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The 13 best movie monster designs

05. Gremlins

  • Movie: Gremlins, 1984, Warner Bros.
  • Designer info: Chris Walas (special makeup FX, Chris Walas Inc.)

Movie monster - gremlins

Evil, scaley, vicious... and they probably cheat at cards too

The genius of Chris Walas’ Gremlin designs – based on the script by Chris Columbus (who'd go on to write the screenplay of The Goonies, direct Home Alone and two of the Harry Potter films) – is the contrast between the über-cute, doe-eyed Gizmo and its evil, scaley offspring.

To long-time reptile fan Walas, the Gremlin design came easiest: “We knew that they were completely crazy little monsters,” he said, “but I also wanted them to look wild. So I gave them long arms and boney fingers, and I gave them big ears because they're night creatures.”

So cute - but never, ever, feed a Mogwai after midnight

So cute - but never, ever, feed a Mogwai after midnight

However the Mogwai (above) - essentially the 'pupae' stage of the Gremlins - proved more difficult, taking seven months to nail the final look. Gizmo’s tan-and-white colour scheme was based on Steven Spielberg’s dog Chauncey, while the Mogwai’s nose was half-puppy, half monkey: “Just your standard cute animal nose,” said Walas.

WATCH THIS! You spin me right round, baby ...

06. Graboids

  • Movie: Tremors, 1990, Universal Studios
  • Designer info: Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. (creature effects designer and creators, Amalgamated Dynamics)

Movie monster - Tremors


Able to move at speed underground, creatures dubbed ‘Graboids’ begin to terrorise the desert town of Perfection. Described in the script only as an 'eyeless beast with spines, and a mouth that opened like a grotesque flower with tentacles inside', the task of fleshing out the design fell to Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., two effects artists in the process of setting up a new FX facility.

Movie monster - graboid

Gillis and Woodruff pose with their beloved Graboid

Using the idea of ‘form follows function’ they decided to give it a heavy armoured look, with dry, leathery skin like that of an elephant. “We wanted something that looked like it could come from this planet – or could come from another planet,” explained Gillis. The business end was “based on the head of a snapping turtle with side mandibles that could act as scoops,” he said. “It looked threatening and like it could cut you up, but these were not the standard pearly white fangs you see on a monster.” A set of three independent tentacles, each with its own mouth (based on a catfish), completed the subterranean serpent.

WATCH THIS! It's a Graboid attack!

WATCH THIS! Graboid death sequence ...

07. David Kessler

  • Movie: An American Werewolf in London, Universal Pictures
  • Designer info: Rick Baker (special makeup FX, Cinovation Studios)

Movie monster - werewolf 1

No one said transforming into a giant wolf would be easy!

While the actual movie werewolf is suitably scary (John Landis wanted a “four-legged hound from hell”), the real star of the film is the transformation sequence, masterminded by Rick Baker. Prior to AAWIL, werewolf metamorphoses were a cross-dissolve to man in a mask, or performed entirely off-camera. This time the audience was able to see, in grisly detail and bright lighting, a human skeleton deform, break and reform into the body of a wolf-beast – complete with the sound of snapping bones – and which director Landis wanted to be “horrifying, yet morbidly funny... fascinating rather than repulsive”. So in a symphony of urethane-eslastomer, pneumatics, air bladders, and cable-operated limbs, David Kessler becomes his lycanthropised alter-ego.

WATCH THIS! It's the AMAZING transformation sequence …

08. 'Pinhead'

  • Movie: Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)
  • Designer info: Clive Barker (author, director), Geoff Portass (special makeup FX)

Movie monsters - Pinhead

Pinhead, Pinhead, running through the night ...

Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart (which would form the basis of the Hellraiser franchise), features the cenobites, a pseudo-religious order of sadomasochists in pursuit of extreme sensual experiences. To portray these characters, Barker turned to a variety of inspirations, including, he said, “punk, Catholicism, and the visits I would take to S&M clubs in New York and Amsterdam”.

Lead Cenobite – dubbed ‘Pinhead’ by the film’s makeup crew – also drew inspiration from other sources: “I had seen a book containing photographs of African fetishes,” said Barker. “Sculptures of human heads crudely carved from wood and then pierced with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of nails and spikes. They were images of rage, the text instructed.” The final character, replete with a leather outfit woven through the skin itself, is in a state of perpetual pain/pleasure.

WATCH THIS! Hellraiser trailer, starring Pinhead

09. The Pale Man

  • Movie: Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006, Warner Bros.
  • Designer info: Guillermo Del Toro (director)

Movie monsters - Pale Man

"Look into my eyes. Not around my eyes, but into my eyes!"

Inspiration for the saggy-skinned, child-eating albino came in part after director, and former makeup artist, Del Toro suffered from drastic weight loss, and in part from a painting by Francisco de Goya, called Saturn Devouring His Son. Del Toro also cites the work of book illustrator Arthur Rackham.

“I tried to reconnect with the perversity and very sexual content of his work,” Del Toro explained. “In fairy tales, all stories are either about the return to the womb (heaven, home) or wandering out into the world and facing your own dragon. We are all children wandering through our own fable.”

The fantastically grotesque Pale Man enjoys the unique pleasure of being equally disconcerting either as the sightless, worm-headed creature, or when using his eyeball-embedded palms to see. A truly beautiful freak.

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