Hollywood loves a good movie monster, but like any obsessive boyfriend, it has a hard time letting go. When the spark finally fades from the cinematic relationship -- and it always does -- Hollywood presses on shamelessly, arm in arm with a monster that no one really cares about anymore.
That's why moviegoers have suffered through decades of Jason Voorhees kill sprees, endless Godzilla rampages, and more Frankenstein and Dracula flicks than we know what to do with.
To be fair, Hollywood has its economic reasons. There's nothing like a proven commodity -- even if each sequel, remake or reboot kills a little more of the magic. Freddy Krueger hasn't been scary since 1984, but we're still nine pictures deep in a pun-laden franchise of cheap scares and hokey dream sequences. Even something as exotic as the "Alien" xenomorph loses its thrill after a while.
So Hollywood, if you're listening, allow us to play matchmaker. Speed date with us as we get to know 10 of the hottest big-screen virgins ever to claw their way out of our nightmares.
We'll even throw in an elevator pitch or two, just to let you know what you're missing.
This first monster is especially captivating -- just try not to stare at its chest.
The Blemmye's Smiling Torso
Keep your "Cloverfield" and "Super 8" monsters. For all the complex cinematic creatures on the market today, there's no beating the old-world horror of a headless naked man with a face on his chest.
Yes, consider the blemmyes, a race of 8-foot (2.4-meter) tall monsters said to roam the wilds of India and Africa. History's Pliny the Elder, Marco Polo and Sir John Mandeville all reported sightings in their travels -- and even the revered St. Augustine discussed the monster in theological discourse [source: Williams].
Don't confuse these blemmyes with the actual nomadic tribespeople of southern Egypt. Those guys posed an actual threat to the Roman Empire, while these guys are firmly planted in the realm of fantasy. Blemmyes became something of a standard in medieval monster manuals, where they eventually absorbed cannibalistic tendencies as well. It's all quite fitting for a creature whose head -- the spiritual center of its body -- has sunk down into the very pit of its guts [source: Mitmann].
Modern blemmyes are even ghastlier. In the "Medieval Bestiary: Anthropophagi," a role-playing rules supplement for Dungeons & Dragons, we learn the creature's tiny brain rests "slightly behind the groin encased in a strong pelvic cavity" [source: Guill and Raynack]. The authors also describe them as cannibal corpse-herders who march in the wake of rampaging human armies.
Elevator pitch: In the modern day Middle East, a blemmye tangles with U.S. Special Forces soldiers when it cleverly disguises itself as a headless corpse -- all in order to gain access to the all-you-can-eat cadaver buffet we call a morgue. Think "The Hurt Locker" only with smiling monster bellies.
Evil Grimace's Lust for Shakes
Today, you probably remember Grimace as the lovable purple dolt who once shilled McDonald's fast food to your children. What's more, you probably think we're about to pitch Grimace as a movie monster by twisting the character into something dark and morbid.
Far from it.
The Grimace you think of today is just a shadow of the horror unleashed on the world in the mid-1970s. That Grimace was a purple, amorphous blasphemy with scaly flesh and a vile aptitude for stealing McDonald's shakes from sugar-crazed children. Oh yeah, and he also boasted four powerful arms, like some terrifying Hindu god of gluttony.
Children were horrified. Can you blame them? So McDonald's ad executives demanded a character overhaul. The scales vanished. One set of arms hit the cutting-room floor. Finally, Grimace became a cuddly hero, and the Hamburglar took over as the franchise's core fast-food villain.
"He scared kids," recalled Roy Bergold, the former chief creative officer at McDonald's, in an article for the restaurant publication QSR. "We changed him to a soft, plush, two-armed blob of a sweetheart who only wanted McDonald's milkshakes and to hang out with Ronald."
But the purple horror is still out there, ready to crawl its way back into our nightmares.
Elevator pitch: A nightmare from the '70s emerges to terrorize a new generation of children. Bodies pile up in the streets, each with their brains sucked out through a McDonald's super-thick straw. Recognizing the handiwork of the villainous "Evil Grimace," grizzled detective Ronald McDonald (played by Harvey Keitel in full makeup) jumps on the case.
The Invunche's Entourage of the Grotesque
The horror genre is in sad shape these days, dominated by sulking vampires and boring torture porns. It's a problem, but the folk traditions of Chile have a problem solver -- and its name is Invunche.
