One thing that’s become apparent over the course of Monster Mash month here at Nightmare on Film Street is that creatures, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. They can also be motivated by a variety of things. Some monsters are malevolent forces out to murder and subjugate, some just want to be left alone, and some, if people give them a chance, can even become heroes.
In this list we’ll take a look at several members in that last category; monsters who may look or seem terrifying, but are good guys at heart. It’s a diverse list that includes the undead, artificially created humanoids, werewolves, giant creatures, and three of the most iconic monster heroes to make the jump from the comic book page to the silver (and small) screen.
Zombies are nothing but feral, undead monsters with a ravenous hunger for human flesh, right? WRONG! Part of the reason zombie stories are so popular is their versatility, and the best zombie tales are ones where we learn something about the living. So, there have been a number of zombie stories about flesh-hungry undead learning to overcome their nature to become something better, which is something we all aspire to do.
One of the most effective examples of that type of story is the 2006 horror-comedy, Fido, from writer/director Andrew Currie and his co-writers Dennis Heaton and Robert Chomiak. The film is set in a world that’s created a new society out of the ashes of a zombie apocalypse; one that’s frozen in the cultural mores of the ’50s and where control collared zombies are used by humans to conduct menial labor. The film’s titular character (Billy Connolly, The X-Files: I Want to Believe) is a zombie who becomes a devoted friend and companion to a small boy named Timmy (Kesun Loder) and his mom (Carrie-Anne Moss).
When we first meet Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) in writer/director Lowell Dean’s 2014 horror comedy, Wolfcop he’s an alcoholic cop who hates his job. Then his life is turned upside down by a lycanthropic curse bestowed upon him by a supernatural conspiracy at the heart of the small town he’s supposed to serve and protect. However, becoming a werewolf is more of a blessing for Lou who is able to retain his human consciousness and even talk in his monstrous form. So, instead of becoming a rampaging feral creature, he uses his supernatural gifts to take on the criminal and evil forces preying on his town. He’s even able to have fun doing it.
Lou’s first cinematic adventure plays out like a weird, but very fun and funny mash-up of 1987’s RoboCop and 1985’s Teen Wolf set in a small town. His second feature film, Another Wolfcop (also starring Fafard and written and directed by Dean) was released in 2017.
8. Frankenstein’s Monster
In Mary Shelly’s original novel and it’s numerous adaptations and sequels Victor Frankenstein’s Monster commits some truly horrific deeds like the murder of his maker’s bride as well as the killing of innocent and not so innocent villagers. There is a tragic nature to the character’s crimes though because ultimately they didn’t have to happen. If the Monster’s “father” or the world at large had given him a chance and shown him love he could have become a powerful force for good.
Several films have explored the idea of the Monster becoming a heroic figure. In Fred Dekker and Shane Black’s classic 1987 horror-comedy, The Monster Squad the kindness shown to the Monster (Tom Noonan, Manhunter) by a small girl is enough to break the hold the villainous Dracula (Duncan Regeher) has on him and transforms him into an ally of the titular heroes. In writer/director Stephen Sommer’s 2004 film Van Helsing the Monster (Shuler Hensley, Cruiser) also joins with the titular hero and his allies to battle Dracula. Writer/Director, Stuart Beattie’s 2014 film, I, Frankenstein pits the Monster (Aaron Eckhart, Incarnate) against a relentless army of demons.
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7. Edward Scissorhands
The titular character of 1990’s Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp), from writer/director Tim Burton and his co-writer Caroline Thompson, is our second artificial human to make this list. Unlike Frankenstein’s monster though he wasn’t rejected by the man who created him (Vincent Price). No, Edward’s inventor cared for him and sadly died before he was “finished.” Fortunately for him, he’s found by a loving family and given a chance to be part of a larger world that at first embraces him, and then tragically tuns on him.
It’s the way Edward reacts to tragedy that makes him a hero. He wants to be kind and hold onto love even when the world that embraced him turns against him. Yes, he does take a life in the film, but it’s only after the bullying Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) attacks the woman he loves, Kim (Winona Ryder). When Jim was beating on Edward he refused to fight back.
6. The Amphibian Man
1954’s Creature From the Black Lagoon is one of the best Universal Monster Movies. That’s partly because the film has a powerful story that makes you feel for the titular creature. Writer/Director Guillermo del Toro was so effected by the character’s plight that he crafted a movie to give Universal’s Gill-Man a happy ending.
That film was 2017’s The Shape of Water, which won “Best Picture” at that year’s Academy Awards and del Toro also won best director for his work on it. In the movie, del Toro and his co-writer, Vanessa Taylor allow their Amphibian Man (Doug Jones, Star Trek: Discovery) to find love with Sally Hawkins’ Elisa Esposito (Godzilla: King of the Monsters). They also allow him to become a hero who improves people’s lives. They do that by going back to the legend of the Yacuruna that inspired the creation of Universal’s Gill-Man and giving their character the ability to heal others.
