As any lover of horror will tell you, picking a short list of favorite monsters is no easy feat. The most classic movie monsters are those with an element of tragedy; the ones who evoke empathy as well as horror. While I love the classics and admire the craft required to create a sympathetic monster, I don’t know that I can call them my favorites. To be my favorite, a monster must be truly frightening, something that makes you want to hide under the bed, if only you could be sure that there wasn’t something much, much worse lurking, just out of sight, down there. To help narrow the field to these most terrifically terrifying fiends, I’ve drawn from five fears of children and childhood to give you my favorite monsters of horror.
1. Creepy Kids
By subverting the notion of children as harmless innocents, creepy kids make for extraordinary effective monsters. Whether made evil by external intervention, as in The Exorcist or Pet Cemetery, or simply born bad like little Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed, these children of horror are more perceptive than you, more devious, and without a single moral objection to your violent demise. Playing upon mankind’s perceived biological imperative to protect children, these monsters ruthlessly twist any act of mercy and care into a lethal mistake. The best of these (and my first favorite) is Samara from 2002’s The Ring. Rachel, our protagonist, sees poor Samara as a tragic figure, murdered by her own mother simply for being too different. Except no. She’s actually a sea monster rape-baby who gleefully wants to burn awful images into your mind until you die. She doesn’t “just want to be heard,” Rachel. She just wants to kill you.
Aidan: Is she still in the dark place?
Rachel: No. We set her free.
Aidan: You helped her?
Aidan: Why did you do that?
Rachel: What’s wrong, honey?
Aidan: You weren’t supposed to help her. Don’t you understand, Rachel? She never sleeps.
2. Scary Dolls
Psychologists recognize automatonophobia as the fear of anything falsely representing a sentient being, including robots, dolls, and ventriloquist dummies. Perhaps, like creepy kids and evil clowns, dolls make for terrifying monsters by representing the juxtaposition of the joyous things of childhood with the looming inevitability of death and decay. Scary dolls are like creepy kids, but littler, creepier, and therefore more likely to be tucked into hidden spaces, watching you. Watching and waiting…
Although horror offers plenty of scary dolls to chose from, including the disturbing Dolly from Dolly Dearest and sinister Hugo from Dead of Night, the eponymous dolls from 1987’s Dolls win in a multi-way tie for my favorite scary doll monster on sheer horrifying volume alone. Killed and imprisoned in toys to pay for their crimes, these dolls might be sympathetic if they weren’t so completely full of malevolent, unrepentant mischief, fully committed to killing you, even if it takes their tiny doll hands all night to do it.
3. The Monster in the Closet
That thing that’s lurking under the bed. Or possibly in the closet, or in the dark at the bottom of the basement stairs, where the light doesn’t quite reach. These monsters, easily dismissible in the light of day, gain a terrifying immediacy and presence in the dark, when you feel the sudden, irrational imperative to gauge the leap between the light switch and the relative safety of your bed.
Well represented by Lovecraft’s Night-Gaunts and The Whisperer in the Darkness, my favorite Monster in the Closet can be found in Stephen King’s short story The Boogeyman, which asked, “Did you look in the closet?” and left me unable to sleep alone for an entire summer. Since the latest short film version of the story hasn’t been released yet (and we don’t acknowledge the 1982 full length atrocity of an adaptation), I’ll use Drew Daywalt’s 2010 short There’s No Such Thing to illustrate my choice. Sleep tight, kittens.
4. Evil Clowns
Clowns were once considered gentle buffoons, the perfect choice to entertain crowds of children. Now we know better. As a society, we have recast clowns as monsters, lurid freaks and crazed killers, their painted-on smiles intense grins of maniacal joy. In The History and Psychology of Scary Clowns, Smithsonian Magazine notes that no less an authority than Andrew McConnell, English professor and coulrophobia historian, credits Charles Dickens with introducing the idea of the clown as a secret, sinister monster, “an off-duty clown…whose inebriation and ghastly, wasted body contrasted with his white face paint and clown costume.”
Whatever the reasons clowns make for fabulously frightening movie monsters, there are no shortage of candidates for a favorite. However, when it comes to childhood fears, the 1982 classic Poltergeist hits the nightmare trifecta of monster in the closet, something under the bed, and a scary clown that really, really, wanted to see you dead.
