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10 Best Monster Designs In Horror Movies

Monsters are beautiful, some more so than others.
Days Monster Design
By  · Published on October 3rd, 2018

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There’s no one thing that makes for a fantastic horror film. Everything plays a role including atmosphere, writing, visuals, score, and more, but when it comes to creature features and monster movies there’s one factor that carries more weight than the rest — the design of the monster. Depending on the intention, it should ideally be scary, frightening, or unsettling, but even if fear isn’t on tap the creature’s appearance should be memorable. This is true whether the monster is human in origin or not, and everything from visual style to functionality to its screen presence play a role in audience reaction.

Keep reading for a look at the 10 best monster designs in horror as voted on by Chris “The Corpse” Coffel, Kieran “The Flesh-Eater” Fisher, “Gory” Brad Gullickson, Meg “The Maimer” Shields, Jacob “Time to Die” Trussell, and myself.

10. Grant monster, Slither (2006)


Most of the creatures to make the cut on this list are very specific in their design. They’re beasts, monsters, and villains with a physical form that matches their abilities and intent. By contrast, this messy blob of a creature feels like the kitchen sink of beasts. Like James Gunn‘s film itself, the Grant monster — the big, slovenly, cow-slurping creature that wiggles and shuffles its way across the screen — is designed to be equal parts frightening, disgusting, humorous, and pathetic. (Okay, Slither isn’t pathetic, but you get the point.) Grant’s transformation begins with gross body mutations before his entire form shifts into a car-sized, slug-like, slime-covered, horny slob. Hair, teeth, antlers, and more sprout from his ever-growing flesh, and through it all the design allows Michael Rooker to remain the clear and vile presence within. – Rob Hunter

9. Godzilla (1954)


He’s the King of the Monsters. ‘nuff said. But if you insist… Godzilla was originally designed in 1954 by Akira Watanabe and Teizô Toshimitsu as Mother’s Earth’s ultimate rejection to humanity’s atom bomb. Taking inspiration from how Greek mythology lovingly combined natural animals to form a wholly unique creation, Watanabe smooshed the Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Iguanodon together to achieve that terrifying profile. Further linking the monster’s connection to nuclear devastation, Godzilla’s skin texture was made to resemble the raised, bubble scars often found on the flesh of Hiroshima survivors. While he would eventually wear green skin, the original beast was coated charcoal gray, again emphasizing the falling ash of destruction. Finally, Godzilla was brought to life by actor, and Judo black belt, Haruo Nakajima. He did not simply stomp around a set but threw his entire being into realizing the rage of the beast. Godzilla has seen many redesigns over the years. Toho played around with eye placement, fin arrangement, and snout size. He’s been a man-in-a-suit, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a CG titan. Of course, the less said about the wannabe Jurassic park lizard seen in Roland Emmerich’s embarrassing Hollywood attempt, the better (sorry, Kieran). The most successful iterations of the character adhere to what the original film delivered: an angry dino as upset about his creation as the tiny humans squished under his stride. – Brad Gullickson

8. Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


The secret to making a great character is to make sure they can be recognized via silhouette. Matt Groening has said some variation of this many times over the years when discussing how to create memorable characters. While Groening was specifically speaking about cartoon characters, his theory applies to character design across the board, including within the realm of horror. Enter, Freddy Krueger. Freddy is a burn victim, so there are some obvious details to his facial features, but it’s his clothing choices that make him standout. He wears a fedora, a hat that was popular from the 1920s up through the 1950s, and a tattered red and green striped sweater. An odd fashion choice to say the least. Then there’s his glove consisting of steak knives, which he doesn’t even need. He can shapeshift into anything at any time to kill his victims, so why lug around a weapon? Well, because Freddy likes to accessorize, of course, and that’s precisely what makes his look a cut above the rest. – Chris Coffel

7. Brundlefly, The Fly (1986)

The Fly

Brundlefly brings gifts, for he is not one, but a series of creatures: a melting man in various states of decay. It starts small; prickles and sweaty temples. And it ends in rupture, with flesh peeling away like tree bark to reveal a repulsive and inalienably pitiable creature. Perhaps, as David Cronenberg seems to suggest, this is the horrible truth of all illness with a terminal bent: that we feel for the sick, and at the same time, on some level, we find their sickness disgusting. The final scene – where the Brundlefly FX are firing on all cylinders – is my earliest memory of crying at a film. Of not just being upset, but being moved to tears. The ravaging of Seth Brundle’s body and his gradual loss of self is deeply sad. Leave it to Cronenberg to make me care about a pile of goop. – Meg Shields

