With the creature feature Creature hitting cinemas September 9th, we figured this was the perfect opportunity to take a look back at The Scariest Creatures in Film. From Ridley Scott's classic Alien to horrifying beasts in less-than-classic films like Society, here are our picks for the creepiest monsters that defied conventional monster categorization (vampires, werewolves, zombies, and giant animals need not apply). They are, for lack of the better word, creatures.
10. THE DEMONS, from DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (dir. John Newland, 1973)
John Newland’s fright flick Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is so scary that it’s hard to believe it was made for network television. Kim Darby of Better Off Dead and Teen Wolf Too stars as Sally Farnham, a casually-oppressed housewife whose lone attempt at independence – opening up a mysteriously bricked wall at her new dream house – unleashes a supernatural terror so bizarre that her husband (The Green Beret’s Jim Hutton) can’t possibly believe her. The early, confused feminist dynamic drives most of the suspense here as Sally struggles in vain to be taken seriously despite her social position and gender, but the demons themselves are freaky little monsters too. Small and scurrying, like the mice that would send 1950s sitcom mothers flying onto a chair, the creepy whispers of these malevolent bastards make up for the fact that the make-up effects have aged somewhat. The new remake from Guillermo del Toro will update their look, but only time will tell if the movie’s as good as the original.
9. THE BLOB, from THE BLOB (dir. Chuck Russell, 1988)
The first movie version of The Blob was an unusually good sci-fi creature feature about a group of teenagers – Steve McQueen among them – who discover an alien slime that grows larger as it eats people, and threatens to take over their small town. But the remake from Chuck Russell (who directed Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, one of only two good sequels in that franchise) ups the ante with terrifying monster effects that show The Blob’s victims as they’re dissolved. Many movie creatures are played by human beings, which allows for more nuanced performances but also makes them relatable beings. The Blob is so utterly alien, so impossible to empathize with, that it’s almost Lovecraftian in nature. Watch both versions, but especially Russell’s remake since it’s easily the freakier of the two.
8. THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS, from THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (dir. Rod Amateau, 1987)
We never actually said that the creatures on this list had to be from a “horror” movie, although The Garbage Pail Kids Movie qualifies in everything but intent. The last directorial effort of Rod Amateau – famous for directing such TV shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and My Mother The Car – is a cacophony of nightmares thinly disguised as children’s entertainment, and the so-called “Garbage Pail Kids” are to blame. Based on a series of trading cards which disgustingly parodied the popular “Cabbage Patch Kids” craze of the 1980s, the film follows MacKenzie Astin from The Facts of Life as he befriends some terrifying monster children who help him with a group of bullies making his life miserable. The Garbage Pail Kids include such nightmares as Nat Nerd, with his grotesque acne and constantly wet pants, Valerie Vomit, who projectile vomits on cue, and Ali Gator, a half-child/half-alligator who eats toes. A planned live-action children's series never materialized, largely because The Garbage Pail Kids are some of the most frightening creatures we’ve ever seen captured on film.
7. THE CRAWLERS, from THE DESCENT (dir. Neil Marshall, 2005)
Neil Marshall whipped out one of the scariest horror films of the new century with The Descent, and that was before the creatures even showed up. Shauna MacDonald, Natalie Jackson Mendoza, Alex Reid and more star as a group of all-female spelunkers who get hopelessly lost inside an unexplored series of caverns, creating a claustrophobic powder keg that finally goes off when they encounter The Crawlers deep underground. An offshoot of humanity that has evolved to dwell underground for thousands of years, the pale, Gollum-like monsters have a taste for human flesh and the edge on our heroes as expert climbers with night vision. From their terrifying initial introduction to a pulse-pounding confrontation in a lake of blood and bones, these truly unforgettable creatures help make The Descent a modern horror classic.
6. BELIAL, from BASKET CASE (dir. Frank Henenlotter, 1982)
Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case is a masterpiece of low-budget creepiness. Kevin Van Hentenryck stars as Duane Bradley, a young man with a basket. What’s in the basket, you ask? Well, it’s a funny story… It turns out that Duane had a Siamese twin brother, Belial, who was little more than a hideously deformed head and arms. They were separated against their will, and now join forces to take revenge on those responsible. Belial is one of the most unsettling cinematic creations, even though the special effects in the original film (which spawned two sequels) are occasionally a little naïve. But Henenlotter’s creepy take on The Lodger raises many unsettling questions about intimate relationships when it’s not just utterly grotesque. When Duane finally finds another human being to care about, Belial’s violent response leads to a bitter confrontation between brothers. As pathetic as he is monstrous, Belial is one creepy critter.