5. The Monster that Doesn’t Need an Explanation
As children, we fear many things that do not have a name. Some, horrifying abominations that defy definition, become no less repugnant as we age. These monsters push at the boundaries between dimensions, shrugging off all normal rules of physiology and rationality. The very alienness, the wrongness, of these creatures is exactly what makes them so completely terrifying. My favorite monster in this category needs little introduction and bears no explanation – the thing from John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing. Sure, it was based on a novella and there was an attempt at an extraterrestrial back story, but there’s really no amount of explaining that can rationalize a whip-mouthed spider dog monster that wants to be inside you. Monstrous, abhorrent, and viciously single-minded, this monster simply is. Best start running now.
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I did one of these last year for the “Five Films That Scare” me and when I made the short list for this year, I realized that I had a lot of overlap, especially since I only had three horror films on that list. I could easily put Tomie and the Gremlins on this list as well, but they are worthy of at least honorable mentions. Tomie is a long running series over in Japan and there are some pretty bizarre and monstrous versions of Tomie in some of the later movies, and who doesn’t love the Gremlins? But anyway, this year I’ve got an all-new list and it’s all tied to horror this time, no funny business.
5.) Ju-On: The Grudge
Ok so I lied, this list isn’t 100% all new since this made my honorable mention last year, and even though the girl/young woman with long black hair over her face is a bit of a cliché, at least in Asian horror, and Sadako from The Ring is often considered scarier, I like Kayako better as the vengeful spirit inhabiting the house she was murdered in before spreading out in the later movies. There are some great scares and images in the first English Grudge movie, not only that but the sound design on her haunting throat rasp is chilling. It’s hard to hear that sound and not get shivers down your spine. And Takako Fuji has a great presence herself with the way she moves, there’s a reason that the director brought her back for every installment of the movie, of which there have been many, I think three or four in Japan, as well as three in English.
This is my first, but not my last broad category of movie monsters. I’ve been a fan of the concept of werewolves since I was very young, and enjoyed reading many different sorts of stories about them. I’m disappointed that the main reason that I have this as a broader category, is that I have yet to see what I feel is the definitive werewolf movie. There are just so many bad ones out there, though I’m a little abashed to admit that I’ve missed one that’s considered a classic of sorts, American Werewolf in London. If I did have to choose, I would probably go with the werewolves in the Underworld series, especially Raze who was surprisingly played by the writer of the movie. Underworld is great because is makes the Lycans sympathetic without making them overly tragic, which is often the way they are handled.
3.) Jurassic Park‘s T-Rex
It’s been too long since I’ve seen Jurassic Park, but there is no substitute for the feeling that I got when catching that first glimpse of the T-Rex on the big screen. It’s visually impressive even by today’s standards, which is pretty amazing when you consider that most other CGI from this period doesn’t hold a candle to today’s movies. But Jurassic Park not only holds up, it’s even better than a lot of poor excuses for CGI monsters that they’ve churned out in recent years. The size of it, the detail, even the subtleties of using the ripples in the water to sell the incredible size and mass of this creature. Not only that, but the fact that it’s not just CGI, a lot of the time it’s an actual giant animatronic that’s physically there with the actors. And who doesn’t love a giant dinosaur?
This is another one where I had to make it into a broader category. There’s no way I can choose just one movie vampire as my favorite. The only downside of making this into a broad category is that there are plenty of movie vampires that I would want to exclude, including some recent angsty vampires that I refuse to even mention. Vampires have some of the best qualities to them, they can be sexy but also menacing, even downright terrifying in some cases. There’s so much you can do with the vampire mythos when you pick and choose which qualities you want to highlight. But it’s almost always about the mystery and allure of the night, the parallels of sensuality with caressing and sucking on the neck and the exchange of bodily fluids. There’s so much that can be done with it and so many great ones out there I can’t list them all but I will list a few of my favorites: The Lost Boys, Coppola’s Dracula, Rise, Vampire Hunter D, Underworld, Interview with a Vampire, and plenty more that are escaping my mind at the time.
1.) The Insane
Movie monsters like my previous four are all still really fantasy creatures, but when you come down to what’s really the most horrifying when you stop to think about it are the monsters that actually do exist in real life. The criminally insane, the monsters that are actual people driven to do horrifying things because of a mental instability or just general lack of morality. Hannibal Lector is the one that first comes to mind, but there are plenty others like John Doe from Seven, even someone like Jack Torrence from The Shining. It’s one thing to be scared of something that’s not real, it’s another to be scared of something that is.
Nathan Witrow aka Bubbawheat
Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights
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