6. Predator (1987)


The Predator, or Yautja, designed by FX virtuoso Stan Winston, almost wasn’t iconic at all. Originally intended to fit martial artist Jean-Claude Van Damme, the creature’s iconic mandibles and advanced armor were nowhere to be found, in its stead a cheap imitation of H.R. Giger’s iconic Alien (which, itself, is a little ironic) with an insectoid head, reversed legs, and floppy arms. Luckily for Van Damme, and ourselves, this design was scrapped after test shooting for the creature we know today. And not to denigrate it’s Xeno counterpart, what makes the Yautja such a formidable creature is its intelligence. The advanced weaponry, the spaceships, the mask are all well and good, but it’s the Yautja’s respect for the hunt that is most remarkable. It’s ability to recognize the warrior in other creatures, namely humans, greatly compliments this complex killing machine. – Jacob Trussell

5. Gremlins (1984)


Inspired by a real-life nightmare of rodent infestation in his NYC loft, writer Chris Columbus originally conceived the Gremlins as an R-rated suburban invasion force in which Billy’s dog got devoured, and the decapitated head of Mrs. Peltzer went bouncing down the stairs. Once the spec script found its way into producer Steven Spielberg‘s hands, the violence was inevitably toned down, and their merchandise potential went up. However, even the supposedly more-kid friendly creature design was unsettling enough to scar many a children’s dreamscapes, and their ruthless household antics under Joe Dante‘s direction would eventually lead to the newly defined PG-13 MPAA rating. Chris Walas was the man behind dozens of your favorite movie monsters. He brought Brundlefly to soul-crushing life for David Cronenberg, as well as most of Jabba the Hutt’s henchmen including my favorite Kenner action figure Ree Yees. But there is no topping Stripe and his gang of reptilian hooligans. Their design taps into basic, primal fear. Sharp claws, sharp teeth, sharp alien eyes that pierce the darkness. The hero Gremlins were stuffed with mechanics, but the standout stars have always been the simple puppets that trashed Mrs. Peltzer kitchen and harried poor Phoebe Cates in Dorry’s Cavern. Add in a little voice work from Police Academy’s Michael Winslow, and you’ve got yourself a living, breathing horde that thrive on supplanting Christmas good cheer with overwhelming atrocity. You know, for kids. – Brad Gullickson

4. The Pale Man, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Pans Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro loves monsters. Thus, his monster movies tend to deliver some truly memorable and impressive creatures which sometimes even rank among the greatest in the history of cinema. When it comes to those special monsters, though, Pale Man is pretty hard to beat. This grotesque work of art (played by Doug Jones) has eyeballs in his palms and a humanoid appearance that’s both unique and distressing. He’s also hungry for children and fairies, and seeing him chase after a meal is truly the stuff of nightmares. He also has saggy, wrinkly skin that only adds to the list of reasons why he’s probably not dating material. Unsurprisingly, Pale Man was inspired by the terrifying threesome of stigmata, Goya paintings, and old men with droopy skin. – Kieran Fisher

3. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Creature From The Black Lagoon

Despite being the least credited Universal Monster, Gill-Man is, for my money, one of the most artful creature designs in Hollywood history. Like many a monster before him, Black Lagoon‘s Gill-Man is an outsider; a grotesque flecked with human resonance, with a relatable desire to love and be loved. The tragedy of Gill-Man’s otherness is woven into his design: he is sad and beautiful precisely because of how human he is. It’s a grotesque grace that’s entirely the doing of creature designer (and Disney animator) Millicent Patrick. There are few creatures like Gill-Man: poetically simple as if sprung from myth. – Meg Shields

2. Alien (1979)


Designed by acclaimed artist H.R. Giger and constructed by Carlo Rambaldi, the Xenomorph is the ultimate organic killing machine. Vaguely erotic, with it’s phallic shaped head, what’s most terrifying is the subtle parallel to sexual assault hiding within its organic reproductive system. Forcibly penetrating to impregnate it’s hosts, only for the parasite to grow at remarkable speed to burst forth from their chest, leaving a bloody human husk and a ooey-gooey little baby Xenomorph. And while there have been several different incarnations of the creature, from films (dog alien!) to action figures (Gorilla Alien!), the original look has barely changed, resulting in a monster that is nothing short of timeless. – Jacob Trussell

1. Pumpkinhead (1988)


Stan Winston‘s name is nearly synonymous with visual effects, and if you’re of a certain age the odds are he’s the man behind some of your favorite big-screen creature moments. The Terminator, Predator, The Monster Squad, Jurassic Park, and more all feature his beautifully designed work brought to stunning life. While they’re the most popular, though, I’d argue that his best work was saved for his feature directorial debut. Just look at that head to toe beauty. From the multi-jointed legs to his spindly claws to his over-sized cranium, this is a fresh take on the demonic, and in addition to growing from a small, creepy Cabbage Patch reject into the beast above the creature’s face also shifts slowly to resemble Lance Henriksen. (The film explains why, but honestly, who needs a reason?) Pumpkinhead features a frightening and emotive visage atop a terrifyingly mobile demon, and it is creature perfection. – Rob Hunter

Read more meticulously designed entries in our 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.