Screen monsters come in all shapes and sizes, from the bizarre beauty of Giger’s Alien all the way through to the very human evil of Seven’s John Doe. Audiences have a strange relationship with these creatures, being both repelled and fascinated by them at the same time. This push/pull attraction has been going on since the birth of cinema, and it’s likely to continue for many years to come.
Sometimes the most enduring creatures are the ones that pop up, steal the movie and then swiftly exit stage left. It could be their unique design or the impact they have on the story, but for the monsters included here, all they needed was one scene to impact on our collective nightmares.
King Kong: Carnictis
Peter Jackson’s King Kongis a love letter to the director’s favorite film, and while he clearly poured his heart into it he should have been more ruthless in the cutting room. At two hours it could have been terrific; at over three it’s wildly indulgent.
Still, Jackson’s flair for designing nasty monsters didn’t desert him in the Skull Island scenes. The most disturbing of all is the Carnictis, a name given to what’s basically a slimy stomach with a worm-like mouth. These creatures appear in the Spider Pit sequence, where they overwhelm Andy Serkis’ character. They wrap around his limbs one at a time, before slowly swallowing his head while he screams for help; not pleasant.
Split Second: The Devil
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’d call the bizarre Rutger Hauer creature feature Split Second a classic, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Hauer’s futuristic cop – the grim future of 2008 – is on the hunt for a serial killer, only to learn he’s actually chasing the Devil.
The monster himself is only properly seen during the climax, which is a shame since his design is quite striking. He’s like a cross between Spawn and Venom from Spider-Man, and comes equipped with razor-sharp claws and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth. The movie isn’t memorable, but he sure is.
The Thing: Spider Thing
The Thing is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to awesome creature designs, but one stands head and no shoulders above them all. When Norris is outed as a shapeshifter he reacts badly, forcing Kurt Russell’s MacReady to torch him. Norris’ head is having none of that, so it splits off the body and attempts to escape. It sprouts some legs and makes a break for freedom, before meeting the business end of a flamethrower too.
This creature is bizarre, outlandish and hilarious all at once, and the line “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding” is the only logical reaction to it.
Silent Hill: Revelation: Mannequin Creature
Silent Hill: Revelation is probably the worst movie on this list, and manages the dubious distinction of being one of the weakest video game to movie adaptations ever. Poor acting, a weak screenplay and staggeringly lame jump scares are just a few of its many sins.
That said, director Michael J. Bassett did come up with a doozy of a monster that’s unique to the movie. During this sequence the lead finds herself trapped with a monster made up of various mannequin parts, and it chases her around like a spider. It’s a surprisingly creepy scene in a film almost devoid of atmosphere, which is entirely down to the monster’s eerie design and movement.
The Cabin In The Woods: Merman
The Cabin In The Woods is loaded with so many cool monsters it’s hard to narrow things down to one, but the Merman is a special case. Bradley Whitford’s technician spends the movie lamenting how he’s never gotten to see the fabled beast in action, only to get his wish in the most ironic way possible. The Merman is a grotesque but oddly captivating creation when he finally appears, and Whitford’s gory demise at its hands is an expert punchline to a long running gag.
Dead Heat: Triple Face Zombie
Dead Heat is an unlikely combination of zombie horror and buddy cop movie, but it works better than it probably should. The script by Terry Black (Shane’s brother) keeps the zingers coming thick and fast, and the goofy energy is enough to pull it through the weaker passages. It has some neat creature effects too, with the award for originality going to the triple face zombie that attacks the heroes early on.
This design is so effective because it takes a moment for viewers to realise what they’re looking at, and its visage seems to a tip of the hat to the split face creature from The Thing.
Ghostbusters: The Library Ghost
Part of the reason Ghostbusters works is it combines comedy and horror perfectly. The humour comes first, but the scares are extremely well executed too. Case in point is the library ghost, the first ghoul the heroes come across.
We saw this spectre tormenting a poor librarian in the opening scene, so we’ve surprised to see she’s quite placid when the gang find her. She’s an ethereal visual, which lulls the audience in for an expert jump scare when the guys won’t leave her alone. In hindsight, they should have let her read in peace.
Pan’s Labyrinth: The Pale Man
Guillermo del Toro adores his monsters, and one of his favourite things to do in life is create outlandish, oddly beautiful designs for them. He has some great creatures in his personal hall of fame – Blade II’s Reapers, Pacific Rim’s Knifehead – but The Pale Man is likely to be the one he’s remembered for. Even sitting still his design is unsettling, with his lanky frame and sagging skin.
The creepiness is dialled up to a hundred when he wakes up, placing his eyeballs into hands and giving chase. He has all of five minutes of screentime, but his look combined with Doug Jones’ performance makes him impossible to forget.
Legion: Demon Lady
Oh Legion; you have some fun scenes, and made us believe Paul Bettany could kick ass, so why aren’t you better? If the movie had embraced its inherent campiness throughout instead of trying to crowbar some gravitas in there, it could have been a b-movie favourite. As it stands it has some highlights, like the incredible Demon Lady sequence.
It starts with a sweet old lady walking into a dinner and charming everyone in her vicinity. Then she turns into a foul-mouthed demon who bites a chunk out of dude’s throat and spider walks across the ceiling, and for a brief, shining moment, Legionis awesome.
