The news that Ridley Scotts Alien: Covenant will feature a terrifying new neomorph recalls a history of nightmarish on-screen creatures
Not everyone finds the same things scary. As a small child I was terrified into a quivering wreck, forced to hide behind the family sofa in a state of dread at the merest glimpse of Sam the Blue Eagle from The Muppets. Something about that beaky, austere countenance just gave me the heebie jeebies.
Little was I to know that far worse things lay in wait in the darkest corners of the cinema. In celebration of Michael Fassbenders revelation that the creature in Ridley Scotts upcoming Alien: Covenant will be known as the neomorph in tribute to its acid blood-spewing, slimy and phallic second cousin the xenomorph from Scotts original 1979 Alien movie heres a Halloween-themed rundown of some of the nastiest beasties ever to hit the multiplexes.
The crawlers (The Descent, 2005)
If Gollum from The Hobbit got his own R-rated movie, it might look a little like Neil Marshalls cult 2005 horror about an all-female band of spelunkers who find themselves trapped in an uncharted cave system populated by flesh-eating subterranean abominations. The Descent works so well because it adds a creepy Darwinian overtone to the well-worn horror staple of the inbred, bestial backwoodsman. Monsters are often most terrifying when we can see our own DNA beneath the skin, and the thought that the crawlers may only be a few generations from Leatherface and his clan is what really makes the blood curdle.
The mutant baby from Eraserhead (1977)
If David Lynchs surrealist masterpiece is already a grim viewing experience for its bloodless vision of Spencers cold, alienated and dissonant existence, it is even harder to watch when our heros whimpering, snakelike child is introduced, shivering like a baby rat born before its time. As if testing the boundaries of his viewers endurance, Lynch then has his protagonist cut through the layers of bandages to reveal the hideous skinless organs beneath in a deeply ghoulish parody of everyday parental trepidation.
FW Murnaus silent-era horror is an expressionist masterpiece, Max Schrecks operatic performance as the vampire Count Orlok simply unmatched for gothic intensity. But Klaus Kinskis mad-eyed pantomime turn as the undead creature in Werner Herzogs 1979 remake Nosferatu the Vampyre comes a close second, if only for the excruciatingly glacial bite scene.
Pale Man (Pans Labyrinth, 2006)
If Guillermo Del Toros bravura 2013 intro for The Simpsons annual Halloween episode wasnt enough to convince you the Mexican film-maker has a taste for the works of Lewis Carroll, his dark, supernatural period fable is packed full of references to the Englishman. Like Alice, Ivana Baqueros Ofelia also finds herself in a phantasmagorical underworld, and just as her literary forebear she finds herself in trouble after eating the local produce. But nothing in Wonderland ever came close to Doug Smiths Pale Man for wormy, fetal repulsiveness as the giant humanoid grub plops its eyes into fleshy sockets and transforms into an all-seeing demon butterfly by fanning out its fingers like a monstrous crown.
Frankensteins monster (Frankenstein, 1931)
Boris Karlofs hulking, flat-headed, bolt-necked brute remains the classic screen incarnation of Mary Shelleys creation more than 80 years on. Rarely has an actor risen to such notoriety on the back of a mute performance, but Karlof did at least get to speak in original director James Whales 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein, which is surprisingly now considered by many critics to be the superior picture.
Norris Spider-Head (The Thing, 1982)
Nothing shot using CGI ever looked so grimly realistic as Rob Bottins stomach-churning organic special effects for John Carpenters 1982 sci-fi horror about a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that turns up to cause chaos at an Antarctic research station. The scene in which a mans head sprouts spider-legs and hideous antennae is the climax of an extended orgy of body horror the likes of which has never been seen before or since on the big screen. The most spine-chilling thought: what if poor Norris is still alive in there somewhere?
Brundlefly (The Fly, 1986)
Jeff Goldblums transformation is such a shocker because its so sudden. One minute hes still just about recognisable as the slightly manic guy who we saw earlier doing genetically assisted acrobatics around his apartment, the next the dread carapace that was once his face is falling off to reveal the repugnant giant insect beneath. The final moment, as the creature asks pitifully to be put out of its misery, is a nightmarish reminder of Brundleflys enduring humanity.
The xenomorph (Alien, 1979)
Ridley Scotts inspired decision to borrow his phallic, flesh-ripping extraterrestrial from the work of Swiss surrealist painter HR Gigers turned out to be the foundation upon which a Hollywood legend built his entire career. Gigers visions of hellish monstrosities gave the original slasher in space an enduring veneer of infernal threat, of unspeakable things from cursed netherworlds. Scott himself is due to give us an updated version, the neomorph, in Alien: Covenant, but it remains to be seen whether the new creature can compete with the original for slimy, feral barbarity.