We all know about the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. These famous monsters will always scare us, thanks to their bared claws and unearthly features. But some horror filmmakers want to challenge themselves by not relying on such obvious threats. Instead, these visionaries see evil lurking in the most mundane objects, in the simplest of childhood joys.
For anyone tired of movies about the same old monsters, check out these twenty-five films that find unlikely monsters. They may not all be masterpieces, but they'll make sure that you never look at a computer or a frog in the same way again.
1. Pulse (2001)
New technology always makes for an easy subject for a horror film. Still, the stories rarely stay in the social imagination, as they too often operate according to misunderstandings about the invention’s mechanics (see, for example, The Net). While the internet does indeed act as the source of danger in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, the film focuses less on cyberspace functions and more on the social response. Pulse’s ambling plot presents a world where the internet allows Japanese citizens to disconnect from one another, essentially becoming ghosts. Lest that theme sound too heady, Kurosawa includes several horrifying scenes in his film, including a memorable sequence of a ghost moving down a hallway.
2. The Birds (1963)
Leave it to the master of suspense to see malevolence in an innocent flock of birds. One of the original “Nature Gone Wild” films, The Birds sets the stage for every other movie about killer animals. Alfred Hitchcock makes his adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier story work in part by hiring a cracker-jack team, including screenwriter Evan Hunter, stars Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, and legendary animator Ub Iwerks for the special effects. But as usual, it all comes down to Hitchcock’s impeccable timing and ability to play with the audiences’ expectations.
3. Videodrome (1983)
Since his start making gnarly horror films in his native Canada, David Cronenberg has always explored the connection between the body and technology. In Videodrome, Cronenberg imagines the power of mass media to control first our minds and then our bodies, visualized here in the form of a pirate television signal. As TV station president Max Renn (James Woods) investigates the signal, he becomes embroiled in a reality that melds flesh and media objects. Even before an unforgettable sequence in which Renn inserts a VHS tape into a cavity in his chest, Videodrome enflames the mind as much as it turns the stomach.
4. Final Destination (2000)
To be fair, the monster of Final Destination and its four sequels is Death, which hunts down each film’s protagonists after they escape an accident that would have taken their lives. But Final Destination earns its place on this list for how Death takes its victims. Instead of appearing in the form of the grim reaper or some other physical figure, Death turns mundane objects into methods of execution, offing teens with a shower curtain and a loose street sign. Created by Jeffrey Reddick and brought to life by X-Files alumni James Wong and Glen Morgan, Final Destination shows how rarely the scariest things appear like monsters.
5. Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)
It may have done well at the box office, but few consider 1979’s The Amityville Horror anything more than a mediocre haunted house film bolstered by a solid cast and a “true story” hook. Despite its unwieldy title, the sixth entry in the franchise Amityville: It’s About Time achieves what no other Amityville movie can by moving away from the Long Island house of the original films and focusing on a haunted clock that comes to California. Director Tony Randel and screenwriters John G. Jones, Christopher DeFaria, and Antonio Toro use the unimpressive mode of terror as a launching pad for its surreal story about the clock driving a suburban family mad.
6. Uzumaki (2000)
If it came from anyone else, Uzumaki would sound like a movie worthy only of derision. But because Uzumaki adapts a manga from Japanese horror master Junji Ito, the idea of people becoming obsessed with spirals and turning into snails chills to the bone. Directed by Higuchinsky and Takao Niita, Uzumaki stars Eriko Hatsune as Kirie, a girl who notices her father’s interest in spiral patterns. What begins as an odd tic soon becomes a pandemic, as spiral shapes appear on everyone in town and transform into snail shells. Higuchinsky can’t quite translate the sublime terror of Ito’s original, but Uzumaki still leaves an impression on filmgoers.
7. The Ruins (2008)
There’s something odd about plants, these living creatures that can be found everywhere. No wonder, then, that so many creatives have tried to turn plants into objects of horror, whether in the Roger Corman cheapo-turned-musical Little Shop of Horrors or M. Night Shyamalan’s misguided The Happening. But few films have made foliage scary like The Ruins, the story of a group of ugly Americans who disrespect a Mayan temple and pay the price with their lives. Writer Scott Smith doesn’t match the psychological depth of his original novel, but he and director Carter Smith craft a nasty little piece about vines encroaching upon and within their victims.
8. The Bad Seed (1956)
More than a few killer kid movies have hit the big screen, turning the inherent innocence of children into a source of revulsion. But few have done it so well as director Mervyn LeRoy and writer John Lee Mahin on The Bad Seed. Much of the film’s success comes from stars Nancy Kelly and Patricia McCormack as mother and daughter Christine and Rhoda Penmark. The two have a strong bond that continues even as Rhoda’s homicidal nature becomes clear, forcing us to consider not only that a child has turned evil but also that her mother may be the only one to stop her. The Bad Seed so unnerved audiences that the filmmakers had to close with a curtain call from the stars to diffuse the tension, showing Kelly playfully spankingd McCormack for her onscreen misbehavior.
