Weren’t Jaws and Jurassic Park fantastic? I can never venture into water or a forest without imagining some shark or dinosaur, let alone a ghoulish-eyed strange creature, creeping up and turning me into dinner in the most excruciating way. And let’s not mention giant irradiated bugs, zombies, and human-hunting aliens.
Why do we watch these creepy movies? They probably reinforce our belief in the existence of life-destroying creatures that defy the natural order. Or maybe we’re fascinated by explorations of humankind’s deepest and darkest psyche. Heck, we watch them for the thrill of it, right?
Whatever your reasons, films go to tremendous lengths to weave traumatic storylines into our hearts and minds. Here are some of the best monster movies that left their audiences petrified.
10 A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quiet Place gives literal meaning to the phrase “silence is golden” and will probably save your life. Set in an apocalyptic age, the Abbot family (father, mother, a deaf daughter, and two boys) must live and do everything noiselessly because sound attracts sightless creepy aliens endowed with super hearing capabilities.
From pouring sand along paths to keep from crunching leaves to using sign language and tip-toeing around the eerie-looking abandoned town in search of supplies, the film plays with your elemental fear by creating the feeling that even the slightest of whispers can bring your death.
We see this when one of the boys triggers a toy space shuttle (he sneaked out of a shop in town against his parent’s approval), and the noise alerts one of the alien creatures nearby that jumps out and… you’ll have to watch to see what happens next.
I won’t spoil the movie but imagine this—one year later, the family is still alive, but the mom is heavily pregnant. How are they going to hack that?
9 The Descent (2005)
The Descent revolves around six besties who go on a bonding adventure in the Appalachian Mountains to help one of them (Sarah) overcome the loss of her husband and daughter. But what should have been a fun exploration of the cave system becomes a nightmare when the narrow passage they are in collapses behind them.
The claustrophobia within the dark tunnels is tangible and nauseating. Fear and betrayal set in as the girls turn to their primal selves for survival when they realize they are trapped in the underground home of blood-thirsty humanoid creatures. As with A Quiet Place, these creatures are also blind and hunt through sound.
The film offers two endings; one where Sarah, the main character, escapes from the caves and another where audiences realize it was purely a hallucination. What happened to the other girls? You probably guessed it.
8 Tremors (1990)
Tremors opens in an isolated town with a handful of residents, including two laborers (Val and Earl) who are more friends than co-workers. They do just about everything together—cooking, playing games, living together, and, yes, bickering. They bicker a lot.
Tired of the small town, Val and Earl decide to leave, except the dead bodies of the townfolk (and sheep) are strewn everywhere, and the only road is blocked. The two men get on horseback to seek help from the next town when the monster creature erupts from underground to pursue them.
It’s an eyeless monstrous snake-like sandworm (what’s with the sightlessness) with multiple tentacled tongues that detect, attack, and kill their prey through seismic vibrations. The duo encounters a seismologist investigating unusual readings on her equipment, and they work together to escape the giant sandworms. Tough, considering the monster’s sensory ability but worth trying.
7 The Babadook (2014)
There is a monster in this story, but not like the ones under your bed or in your closet. This monster lurks in the shadows, messing with your head and troubling your psyche until it turns you into the monster.
We see Amelia, a young widowed mom, doing her best to raise Sam, her six-year-old boy. The boy exhibits such erratic behavior it stretches Amelia thin. He’s an insomniac and spends his time building crude weapons to fight and protect his mom from an imaginary monster.
But that imagination becomes a reality when Sam convinces his mom to read to him from a pop-up book titled Mister Babadook. Babadook, a pale-faced taloned-fingered humanoid, torments his victims once they become aware of his existence. In typical style, doors start opening and closing, and strange sounds can be heard.
Amelia destroys the book, and a more sinister version appears at her doorstep, with pop-ups detailing her killing their dog, Sam, and finally herself. Her mental state deteriorates as she gets frequent visions of the Babadook and experiences disturbing hallucinations in which she murders Sam. Things take a turn for the worse when she becomes the monster in the story and actually tries to kill Sam.
6 The Mist (2007)
A freak thunderstorm blows in a heavy enveloping mist into a village in Maine, except that’s not all in blows in. A species of blood-thirsty “things” also tags along. Cat-sized insects, praying mantis/dinosaur hybrids, and things with tentacles from another dimension (thanks to government agencies messing with stuff they shouldn’t) devour anyone who dares venture outside.
David and his son venture into the town in search of emergency supplies, and lucky for them, they are already in the supermarket when the mysterious attacks begin. Well, they, plus a bunch of other townspeople, too.
Some people try to put together a plan to protect themselves, while another faction toots the doomsday apocalypse narrative. The latter goes down a dark path as they believe offering sacrificial meals (people—David’s son included) will keep those monsters from attacking the store.
For David and his group, this becomes a quest to save themselves from fellow humans and the man-eating bugs prowling their town. As he and his group leave the store, it becomes apparent that surviving this ordeal may not be possible. What’s best? Death by suicide, being eaten alive?
