Visually-speaking, fire is probably the most dramatic way to do away with a Big Bad on-screen. Besides channeling powerful symbolism for destruction and purification, fire is a painful, hellish punishment. And it looks really, really cool.
Because fire is such a go-to weapon in horror, I have a few criteria for this list. First, the fire has to be intentional, whether it’s set by a match, a flamethrower, or a lighter and a can of hairspray. Second, the threat has to be animate (possessed houses need not apply). Last, the crispy creeps on this list aren’t human, and that includes ex-humans like zombies, mummies, Frankenstein’s monster, and Charles Lee Ray‘s soul trapped inside a Good Guy doll.
10. Giant Radioactive Ants – Them! (1954)
As Dr. Medford (Edmund Gwenn) observes: “When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world”, and that new world includes monsters that will meet fiery ends. Creature Features are full of torchable creepy-crawlies, and Them! (1954), the first Big Bug movie, set the tone by making sure that the ginormous nuclear ants, namely their queen and larvae are torched by flamethrowers before they can cause any more havoc.
9. Steroid-Mutant Ticks – Ticks (1993)
Regular-sized ticks are already freaky enough with their ability to transmit illnesses from Lyme Disease to sudden allergic reactions to red meat, but Ticks (1993) ‘roided-out giant ticks will burrow into you and kill you outright. This is a case that definitely calls for the group of campers under attack to kill them with fire, which causes the ticks to pop like, well, ticks.
8. Genetically-Modified Bats – Bats (1999)
Dr. Alexander McCabe (Bob Gunton) claims he’s altered an endangered bat species to have broader diets to help their survival (weird choice, seeing as what’s making North American bats species at risk is a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome, but okay); secretly, he was trying to engineer the perfect killer bat. When the bats try to infiltrate the school that CDC chiropterologist (aka bat scientist) Dr. Sheila Casper (Dina Meyer) and her assistant Jimmy (Leon) are using as their headquarters, Jimmy takes it upon himself to hold off the bats by torching them with a flamethrower, burning them onto a chain-link fence. While flames can’t take care of the massive amount of killer bats taking over the night in Gallup, Texas, they definitely took care of a few of them.
7. The General Spider – Arachnophobia (1990)
An aggressive new species of venomous spider is discovered in Venezuela, and it gets inadvertently shipped to the U.S. where it mates with a house spider and wreaks disaster. While most species of real spiders are solitary creatures, the spiders in Arachnophobia (1990) are not only very social, with shared webs and brood-protection, but they also have a clear case system which consists of one Queen Spider, one lead male soldier, known as “The General”, and a whole bunch of drones (if you’re curious, only one species of Argentinian spider has ever been identified to have a caste-like social system, but it’s nowhere like what’s going on with the spiders in Arachnophobia). The General meets its end not only on fire, but skewered by a nail gun.
6. Xenomorph Eggs – Aliens (1986)
In Alien (1979) Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the rest of the crew of the Nostromo figured out to arm themselves with flamethrowers to keep a solitary Xenomorph at bay. By the time we get to the sequel, Ripley readily arms herself with fire to take out an entire nest of Xenomorph eggs, not to mention a ready-to-emerge face hugger, and the Queen‘s ovipositor. There’s a fried egg joke in here somewhere, but I’m not willing to crack it.
5. The Stuff – The Stuff (1985)
The eponymous Stuff might not seem like much of a creature, but it is: it’s a gooey, oozing parasite that happens to taste really, really good. After watching his family get taken over by sweet alien marshmallow fluff, Jason (Scott Bloom) teams up with hired saboteur Mo Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) and junk food competitor Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris) to infiltrate The Stuff‘s base of operations and destroy it. They end America’s addiction, in part, by setting a big ol’ pool of The Stuff on fire. We actually get to see The Stuff destroyed by fire a few times in the movie, most memorably when some of The Stuff seeps out of a motel pillow to attack Mo and harden on his face (only to be burned off with lamp oil and motel matches), but also when America rebels against The Stuff and starts burning pints of it in the streets.
4. The Anaconda – Anaconda (2007)
Here is Danny (Ice Cube)’s simple recipe for defeating a killer anaconda:
Step One: watch the giant snake chase your friend Teri (Jennifer Lopez) up a smokestack.
Step Two: Use a pickaxe to pin the anaconda’s tail to the ground.
Step Three: Ignite explosives that will send the snake flying dramatically—on fire!—through the air.
Step Four: Axe that crispy snake in the head.
Honourable mention goes to the Queen Anaconda in Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), who was treated to a mouthful of fire thanks to one chomped up jerry can and one well-aimed shot with a flare gun.
3. Tentacled Eye Aliens – The Crawling Eye (1958)
Also known as The Trollenberg Terror, Quentin Lawrence’s sci fi flick that partly inspired elements of John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) and Stephen King’s It (the 1986 novel), gives us a tentacled eyeball that’s been decapitating climbers on a Swiss mountain. After discovering that people being controlled by the eponymous crawling eyes seem to melt like popsicles when subjected to fire, problem-solving Alan Brooks (Forrest Tucker) rallies everyone to fight back against the aliens with fire in many forms, from Molotov cocktails, to commanding a firebombing raid.
2. The Spider-Gremlin – Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
I realize that I’m in the minority as someone who was scarred for life by the Gremlins movies, but you have to agree that if one gremlin should get under your skin, it would be the Spider-Gremlin from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Half-spider, half-gremlin, and full nightmare, the Spider-Gremlin is one of the few transformed Mogwai that actually feels like a threat (other than big baddie Stripe, that is). Luckily, Gizmo saves the day in full Rambo: First Blood (1982) mode and crisps up the Spider-Gremlin real quickly with the help of a flaming arrow fashioned from office supplies.
1. Mysterious Alien Cells – The Thing (1982)
MacReady (Kurt Russell) figures out pretty early that it takes incineration to deal with the Antarctic-dwelling alien that’s taking over the research station— given the burned remains that they find when they first arrive to the Norwegian base, he probably should have been suspicious sooner instead of bringing the infected remains back to the base. Quibbles aside, MacReady is fast to fight with fire, and his idea to take a sizzling hot wire to his crewmates’ blood is seriously inspired. Besides, if it only takes one alien cell to assimilate another organism, then fire is a pretty safe bet for assuring destruction…as long as you’re sure that every last cell has been turned to ash.
There’s no shortage of crispy critters in horror, and odds are I missed one of your favourites. Head over to our Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook to share your favourite flambéed frights!