Movies have shaped a lot of our perception and portrayal of monsters. Much of what we think of as classic elements of monsters were actually created in movies. Most monsters like vampires have legends and folktales that Hollywood drew from, but others had to be invented entirely by screenwriters. Here are five classics that were shaped by the silver screen.

1. Werewolves 
The Wolf Man (Lon Cheney Jr.), Credit: Universal Pictures
The idea of the werewolf goes back centuries before 1935's Werewolf of London, but before the movie, we didn't have many standards for the creature. Descriptions of werewolves varied from someone who remained permanently in a wolf state to someone who fell into a trance while his soul turned into a werewolf to just someone who had bushy eyebrows and curved fingernails. Likewise, the method of turning into a werewolf ranged from drinking water from a wolf's pawprint to putting on a wolf's fur. The movie standardized much of what we think of werewolves, like the idea of being cursed by a werewolf bite and changing under a full moon. Later, 1941's The Wolf Man took some of the same themes and added the idea of silver being the werewolf's only weakness.

2. Frankenstein's Monster 
Frankenstein's Monster (Boris Karloff), Credit: Universal Pictures
The original novel Frankenstein was written in 1818, decades before the movie was released in 1931. Many people think they know the story because they've seen the movie, but Frankenstein's monster in the novel was much different than the movie version. The monster in the original novel wasn't green; he's described as having pale skin. He didn't have a flat head. He didn't have bolts in his neck. In the original novel, the monster wasn't even made out of dead body parts. In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the actual process of how the monster was created was extremely vague. Dr. Frankenstein only says that he learned how to create a human body and bring it to life. But he clearly states that he did not know how to bring the dead back to life, so it wasn't a dead body. Another thing the movie introduced was the idea that the monster was brought to life by lightning. In the novel, it only said Frankenstein discovered the secret of life, not how to use it.

3. The Mummy
The Mummy (Boris Karloff), Credit: Universal Pictures
The idea of an Egyptian mummy that comes to life seems iconic, but is another monster completely invented by Hollywood. The movie was inspired by the frenzy surrounding the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. Besides the popularity of all things Egyptian, the public was captivated by the so-called Curse of the Pharaohs, which claimed dire fates for anyone who entered a tomb. Universal couldn't find a story to inspire it, so they created a new one. The film was so successful that it captured audience's imagination, and propelled the walking mummy into the pantheon of epic monsters.

4. Zombies
When you say "zombies," most people today have an almost universal description; dead people coming back to life, craving human flesh. That description would have been almost unrecognizable before 1968. That's because George Romero essentially created the modern portrayal of zombies. Before that movie, zombies were undead slaves created by magic, as in the 1932 movie, White Zombie. Romero combined the human-hunting quality of zombies with the carnivorous nature of vampires. In the process, he created a whole new monster.

5. The Gill-Man
The Gill Man (Ben Chapman), Credit: Universal Pictures
The half-man, half-fish in Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the other monsters that never appeared in any literature. It was inspired by the discovery of the coelacanth, a creature thought to be extinct since the prehistoric era. The idea of other more terrifying discoveries, combined with a Mexican legend of an aquatic creature lurking in the Amazon, led to the classic monster movie.

Which is your favorite monster? What other famous Hollywood monsters do you enjoy? Let us know in the comments!



One of my favorite movies,The Serpent and the Rainbow, used some of the same ideas from the original use of the word zombie. Other than Bela lugosi's Dracula I did enjoy Gary Oldman's take on the classic vampire.

jeremy [retro] said...

classic monsters are the best!

Tony Laplume said...

I kind of wish Hollywood hadn't gone the slasher monster root later on. The classic monsters remain most distinctly iconic.


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