We're only human, which helps explain why we tend to imagine aliens from outer space as evil monsters intent on destroying us all. Film history is littered with extra-terrestrial beasts that want to eat us whole, leech onto human hosts like parasites and occasionally even sing a song about it in the process, so with Prometheus – Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien – finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray on October 9, 2012, we thought now would be a good time to highlight some of the scariest alien monsters ever filmed. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Philo, from UHF
We’re not sure we can call Philo a “monster,” since he’s actually a really nice guy, but his unexpected final scene in the “Weird” Al Yankovic comedy UHF freaks us out anyway. After saving the day with his scientific knowhow, Philo (who can make plutonium using common household items) calmly announces “I must now return to my home planet of Zarquon,” transforms into a terrifying creature, and beams off into the night sky. No set up, no rationale. Philo is second only to “Large Marge” from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure as the biggest “WTF” scare from the 1980s.
The Beach Ball, from Dark Star
Before he wrote Alien, Dan O’Bannon wrote a very similar film about working class stiffs in space called Dark Star. It was the first feature film from John Carpenter, and was made on such a ridiculously low budget (it started out as a student film) that the alien menacing the ship was played by a red beach ball with feet. It is, as you can tell, very silly to look at, but thanks to Carpenter’s inspired direction it’s actually a threatening little beastie anyhow, and can actually creep out small children. (That’s true, by the way; we’ve seen it happen.)
The Mutants, from This Island Earth
“Actually, they’re similar to some the insect life on your own planet. Larger of course, with a higher degree of intelligence…” Yup, that’s a Mutant alright (pronounced “myu-TANT”) from This Island Earth, a sci-fi classic from 1955, now perhaps best known as the subject of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. The Mutants are specially bred by the Metalunan race for “menial labor,” even though the only thing they seem to be good at is strangling the film’s heroes. Though not a particularly horrific monster (we’ll get to those), the Mutants are some of the most imaginative alien beasts from the 1950s, and remain an iconic design for sci-fi enthusiasts.
The Nocturnal Aliens, from Pitch Black
Did you ever notice that David Twohy’s Pitch Black gets through the entire movie without naming the carnivorous nocturnal monsters that besiege the heroes? That’s pretty strange, considering their such a memorable alien menace: the monsters burn in sunlight, and so they spend most of the year in subterranean caverns until a regular solar eclipse allows them to spread throughout the planet and devour every other living creature. Their unique design gives them to bonelike prongs that act as a radar device, making them blind just a foot in front of their faces… not the place you’d normally want to hide. Pitch Black gets a lot of credit for introducing Vin Diesel’s enigmatic Riddick into the pop culture canon, but his antagonists are intriguing creations as well.
Those Bear Things, from Attack the Block
Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block gained instant cult status when it introduced the world to a gang of street toughs who pick the wrong fight for a change, when they assault a carnivorous monster from outer space. When the alien’s family shows up to take revenge, the “heroes” are forced to account for their own actions. So it’s all meaningful and stuff, but let’s ignore that and focus on how awesome these creatures are. Jet black, as in the total absence of color, blending in with the night, except for bright, glowing fangs. They’re the embodiment of every disembodied fangs that haunted our nightmares as a child, and they’re deadly as hell.
Audrey II, from Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
It’s a mean green mother from outer space, remember? And it’s bad. The man-eating plant from Little Shop of Horrors was more than a great singer, it was a wonder of 1980s puppetry: a giant prehensile plant with a gaping mouth of scary teeth, kinda like the piranha plants from Super Mario Bros. only bigger. Poor, naïve Seymour Krelborn finds the mysterious plant at a shop but he can’t figure out how to keep it alive, out of desperation, he gives it some of his own blood. It works, but Audrey II’s hunger can’t be sated, and since it can also talk, it’s pretty difficult to ignore. In the film’s original ending, Audrey II even successfully conquered the Earth, but only the reshot, super-happy ending remains on most DVDs.
The Slugs, from Slither
James Gunn, the director of the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie for Marvel Studios, made his debut behind the camera with Slither, a grotesque horror comedy starring Nathan Fillion and a race of space slugs that mutate their hosts into carnivorous tentacle creatures, or at least bloat them with the aliens’ young until they literally explode. The whole film is just plain nasty, but also clever, scary and hilarious. Slither is a strange spiritual successor to Night of the Creeps, which also featured space alien slug parasites, but the “Creeps” only turned their hosts into zombies, not creepy-ass Michael Rooker behemoths, so we’re giving the edge to Slither this time.
The Predator, from Predator
The Predator, star of the Predator movies (naturally), is a pretty cool design for a monster, particularly considering it was a last minute replacement for the original, supposedly inferior, unused version. The Predator’s trademarked mandibles, scaly skin and dreadlocks became an instant sci-fi/horror classic, and the perfect counterpoint to its eventual nemesis, the xenomorphs from Alien, since the Predator has a mouth like a Georgia O’Keefe painting and the xenomorphs have a phallus for a head (did you ever notice that?).
The Blob, from The Blob (1988)
Many early alien movie designs suffered because, in the end, they had to be played by a guy in a rubber suit. The Blob was different. A relatively small piece of space gunk lands on Earth and begins to devour everything in sight, growing ever larger like a giant single-celled organism. The original The Blob, which starred Steve McQueen, was an above-par monster movie, but Chuck Russell’s over the top 1988 remake takes the red slime to another level with the help of then-cutting edge practical effects. It can’t be reasoned with, it can’t be stopped. Beware of The Blob.
The Thing, from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
When John Carpenter remade the horror classic The Thing from Another World, he didn’t just make an alien monster… he made every alien monster. The premise is that the “Thing” assimilates the DNA of any species it kills, and can mimic any of those physical attributes at will, often at the same time. Using some of the best practical visual effects ever produced, the Thing was portrayed in all manner of creative, truly horrifying ways, from the famous man-eating rib cage to a creature made of nothing but blood. And just for the hell of it, it can imitate a human being perfectly. One of the scariest damned monsters ever put on celluloid, alien or no alien.
The Aliens, from Alien
What can be said about H.R. Giger’s creature designs from Alien that hasn’t been said before? Giger tapped into the darker depths of the human subconscious to craft a multi-tiered species of alien that taps directly into our sexual anxieties, from the vaginal facehugger (that essentially rapes you), to the embryonic chestburster (which gives you a forced C-section), the full-sized xenomorph, which just plain has a penis for a head. Mixed with a biomechanical level of detail (not the metallic teeth on the chestburster), the aliens from Alien are the height of creativity, otherworldliness and horror. The best damned aliens in film history. Maybe they always will be.
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by 20th Century Fox.