Here are our top 13 movie monsters and their archetypes. When we say archetypes we are talking about the archetypes that are “supposed to have been present in folklore and literature for thousands of years, including prehistoric artwork.” You can refer to this wikipedia article for more information about archetypes. We are using the term here to explain the “thing or nature” about some of the beings that make them universally scary. This means they can exist and be scary in any culture across the world, some more than others, but it is in our basic nature to be afraid of them. Keep in mind we have free classifieds, and a new Big List of Literary Magazines!
13. Swamp Thing and Pumpkin Head
Yeah the big green thing made our list for being a modern attempt at a truly “green” monster. You don’t get much more eco-friendly than the Swamp Thing. The Swamp Thing here falls into a broader category of monster. We are referring to him as the “big-foot” of the swamp. This gives him a natural ghost like quality that we fear. Pumpkin Head here is his evil cousin, much the same accept evil and vengeful. Both are from nature, and both “lurk” in the mist.
Archetype: The tendency to be afraid of something lurking in the shadows that we can’t see or control. If you think of early humans camping out in northern Africa around tall grass you might understand why people are so afraid of that natural thing lurking behind us. Many say it’s the “feeling of being watched.” When early man had this feeling it was often times was followed by the feeling being eaten. We all tend to be afraid of what we can’t see but know is going to hurt us. Almost all cultures have a “big-foot” like creature.
12. Ghosts, Poltergeist, Possession, Stigmata
This is a very broad category we know, and it’s not exactly a monster, but it is in a sense. In reality Ghost with Patrick Swayze is related to 1980 Poltergeist with Judge T. Nelson, and the Boogeyman or Amityville Horror. Some of these movies are terrifying and others are well just a terror to watch. Ghosts as spirits are the universal bad guys. They can be anywhere, and we are again afraid of what we can’t see. They are universal. All cultures have them, and like in the movies some are evil and some are family, friends or just friendly.
Archetype: Fear of the afterlife. Here most cultures around the world have deep fear of the afterlife “gone wrong.” We tend to want to be safe in our beliefs or in our souls that when we die something “right” or “just” will happened to us. All cultures have developed beliefs to explain the world and its workings and that includes death. Ghosts are most certainly the chaos we fear, the unknown that we might not be right about. They challenge our beliefs in the afterlife and maybe even our belief in the universe depending on what culture you are from.
11. Jason Voorhees
Yes the guy in the hockey mask made the list. He is in many ways one of our weakest links, but he has become so much apart of our culture that it was impossible to leave him out. In the beginning he was frightening, now the sequels are frightful, but anyone that goes to the store and buys a $2 hockey mask, a fake knife and a jumpsuit has one of the most over used costumes of all times.
Archetype: None. Movie archetype: cheap copy that is repeated over and over. Jason is the cousin of art. He grew out of greed. Jason remember wasn’t even the real “bad guy” in the movie it was his mother. The first time that Jason falls into his true form of an unstoppable serial killer isn’t until 1981. That’s a full 3 years after John Carpenter’s masterpiece Halloween. Jason was just born to fill the vacuum of countless horror films that featured an unstoppable killer. Everybody wanted one and many copies were made. Jason maybe one of the best copies and even iconic in his appearance. Basically he had a great costume, but he was nothing compared to his predecessor.
Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein
I once saw Wes Craven explaining how he had read a series of news inspired the nightmare haunter. Apparently he read about teenagers being afraid to go to sleep and Freddy was born. The most interesting thing Craven pointed to was Freddy’s claw. Craven talked about the claw representing the primal fear of our insides being exposed. Freddy was both a subconscious fear and a primal one, and he makes the list for these reasons. NONE of the sequels are being pointed to here. Later Freddy becomes a joke, an iconic figure that represents both bad film making and bad jokes. The first movie isn’t this. It is the fear of the inside.
Archetype: The fear of being cut open as by a wild animal or primal fear of death. Also the fear of being hunted in our dreams, like “If you die in your dreams you die in real life.” What kid hasn’t asked or thought this question?
9. Michael Myers
Michael Myers is one of the scariest movie monsters on this list. He isn’t scary because of the William Shatner mask or the creepy breathing or even the music, he’s scary because he represents being stalked. It is our most primal fear. If you were here 100,000 years ago running across the plains of Africa and you were being stalked it would be your worst day. It would be your most fearful day. Have you ever been going to bed and night and looked back into the darkness? You get that feeling like something is there? Then you run like hell up the stairs and to bed, that’s Michael Myers. He is the unstoppable force that is coming for you. The movie inspired countless copies, but it is the original best. It does it best. Michael pops out and lurks in the background. If a character isn’t paying attention he is standing there until they look his way. Darting into the bushes he is gone leaving only the feeling that he is coming for you.
Archetype: Being stalked and knowing it is inevitable that you will be killed. The unstoppable.
