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.

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Cartoon Creeps: Why Horror Lovers Are Obsessed with Max Fleischer

Don’t let Max’s playfulness or Betty’s sultriness fool you; beyond here, there be monsters.
Source: TV Tropes

Finally, I get to do something spooky for Halloween. Again, I apologize for how unexpectedly eventful this month has been, but we finally get to talk about creepy stuff that’s totally relevant.

If you’ve been following the gaming scene recently, you’ve likely been hearing the name Max Fleischer get thrown about quite a bit. You’ve also probably heard the name attached to hellish imagery and intimidating challenge as well. You can thank the dual successes of Bendy and The Ink Machine and Cuphead for bringing this man back into the limelight as both draw heavily from Max’s body of work for inspiration. So, what was that work exactly?

Well, Uncle Max, as he’s occasionally known by, is a Polish-American animator born in 1883 and one of the founding fathers of modern western animation. Today, most will recognize him for the creation of Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and possibly the most iconic animated depiction of DC Comics’ wonder boy Superman.

And when I say ‘founding father’, I mean he developed the most important technological advancements of his time including The Stereoptical Process, the classic ‘Bouncing Ball’ style sing-a-long, and – most notably – the rotoscope that allowed for more detailed movement with less effort by artists. Basically, everything you associate with the earliest cartoons you can likely remember exist because of dear Uncle Max.

That’s all well and good, but why the interest in him as a horror icon? Well, there are quite a few reasons.

Firstly, much of his early work, prior to being strictly limited by the now abandoned Hays Code, dealt heavily in dark surrealist imagery. Uncle Max was no stranger to including stories and art depicting malevolent spirits, violent demons, and occult practices. Fans of early Fleischer Studios productions – myself included – will often cite films like Bimbo’s InitiationRed Hot MammaMinnie the Moocher (yes, that IS Jazz legend Cab Calloway performing the music and providing rotoscoping for the dance moves), and probably the most cited of his works – Swing You Sinners.

You’ll notice that the way a lot of these characters move feels unsettling as well. Well, that brings us to another factor to the freakiness of Fleischer’s Films; his use of an animation technique called ‘Rubber Hose Animation.’ Named after the rubber hose-like construction of many character’s limbs, the lack of any points of articulation (wrists, elbows, knees, etc.) means almost everything moves with an inhuman fluidity. Imagine a person whose limbs and body seemed to slither around themselves while they walked and you can see why this would be so unsettling – especially if the person doing it was otherwise conventionally cute and innocent looking like most characters from this era of cartoons.

But probably the big thing that most don’t think of is the horror potential in the real-life rivalry between Max Fleischer and Walt Disney. Contrary to popular belief Disney’s Steamboat Willie in 1928 was NOT the first animated film to sync sound and film together; that accolade belongs to Max’s Good-Bye My Lady Love a good four years prior in 1924 (which I sadly could not find). Walt was also quick to jump on and use rotoscoping once Max’s copyright on it ran out. He attempted to claim credit for it while using it to finish Snow White in 1937. The Disney Company would then spend several years lobbying to extend copyright length to ensure no one could make a better version of the public domain properties they adapted (shady business practices; just one more reason for me to hate Disney).

And through all of this taking of Fleischer’s hard work and unfairly discrediting him, Disney put his studio out of business in 1942 when it was incorporated into Paramount as ‘Famous Studios.’ Max would then pass away due to arterial sclerosis of the brain in 1972.

Basically, the idea of a hard-working artist who pioneered ways to make his art “come to life” as it were getting shafted by his old business rival to the point of being nearly forgotten by history is a good back story for a vengeful-spirit-from-beyond-the-grave story. So good, in fact, that some of the more obsessive nit-pickers among us have already made that connection to some of the stuff Max did and the things it inspired.

So, whether you’re looking for a good creep show or looking to brush up on your animation history, it would be worthwhile to study Uncle Max’s early offering. Just maybe watch with the lights on.