“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King.
Often, when we discover exactly what it was that was making that ‘bump’ in the night, often it’s a creaky floorboard, a curious rodent or the result of some turbulent weather; thankfully, we never have to deal with a hellish towering creature as sinister as the mind can conjure. Instead, these images are reserved for the darkest minds of horror cinema, where our nightmares are realised on the silver screen all in the name of entertainment.
The concept of the movie monster was popularised in the 1970s and 1980s when movie franchises were on a rapid rise and Hollywood commercialism invited endless opportunities for merchandising. The likes of the Great White shark of Jaws, A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger and the strange cosmic entity of The Blob, defined this era, building off the foundations of Universal’s horror villains of the 1940s and 1950s.
Though, the villains and gruesome monsters of modern cinema are far more horrific than the rubber costumes of mid-20th century horror. No doubt the likes of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster would run/hobble away from the contemporary ghouls on display in contemporary horror, putting their rather PG nature to shame. So, let’s take a look and see which monsters would indeed top the horror icons of old.
10 most horrifying cinema creatures:
10. House Of 1000 Corpses (Rob Zombie, 2003) – Dr. Satan
He may only appear for a brief moment, but the appearance of the strange and gruesome Dr. Satan in Rob Zombie’s punk horror movie is disturbing enough to be branded into your brain forever.
A twist on the classic haunted house story, Zombie’s meandering and excessive horror film about two young couples who stumble upon a house full of serial killers is worth the watch for the fabulous monster design alone. Sitting on the more human side of movie monsters, Dr. Satan is a mysterious undead surgeon appearing at the end of the film as a truly terrifying entity of pure evil, residing in the dingy red darkness of hell on earth.
9. Rec (Paco Plaza, Jaume Balagueró, 2007) – Tristana Medeiros Da Souza
Often only seen in the neon green haze of night vision, the ghoulish Tristana Medeiros Da Souza in the influential Spanish horror film, Rec, terrorises the lead characters as well as the audience in this modern masterpiece of horror.
From directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balagueró, Rec follows the real-time events of a documentary crew investigating a mysterious infection in a Spanish apartment block that is making the inhabitants possessed. Tense and totally nerve-wracking, it all leads to a terrifying final sequence where we are pitched face to face with the pale, decrepit woman living halfway between existence and death. Also appearing in Rec 2 in a particularly terrifying sequence, Tristana Medeiros Da Souza is the cherry on top of this Spanish horror treat.
8. It (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1990) – Pennywise
Indeed, this spot could be shared with the suspenseful remake of the film released in 2017, with the performances of both Tim Curry in the original film and Bill Skarsgård in the modern version being worthy of recognition.
Playing the nightmare-inducing clown from outer space, both Curry and Skarsgård deliver sinister performances as they embody a mysterious entity that is devoted to consuming children’s souls. An enduring figure of pop-culture obsession, there’s a reason why Pennywise is such a beloved character, rearing his ugly head every Halloween, it’s because he’s so goddamn terrifying.
7. The Ritual (David Bruckner, 2017) – Moder
With its roots lodged deep in Norse mythology, the creature of Moder in The Ritual helps to elevate this modern horror into something far more compelling than its seemingly cliched narrative suggests.
In the film by David Bruckner, four friends set out on a hiking holiday in Sweden, only to stumble across an ancient creature and the community who worship its horrifying appearance yet ethereal beauty. A bizarre creation of the most twisted mind, the creature appears to be a hybrid of an elk and human with antlers for arms and a human torso for a head, with yellow eyes the size of pinheads embedded in the darkness of the animal.
6. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018) – Mutant Bear
Setting himself aside as one of the most original filmmakers and screenwriters of modern cinema, Alex Garland shook up the world of science fiction upon the release of Annihilation in 2018, featuring one specific scene that took pop culture by storm.
Venturing into The Shimmer, a strange cosmic entity that finds itself on earth, this small area encased in an oil-slick bubble refracts the DNA of every living thing inside it. At one point the team of scientists hear a call for help from a friend they’d previously thought had been killed, only for the cries to belong to a hideous, sickly mutated bear that recreates the voices of its victims. With its flesh peeled from its body and its face sporting the remnants of human life, including a skull and teeth, the scene itself is a tense standoff and a horrific psychological nightmare.
5. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) – The Babadook
Proving herself as one of the leading voices in horror, the Australian filmmaker Jennifer Kent released the critical and commercial success The Babadook in 2014, followed by the dark drama, The Nightingale in 2018.
Becoming one of Stephen King’s favourite modern horror films, The Babadook follows a mother and son scarred by grief who are forced to face a dark entity that has jumped off the pages of a storybook and into their home. Simple yet terrifying in its design, the titular monster of Jennifer Kent’s film becomes the star of the show as a realistic and highly disturbing representation of pure dread.
4. Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987) – The Cenobites
By throwing everything at the wall and not even waiting to see what stuck, Clive Barker produced some of the strangest, silliest and most terrifying horror villains of all time with the Cenobites.
Though there are several terrifying members of the Cenobites throughout the Hellraiser franchise, including The Surgeon from Hellraiser: Hellseeker and the Wire Twins from Hellraiser: Inferno, nothing can beat the horrifying appearance of the villains of the original film. Led by the iconic Pinhead and joined by Butterball and Chatterer, the creatures of Hellraiser are vile beings from the evil underworld that have since become influential figures of grungy horror culture.
3. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) – Xenomorph
Movie monsters don’t get much more iconic than this, with Ridley Scott’s horrific science-fiction Xenomorph alien designed by H. R. Giger, being a thing of utter horror and strange beauty.
First appearing in Scott’s 1979 film, the Xenomorph has made several other appearances throughout history thanks to his enduring intrigue and cinematic mythology. Totally otherworldly, everything about the peculiar industrial-looking beast of Ridley Scott’s film oozes with style, being one of the few monsters on this list that would look strangely at home both hiding in the shadows of nights and strutting down the catwalk.
2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) – The Thing
Taking on the shape, form and characteristics of whoever it consumes, the titular ‘thing’ at the heart of John Carpenter’s horror classic is a mastermind of physical and psychological terror.
The true form of the cosmic beast of Carpenter’s film is unknown, taking on the appearance of the friends and colleagues of those working on an American research station in Antarctica. Paranoid that the alien could be anyone, anywhere, the group begin to go mad as the creature picks them off one by one, occasionally baring its fleshy innards as it transforms, showing off a horrifying fleshy beast that is terrifically brought to life by special effects artist, Rob Bottin.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) – The Pale Man
A landmark film for international horror, Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro shows off some of the greatest monster designs in all of cinema, with the Pale Man standing out as the most horrific of the lot.
Quickly becoming an influential image of cinema shortly after the film’s release, the sight of the Pale Man staring at the young protagonist of Guillermo del Toro’s film with his eyes embedded within his hands became a staggering moment of cinematic brilliance. Both enchanting and aptly terrifying, the design and cinematography of this scene is built to be remembered and forever branded into the memories of film lovers across the world.