From Kathryn Bigelow to James Cameron, many of the greatest working directors started their careers directing horror genre films. Fundamentals like building tension and using sound creatively all prove their worth in this genre. Monster horror movies are some of the most terrifying out there. They're full of suspense, intrigue, and often a layer of dark comedy.
Today, we're going to talk monster movies and what makes the entities inside them so terrifying.
Few directors have been as prolific and creative as Alex Garland, and his 2018 masterpiece Annihilation left us breathless at times. His iconic monster, the mutated bear, is the subject of my video essay below. Check it out, then get some additional insight about this movie monster.
What Makes a Movie Monster Terrifying?
Using sound to terrify an audience is critical to creating the scariest movie monster. Garland's setting is an out-of-control mutating environment, and the mutated bear has eerie signs that it not only kills its victims, but it mutates with them. The cry of the bear is mutated with the cry of its last victim, creating a suspension of the fear of death forever. We can see details of these mutations in the set design, as well as the script. For instance, all of Annihilation's characters seek to change or transcend themselves.
The Annihilation bear monster explained
When the characters in the movie entered "The Shimmer," they are faced with past trials that are going to come about. This lead to Annihilation monsters unlike anything we've seen in movies. The most harrowing being the Annihilation bear, who has a part human skull and cries out using the voices of our group's dead comrades. It's a spooky and terrifying onslaught.
"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too," Stephen King once said. "They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."
Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jeung theorized that horror films become particularly powerful when the monsters hint at our own darkness. That is, they become metaphors for what he called the Shadow Archetype. This is in direct contrast to what he called the Persona Archetype, or the parts of ourselves we choose to share with the world.
Visual effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst and Garland wanted the audience to empathize with the creature. By creating a monster that engenders empathy, film directors can transcend the film and cause the audience to grapple with fears they hold deep within themselves.
'Annihilation'Credit: Paramount PicturesThe Annihilation monster asks us to grapple with the idea of our impending death.
We are unique amongst the creatures of the world in that we know death is coming for us. By suspending the cry of its victim forever, the bear takes the moment of our greatest fear (the unique knowledge that will die) and suspends that fear long enough for us to acknowledge it.
Other Scary Movie Monsters
Film monsters are the things that keep us up at night. They can be amazing parts of your creative process as well. Sometimes, you can create a whole story just from working on your own monster, then working backward to create the story of how it came to be and what it would take to destroy it.
When crafting one of these beings, you want to take some of the ideas Alex Garland used for his bear. Think about how you can make it feel unique and personal to the humans in the story it is attacking. Whjat can you draw out of thier relationships and fears to acentuate this? Like in Jaws, Chief Brody is afriad of the water already, a shark is the last thing he wants to deal with on a personal basis.
Also think about how it kills. this bear lured people in. Does it attack when they are vulnerable? Does it hunt people like the raptors in Jurassic Park? Is it trying to live forever, like Dracula?
Add some motivation behind the film monsters so we understand why they exist and what they want.
The Scariest Movie Monsters
When it comes to picking the scariest movie monsters, I had to dig deep into my nightmares. I went with a list of things that were not human. They had to be real monsters, either from mythology or the bible or just man's evil creation. If you have suggestions, put them in the comments section at the end of the article.
- The Man With Fire on his Face
- Shark from Jaws
- Death angles (A Quiet Place)
- The Entity (It Follows)
- Clover from Cloverfield
- Frankenstein's Monster
- The Wolfman
- The Gwoemul
- The Thing
- Dementors (Harry Potter)
- The Pale Man (Pan's Labyrinth)
Summing Up What Makes a Movie Monster Terrifying?
The horror genre can teach an audience about its deeper cultural stories—the modern story of death is terrifying. This is when filmmaking can become a powerful force in culture. When it reveals to us the larger stories we tell ourselves about life and death.
Have any favorite monsters in horror? Tell us what you like about them in the comments below.