Let's break down this monster's disgusting facts of life for you. Also known as the "master of the hide," an Invunche is essentially a giant, hairy blood sack with twisted limbs -- the ultimate stay-at-home vampire. It lives in caverns that are only accessible through tunnels beneath a lake. When the Invunche hungers, the creature sends out its octopus-like minion, the Trelquehuecuve, to tentacle-lasso a few young girls from the lakeshore. Then this bloated monstrosity drains every drop of their precious blood.
But that's not all! It gets even more disgusting, because the Invunche is also served by packs of furry, gray cannibals known as Chivatos. These wretched creatures feed on the drained remnants of the Invunche's blood feasts and were once children themselves, transformed into beasts by the evil warlock who oversees the entire grotesque menagerie.
How does this happen? Well, the road from abducted child to inhuman man-eater isn't a pretty one. According to folk historian Carol Rose, a warlock sews up the poor child's orifices -- or at least most of them -- and then feeds it a strict diet of goat and child flesh. In time, the toddler metamorphoses into its final form. With the right torturous, loving care, a Chivato can even become an Invunche.
It all makes for a rather horrific and sadistic cabal of blood-drinkers and man-eaters, with the vile warlock masterminding the whole show from the innermost reaches of the bleak cavern.
Elevator pitch: As a horrific commentary on corrupt business or government, an Invunche movie pretty much writes itself. Plus Wesley Snipes has to get out of prison sometime, so surely Blade is up for a case of Chilean vampirism. It wouldn't be unprecedented, as fellow comic book characters Swamp Thing and John Constantine tackled an Invunche back in the 1980s.
The Corinthian's Deadly Eyes
That's it. Look deep into the Corinthian's eyes, where in absence of traditional sight organs we find ravenous, saw-toothed mouths. Of course, it tends to cover these horrifying peepers up with a pair of stylish sunglasses, only to whip them off when it's time to terrify another victim.
Its preferred method of execution? Generally the monster goes straight for the eyes, plucking out the tasty morsels and feeding them to its own ravenous sockets. Not only are these meals terrifyingly delicious, they allow the Corinthian to access its victims' memories and "see" through their eyes.
As related in Neil Gaiman's comic book series "The Sandman," the Corinthian is a creation of the powerful Lord of Dreams. Intended as the nightmare embodiment of humanity's dark side, the monster eventually goes rogue and abandons the dream world altogether. It roams about, attending serial killer conventions and gobbling up eyeballs like nobody's business.
Granted, the Lord of Dreams eventually hunts the Corinthian down and unmakes the monster -- but only so he can reboot the franchise with an equally frightening Corinthian 2.0. This new version sticks to the Lord of Dreams' programming a little better and even acts the hero on a few occasions, but that doesn't mean it has given up its love of eye-munching.
Elevator pitch: Eventually, Gaiman's "Sandman" saga will make its way either to the big screen or to a serialized TV show. Fans have demanded it for far too long. But in the meantime, Hollywood, how about a solo venture for the Corinthian? Consider it a prequel, in which we get to know this living nightmare's terrifying ways before his powerful creator's film debut.
Lou Carcolh's Trail of Slime
When it comes to French monsters, the Beast of Gévaudan tends to hog all the attention. After all, the lupine flesh eater scored with critics and audiences alike in 2001's "Brotherhood of the Wolf." But there's another worthy horror lurking in the country's folklore, and it turns the French love of hot, buttered snails entirely on its head.
Imagine an enormous, serpentine slug creature. Its repugnant nether regions coil within an enormous shell, while the other end erupts in a cluster of slime-dripping tentacles and the vilest, inhuman mouth you can possibly imagine.
It's everything that's horrible about the common garden snail, multiplied by a thousand.
According to legend, the creature thrives in the caverns of southern France, but regularly sends its tentacles up to the surface to snare unsuspecting humans and drag them down into the dark of its cave and belly.
The creature goes by the name Lou Carcolh, and it combines pre-Lovecraftian, tentacle-laden madness with a distinctly French culinary fascination for garlicky gastropods.
Elevator pitch: When hikers in the south of France go missing, the French Government Tourist Office sends a seasoned monster hunter (presumably played by Jean Reno) in to follow the trail of slime. Will he find the sluggish horror before it kills again? Will he slay it with a custom escargot fork, and which wine will he wash it down with?
The Shrike's Painful Lesson
As Freddy Krueger plainly illustrates, Hollywood loves monsters with sharp, pointy bits. So why not unleash a monster that's ALL sharp, pointy bits?
Behold the Shrike. No, we're not talking about the real-life "butcher birds" fond of impaling insects on thorns. Nope, this Shrike is a four-armed biomechanical demigod that strolls across time and space to embrace victims in a razor-sharp doom-hug. Aside from a pair of glowing, red eyes, every inch of the enigmatic creature is a honed killing blade. Fingers, face, buttocks -- you name it and the Shrike can probably use it as a can opener.