5. THE PALE MAN, from PAN’S LABYRINTH (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning production about a girl who retreats into a (possibly imagined) fantasy world during the Spanish Civil War has a lot of Wizard of Oz parallels, but without the production code hanging over his head the director was free to examine more disturbing aspects of the youthful subconscious. Case in point: The Pale Man, a sleeping giant with disembodied eyes who stands guard over a room full of delicacies which tempt our starving heroine Ivana Baquero. Played by the inimitable Doug Jones, The Pale Man awakens in a truly terrifying scene with more scares than most whole movies can muster. David Marti and Monste Ribe won a much-deserved Academy Award for their makeup work on Pan’s Labyrinth, but Doug Jones deserves equal credit for making Del Toro’s most popular – and still very excellent – film a creature feature almost without peer.
4. BRUNDLEFLY, from THE FLY (dir. David Cronenberg, 1986)
Fiction is full of tragic monsters, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but few have ever been depicted with as much pity as Seth Brundle from David Cronenberg’s classic remake of Kurt Neumann’s The Fly. The original film was a surprisingly well-dramatized tale of scientific hubris gone amok, but Cronenberg smartly transformed the story of a man whose genes are unexpectedly spliced with a fly into a horrific parable for dying from a degenerative disease. Jeff Goldblum stars as a scientist who slowly devolves into a horrifying monster as his girlfriend Geena Davis watches helplessly from the sidelines. The gruesome, Oscar-winning makeup effects work does half the work for Goldblum, whose rich performance contributes the genuine pathos. As depressing as it is scary… and that’s a lot of both.
3. RICH PEOPLE, from SOCIETY (dir. Brian Yuzna, 1989)
A relatively-unknown horror film, Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna directed this utterly bizarre tale of a teenager who thinks his adopted parents aren’t what they seem. At first he thinks they’re just sexually depraved, incestuous cultists, but as the Hitchcockian paranoia tale winds down he discovers that his outlandish fears weren’t outlandish enough: in the world of Society, rich people are actually a race of shapeshifters who partake in orgiastic sacrifices of the lower class. The “Shunting,” as they call it, is one of the creepiest scenes in movie history, as the flesh of the rich begins to overtake and consume the bodies of their low-class victims. It’s an impossibly blunt metaphor for our societal differences, and yet it’s also so thoroughly disgusting and unbelievable that it practically works. Not the best film on the list (by far), but it has some of the scariest creatures ever filmed regardless.
2. THE THING, from JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (dir. John Carpenter, 1982)
So much has been written about John Carpenter’s The Thing that writing any more seems unnecessary, so what the hell? Let’s try to keep this short. Thoroughly unappreciated upon its initial release (it was even nominated for a Razzie, for crying out loud), Carpenter’s remake of Christian Nyby’s and Howard Hawk’s original, subtler sci-fi classic ups the ante with one of the most versatile movie creatures we’ve ever seen, and is now recogized as a horror classic. This shapeshifting alien can take the form of anything it’s ever killed, human or otherwise, which over the course of the film prove to be some of the most startling monstrosities ever conceived. From the super-charged blood monster to a man-eating rib cage, The Thing has some of the most inventive and scary creatures in movie history, and they're all one thing.
1. THE XENOMORPHS, from ALIEN (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)
Well, this was obvious. H.R. Giger’s unsettling designs for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece combine technology, biology and some grotesque reimaginings of human sexual organs, from the phallus-headed Aliens to the vaginal facehuggers. These aliens work as both mindbending monsters hiding in the shadows or as roaring monsters to be blown away with flamethrowers and shotguns (which we like to keep handy, for close encounters). Their shiny black, spindly physiques are the stuff nightmares are made of, and also the occasional kick-ass action figure. The Xenomorphs: our number one pick for the scariest movie monster ever made.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: The Predator (more badass than scary), The Graboids from ‘Tremors,’ The Gremlins, The Ghoulies, The Nightbreed, the thing from the end of ‘The Evil Dead 2,’ Gwoemul from ‘The Host,’ the monster from ‘Cloverfield,’ the Gill-man from ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon,’ the Bioraptors from ‘Pitch Black,’ the giant worm from ‘From Beyond,’ The Creeper from ‘Jeepers Creepers,’ Pumpkinhead, and Alex Winters from ‘Freaked.’
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE SCARIEST CREATURE IN FILM?