We've always had a fascination with monsters. Some are pretty forgettable, while others have found a place in our hearts or struck deep into our psyches. But we've come a long way from the nuclear age of giant ants terrorizing middle America and atomic lizards the size of skyscrapers engaging in battles with gargantuan apes. The modern monster has evolved from the golden age of Bela Lugosi's blood-sucking antics in the depths of Transylvania, or the stop-motion excellence of Ray Harryhausen – designs still vehemently admired to this day thanks to publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland.
There's always been a kind of aesthetic beauty to be found in monsters, and the advances in makeup effects are constantly lifting the limits on the imagination; the possibilities of future monsterdom are becoming endless. Some of our filmmaking heroes are so adept at realizing visually dazzling creatures that it's become their professional calling card (Guillermo Del Toro, I'm speaking to you... also, you may note an absence of any of del Toro's creations on this list; that's simply because there are way too many stellar choices to choose from). Some of us are completely hooked on the monstrous; in fact, some of you probably just spent the entirety of this month's wages on NECA monster merchandise before reading this.
Today, the criteria qualifying a villain for monsterdom have blurred greatly. No longer are these strictly unnatural beasts from the bowels of hell or invaders from space; they can be very human (just switch on the news and you'll see plenty of them), using charm or sex appeal over fang and claw. A much more terrifying fiend, in my opinion.
Here we present our picks of the most beautiful monsters to grace the silver screen – from triumphs of creature design to the downright dangerously disarming.
The Cenobites (Hellraiser)
If Clive Barker was looking for the perfect embodiment of indistinguishable pain and pleasure, I can't imagine anyone getting any closer than he got with his hellspawn creations. Is there any other horror icon that has an entrance with such grandeur? Say what you want about the sequels that followed the 1987 original, I think the Cenobites continued to aesthetically evolve after Hellbound: Hellraiser II. Freed from the dingy blues, blacks and greys of the London house of the first chapter and the Labyrinth of the second, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth was the first time we see the Pinhead makeup effects in daylight. It was also the first time they eased up on Pinhead's voice effects, opting for a more human tone and bringing out the magic of Doug Bradley's performance. The lead Cenobite has arguably never looked better than the climatic judgement scene in Hellraiser: Inferno.
Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) weighed in on his contribution to the saga: “What makes the cenobites so unique is that they are creatures of a kind of religious/philosophical science fiction as much as they are creatures of horror. They are dimensional travellers interested in something that humans find horrific, but by the end of Barker's original, it seems that humans are the real monsters. As for my own contribution to Cenobites, I'm quite proud of the Wire Twins. I think they fit the mythology well and the 'under the chest massage' in Inferno is quite a strong demonstration of the Cenobite pleasure/pain aesthetic."
Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct)
Upon release, Paul Verhoeven's sexually-charged thriller was a taboo-busting blockbuster that challenged audience expectations for sex and violence in cinema, and caused outrage among censors (and the gay community, due to its depiction of Tramell's sexual orientation). In hidsight, the film may be just a softcore murder mystery, but Sharon Stone's career-making role remains a fascination to this day. So, femme fatale or monster? She's certainly no Rita Hayworth. Tramell is a double major in psychology and literature and an accomplished crime novelist, with glacial good looks so perfect she could have easily been designed in a laboratory as a sexual weapon of mass destruction. A stone-cold psychotic sociopath, Catherine can fool any polygraph test you want her to take, so if she decides she wants to butcher you mid-coitus with an icepick, chances are she'll get away with it.
Gozer the Gozerian (Ghostbusters)
“Nimble little minx, 'aint she?” Peter Venkman does his best to make light of the fact that this trans-dimensional being intent on conquering our world just back-flipped right over the Ghostbusters' volley of proton beams. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man may have resonated most in the minds of audiences when Ivan Reitman's 1984 supernatural comedy first hit the screens, but it was Gozer that gave the big-budgeted finale its gravitas. Don't let that androgynous '80s MTV music video reject look fool you; Gozer has built a name on consuming worlds. Played by Serbian model Slavita Jovan, with American actress Paddi Edwards lending the raspy demon vocals, Gozer may very well be one of the more unsung female horror icons – even though Gozer is initially genderless, the deity chooses to physically manifest itself as a human female. That one should have feminist film theorists up for hours.
Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
There couldn't be a more relevant monster for our age of austerity than Bret Easton Ellis's Wall Street accountant Patrick Bateman. As far as his monsterdom status, that should be a no-brainer (especially when referring to the 1991 source novel, which is far more horrifying than Mary Harron's 2000 film adaptation). Hacking up a co-worker with an axe, bounding after a terrified prostitute armed with a chainsaw while wearing nothing but a pair of sneakers... add to that being a spoiled, narcissistic homophobe completely obsessed with conformity who is nearly brought to tears just by the thought of not being able to fit in; Bateman is despicable to the core. Good thing it's the eighties then, right? In the age of excess, packaging is everything... and what could be more disarming to the rich and wealthy bourgeois of New York than looking like you just stepped right out of a Calvin Klein ad?
Back in 1990, before tweens everywhere could be seen in Jack Skellington t-shirts and matching bags, Tim Burton's dark fairytales were actually pretty fucking creepy. That first image of Johnny Depp emerging from the shadows in his room, arms outstretched towards Diane Wiest in a gesture of friendship with that sympathetic, battered china doll face, had echoes of Max Schreck's Count Orloff in Nosferatu, his outfit looking like Brandon Lee's Eric Draven from The Crow fused with the Cenobites' neo-punk chic. Burton and Depp achieved a modern Frankenstein's monster that was very much like Karloff's tragic character in 1931, birthed into a world that was not ready for him (or simply not willing to understand him), and cursed with an appearance as frightening as it is childlike.
The Xenomorph (Alien)
When the late Dan O'Bannon turned in his script for this 1979 shocker, the producers were at odds with who would direct the film, as they didn't want to simply knock out another monster B-movie that would likely be forgotten once audiences finished their last mouthful of popcorn. They suceeded in snagging a capable director: the now-legendary Ridley Scott. The next step would be the design of the titular "Big Bad" of the story. If they settled with antennae and green skin, I doubt all the expert direction in the world could have helped turn Alien into the harrowing "haunted house in space" thrill ride it turned out to be. Enter H.R. Giger. The Swiss surrealist artist's vision's of biological machinery with some startling phallic images proved the perfect contrast to Scott's realistic, mundane depiction of space travel.
Norman Bates (Psycho)
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and milk, white picket fences, all the reassuring images of the middle-American nuclear family of the 1950s in cinema and television were torn down when Alfred Hitchcock introduced the world to the schizophrenic Norman Bates – arguably the original American Psycho – perfectly embodied by the late, great Anthony Perkins. No longer are monsters born of Eastern European lore, or the result of freak atomic accidents; the boy next door is now the reason to check under your bed at night. Awkward, boyish charm with a clean-cut schoolboy innocence: another perfect example of the disarming maniac.
The Monster's Bride (Bride of Frankenstein)
One of the most enduring icons of horror cinema, endlessly lampooned in pop culture and the inspiration for a million Halloween costumes, Elsa Lanchester's Bride was always going to be a sure-fire entry in this list. What is it about the Bride that left such a lasting impression despite such a short time on screen? The first thing we all think of is that damn crazy hair – jutting out right over her shoulders and streaked on both sides with lighting bolts, presumably to signify the method of her resurrection. It would probably appear silly, had James Whale's 1935 film been shot in color... but still to this day, she retains a disturbing air of tragedy.