’s the ways in which they kill that make them awesome. The Predator’s have cloaking devices, so they’re frequently invisible. They have heat-sensitive vision, explosives, traps, claws, laser guns, and are built like a Herculean football star. Any monster that can fist-fight the Terminator and almost win is pretty impressive; not to mention, they’ve also tackled the Aliens from that titular franchise, although the less said about those AVP movies, the better. Still, the original Predator in the first film is both threatening and bad-ass (especially with his mask off), and it’s somehow very enjoyable watching them rip apart douchebag Marines.
6. Frankenstein’s Monster
One of the most famous (possibly THE most famous) of all monsters in literature, Frankenstein’s Monster has lived through literally hundreds of different incarnations. In the original Mary Shelley novel, he was written as almost a raging hobo with long hair and tattered clothes, but the Universal horror film from 1931 forever changed the appearance of the lumbering dead guy. Boris Karloff (again) played him perfectly, and the film used simple but effective techniques to make him appear more terrifying than he actually is (such as shortening the length of his sleeves to make his arms look longer). Despite my reservations with the flick, it’s Karloff’s take on the Monster that resonates the most, and can still be quite scary.
As far as movie monsters go, Frankenstein’s Monster is one of the more sympathetic. Raised from the dead, several of the films (and original story) play him out to be a lost and misunderstood creature, who kills a little girl pretty much by accident, which then sets off the “torch and pitchfork” brigade. Christopher Lee played him well in the later Hammer films, Robert de Niro took a crack at him in the 90’s, and Karloff himself reprised the role many times. There’s something about the character that just sticks in the audience’s subconscious, and results in him continuing an active pop presence.
5. The Thing
John Carpenter’s The Thing freaked the absolute shit out of me when I first saw it in high school. It was actually the first time I ever screamed out loud in a movie (in the scene where it takes over the dogs). For being so high up on the list, Thing has surprisingly only been in three movies; Carpenter’s 1982 remake, the 2011 remake of the remake, and the Howard Hawks original The Thing From Another Planet. While Hawks’ vision was little more than “Frankenstein From Space”, Carpenter’s Thing exists in so many different shapes, forms, and ways — all of them terrifying. The idea that any of your friends around you could be The Thing is what makes it such a compelling movie villain.
The stories of each film involving the Thing are usually the same — deserted location, a handful of victims, the Thing is lose, and it shapeshifts and takes over the bodies of anyone and everyone. The remaining survivors must figure out who has been taken over, but they often don’t know until it’s too late. In Carpenter’s version, the in-camera make-up and effects are done to a gorey perfection by Rob Bottin, and there are scenes in the film (including the most famous one, where the Thing takes off with a dude’s head, sprouting nasty spider legs and running around the med-lab) that are among the scariest and grossest of any film, ever. Although in all honesty, the clay-mation tentacles at the end of the film do the Thing a slight disservice — he’s freakier when he could be anyone, at any given time.
Like Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula has gone through almost a million different incarnations and versions, some of which are wonderful…others, not so much. Also like Frankenstein’s Monster, the character has become so well-known its original image of something dark, creepy, and villainous is a little tarnished (especially in this age of sparkly vampire mush-flicks). But there are a couple versions of Dracula that are absolutely perfect, and make him deserving of his placement of one of the greatest and most infamous of movie monsters. The first is Max Schrek’s portrayal in Nosferatu, the initial adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel (although they did it without permission, so technically it “isn’t” Dracula). Bela Lugoisi’s take in the Universal pictures is the most mimicked (“I vant to suck your blooood!”). And Gary Oldman’s luminous performance in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1993 adaptation is possibly the most intense, and creepiest.
Each variation has their strengths and weaknesses. Nosferatu (also well played in the 70’s film by Klaus Kinski) is more feral, animalistic. He has claws, gnarly teeth, goblin ears, and eyes that bug out of his head. Seeing Nosferatu played with a live orchestra is one of the greatest (and creepiest) movie-going experiences of my life. Lugoisi’s Dracula brought the sexy back, and made him debonair and almost charming. And Oldman mixed both — when wooing Winona Ryder, he’s quite classy, but at his castle, he’s more beast than man. Overall, Dracula/Nosferatu is almost unbeatable, and the best of the old-school lot.
