As we all gear up for the usual yearly costumed shenanigans, let’s take a few minutes to remember the best and most frightening movie creatures that have terrified and inspired us.
Xenomorph – Alien
With the explosions and gunfire that overwhelmed the later movies in the series, it’s easy to forget just how little was seen of the titular alien in the Ridley Scott classic. Alien works so well from the start because the scares are so atmospheric – the depths of space are terrifying in and of themselves, and then the mystery surrounding the cavernous room full of eggs, otherwise known as the most don’t-go-in-there place of all time, only adds to the growing fear. And even once John Hurt gets the worst case of gastritis known to man, the creature is still seen mostly in the shadows until the very end. If you’re like me and saw Alien at a young age, that damn xenomorph would be the first thing you think of for a scary creatures article too.
Gmork – The NeverEnding Story
This Wolfgang Petersen film was a staple of my childhood, and there will always be a soft spot in my heart for it, but the wolf creature that confronts Atreyu at the end straight scared me to death when I was a kid. Where today I see a puppet, 20-some years ago I saw the embodiment of the thing I thought lived under my bed. I remember being so scared after seeing the movie that I made what felt like an Olympic-length long jump from the doorway of my bedroom to the safety of my mattress because I didn’t want my feet within reach of that awful wolf.
The Shark – Jaws
Another example of a monster that only appears on screen very briefly. The bulk of the movie shows only a fin here and a tail there, building the tension with each sighting until Brody and crew realize their boat just isn’t big enough. Thank goodness the mechanical shark built for the film proved too unreliable to use as they’d planned, because it turned out John Williams’ score and some nifty camera work made this Great White as scary a movie monster as they come.
Pale Man – Pan’s Labyrinth
There’s a lot of crazy imagery in Pan’s Labyrinth as only Guillermo del Toro can do it, but nothing stands out quite as much as the Pale Man. Blind but for the eyes he inserts into his palms, he is easily the scariest creature Ofelia encounters on her fantastical quest as he nearly captures her when Ofelia can’t resist taking a bit of food from the table he guards.
The Fly – The Fly
David Cronenberg has had a recent resurgence with excellent movies like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, but he also is the man behind turning Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle into the most disturbing creature in The Fly. Seth’s transformation is aided by some seriously grotesque prosthetics and makeup, and by the end he is completely unrecognizable as the human he once was.
Pennywise the Clown – It
I’m breaking the rules a bit considering this was a TV movie as opposed to a feature film, but It makes its way onto any list of my most terrifying movie-watching experiences thanks to my 11-year-old self being scared out of my mind by Tim Curry’s demonic clown Pennywise. Stephen King took what plenty of people are already afraid of and gave them even more reason never to go to the circus. A creature that embodies evil and fear taking the form of a clown is among the worst things a kid can see on screen, and It certainly made an impact on me.
The Thing – The Thing
Just in case you were planning on going to Antarctica, find The Thing on Netflix streaming and let it convince you to stay as far away from the ice as humanly possible. This creature has a spot in the movie monster Hall of Fame for its ability to take the form of anything it wishes only to eventually reveal its true nature in terrifying, gruesome fashion. The scene in the dog kennel is enough to haunt your nightmares for weeks after watching this great film.