This living avatar of cutlery roams the pages of Dan Simmons' "Hyperion" saga, where it inspires both fear and worship from quivering humans. Especially in the first two novels, the Shrike slices, dices and takes the occasional break from bloodshed to imbue Jesuit priests with cruciform, life-extending parasites. To summarize: The Shrike is as deadly and mysterious as all get-out.
Elevator pitch: Look, "Hyperion" fans everywhere would love to see the mind-blowing space opera explode on the big screen, but it seems we're perpetually years away from that happening. In the meantime, why not unleash the Shrike on a 1980s summer camp for nymphomaniac teenagers? Sure, we'd be cheating ourselves out of Simmons' deeply philosophic and literate vision of humanity's far-flung future amid the stars, but at least we'd get to see the Shrike in action.
Spring Heels and Sharp Knives
Victorian serial murder Jack the Ripper factors into scores of films, yet the mysterious Spring-Heeled Jack has received a fraction of the airtime.
Back in 19th-century London, this leaping figure was quite the media sensation. No one could shut up about his inhuman leaps from building to building and the strange, metallic gleam on each of his heels. Some accounts spoke of his dreadful iron claws and the way they tore through human flesh, while others described fiery eyes and a flame-belching mouth. Loads of people across England allegedly witnessed this demonic acrobat doing his thing.
Ah, but what was he really? If we set common sense and objective realism aside, we have to consider a host of fantastic explanations that characterized Spring-Heeled Jack as a supernatural demon, a technologically gifted killer, a time traveler, an extraterrestrial or even a Victorian superhero. You can thank author Philip Pullman for that last one.
In an age of steampunk fandom and a love of all things Victorian, old springy seems ripe for monster movie exploitation. Play into the alien technology angle, and you essentially have a period piece take on "Predator."
Of course, Spring-Heeled Jack has appeared in a few films, but never in a manner that showcased his monstrous qualities. He's always either an evil steampunk Iron Man (see the 2010 film "Sherlock Holmes," which also features giant monsters) or a vaguely supernatural serial killer -- but never the depraved devil depicted in the "Penny Dreadful" publications of the day.
Elevator pitch: Victorian London offers a whole host of real and facetious characters to spar with a cinematic Spring-Heeled Jack. Might magical nanny Mary Poppins arrive in London, fleeing the pursuit of an inhuman bounty hunter from beyond the stars? Or how about Spring-Heeled Jack as a Middle Eastern djinn (Islamic demon) brought back to England by Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton?
Demon Queen of the Witches
Everyone loves a good witch, but in an age of Disney princesses and sexy Halloween costumes, it's easy to forget folklore's many fabulous hags. We're talking grotesque old she-trolls with a taste for human flesh and a passion for the darkest magic.
Traditional Slavic folklore gives us the Baba Yaga, and fortunately she pops up in several films, complete with boar's teeth, flying mortar and her chicken-legged house. Yep, she's one kooky old lady. But a lesser-known hag from Balinese folklore has yet to hit the Hollywood big time.
We're talking about Rangda, the evil queen of the witches in Balinese legend. She eats children (always a great villainous pastime) and leads an entire army of evil witches against the noble spirit king Barong.
The people of Bali depict both characters in traditional dance with elaborate -- and indeed monstrous -- masks. So to Western eyes, it might be difficult to identify who's who. But as the photo illustrates, you can always spy Rangda by her long sharp claws and wild hair.
Elevator pitch: If you're game for a full-blown myth movie, the epic battle between Rangda and Barong should make for excellent fodder. But on a smaller scale, the evil witch is always involved in affairs of vengeance and black magic. Introduce some angst-ridden Westerners to a little Balinese black magic and you've got yourself a movie. Who needs Samara/Sadako when you've got Rangda?
The Wooden Mother
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.
Jesus the Monster
All right, hold back on the hate mail for just a moment. I'm not arguing for a clumsy zombie Jesus or any other modern pop-blasphemy. And sure enough, this is easily the least monstrous monster in the list. In "Cloverfield," a giant creature destroyed New York City. In the New Testament, Jesus died on a cross and redeemed humanity -- hardly comparable acts. And yet, the concept of a monstrous Jesus goes back to the 13th and 14th centuries. What are we to make of that?