Edgar Wallace and Merian C Cooper’s legendary giant ape, King Kong, has never been a malevolent force. The destruction he wreaks in his various film appearances is brought on by humans who abduct him or disrupt his environment. All he really wants is to be left alone in his jungle.
In 2017’s Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Robers, screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly, gave us a more heroic version of the gargantuan gorilla. In the film, marooned World War II flying ace, Hank Marlowe (John C. Reilly) describes Kong as a pretty good king who mostly keeps to himself. What makes this Kong truly heroic though is he shows up where and when the inhabitants of his island need him. We see it in the beginning of the film when he puts an end to the military’s aerial bombardment and and his several battles to keep the monstrous “Skull Crawlers” from overrunning his island.
Ever since his debut back in 1954, Godzilla has been wrecking both human cities and other giant monsters out to destroy our planet. So Godzilla’s motivations seem to vary from film to film. I would argue though that the “King of the Monsters” motivations have always been heroic. I see him as sort of a fist of the Earth; a force to combat anyone or anything that would despoil or destroy his planet. Sometimes those forces are humanity and sometimes they’re other monsters.
Writer/director Michael Dougherty’s 2019 film Godzilla: King of the Monsters seems to be arguing the same thing. In the movie, we learn that the Godzilla’s species, the monstrous “Titans,” are capable of healing the Earth, that the three-headed dragon, King Ghidorah, is an alien invader out to terraform the planet, and that Godzilla has an underwater lair, seemingly built by an ancient humanoid culture, where he rests and recuperates from his injuries. Having such a home suggests that Godzilla has a place to stay until someone or something sends him out into the world.
3. Swamp Thing
DC Comics’ muck monster Swamp Thing battles monsters, sinister beings, and supernatural forces looking to defile the Earth. The character was created by writer Len Wein and horror comics legend, Bernie Wrightson and originally envisioned as a human scientist who was transformed into a swamp creature. When acclaimed British writer Alan Moore took over the series in 1984 he redefined the character as a sentient, anthropomorphic, plant elemental. He also fully embraced the character’s horrific potential. The end result was one of the most acclaimed comic book runs of the ’80s.
Attempts to adapt Swamp Thing for the big and small screens have not met with much critical success. Wes Craven wrote and directed the first Swamp Thing film, which hit theaters in 1982. Director Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) helmed the 1989 sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing. Both are campy, low budget affairs (especially the sequel) that rely more on the original comic take on the character. In 2019, a new Swamp Thing TV series (Which is currently getting an encore airing on the CW network) was launched for the DC Universe streaming service. It starred Derek Mears (2009’s Friday the 13th) as the titular character. It drew it’s inspiration from Alan Moore’s horror focused take, but was sadly canceled after one season.
2. The Hulk
Marvel Comics’ iconic monster hero (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962), the Incredible Hulk, has been adapted many times for both the large and small screens. The most well-known portrayal of the monstrous Green Goliath and his alter ego, Bruce Banner, is actor Mark Ruffalo’s in Marvel Studios Avengers series of films. Those movies and earlier adaptations, like CBS’ late ’70s/early ’80s Incredible Hulk TV show do a great job capturing the essence of the character; the fact that Hulk is a super-strong rage monster who chooses to turn his anger against beings out to destroy and control others.
Most of the film and television adaptations of the Hulk tend to be more superhero stories than horror ones, but Marvel Comics’ current Immortal Hulk series is a full-blown horror title. Over the course of the 40 issues that have been released so far (the series is still ongoing) Immortal Hulk has tackled a variety of horror sub-genres including monsters, body, psychological, infernal, and possession-based horror.
In 1994 writer/artist Mike Mignola introduced the world to his creation, the stone-handed half-human, half-demon, known as Hellboy via a comic book mini-series that chronicled his adventures as a professional monster hunter. The character proved to be wildly popular and subsequent comic series and film adaptations followed. The reason behind the character’s enduring appeal? A great creature design, wild, over the top adventures, and a back story that proves nurture can triumph over nature. That’s because Hellboy was found as a baby by a loving adoptive father who taught him to care for humanity and the world. The love he showed his son was so strong it helped him turn his back on his infernal destiny; to become the demon who would be humanity’s downfall.
Readers curious about Hellboy’s adventures have a few places to start. There’s the first Hellboy graphic novel, Seed of Destruction. There’s also the acclaimed 2004 Hellboy feature film from writer/director, Guillermo del Toro and starring Ron Perlman as the title character. You can follow that film up with 2008’s excellent Hellboy II: The Golden Army, also by del Toro and starring Perlman. You could also watch last year’s Hellboy reboot film from director Neil Marshall (The Descent) and starring David Harbour (Stranger Things). That film though was neither a commercial or critical success.
Who’s your favorite Misunderstood Monster? Did we leave any good ones off of this list? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, and at The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook. For much more Dracula, plus all the best horror discussion online, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.