Brian Yuzna’s satire of high society makes the rich feeding off the poor metaphor literal. The unforgettable ‘shunting’ finale features a scene from Salvador Dali’s worst nightmare, where bodies melt and slide into each other, and the practical effects do their best to make you feel queasy.
Yuzna obviously loves a good visual pun – see the ‘Head gives Head’ scene from Re-Animator – and comes up with another classic here. Earlier in the story the hero called his douchey stepfather a butt-head, and in the finale he walks in on his family doing…something under the covers. His father waddles out from under the duvet to reveal how much of a butt-head he is; a major one, as it turns out.
Clash Of The Titans: Medusa
The late, great Ray Harryhausen was a pioneer of stop-motion effects, and he made sure he ended his movie career with a bang on 1981’s Clash Of The Titans.
While the finale is a Kraken good time, the Medusa battle is arguably his masterwork. The level of detail and body language Harryhausen infused her with is incredible, with her rattlesnake tail and dead-eyed stare being creepy as hell. The animation is so fluid it’s possible to forget she’s stop motion at all in some shots, which makes the tense battle all the more thrilling.
Silent Hill: Colin The Janitor
Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill is considered one of the best video game adaptations to date; not a high mountain to climb, but it’s something. Gans faithfully recreated the look, set design and creatures from the game, and he even added a freakish monster of his own to Silent Hill‘s mythology.
Colin is the twisted, demonic version of a school janitor who committed a horrible act in the past, and is condemned to roam the Otherworld spreading filth and decay. His legs are twisted over his back by barbed wire, his eyes have been gouged out, and he has the nasty habit of flicking his tongue in a rather suggestive way. His appearance is short, but his impact lingers for awhile afterwards.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: Angel Of Death
Del Toro and Doug Jones them up once again, this time to create a glamorously gothic creature that appears at a critical juncture in Hellboy II. Hellboy is on the brink of death and Liz brings him to the Angel of Death, who gives her a tricky dilemma. The Angel can save him, but since Hellboy is fated to destroy the world that might not be the wisest choice.
The Angel is given an androgynous look, which is combined with a throaty voice and eyes dotted along its wings. The overall effect is supremely unnerving, and it’s another showcase for Jones talent with creature makeup.
The Campaign: Piers Morgan
Return Of The Jedi: Rancor
Star Wars has always been generous with unique alien and robot designs, from the Sarlacc to good old Darth himself. Return Of The Jedi added a few to the canon, and while we all love the Ewoks, the best new creature has to go to the Rancor. Jabba the Hutt’s pet monster eats anyone who displeases his master, and poor Luke is left to face it alone.
The Rancor’s design is simple but immediately iconic, and it carries genuine weight and menace throughout the battle. Hell, you even feel sorry for the big guy when Luke slams the gate down on him.
The Fly: Brundlefly
David Cronenberg’s The Fly is much more than a creature feature and that’s why it still resonates thirty years later. Jeff Goldblum’s performance under a mountain of makeup is astonishing stuff, and Cronenberg holds off on showing a complete transformation until the very end.
The character’s inner fly eventually sheds his human shell, and the effects work is so good you instantly buy the transition from actor to puppet. It still feels like Brundle, and his final request to be put out of his misery is still heart wrenching. Frankly after all that, Bartok Industries would have a hell of a time convincing people to use those teleporters.
Jurassic Park: Dilophosaurus
The T-Rex and Velociraptors hog the limelight in Spielberg’s seminal blockbuster, but the Dilophosaurus only needed one scene to make an impression. This seemingly cute little beast appears when Dennis Nedry drives off road, and has to be free himself. It soon loses the friendy facade and starts hissing at him, popping its frill and spitting venom into his eyes. Nedry’s day only gets worse from there.
The sudden jump from cutesy to angry is downright petrifying, and Spielberg milks the scene for every ounce of tension.
Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King: Mouth Of Sauron
Peter Jackson famously had to trim quite a bit out of the theatrical cut of The Return Of The King, including the death of Saruman; a decision Christopher Lee wasn’t pleased about. One of the most notable additions to the extended cut was a brief moment with the Mouth of Sauron.
This emissary appears before Gandalf and Aragorn at the Black Gate, and manages to dominate with only two minutes of screentime. His face is totally covered aside from his gross mouth, which is subtly widened thanks to CGI tinkering. Actor Bruce Spence plays the odious role to perfection, and it’s immensely satisfying when Aragorn silences him with a swing of his sword.
Tokyo Gore Police: Alligator Girl
Tokyo Gore Police is a demented action horror flick where, as the title implies, a lot of blood is shed. The director takes great glee in outlandish carnage and creating freakish monsters, and he appears to be especially proud of Alligator Girl.
This creature takes Vagina dentata to the next level, in that she’s a lady with an entire alligator mouth below her waist, which looks quite suggestive from certain angles. The scene is utter madness, and out of all the craziness in the movie, this is the moment people will likely remember.
Zombie Flesh Eaters: Grave Zombie
‘Best movie zombie’ is a list unto itself, and while there have been awesome contenders throughout the years, the Grave Zombie from Zombie Flesh Eaters might win the prize for sheer grossness. If zombies existed odds are they’d look something like this decayed, worm-ridden mess with rotten teeth.
Director Lucio Fulci makes sure the audience gets a nice, up-close look at the shambling mess, and while he’s dispatched easily enough he does manage to tear a throat out before he meets his end.