Think for a second about the nature of monstrosity. At heart, you have a convergence of ideas. The concept of a "wolf man" intrigues us because its conjoined nature of man and wolf raises questions about our own bestial nature. Monsters can make us laugh with joy or wet our pants in terror, but there's always a cognitive process involved. The monsters that stick with us tend to illuminate something about human nature or the world in which we live. That's why the word "monstrosity" originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.
But back to Jesus Christ. Medieval art served an important purpose in breaking down complex theological ideas into a form that the common, illiterate person could understand. So in order to explain the Holy Trinity (the concept that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit exist as a single entity), Western artists carved and painted likenesses of Jesus that either featured three merged faces or three separate heads on a single body [source: Mills].
Three-faced and three-headed Christs pop up in Western art from about the 12th century through the 19th century, but there's an even stranger Jesus monster to consider: a 14th-century bird/Jesus hybrid. Yes, the Christ figure in this depiction clearly possesses the long neck and beaked head of a bird. And why? Historians can't be certain, but "The Monstrous Middle Ages" author Robert Mills theorizes that these features stress that men should "have long necks and beaks, in order that what the heart thinks may be long before it meets the mouth."
Again, the weirdness of a monster is often just window dressing for the convergence of ideas buried inside the form.
Elevator pitch: Medieval art is rich in monstrosity, so what about a period piece in which the clergy members live side by side with the flesh-and-blood fantasies of their manuscripts? Think of it as "The Name of the Rose" meets "Destroy All Monsters." What happens when all those fantastic visions come alive in the scriptorium?
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Author's Note: 10 Monsters That Deserve Movies
I love monsters, and it's been a thrill to write about some of the coolest cinematic creatures out there -- and I hope to keep doing it in my "Monster of the Week" blog series. Tragically, however, there are so many amazing monsters out there in folklore, literature, comics and pop culture that haven't benefited (or suffered) from a little big-screen treatment.
So, in this article, I decided to give a few of them their due. Some entries, like the Shrike and the Corinthian, have huge followings and will likely make it to Hollywood sooner or later. Others, such as the terrifying Invunche, are virtual unknowns outside of folklore circles. So I decided to feature a mixture of known and unknown monsters, as well as a few humorous elevator pitches on how they might finally make it to the screen.
For all the monster rehashes and sequels out there, fresh ideas occasionally rise to the surface. So as a fan myself, I'm crossing my fingers that several of these entries become obsolete in the near future.
- Robert Lamb's "Monster of the Week"
- How 'Tremors' Graboids Work
- How the 'Alien' Xenomorph Works
- How Mogwai and Gremlins Work
- Giant Movie Monsters on the Rampage
- How Frankenstein's Monster Works
- The Monsters of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'
- Horror Movie Weapon of Choice Quiz
- Are you a ghoul?
- How Ghouls Work
- Spring Heeled Jack
- Bergold, Roy. "Your Brand, Top of Mind." QSR. August 2012. (Oct. 1, 2012) http://www.qsrmagazine.com/roy-bergold/your-brand-top-mind
- Bosing, Walter. "Bosch." Taschen. Sept. 15, 2000.
- Brewer, E. Cobham. "Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase of Fable." 1870.
- Gaiman, Neil and Mike Dringenberg. "The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's House."Vertigo. 1991.
- Guill, Cameron and Joshua Raynack. "Medieval Bestiary: Anthropophagi." Alea Publishing Group. 2008. (Oct. 5, 2012) http://www.rpgnow.com/product/57723/Medieval-Bestiary%3A-Anthropophagi?cPath=4067
- Meisler, Stanley. "The World of Bosch." Smithsonian Magazine. 1988. (Oct. 5, 2012) http://www.stanleymeisler.com/smithsonian/smithsonian-1988-03-bosch.html
- Mills, Robert. "Jesus as Monster." The Monstrous Middle Ages. The University of Toronto Press. 2003.
- Mittman, Simon. "Headless Men and Hungry Monsters." Stanford University. March 2003. (Oct. 1, 2012) http://sarumseminar.org/meetings/2003-03-Mittman-Headless-Men-and-Hungry-Monsters.pdf
- Rose, Carol. "Giants, Monsters and Dragons." W.W. Norton. 2000.
- Simmons, Dan. "Hyperion." Spectra. Feb. 1, 1990.
- Solomon, Larry. "Symbols in the Paintings of Hieronymus Bosch." Solomon's Music. 2005. (Oct. 1, 2012) http://solomonsmusic.net/BoschSymbols.htm
- Upton, Chris. "Local Legends: Spring-Heeled Jack." BBC. February 2004. (Oct. 1, 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/black_country/article_1.shtml
- Williams, David A. "Deformed Discourse: The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature." McGill Queens University Press. December 1999.