Classic Creepy Creatures: Three of the Agent’s Favorite Movie Monsters

We’re well into October and I’m feeling damn good; better then I have in years as a matter of fact. So let’s get spoopy together as Halloween approaches.

I’ve gone on record about how much I love horror movies and how important they are to society as a whole. But other than one brief look at famous folk creatures that deserve the screaming spotlight, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about specific monsters in horror cinema. That seems odd to me since the monster is so critical to the film. They embody all of our anxieties and fears that the protagonist must overcome and reveal a great deal about ourselves in the process.

So, this year, I’d like to let this weeks article serve as a love letter to three movie monsters that I feel haven’t gotten the props they deserve and – hopefully – show you why they mean so much to me as a horror fan and a cinemaphile.

Sanda and Gaira; The Gargantuas

Even when he’s been a total jerk to the people he loves, Sanda (the brown one) still looks after his brother Gaira in his hour of need.
Source: Musings of a Middle-Aged Geek

For those of you who, like me, have a weakness for Japanese monster films, War of the Gargantuas is right up your alley. It’s the tragic tale of two brothers torn apart by their own ideologies. It’s just that said brothers are also the movie’s monsters and the ideology is mutual co-existence with humanity versus predatory survivalism. See, Sanda the Brown Gargantua was raised in the care of humans and understands their capacity for good. His brother Gaira, on the other hand, spent most of his life out in the wilds and only sees them as another food source.

My primary interest in these two is less to do with the story however and more with the technical aspects of their design. For one, the costumes that the actors wear expose more of their faces than the average rubber suit monster. This allows them to be much more expressive than others of their ilk. Also, Sanda and Gaira are supposed to be much smaller than other giant monsters of the time – only about 30 meters tall (98.4 feet). By comparison, Godzilla has been between 50 and 150 meters tall (164 – 492.1 feet) depending on the era of the films he’s in. This means that the miniature sets that the actors stomp around had to be built much larger and, by extension, more detailed than other films around that time. It’s a minor change, but one that makes it stand out if you’re a connoisseur of the medium.

The Tarman

Sometimes, it’s less the monster itself and more what it does for the genre.

The Return of the Living Dead is a staple of the Zombie Apocolypse sub-genre that turns the rising tides of the undead into an allegory (emphasis on GORY) for the drug culture of the 80’s that sympathizes with the punks who are just looking for anything to make them forget the pain of life (remember, the multiple threats of nuclear war, environmental destruction, government corruption, and the AIDS crisis weighed heavy on everyone’s minds).

Likewise, much like how the punks turned to hard drugs to escape the pain of living, the zombies in The Return of the Living Dead are addicted to eating brains to escape the pain of death. And the gooey mess that fans have dubbed The Tarman is part of a legacy started by this plot point. In addition to an iconic design that seems to show him in a state of constant rot and decay, The Tarman is regarded as the first zombie to ever moan that hunger-induced rallying cry, “BRAINS.” As a result, everyone now associates cephalophagy (that’s fancy talk for brain eating) with shambling corpses.

Shuna Sassi

Death and beauty; perfectly entwined.
Source: Monster Wiki

But let us not forget that these are horror movies and horror is all about symbolism. And few come with as much symbolic weight as Shuna Sassi from Clive Barker’s lesser-known film Nightbreed.

Throughout the film, Shuna is a VERY heavily sexualized character owing to her early life in an exotic brothel. While some may be quick to write this off as titillation for titillation’s sake, a quick look at her defining physical trait – the coat of poisonous quills that cover her body – makes it clear that she is both physically and emotionally in control of her sexuality. Nobody can lay a hand on her unless SHE wants them to; the ultimate empowerment fantasy for any sexually charged woman that can relate to the unwanted advances of another.

Shuna is also the physical embodiment of an inescapable truth of horror; people LIKE to be scared. There’s an appealing dangerous quality to the things that scare us that make us curious or even obsessed with them. It’s the main reason why we go through haunted houses, ride rollercoasters and – indeed – watch scary movies. By making someone so beautiful so intensely dangerous, Shuna Sassi captures this dualistic nature of the horror genre.

