The history of horror is beset with a variety of shapeshifting, transforming entities, from your garden-variety werewolves and vampires turning into bats to your more exotic and apocalyptic entities. There are transformations are quick and violent as that of An American Werewolf in London to the long, slow, aggressive burn of The Fly.
Some creatures transform several times (Xenomorphs) while others are changed largely before our story starts (Cloverfield), but they all share the commonality of being horrific, deadly sources of transforming mayhem. Here’s a list of the ten most terrifying transforming creatures in horror history, with their most terrifying film presence.
10. Brundlefly, The Fly (1986)
A film by body horror master David Cronenberg, The Fly follows scientist Seth Brundle as he attempts to use an invention that is intended to facilitate teleportation between pods. It succeeds, but in testing it on himself an unseen fly gets trapped in the pod, initiating a process of slow, hideous, violent DNA merger between Brundle and the fly becoming… Brundlefly.
The film boasts a romantic subplot that adds considerable tension, as Brundle wrestles with his hideous physical transformations alongside his admission of his decreasing humanity. If you’re looking for one of the most grotesque, unforgettable, poignant transformations in movie history, this film definitely is in the running for one of the best. Its stakes may be low compared to some of the others on this list (in terms of sheer apocalyptic potential), but it may just be the greatest transformation in movie history.
9. It, It Follows (2014)
In David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, what does ‘It’… follow? The recipient of a curse, one that’s passed along following sexual intercourse. It pursues tirelessly. Without ceasing. And as it follows, the victim must pass along the curse through another act of sexual intercourse, etc., etc. The titular It will pursue the new victim continuously, and if it catches them they’ll undergo a violent, shocking death… before it then pursues the last cursed person, etc. In the process, It could look like anyone, often changing forms (sometimes into shocking ones), always hunting.
As far as we know (the movie reveals nothing for certain), it’s the only one of its kind… but once you’re in the crosshairs, you will be pursued continuously, never knowing exactly what It looks like, until it either kills you or you pass it on. Even then you’re not safe… what if it gets that person, or the next? What if it takes years? Sure, the scale of It is small and the logic is mysterious AND inconsistent, but the deaths are gruesome, the paranoia is palpable, and at all times It could become anyone at any time and find you, it’s transformations making you all but helpless in its wake.
8. The Metal Fetishist, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a unique body horror-filled cyberpunk film that follows a salaryman under increasing attack from a revenge-bent ‘Metal Fetishist’, a man obsessed with fusing metal into his own flesh. The salaryman finds himself also gradually becoming transformed into the Iron Man, a metallic hybrid of a being, until his confrontation with the Metal Fetishist reveals his true plan–to overcome the Earth with metal.
After fights ensue, the two-hybrid metal monsters fuse into a tank-like monster and commit to the destruction of the world. It’s a unique villain with a strange transformative power, grotesquely merging all flesh with metal with the ultimate goal of total metal annihilation, and one of the more unique transforming villains you’ll ever see.
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7. Xenomorph, Alien (1979)
One of the most terrifying creatures in cinematic history, Ridley Scott’s Alien introduced us to the Xenomorph, a multi-stage entity that hatches inside other species, bursts from their chest, and quickly grows into massive and malevolent creatures. Adult Xenomorphs share traits and forms with their host victims, but in hybridized forms with the strengths and alienness of the Xenomorph species.
Hard to kill with a body full of acid blood, incredible strength for its size, and networked with Xenomorph Queens in an effective hive mind, Xenomorphs are a truly perfect (and perfectly destructive) organism. Their growth cycle always results in the death of the host, they take a variety of forms, and every aspect of the Xenomorph body violates what we know of evolution and nature–they even go from fresh hatchling to fully grown alien (an impossible increase in size and mass) in very little time. There is also evidence that they were used by Engineers as a sort of biological weapon, intended to exterminate life on whole planets… an acknowledgement of its incredible destructive power.
6. Godzilla, Shin Godzilla (2016)
From its inception, Godzilla has always been a terrifying, massive, powerful kaiju that has nearly no equal. Its massive size, resilience, resistance to nuclear attack, and its own nuclear breath and raw strength have made it a formidable opponent to other kaiju and extremely resistant to human attack. In its initial 1954 debut, Godzilla’s origin was posited as an evolved ancient sea creature that was disturbed by bomb tests. It has had some modified details over successive iterations, but this origin is fairly constant. While all origins involve a transformation, and Godzilla has had minor form alterations in response to attack or further radiation exposure, it isn’t until Shin Godzilla that Godzilla’s transformations themselves become a prominent and terrifying aspect of this powerful entity.
