As long as we have heroes, we are always going to have a villainous monster to go along with them. There are a lot of arguments to be made that humans make the scariest monsters, and countless human villains to make this true. This is however not to say that the good old Monster, a supernatural beast from fantasy can’t deliver on the terrifying malevolence. Monsters of the supernatural persuasion have been around as long as we have, and according to some myth cycles and stories, a great deal longer. Monsters are deeply rooted in human psychology which could explain why there are such a massive variety of heinous creatures. Here is a list of my favourite supernatural bad guys from both film and literature. Not a vampire or a werewolf among them!
From Gremlins (1984), Directed by Joe Dante.
Originating in European folklore, Gremlins have had a long and varied existence in a world of different myths and legends but were cemented in popular culture with Joe Dante’s 1984 horror comedy, Gremlins. Few other supernatural creatures had quite so much impact in the 80s as these little bastards. From Gizmo, the cute fuzzy little signing Mogwai to the nasty, malevolent, cheeky and sneaky fiends that poor little Gizmo spawned (through no fault of his own, I might add), Gremlins was as hilarious as it was repulsive, offering a cautionary tale about following rules, taking responsibility for your pets, and not buying weird animals from strange old guys in Chinatown antique shops. While never as good as its original, Gremlins 2: A New Batch was a solid sequel.
From Harry Potter books by J.K Rowling and adapted films.
The Harry Potter world brought a whole new mythology of supernatural threat, a lot of it based in real folklore, a lot of it a product of pure imagination. I can’t say for certain where the figure of the Dementor was born from, but I can say in all certainty they’re a fantastically terrifying addition to any list of pop culture nasties. Apart from the Dark Lord himself, Dementors are the most malevolent beings in the Potterverse. Faceless spirit entities draped in black, they are soulless and evil, feeding on happiness and sucking the souls of their victims through the Dementor’s kiss. Even being in the general proximity of a Dementor will drain one of happiness and hope. The best defense against a Dementor? A keen Patronus spell, or better yet, avoid them completely.
Nazgûl aka Ring Wraiths, Black Riders, Dark Riders
From The Lord of the Rings book by JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations.
The Nazgûl were scary enough in the Lord of the Rings books but came to the cinema world in Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, brilliantly realised in all their terrifying malevolence and made all the more horrific. There are nine Black Riders, all formerly kings of men whose lust for power and the One Ring twisted them into the dark, ghostly fiends, dedicated servants of Sauron. In the spirit world, the wraiths are white and ghostly, drawn and decayed. In the mortal world, only their decaying black robes give them shape. Astride their demonic black horses, or later massive winged fell beasts, armed with all manner of dark magic and devastating weapons, the Nazgûl spread fear and hopelessness in their relentless pursuit of the One Ring.
The Nazgûl and the Dementors do look a little alike with all of that black cloth, but unless you’re carrying the One Ring, it’s probably a safer bet to go against the Nazgûl .
From Perdido Street Station by China Miéville
Born in the pages of China Miéville’s wonder novel, Perdido Street Station, the Slake Moth is without equal. These heinous, multi-dimensional giant moth creatures feed off subconscious thought, hypnotizing their victims with their incredible wing patterns before feasting on dreams through revolting sucker tongue things, leaving behind empty, catatonic shells. The slake moths secrete a “milk” that is harvested as Dreamshit, a powerful psychedelic drug that fetches a hefty price in the underworld. With a family of slake moths on the loose, the city is lost in a weird state of nightmare. Brilliant and utterly unique, slake moths are my personal #1 literary fantasy monster.
The Pale Man
From Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno) (2006) directed by Guillermo del Toro
While the slake moths take my vote for best literary fantasy monster, The Pale Man takes it for best cinematic fantasy monster. The Pale Man is never called as such in the film, but is nameless threat known only in legend as a devourer of children, guarding the dagger Ophelia must collect from the underworld. The Pale Man sits before an enormous banquet and if Ophelia does as she’s told and doesn’t eat anything, he’ll remain there, benign in his eyeless state. But as this is a fairytale and all fairytale children are disobedient, Ophelia eats a grape The Pale Man wakes. Awesome terror ensues.
As with everything touched by the Hand of Del Toro, there are layers and layers of meaning and references, allusion to ancient myths and legends, including Cronus, the child eating Titan of classical myth. The bloodshot eyes set into the palms of Pale Man’s clawed hands is one of the most brilliant fantasy images I’ve ever seen. There is some suggestion that the eyed hands was an allusion to a brief scene from Spirit of the Beehive (1973), a film del Toro frequently cites as defining. I see this to a small degree, but if it is true, Pale Man takes it to a completely different, far more terrifying level.
Even though he’s ungainly and quite slow, all of those folds of naked, hairless, flesh, gasping and wheezing with a lipless mouth and noseless nostrils, The Pale Man is beyond any previous level of horrific made all the more terrifying by the pure simplicity of the monster. And all that fairy blood dribbling down his chin doesn’t hurt either.