8. . Hannibal Lecter
Yep our number 10 monster is the liver-eatin’, muzzle wearing intellectual that gets one over on the prison system. He beat Norman Bates. He has what is a must for monster these days, trading cards. Lecter inspired a whole generation of kids to worship serial killers. He is a lasting figure, and he has something else a monster on this list needs, sequels. They made 3. This is also the most realistic creature on our list and the least fantastic. Lecter as a good guy is a hero. He looks like one of us, maybe even more handsome than most. Like a real serial killer he is the guy that lives next door. Lecter is more than that though, he is the killer that is good at it, better than anyone trying to stop him. He pays attention to the details.
Archetype: The intellectual killer. The systematic killing and meticulous attention to how you will die. Also, the idea that he could be one of us, one of the best.
This is the Phantom from Phantom of the Opera. He is on the list for one reason. It’s true he is creepy. He’s also disfigured, little cool stuff there too. He even wears a mask and lurks, which is well loved on this list, but here the Phantom has become the icon for the horror movie industry. It was one of the first horror movies. The silent 1925 feature is eerie and it set the standard for what horror was thought to be. He does not have the impact as much as others on this list, but the novel inspired stage productions and movies. The image of the Phantom has not caught on other than to represent the horror movie genre.
Godzilla might seem silly to be on the list, but lets remember what he stands for. This a Japanese created monster from 1954. The monster was created from a nuclear accident. It’s not clear exactly how, but it is clear the Godzilla is the first monster to represent the new archetype fear of the 20th century, the fear of weapons of mass destruction. He is the atomic bomb, and to most Japanese he may be the ultimate movie monster. The movie appeared only 9 years after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Here many Americans may think of this monster as a joke, but if we had a horror movie monster that represented 9/11 would it be funny?
Archetype: Fear of mass destruction.
This one is an old fear, and it doesn’t translate well into the twentieth first century. It is the curse of the dead. We do not have the same beliefs about the dead, burial, or ritual. We do not hold the same superstitions about the dead that many cultures do. Our culture did at one time hold these beliefs, now we are so removed from the preservation and ritualization of the dead that the Mummy has lost his “teeth.” Besides we have a modern day replacement just down the list, zombies.
4. Wolf Man
Wolf Man is akin to Freddy in many ways. He is the inside fear, the fear that we might become that thing that kills indiscriminately. He also has the claws and that primal fear of being internally exposed, like Craven mentioned. The Wolf Man is really the old Freddy in a lot of ways. The werewolf creature is about the internal hunter, like Freddy. The problem here is the werewolf is ancient, and we relate much better to Freddy. It’s not too often that we are walking through the woods at night worrying about being attached by a wolf. So here is an example where the icon is being replaced due mostly to our distance from circumstance.
Frankenstein remember is the man not the monster. Didn’t the United States just recently pass a law against stem cell research? I would say that qualifies as a fear of goofing around with the natural way of things. Frankenstein did just this. He made the monster out of the dead, and he played god when he made the monster live. It is the fear of our science going beyond what many think it should. Frankenstein would argue for stem cell research and undoubtedly he would end up with two headed fish babies or something like that. Frankenstein here is not the monster but all those mad scientists in all those movies and in real life. It is the misuse of science to break laws that should not be broken. Today it is the scientists who invents a virus or a bomb or a mental control machine that destroys your freedom or takes your life. Frankenstein really represents our fear of science gone wrong, science without limits, science.
Archetype: The fear of interfering with the natural order of things.
The walking dead of old. The primal fear of having your blood and life removed. It is the fear of being bitten. Since the discovery of DNA this monster has lost a lot of his appeal. At one time blood was thought to be the basis of life. It was what kept us alive. It was the basic food and air of our bodies. It really is, but now DNA is the thing that makes up our most basic character. Also, Dracula has also been replaced by other beings that bite, down on our list. He is on this list as a representation of vampires and of being bitten. A 50 or 100 years ago he was number 1 on this list.
Zombies have taken the number 1 spot from Dracula and vampires. What do people equate in the 21 century to DNA, skin or flesh. People if you think of DNA you’re generally going to think of a piece of yourself. If you watch a CSI the criminals always leave something of themselves behind. The modern day vampire has become the zombie. At one time zombies sort of lurked in the philosophical background as being a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and the mindless vampire, but now they have, because of many leaps and bounds in science, zombies have moved way up this list. They are the front runner philosophically, culturally, and religiously.
Philosophically we have zombies now growing out of the misuse of science. Culturally zombies represent that mindlessness of the lame or the complacent, and of course religiously zombies are a referral to that passage the “dead shall walk the earth.” They are the perfect modern day monster. The end of the world. They disfigure, turn you into one of their own and come in a mob. A group of urban zombies looks like a riot, a single zombie in a field looks like an infectious person. What do we fear in modern society, rampant disease and urban chaos are the two biggest fears we have. They tear away the flesh and take away what we are. They are the number 1 monster on our list.
Archetype: The end of the world.