3. Pale Man
When you first think of Guillmero del Toro’s wonderful film Pan’s Labyrinth, what’s the first thing you think of? I bet it’s not Pan himself, nor the labyrinth. It’s probably Pale Man, the absolutely terrifying white monster whose eyes he has to place in the palms of his hands. They utilize his image whenever mentioning the film in any program or trailer, and there’s good reason — for pure creativity and horrifying originality, Pale Man is among the greatest monsters ever created, and certainly among the most memorable of recent years.
But what’s most surprising about Pale Man’s popularity is how little of the actual movie he’s in. Guys like Dracula and Frankenstein were not only the stars of their flicks, but they also appeared in dozens of sequels and remakes — Pale Man was only seen once, for about 5 minutes. But, much like how Hannibal was only in Silence of the Lambs for 15 minutes: it’s what you do with the time you’re given that matters, and Pale Man marks a truly spine-tingling and goosebump-giving 5 minutes. As a creation of make-up, he’s incredible (he’s freaky even before he sticks the eyeballs in his hands), and for elevating an already great film into something of a milestone, Pale Man deserves his high spot on the list.
2. The Shark
Jaws is one of the greatest of all films, something that can be enjoyed both as a heart-stopping horror flick and a delightful adventure yarn on the high seas. The Shark (called “Bruce” on the highly-troubled set) is the best of all the naturally-occurring monsters of cinema. There was no demonic curse or laboratory experiments that made him evil — he just needs to eat people, and he needs to eat them now. He’s an unstoppable force, seemingly un-killable for the every-day heroes of the film. Steven Spielberg’s now famous (and sadly, rarely copied) decision to keep him off-camera until halfway through the film is genius; as evidenced by films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the things we can’t see are far scarier than what they actually turn out to be.
The Shark has been devalued, I guess, by both the terrible later sequels and the simple fact that the puppet-effects that went into making him now appear dated (similar to King Kong’s legacy). But there’s no denying the cultural significance of Bruce the Shark. He made an entire generation afraid to go into the water and swim. He made two notes of music one of the most popular themes of terror the world has ever known. And he made everyone who has seen the film crap their pants in fear. Sure, he looks a little fake now, but he’s still a massive hungry shark, and there’s barely anything out there in the world more frightening than one of those.
I don’t know if the Alien ever got a real biological classification. I never saw Alien Resurrection, so perhaps in that film, they called him more than just “Alien” (or maybe they will in the upcoming prequel/sequel Prometheus 2). But that’s how I know the entire species, seen in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, James Cameron’s Aliens, and David Fincher’s Alien 3. THIS is the alien I’m talking about, and for me, it’s also the best, most original, and most horrifying movie monster of all time. I mentioned the Shark in Jaws being unstoppable, but that’s only until the end, when he actually was stopped. The Aliens are truly, completely, unstoppable. Every movie ends with at least one being killed, but this is a whole SPECIES of evil, and they can be anywhere, or everywhere, in the universe.
Visually, they exist in a class of their own. They hatch a hundred eggs, which will then latch onto a human’s face (called “Facehuggers” at this stage), then implant the alien within the host’s body. The hosts think everything is normal, much like in the first Alien film, until you sit around one night eating supper and “kaboom”, they explode from your stomach, growing rapidly into a 7-foot tall eating machine with two sets of fangs and acid for blood. They look truly like the animals from Hell, and the idea of them inserting and infesting within the host makes them rapists as well as viruses (these sexual connotations were on purpose by the creator’s, by the way).
Unlike many of the other monsters on this list, Alien never spoke, never expressed a personality, or gave much thought to anything. The closest to any human resemblances about them was in Cameron’s Aliens, where we met the Queen and she looked a tad upset when Ripley burned all her eggs to cinders. But they remain my #1 choice simply because they are the stuff of nightmares. No other creature has looked or acted quite like them before, and none since. Now go turn off all the lights, pop in Alien, and revel in what monster movie magic can concoct.