5 Reaper, Blade II (2002)
What could scare a vampire? A cannibalistic vampire. Especially one that bears a proboscis-like tongue within its concealed three-way jaw. Unlike normal vampires (if there’s such a thing), this deadly breed (reapers) has a few weaknesses—the sun/UV light and an accelerated metabolism that requires them to feed every few hours.
The reapers will feed on humans, vampires, and themselves. Worse still, a strain in their tongues turns their “meals” into fellow reapers. It’s a pandemic that will annihilate the world unless Blade can stop them.
How did it all start? Vampire overlord Eli Damaskinos desires to create a race of strong vampires immune to light and other traditional weaknesses. But things don’t pan out as expected as the strain turns its carriers into near-unstoppable, blood-thirsty feral monsters. Blade, the human/vampire hybrid, teams up with other vampires to slay the reapers and their reapers.
There is hate, mistrust, and betrayal around (particularly from unexpected quarters), which makes decimating the enemy harder than it should be. If you haven’t watched Blade, you might need to start with that to get some history.
4 Sweetheart (2019)
Jennifer Remming and her friends were at a boat party when a storm happened, and she washed ashore on a deserted island with a pristine beach and jungle interior. She sees Brad nearby, an acquaintance of sorts, and runs to him, but he dies soon after leaving her alone again. Jenn buries him and ventures into the jungle—there isn’t much to see except the belongings of a family and their graves.
The following day, she finds Brad’s body dug out and devoured, a clear sign of something else on that island. That night, Jenn hears a plane passing over and shoots a flare gun, attracting the attention of the sea monster.
Jenn runs into the jungle to hide and stays out of sight. It’s no less scary having a humanoid thingy with an amphibian face, fins, arms with claws, and a muscular body (were those hooved feet I saw) come after you every night, and there are several close calls.
Jenn’s boyfriend Lucas and friend Mia wash ashore several days later in a life raft, but they don’t believe Jenn’s story about the monster. When Jenn tries to escape the island on the raft, Lucas and Mia stop her, knock her senseless and tie her to a tree. It’s nighttime, and the sea monster will come hunting.
3 Them! (1954)
Them! is a true Hollywood classic. Two state police officers chance upon a little girl wandering around in shock in the desert near Alamogordo. On further investigation, they find a vacation trailer she and her family were in that had been attacked and destroyed. Her family is missing, and whatever attacked them doesn’t look like your normal mountain lion or stuff. “It could be anything.”
A store owner is found dead, and the coroner’s report reveals substantial formic acid on his body. The FBI gets involved alongside two myrmecologists from the Department of Agriculture. They manage to get the little girl out of her catatonic state, and she screams, “Them!”
Apparently, atomic bomb testing in the area released radiation that mutated ants into giant foraging creatures multiplying too fast, kidnapping, and killing people. The officers must figure out how to destroy these creatures without getting killed themselves.
2 Cloverfield (2008)
Rob Hawkins is leaving Manhattan for a job in Japan. His brother and a couple of friends throw him a farewell party. Rob gets into an argument with his sort of ex-girlfriend, and she leaves. Everything is going well until the power goes out, and the partygoers hear a strange sound. Venturing to the rooftop, they witness an explosion and flying flaming debris.
Everyone exits the building to find even more chaos on the streets. The cause? An unknown terror is ripping through skyscrapers and desolating everything in its way. The National Guard attacks the monster, but smaller parasite-like creatures fall off its body to attack them and nearby pedestrians.
Beth is trapped in her apartment and leaves Rob a phone message. Love indeed abounds as Rob, in his friends’ company, makes it their mission to save her. They get caught between the creature and the Army and even get attacked by the parasites. The parasites bite Marlena, and she starts bleeding through her eyes and then explodes.
The small group is still determined to rescue their friend even as the Army plans to destroy all of Manhattan to kill the monster. Just when you think the nightmare is over, the post-credit scene tells you the horror is only beginning.
1 The Cave (2005)
Artifact plunderers interested in accessing the vaults beneath an ancient abbey blow up the floor but end up falling to the bottom of an expansive cave system. Unfortunately, the opening caves in, signaling the end of their lives. Or is it?
Years later, a team goes to excavate the site and discovers a river within the cave system that stretches for miles. As bad luck would have it, they, too, get trapped underneath and must find a way out of the caves.
Strange things start happening. The group witnesses their team members get attacked, dragged away, or dramatically killed by blood-thirsty creatures that lurk in dark crevices, on walls, and in the water. These hideous, emaciated-looking humanoid cave creatures take on a bat-like appearance with large wings, vestigial eyes, two sets of jaws, and crest-like formations on their heads.
In a fight, Jack, one of the characters, is injured by these creatures, and his body mutates. His physical features and senses become heightened, leading the biologist in the team to believe that the creatures were previously humans infected by a parasite that led them to become the things they are now. As the group finally finds a way out, Jack sacrifices himself so the rest can leave.
Back to civilization, Kathryn meets up with another member of the team. As they converse, it becomes clear that she, too, mutated.