9. The Stuff (1985)
“Enough is never enough!” declares advertisements for the gooey white snack called The Stuff. Part satire of “me decade” excess and part creature feature, The Stuff makes little attempt to contain the anger of writer/director Larry Cohen. As a result, the film seems aware of its outrageous proposition, in which Americans gobble up a tasty health food product that eats them from the inside. With Michael Moriarty as contemptible corporate spy Mo Rutherford and a strong supporting turn from Saturday Night Live founding cast member Garrett Morris, The Stuff argues that American foolishness drives victims to their doom more than the product’s benign appearance.
10. Ringu (1998)
The American remake The Ring may outdo its predecessor in terms of narrative coherence, but the original Ringu has a deeper sense of technological terror. Based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, Ringu features a VHS tape possessed by an evil spirit. Anyone who watches the tape first sees a series of awful images and then dies seven days later. Even more than the vengeful spirit who climbs out of a television and gives a menacing stare out from her matted black hair, the terror in Ringu comes from the overwhelming power of mass media. Director Hideo Nakata and writer Hiroshi Takahashi have created a world where VCRs and televisions bring destruction, even without an evil little girl’s involvement.
11. Slaxx (2020)
No matter how much someone may hate shopping, they won’t find the products themselves scary. That mistake spells doom for the weary mall workers of Slaxx, the horror comedy from director Elza Kephart. Written by Kephart and Patricia Gomez, Slaxx captures the ill-fated night in which employees at a trendy fashion store prepare for the launch of Super Shaper jeans and discover one pair has come to life and wants revenge. Kephart and Gomez marry horror, comedy, and thoughtful social commentary, drawing attention to the mistreatment of workers worldwide without diminishing the laughs or scares.
12. The Mangler (1995)
“Have you considered the possibility that the machine might be haunted?” So asks occult expert Mark (Daniel Matmor), a neighbor of exhausted cop John Hutton (Ted Levine), about a laundry press at the center of several destructive events in The Mangler. A Tobe Hooper-directed adaptation of the Stephen King story by the same name, The Mangler uses a haunted laundry press as a metaphor for the lengths the upper class will go to protect their power. The screenplay that Hooper wrote with Stephen David Brooks and Peter Welbeck can’t decide if it wants to be corny or serious, but the gory effects and over-the-top performances do justice to the movie’s laughable story.
13. Skinamarink (2022)
The surprise indie horror hit Skinamarink contains some truly nasty scenes, but none worse than the appearance of a Chatter Phone, the Fisher-Price toy that has entertained children for generations. These juxtapositions drive Skinamarink, which focuses on a lonely night in a strange house for children Kevin and Kaylee (Lucas Paul and Dali Rose). Writer and director Kyle Edward Ball may lean too far into the experimental for some viewers, as the camera focuses on background objects more than any person. But for those who can work with the movie’s vibe, Skinamarink makes childhood memories into the stuff of nightmares.
14. Death Spa (1989)
Like The Stuff, Death Spa makes a monster out of the 80s health craze, a high-tech gym. The script by James Bartruff and Mitch Paradise can’t always trace the source of the terrible accidents at the titular gym to the ghost of the late wife or mechanical flaws or a mental breakdown by his brother-in-law (Merritt Butrick from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), but it doesn’t matter. Director Michael Fischa knows that audiences want to see exercise equipment tear apart fitness nuts, and the film delivers in spades on that account.
15. Maximum Overdrive (1986)
Stephen King’s writing has led to some of the greatest horror films of all time. But the one time King directed his own story, the results horrified viewers, but not in the way he intended. The story of machines coming to life and rebelling against humans has memorable moments, such as an electric knife slicing an innocent woman’s hands or an ATM cussing out a patron. But none of those scenes elicit screams. To be sure, this doesn’t make Maximum Overdrive a bad movie, but it isn’t a scary one, despite the Master of Horror’s presence.
16. Slugs (1988)
Most of us would agree that slugs are gross, and few would like the slow-moving creatures to smear their slime across our bodies. Even fewer would find them scary. That fact did not dissuade British novelist Shaun Hutson, whose book inspired director Juan Piquer Simón, the mastermind behind the slasher classic Pieces, and co-writer Ron Gantman to make Slugs. The easily avoidable mollusks become instruments of doom after being exposed to toxic waste, making them the number one threat in an otherwise quiet small town. Instead of worrying about explaining the danger posed by slugs, Simón opts for outrageous gore sequences, letting the disgusting visuals override any expectation of logic.
