This week, in celebration of a new Frankenstein movie, Rhianna and I had to countdown our top 3 movie monsters of all time for the podcast. I struggled with this, not because I couldn’t think of enough, but more that there were too many. As a horror movie fanatic, choosing your favourite movie monster feels a bit like a parent choosing their favourite child. Or at least, it does for me. So I felt I needed to post this list, just to give a bit of due credit to those 7 other movie monsters which I didn’t get to mention…
10. Frankenstein’s Monster (Frankenstein, 1931)
I thought the best way to kick off this list would be with arguably the most iconic movie monster of all time. Frankenstein’s monster feels like the definitive movie monster. Ask a 6 year old to impersonate a monster and chances are they’ll hold their arms out in front of them, hang their mouth open slightly, narrow their eyes and walk slowly forward. Boris Karloff’s performance as the monster still holds up today as one of the greatest performances in horror history. He simultaneously made the creature both terrifying and sympathetic, which is no easy feat.
9. The Werewolf (American Werewolf In London, 1981)
One of the very few Oscar winning movie monsters. Rick Baker deservedly received an academy award for the revolutionary monster make up effects in John Landis’ 1981 masterpiece. The movie is an incredibly rare thing, a horror comedy that manages to balance its scares and its laughs perfectly. The werewolf itself is no different…the transformation scene, in which David writhes around in agony on his living room floor as his naked body stretches and deforms while Blue Moon plays in the background, is both shocking and humorous at the same time. A movie monster is only as good as the movie it’s in, and in this instance, both are exquisite.
8. Pennywise the Clown (Stephen King’s IT, 1990)
I know..TECHNICALLY it’s a TV monster, not a movie monster…but it’s impossible not to include Tim Curry’s terrifying turn as the demonic clown in this 1990 Stephen King adaptation. For me personally, this monster gave me more nightmares than any other on this list. When my friends and I decided to watch a VHS copy of ‘IT‘ at a sleepover when we were 11 years old, the mood slowly shifted from absolute excitement, to unease, to sheer terror, to mass hysteria. But what did we expect, watching a movie about a clown who lures children into dark tunnels by promising them balloons and treats, only to then reveal its true monstrous face and then proceed to devour them?
7. The Fly (The Fly, 1986)
Probably the saddest monster story on this list, David Cronenberg’s movie is a true dark, melancholic masterpiece. Whether you look at the film as an allegory for cancer, the 80s AIDS epidemic or simply as a sci-fi body horror, there’s always something new and fascinating you can draw from the movie every time. Jeff Goldblum’s performance at the centre of the movie is one of truly something to behold, and the make up effects in this are startling, memorable and deeply disgusting. As bits of Goldblum slowly start to drop off or decompose throughout the movie, you’ll feel both sympathetic and scared for him, but by the end of the movie, you’ll just be plain terrified.
6. The Crawlers (The Descent, 2006)
The Descent is my favourite horror movie of the 21st century, partly due to the incredible complex characters, the suffocating feeling of claustrophobia and beautiful cinematography…but it also has a lot to do with these nasty little guys. The Crawlers are completely adapted to living in the dark: they have no eyes but incredible hearing. They can crawl up walls and along ceilings, and we never know if there’s going to be one lurking round the corner, ready to pounce. Neil Marshall masterfully holds back from showing us any monsters until we’re more than halfway into The Descent and uses that time dredge up absolute fear and terror through the situation itself, before knocking us for six with these vicious, evil creatures in the final hour.
5. The Babadook (The Babadook, 2014)
It feels hard to come up with a truly original monster these days. Everything seems to be a riff on something else, but in 2014 audiences were introduced to The Babadook, a wondrous creation which felt both completely fresh and terrifyingly familiar at the same time. The Babadook almost feels ancient and mythic. What makes it all the more terrifying is how little we see of it. Director Jennifer Kent never really lets us catch more than a glimpse, a shadow, a flash, or a hideous illustrations in a pop-up book, leaving the rest up to our imaginations. If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook…
4. The Thing (The Thing, 1981)
Three years after John Carpenter proved he could terrify us by scaling down and holding back with Halloween, he then proved that he could also truly shock us with spectacle in The Thing. What’s particularly brilliant about this monster is that we have no idea what it looks like; it jumps from body to body, infecting people and deforming them into strange, horrible, nightmarish creatures. This gave Carpenter the freedom to be as imaginative as he wanted: he could show a a dog turning itself completely inside out, or a man’s chest burst open, sprout teeth and eat another man’s arms. All the effects are in-camera and completely non CGI too, which makes it all the more masterful.
3. Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise)
Freddy has appeared in a total of nine movies so far and I doubt it’s the last we’ve seen of him. Wes Craven tapped into a primal human fear with his 1984 creation. A child molesting serial killer who wears a glove of knives and kills children in their nightmares…is there anything more terrifying? Sadly, what started as a brilliantly terrifying concept slowly became an 80s pop culture icon – Freddy was appearing in TV ads, he was in toy shops, in music videos and in cartoons. It’s only upon revisiting Wes Craven’s incredible 1984 original that one is reminded just how dark and powerful this character is.
2. The Pale Man (Pan’s Labyrinth 2006)
Guillermo Del Toro is the master of horror and fantasy, and a genius when it comes to creating monsters, but The Pale Man must be his most memorable. In the central set piece in what’s undoubtedly the greatest movie of the 21st century (actually in my opinion it’s one of the greatest movies of all time), The Pale Man has a mere 5 minutes on screen but it’s a dazzling, beautiful, tense and ultimately terrifying five minutes. There’s not much else to say about this monster really. If you haven’t seen the movie, why are you even still reading this? GO AND WATCH IT RIGHT NOW.
1. The Alien (Alien franchise)
It’s starred in 4 Alien movies, 2 Alien vs Predator movies, and it’s now gotten it’s own origins trilogy with Prometheus and it’s two upcoming sequels. What is it about the Xenomorph that has captivated audiences for nearly fourty years? Maybe because of all the monsters on the list, it almost feels real, or at least the most realised. We know this creature inside and out, we know the biology of it, how it reproduces, how it eats, how it gestates. We know what kind of blood it’s got pumping around it’s veins. We know the different varieties that exist – the chestbursters, the face huggers, the warriors, the queens…Thanks to (the pretty rubbish) Prometheus we even (sort of) know how it came to be in existence. This monster has it’s own history, it’s own legacy. The more we learn about it, the more fascinating and terrifying it becomes. With Ridley Scott’s Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant on it’s way for 2017, it seems there’s still much more to learn and discover…