Shin Godzilla sees ancient aquatic life evolve in response to nuclear dumping, but we watch as Godzilla adapts, grows, and continues to evolve into ever-more massive and destructive forms, changes in mass that have no explanation but which render the monster increasingly impervious to harm (and increasingly dangerous). It’s final form, however, is the most shocking; its tail opens to expose a horde of more humanoid Godzilla-like figures. The transformation doesn’t finish and we never see what would have ultimately happened, but Shin Godzilla shows Godzilla not only as a formidable, unstoppable destructive force, but as one that will continue to evolve and grow in size and danger against all threats (and that doesn’t even cover the raw terror of it unhinging its jaw and releasing ungodly amounts of radioactive fire on an innocent Japan and massive lazer bursts from its back). It is, to quote the film, “truly a God incarnate,” one whose evolutionary propensity is to expand across the globe.
5. Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
Unlike many of these upper echelon monsters, at one time Freddy Krueger was merely a man… albeit an evil one. A vicious serial killer in his life, he was caught, released on a technicality, and burned alive by the parents of his victims. Krueger was approached by malevolent demonic entities, the Dream Demons, to escape death and to survive in, and have nearly infinite power within, the Dream World.
When victims sleep, Freddy can hunt and kill them in the Dream World, a realm where he can himself transform into anything, transform his victims, and exhibit any power he can conceive of. It’s such a source of power that killing victims in dreams kills them in the real world, and he can even enter the real world from the Dream World. In effect, Krueger has effective omnipotence in a realm that all must inevitably enter, making him an incredible force to contend with, and in that world he can become absolutely anything in an effort to kill his victim. That’s far too much power to give such a gleeful predator.
4. The Long One, Slither (2006)
‘The Long One’ is the name for an alien parasite that has traveled across the universe time and again for one purpose: to find new worlds, kill and consume all life until everything is gone, and move on to the next planet. Arriving on Earth via a meteor, it soon infected many in the fictional town of Wheelsy before being (as far as anyone knows) stopped.
The life cycle of The Long One involves a series of transformations, from the parasitic needle to creating the Primary Host whose form mutates into a massive squid-like thing before implanting itself in another. That member of the host species feeds, grows, and becomes massive until it splits apart and releases a horde of worm-like slugs that manipulate the behaviors of their hosts in a ‘hive mind’ that’s controlled by The Long One. The whole purpose of this series of transformations is to expand its control over a wider succession of hosts, consuming life and resources, until the planet is a shriveled husk of its former self. A multi-stage, body-mutating entity hell-bent on consuming everything in the Universe… it’s hard to imagine a more dangerous transforming monster. Still… we’ve found a few.
3. The Entity, Annihilation (2018)
Annihilation follows an expedition sent by a secretive U.S. government agency into a zone called ‘The Shimmer’, an expanding dome-shaped region that’s impossible to read but which has killed nearly every member of prior expeditions. The Shimmer emerged following the crash of an Entity from space, and the zone facilitates unprecedented communication between entities and their surroundings–species mutate and hybridize, turning humans into plants, shifting organs, provoking insanity, and creating monstrosities like a massive hybrid monster ‘bear’ that screams in the voice of its victims.
You heard that right. And at the heart of these transformations is the incomprehensible Entity in a fluctuating Mandelbulb shape, one that can willfully create clones and whose ‘motives’ are incomprehensible to us mere humans. What we know is that it’s capable of creating an ever-expanding field that transforms everything it touches into novel, terrifying, deadly, and sporadic ways. While great effort can halt its expanding Shimmer, we don’t understand it nearly well enough to know if it can be stopped.
2. Pennywise / It, It (2017)
A creation of horror maestro Stephen King, Pennywise (a demonic shapeshifting clown) is the dominant earthly manifestation of an extra-dimensional entity (which we’ll call It) whose true form is more akin to an extradimensional spider deity than anything else. In its Pennywise form, It inhabits Derry, Maine, and awakens every 27 years to terrify and consume children. Hateful, powerful, and deeply malevolent, It knows its victim’s greatest fears and can take a variety of other forms to frighten them as much as possible.
Additionally, It can command the ‘deadlights’, a sort of Eldritch energy a victim sees as orange lights, before they become paralyzed or go insane. In short, It is a predatory entity with vast power at its disposal, and generating fear is in its very nature. The only reason It isn’t higher is that it was defeated by a band of ordinary human youngsters, so its power clearly has some limits. Nonetheless, it’s an entity you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of.
1. The Thing, The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s masterful The Thing tells the story of an Antarctic research station that stumbles upon a lifeform, long buried in a ice-encapsulated spaceship but unearthed by another research crew. This lifeform can assimilate other species of any form, with any one particle of its being capable of overtaking an organism. It’s intelligent enough to build and pilot a starship, smart enough to hide and strike in opportunity moments. In combat, it can summon different, large, shocking forms it has absorbed in its history as an organism.
During the film we see it transform, split, and gradually overtake the crew one-by-one, and because any one atom of it can operate independently it’s nearly impossible to completely eradicate. If it escaped its Antarctic prison it could end all life on Earth in a quite brief amount of time, and the only thing preventing that is its inability to repair its ship and escape the Antarctic cold. And what’s worse? All that power is present in just one instance of The Thing; there could be whole planets or galaxies for all we know.
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