17. Evilspeak (1981) unlikely monsters
Even in 1981, people knew the internet would bring nothing but trouble. Computer hacker and military school outcast Stanley (Clint Howard) learns that lesson when he uses an early version of the web to research Latin in Evilspeak. Through the computer, Stanley begins communicating with the Devil himself, who offers Stanley the power he needs to get revenge against his classmates. Modern viewers may find real-world parallels to the movie’s climax unsettling, but those who can watch it through the eyes of the original audience will find an odd movie that foretells the perils of online communication.
18. The Lift (1983)
Movies such as Final Destination II and The Omen II have crafted some pretty great sequences set in elevators. But Dutch director Richard Maas skips the middle-man for his horror movie The Lift, in which the elevator itself claims victims without anyone’s help. Maas plays the story straight, making a modern Amsterdam office building into the scariest thing since a gothic castle. Still, American viewers might prefer the 2001 English language remake Down, directed by Maas again, which stars David Lynch collaborators James Marshall and Naomi Watts.
19. Rubber (2010)
Written and directed by French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux, Rubber sounds like a perfect “so bad it’s good” flick. The movie’s monster comes in the form of a lone tire that rolls around exploding bottles, animals, and people with its mind. But even if Dupieux acknowledges Rubber’s ridiculous premise, the film isn’t a cheesy comedy. Instead, it takes a metatextual approach, with actors talking to the camera and commentary by audience surrogates who explore the nature of cinematic fiction. Some will be disappointed in this high-minded approach, while others will argue that there’s no other way to handle such a silly monster.
20. Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)
Many people first learned about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats via a routine from comedian Patton Oswalt, but be assured, no one involved in the film thinks that it’s a joke. The sole project of writer/director George Barry, Death Bed is indeed about a possessed bed that gains power from the suffering of women. As ridiculous as it sounds, neither Barry nor his star Dave Marsh (who would become an influential rock critic and radio host) mock the central monster, making the film even more enjoyable for the audience.
21. Night of the Lepus (1972)
Anyone not up on their Latin might find the name Night of the Lepus a perfectly good choice for a horror movie. But those who paid attention to their classics classes know that “Lepus” simply means “Hare,” and can connect Night of the Lepus to its source material, The Year of the Angry Rabbit by Aussie writer Russell Braddon. Working from a screenplay by Don Holliday and Gene R. Kearney, director William F. Claxton does his best to bring some gritty realness to the proceedings. But despite a cast that includes Janet Leigh, Rory Calhoun, and DeForest Kelly, Night of the Lepus can’t even outdo Monty Python and the Holy Grail when it comes to scary bunnies.
22. Squirm (1976)
Never a sign of quality, robots heaped mockery on Squirm in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. To be fair, the earthworms running (crawling?) amuck in Squirm do invite chuckles more than they do screams. But without the riffs, Squirm reveals itself as a movie as mean as it is silly. Writer and director Jeff Lieberman imagines the titular creepy-crawlies as unstoppable carnivores, who swallow victims from underground and seep through shower heads. The film never convinces viewers to fear earthworms, but it does create nasty sequences that no one will soon forget.
23. Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)
Things take a dark turn in this microbudget horror movie when an adult Christopher Robin (Nikolai Leon) brings his fiancée (Paula Coiz) to the Hundred Acre woods he knew as a child. Yes, the bad guys in Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey are none other than Pooh Bear and his friend Piglet. By his own admission, writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield only made the film to take advantage of the 1926 book Winnie-the-Pooh entering the public domain. Thus, anything other than gore effects gets little attention from the filmmakers, including plot and acting. But if anyone wants to see Piglet terrorize a woman in a hot tub, only Blood and Honey will satisfy.
24. Frogs (1972)
“How in the world do you make frogs scary?” one might ask after seeing this eco-horror film starring a young Sam Elliott. Watching the movie won’t convince anyone that George McCowan or screenwriters Robert Hutchison and Robert Blees have the answer, as the most chilling sequences in Frogs involve snakes and alligators. But McCowan does manage to create a sense of dread as the swamp begins to turn on rich man Jason Crockett and his family.
25. 976-Evil (1988)
In front of the camera, Robert Englund stole sleep from generations of filmgoers as the dream demon Freddy Krueger. Behind the camera, Englund induces slumber with his plodding directorial debut, 976-Evil. Like Evilspeak before it, 976-Evil imagines a piece of technology as a conduit to Satan, namely the telephones a group of teens use to hear their horror scope. For nerdy Hoax (Stephen Geoffreys of Fright Night fame), that connection gives him the power to take revenge on the bullies who torment them, even if that number includes his beloved cousin Spike (Patrick O’Bryan). Englund takes far too long to get to the real horror moments, but even before the film’s apocalyptic climax, the voice that Hoax hears on the other end of the line will chill viewers.