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10 Monsters That Deserve Movies

The Wooden Mother
The wooden mother and her mummified child from "The Temptation of St Anthony" by Hieronymus Bosch
The wooden mother and her mummified child from "The Temptation of St Anthony" by Hieronymus Bosch
Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

If you want horrifying monstrosities that stand the test of time, leave it to the Dutch masters. Specifically, leave it to 16th-century artist Hieronymus Bosch, whose fiendish creations continue to reach out from the 500-year-old canvas and chill our souls.

You can pretty much throw a dart at any Bosch painting (please don't) and hit something worthy of a horror movie, but let's consider the ultra-creepy wooden mother from his 1505 triptych "The Temptation of St. Anthony." It's just one of many demonic hallucinations suffered by the Catholic saint in the painting.

Here we see the hag-like wooden mother, her flesh twisted into petrified wood and her lower body mutated into a corpse-pale serpent's tail. If that weren't horrifying enough, she coddles a mummified infant and rides a great bloated rodent through the desert.

So what's the deal with this demonic woman of wood? Beyond the obvious dark parallels to an infant Christ and his virgin mother, we have to tangle with the visual language of Bosch's symbolism. While the meaning of these varied symbols would have been widely understood 500 years ago, the passage of centuries has only obscured matters [source: Meisler]. But following the interpretations of modern commentators, we can see spiritual corruption in the split-tree hat and demonic nature in the presence of the tail. The rat, likewise, may represent deceit.

Whatever the exact meaning of the wooden mother, the message of unsettling corruption remains 100 percent intact.

Elevator pitch: Hollywood, the next time you need a demon to crawl up out of a Ouija board or something, the wooden mother awaits you. You don't even have to throw in any high-minded medieval content or magical paintings. Just let this frightening, public-domain creature creep into your characters' lives.