The ultimate guide to your favourite movie monsters

October is here and in the run up to Halloween, it’s the perfect time for horror fans to gather and watch their favourite scary films. The biggest challenge of the genre is its constant need to reinvent itself. The things we find frightening change from generation to generation, from decade to decade and horror films need to reflect this in order for them to be relevant to their audience alongside having great characters, an excellent plot, mystery, suspense and those all-important scares.

With this in mind, film fans have seen a diverse range of scares in their horror movies, from the classic slasher-movie to supernatural and paranormal happenings and monsters.

Sometimes discredited as unbelievable, the movie monster can be massively underrated. All monsters have evolved from various myths and legends that at one time or another were seen as a genuine threat, and they can still provide some genuine scares today.

Here we look at the history of five classic movie monsters, their origins and the best movies to see them in action.

The Vampire

From Dracula to sexy teen vampires, it goes without saying the vampires are a popular choice in a variety of horror films. Originating in folklore across Western Europe, vampires were known as beings who survive by feeding on the blood of living creatures for their life essence. It was believed that corpses could be possessed by vindictive spirits, transforming them into vampires!

Stories and legends about vampires were so frequent in the 18th century that superstitions began to be interpreted as fact, and mass hysteria often occurred. Those accused of being a vampire were publicly executed!

In 1897 the novel Dracula became the foundation upon which most modern vampires have been based on.

Where to see them in the wild: Let the Right One In 2008
Based on the novel of the same name, Let the Right One In is the story of a lonely 12 year old boy, Oskar, who befriends his peculiar neighbour, Eli, who he soon learns is a vampire. As much a horror film as it is a moving story of friendship, it skilfully ignores the clichés occasionally associated with vampire films and instead includes some of the lesser known lore of the vampire, as well as a touching, if somewhat disturbing, relationship between two lonely children.

The Zombie

The origins of the zombie vary across different cultures, but Haitian stories and folklore are the basis for most zombies in popular culture. There are numerous Haitian tales whereby a corpse is revived by a sorcerer, or bokor, resulting in them becoming a mindless slave committing fiendish acts against their will.

George A Romero set the benchmark for modern zombie movies, where the un-dead were slow moving corpses with the sole purpose to feed on the living. Based on Romero’s zombie characteristics, most modern zombies tend to be reanimated corpses of the recently deceased, revived by acts of God, radiation, or supernatural means. In other portrayals, becoming a zombie is caused by a contagious disease or virus where humans can be ‘turned’ if bitten by an infected zombie.

Where to see them in the wild: Dawn of the Dead 1978
Dawn of the Dead is the sequel to Romero’s legendary zombie debut Night of the Living Dead (1968) and is widely consider to be equally (if not more) popular than its predecessor. Though it was shot ten years after the first film, the story is set only months after the events of the first film. An epidemic of the un-dead breaks out, with the zombies slowly taking over major cities. The film focuses on a couple of SWAT team members, a traffic reporter and his TV executive girlfriend who find sanctuary in a secluded shopping mall.

A film that’s in equal parts cynical and gory; Dawn of the Dead is a relentless, action packed zombie movie blending carnage with black comedy. As far as zombie movies go, this is hailed as a classic.

The Ghost

Ghosts have featured in stories, literature and folklore for thousands of years. Those who believe in ghosts believe that it is the spirit of someone who has died and not “crossed over” into the afterlife. Others believe that a ghost is a person’s soul that still lingers in the world of the living to communicate some sort of final message.

People have been telling ghost stories – in the same manner as urban legends - for many years. While those who are sceptical will find a logical explanation for haunted experiences, a good ghost story or movie can still give even the most rational person shivers down their spine.

Where to see them in the wild: The Sixth Sense 1999
Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan broke onto the movie scene with The Sixth Sense – a film about a troubled young boy, Cole, who is able to see the spirits of dead people, most of whom don’t know that they’re dead. Bruce Willis plays Dr. Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist determined to help him overcome his issues. With plenty of jumps and scares, The Sixth Sense isn’t just your typical ghost story, but rather a fantastic psychological thriller that has the audience gripped from the start.

The Witch

One of the most traditional movie monsters is the witch. Women who, through their knowledge of homeopathy and natural healing remedies, were able to help those in need during a more primitive time were considered as witches or a “wise woman”. As the popularity of Christianity spread across Europe, so did the belief that these women had supernatural powers and quickly came to be associated with devil worship and the occult.

Eventually, they came to be feared and avoided by the masses until hysteria reached such a point that those accused of practicing witchcraft were subject to trial and, if found guilty, were punished by being publically burned.

Where to see them in the wild: The Blair Witch Project 1999
Probably one of the most popular ‘found footage’ films, The Blair Witch Project had thousands speculating whether or not the story was true. The premise follows that of three young film students who travel to the woods of Maryland to make a documentary film about the legend of the Blair Witch. The students go missing and are never heard from again, until a year after they disappear, their footage is found.

By using actors that were previously unheard of and being shot on a combination Hi-8 video and 16mm black and white film, the film’s major selling point was that it appeared to be genuinely believable.

The Werewolf

Once again, the history of the werewolf lies in legends and folklore spanning across many different cultures. The werewolf is a human who transforms to become part-wolf at night, and embarks on a night-long hunt for human flesh. The widespread werewolf tales span as far back as ancient times. In folklore, Gods turned people into werewolves as a means of punishment for their wrongdoings; thereby making them a feared enemy to everyone they knew.

Werewolves were generally feared because if bitten by a werewolf, it was believed that one would also transform into a powerful carnivore involuntarily. The curse of ‘lycanthropy’ (the ability to transform into a wolf) is common in many movies about werewolves, as are the theories about defeating them with the use of wolfsbane and silver bullets, which weren’t part of early folklore.

Where to see them in the wild: An American Werewolf in London 1981
This popular movie written and directed by a young John Landis is both gory and frightening, and considered to set the benchmark for werewolf films. The story follows two young Americans who wander the English moors whilst on a walking holiday. In classic horror movie style, they are warned by locals not to walk on the roads at night, and true to form, they ignore the advice resulting in a brutal werewolf attack.

Scary and violent with an equal measure of dark laughs, An American Werewolf in London is a suspense-filled werewolf movie classic.