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Three Legendary Monsters That Deserve Their Own Major Horror Movies

So, with Halloween nearly upon us, I find myself thinking about some of the great monsters of Horror cinema; from the all-destroying titans of Japanese Kaiju films to the mind-bending terror of Lovecraftian inspired shoggoths like in John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Still, I can’t help feeling that, with the wellspring of folklore and mythology we’ve built up around the world over the years, we have a lot of missed opportunities.

Now to be clear, I’m aware that there are some smaller horror movies (and non-horror movies) made about some these guys and I will try to touch on those that I’m familiar with where applicable, but that’s not what I’m talking about as a whole. I want to see these guys have big, successful, and legitimately AWESOME movies about the giant swaths of blood, death, devastation, and fear they tear through wherever they travel. Because let’s be honest, you kinda want to see a big budget, special effects gore-fest about…

The Manticore

It isn’t often you see a mythological creature you could buy as an apex predator.
Source: Villians Wiki

With a human face, a lion’s body, a tail of poisonous thorns, and a mouthful of dagger-like teeth, the Manticore – derived from early Persian meaning ‘man-eater’ – is exactly what one might think of when you think of a creature built only for the hunt; combining some of the deadliest natural weapons with a cruel intellect that surpasses most people.

Now, I’m aware that the Manticore was featured in Percy Jackson and The Olympians (A.K.A. discount Greek mythology Harry Potter) but there, he was more of a brutish pet than the cunning predator that legend built him up to be.

My personal take on the Manticore would be more of a Cheshire Cat-like villain (imagine the smile on that beast) who, like most cats, enjoys playing with and tormenting his prey. You could have him set up his victims in an elaborate hunting ground full of puzzles and riddles ending in death traps (alluding to his possible inspiration from the Egyptian Sphinx) in a mythological take on the Saw franchise.

Failing that, you could just make a campy Horror Comedy and get Ninja Sex Party to do the theme song for you.

The Wendigo

There’s something about crimson red on pale white that’s naturally unsettling.
Source: Ancient Origins

Probably among my favorite of North American folklore creatures, many native tribes of the northern U.S. and Canada speak of a violent spirit that would stalk and possess humans during the winter when the threat of starvation and famine loomed. Those possessed would become a Wendigo – an insatiable, cannibalistic monster overpowered by the need to feed on human flesh. Its endless state of starving pain leaves it with a gaunt, wiry frame that gives it a ghoulish appearance.

There have been attempts to make the Wendigo mainstream – most notably the Marvel comics interpretation and their appearance in the game Until Dawn. But I feel the best use of a creature such as this would be to place our heroes in an isolated area with no escape (easy to do given the Wendigo’s association to winter weather) and build tension among them by leaving them accusing each other of being a Wendigo while finding a way to fend of the spirit that continues to possess them one by one and flee back to civilization.

The Jersey Devil

How do you come up with something that can be described as ‘demonic horse-headed velociraptor?’
Source: Weird NJ

Up to now, the creatures I’ve described have been from ancient mythology and folklore. But this one may have been the first MODERN folk monster I’ve ever heard of.

The Jersey Devil, named for its native home of Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey, is one of the most unsettling creatures I could imagine. In addition to its unearthly appearance looking like a bipedal goat-like demon with large wings, horns, and a forked tail, it’s also known for it’s blinding speed and a “blood-curdling scream” that I can only imagine sounds like the Witch King from Lord of the Rings.

Ever since I saw this guy in The Wolf Among Us, I’ve wanted a proper horror interpretation for this generation of horror fans. I’ve said in the past that the secret of good Horror is to capture a basic human insecurity or fear common with the modern zeitgeist and make a monster based around it. And I think Jersey captures a fear we don’t often see – the anxiety of parenthood.

See, the oldest tale of the Jersey Devil cites him as the thirteenth child of a woman named Deborah Leeds in 1735. She cursed him in her frustration after birthing so many children. When he was born, he butchered the midwife immediately before racing up the chimney and – according to some stories – began slaughtering the children in the area.

Rework that myth a bit so that the unborn child could sense his mother’s aggression towards him and, fearing for his life, made a Faustian bargain to gain the beastly strength to defend himself and take vengeance on all unloving parents by murdering their children and you have the makings of some great nightmares on screen.