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Almost as long as there have been movies, there have been movie monsters. They range from the supernatural to the all too horrifyingly real. We haven’t seen it yet, and it’s a project shrouded in mystery, but the upcoming 10 Cloverfield Lane is at least tangentially related to one of the most memorable recent creature features, Cloverfield. We’ll have to wait and see about the connection between the two, but we can’t help but have monsters on the brain.
With that in mind, we thought what better time to count down some of our favorite scary movie monsters and why they’re so delightfully terrifying. Before we get into this, we’ve got a couple of ground rules. We’re going to stay away from the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Jason Voorhees-esque slashers, and the like. Of course, we adore those icons of horror, but for the purposes of this list, we want to stick with movie monsters that are more creature and less human/character.
10. Clover, CloverfieldAs this list is inspired by 10 Cloverfield Lane, what better place to start than with one of the most popular movie monsters of recent years? Affectionately called Clover by the production, though it never gets an official name in the movie, we only catch glimpses of the beast in the shaky, handheld video footage that comprises the movie. Producer J.J. Abrams wanted something "insane and intense" in the vein of Godzilla, and watching Clover smash its way though the city in Cloverfield, the subsequent creation certainly fits the bill. The creature is also intended to be immature and suffer from separation anxiety, which probably explains all of it violent outbursts and lashing out, designed more an event than a character like some others.
9. Aliens, Invasion Of The Body SnatchersWhether were talking about the 1956 original or the 1978 remake, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a harrowing concept. Just the very idea of not knowing who to trust, and of looking around, seeing familiar faces, and wondering whether or not these are the people you know, or at least thought you knew, breeds tension, paranoia, and fear. And the movies make fantastic use of this. Both films take the suspicion and mistrust indicative of the Cold War era and filter it through a science fiction lens, giving it an allegorical weight and power. It’s a chilling mixture of speculative fiction, horror, and metaphor, and there’s a reason these movies still send shivers up our spines even decades later.
8. The Trolls, TrollhunterThere are all kinds of fantastic creatures in myths and legends, though we don’t ever put much stock in them, writing them off as relics of a bygone era, at best spooky stories we tell kids around a campfire. When the come to life on the big screen, however, they can be scary as all hell. This is the case with the titular trolls in the 2010, Norwegian, faux-footage horror flick Trollhunter. Falling somewhere between Blair Witch and Cloverfield, Andre Ovredal’s film shadows a group of students investigating a series of bear killings, but what they find is that the trolls they heard stories about as children are very real, and they follow the last troll hunter as he tracks and traps the rogue beasts. The creature effects are surprisingly natural, and the film is, by turns, funny, adventurous, and frightening as all get out.
7. Gwoemul, The HostThe Weta Workshop is best known for their work on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, but in my opinion, some of their best work is on Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 creature feature The Host. Based on actual mutated, deformed fish that showed up in South Korea’s Han River, the monster is a mixture of digital and practical effects, and the result is a visceral, horrifying creation. Part of what makes Gwoemul all the more resonant is that it is another instance of something we, the human race, have done to ourselves. The creature is a result of the careless dumping of chemicals. By turns satirical, somber, and harrowing, The Host is a slow-burn, meticulously paced, and surprisingly engaging and moving for a movie about a giant monster running amok.
6. Psychomatic Offspring, The BroodLike The Host, a big part of why the creatures from body horror auteur David Cronenberg’s 1979 The Brood are so terrifying is because they come from us, though in a very different way. While The Host is a result of our external actions, the psychomatic offspring are the result of one character’s internal life. They’re the accidental physical manifestations of Nola’s (Samantha Eggar) rage and anger, come to life to act out her deepest, darkest desires, unbeknownst to her. Gruesome, brutal, and sordid, they’re so much more than just gory little murderers—though there are some stomach-churning practical effects in play. They tap into fundamental, primal terror, fear of parenthood, gender repression, and more, the things we don’t want to admit exist.
5. Alien, The ThingInitially dismissed by critics on its original release, John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing has endured as one of scariest movies of all time. Not knowing who to trust, who to believe, if people are who they say they are, are gut level fears played to incredible effect here by one of the great horror masters of our time. Set in an isolated Antarctic station, an alien presence can assimilate and mimic any living creature it touches. From this set up, Carpenter cranks up the tension and paranoia steadily throughout the film, while the rough, rugged men who populate the base fray and come unraveled as they try to figure out who is real, who is alien, and how to survive until they can discover the truth.
4. Zombies, Night Of The Living DeadThe modern zombie, introduced to the world by George Romero’s landmark 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead, is a slow, shambling creature (granted, fast zombies have become prevalent in recent years, but that’s a whole other thing as far as I’m concerned). Many look at them and think, "That’s not so scary, I can outrun one of those easily." That’s true, but it’s precisely this gradual, shuffling nature that makes them so frightening. One zombie is no big deal, but ten, twenty, a hundred; with numbers they become almost a force of nature, almost glacial, or like a wave. They’re slow and don’t seem like much on the surface, but they have a mighty power. And you’ll get tired, you’ll run out of bullets, you’ll have to stop; they never will. Even in newer interpretations, like The Walking Dead, you can see the true strength and threat posed when a swarm of the undead gets together.
3. Godzilla, GodzillaSure, Godzilla, in all of his incarnations is a cranky, skyscraper-tall reptile that breathes fire and routinely levels the skyline of major metropolitan centers of the world. That’s a horror show all it’s own, but what makes the King of the Monsters even scarier is that, in his various forms, his existence is our fault. In his earliest form, his first cinematic appearance in 1954, he was a metaphor for paranoia and fear over the advent of nuclear weapons, a prehistoric beast awakened and enraged by atomic tests. Even in the 2014 Godzilla, the creature, and the others, is awakened by environmental catastrophe and stands as a reckoning for our reckless ways.
2. The Shark, JawsFew things have terrified movie audiences through the years quite like the idea of nature run amok, of being reminded how little control we actually have over the natural world. And few times has this been as visceral and thrilling as in Steven Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws. Not only did this movie give rise to the modern blockbuster, but it scared an entire generation, and beyond, back onto dry land and made them think, "You know what, maybe I don’t actually want to go swimming today." With three men driven to hunt down a vicious great white shark that’s been terrorizing a small New England beach community, there’s an easy parallel to draw between Jaws and Moby Dick, the first time you see the shark pop up at the boat, named the Orca, you can’t help but think, "What whale?"
1. Xenomorph, AlienAn eight-foot-tall, armor-plated alien killing machines with razor teeth, blade-tipped tails, and acid for blood? What’s not to be terrified of? Predatory and relentless, they certainly seem to have it out for Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, these bad boys are straight up nightmare fuel. With a social structure that resembles wasps or termites, with various castes and types that serve a central queen, they breed by wrapping around your face, implanting an embryo inside of you, which then rips out of your chest while you watch. There’s a very good reason the extraterrestrial menaces from Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien, and its subsequent follow-ups, are the most terrifying movie menaces of all time.
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