The most classic monsters in pop culture history are as iconic as they are for a reason. Many of them have a long, sometimes centuries old past in storytelling and real history that give them a sense of realism that inspires wonder, curiosity and fear in all of us. So, here are the origins of the most iconic monsters in pop culture history. Happy Halloween.
When someone asks you to describe a zombie, what do you think? First thing that comes to mind is probably a rotting corpse, risen from the dead with a hunger for human flesh right? Well, prepare to have your minds blown, and not eaten, because you are very very wrong.
The term "zombie" comes from the Creole word "zonbi". It describes a person that has been put under the power of a Voodoo priest, or bokor. In traditional voodoo, a person who has a piece of their soul taken by a bokor can be put under their spell and made into a mind-less slave that will do anything commanded by their master. It is believed that there is some truth to this legend as people have claimed to have been put under a hypnosis-type spell using psychoactive drugs in Africa and Haiti.
The term "zombie" was coined when Hollywood got a hold of the story and made the 1932 movie White Zombie starring Bela Legosi.
The movie introduces the concept that a zombie is someone who is killed and comes back to life, but still keeps the original idea that they are only mind-less slaves afterwards. It was not until George A. Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead that we come to what is know considered a true flesh eating zombie. (Though it should be noted that even then, none of the creatures in the movie are ever referred to as zombies.)
From then on zombies have been turned into undead monsters that gorge on living flesh and have bites that cause the victim to turn into a zombie as well. Movies like Return of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead (both the original and the excellent remake), even the comedic Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland are great examples of modern-day zombie-ism.
If you want to see more good examples of zombie movies check out Ranker's Greatest Zombie Movies of All Time.
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While there are many tales throughout the years about people morphing into creatures like hyenas, tigers and even caribou, the most well known and terrifying of the lot is the werewolf.
Werewolves, or Lycanthrops as they are called in myth, are people who can change their form either by choice or by curse into that of a wolf. The first written account of this dates all the way back to the Greeks with philosphers and writers the likes of Ovid and Virgil telling stories of men who would shed their skins and change or cursed by the gods for different reasons. It was even believed that if you did not burn a werewolf's body after it died, it would come back as a vampire. (Twilight makes so much more sense now.)
The myth changes and morphs just like the creatures it is about, from place to place through the ages. The most common accounts come from Medieval England and Germany. This is where most of our modern day visions of wolf men come, though it is mostly attached to witchcraft during this time. People were often captured and cured for werewolfism by either giving them wolfsbane, a type of poison, draining their blood or driving stakes through their hands, even exoticism. Most of these "cures" though were fatal.
It wasn't until the 19th century that we are given the option of using silver to ward off or kill werewolves, and even then it came from a story that was later used as the basis for our modern view of the creatures. This was popularized by the Universal Pictures film The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney.
It was after this movie that all of our werewolves stand like men and only change on the full moon. Since then there have been many amazing films, as well as not so great ones, that continue our love of those shaggy beasts.
Movies like American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Teen Wolf, but let's not forget the best of all, Monster Squad.
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The history of the vampire is one of epic proportions going all the way back to the beginning of recorded history. It is even said that Jesus cured a vampire. The original look of vampires was that of a bloated corpse, purple and bulging. Unlike today's myth, there was many different ways for a vampire to be created other than getting bitten by one. All it took was a cat jumping over a newly dug grave to have that person rise from the dead craving blood. Since everyone was so afraid of being turned into vampires back in the day, it was common practice to bury loved ones upside down and with tools to make it harder for them to rise. People would also surround the graves with sand or salt since it was common knowledge that the demons that possess a person to make them a vampire would be distracted by having to count the grains. Who knew that evil was OCD.
The modern day vampire as we have come to fear, is the brainchild of author Bram Stoker who wrote the novel Dracula in 1897 and painted us a picture of a pale, blood-sucking, bat-like monster. In 1964 the vampire sold out and joined in the sitcom "The Munsters." A few years later "Sesame Street" introduced Count von Count, who is arguably one of the greatest TV characters of all time. Soon thereafter General Mills followed-up by branding the great Count Chocula cereal. Then in 2005 everything we've dreaded about vampires became a reality when Twilight went mainstream. see more on Vampire
One of the most effective monsters year around, not just on Halloween, is the Boogeyman. For centuries now it has lived in the ether and used by parents to scare their kids straight. It's track record shows it's been spooking kids for centuries all across the globe. We don't know what it looks/smells/tastes like but we do know that it frequents the dark areas of your closet and under your bed.
It is believed that the story of the Boogeyman started as an allegory for the devil. It has since turned into a cautionary tale that parents tell children to keep them in bed at night, though I think it is kind of weird to send your kids to bed saying that if they don't sleep something horrible will eat you seems counterproductive.
However, my favorite depiction of the Boogeyman came from The Nightmare Before Christmas with Boogie.
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It's no wonder mummies are pissed. They've been wrapped and preserved to protect the tomb of the dead for all eternity. They roots of these superstitious tales date back to ancient China, Japan, Tibet, Peru and most famously Egypt. Everything from thousands of soldiers to the King's cats were mummified. The horror and mystery comes from the 1923 excavation of King Tut’s tomb by explorer Howard Carter. The financier of Carter’s operation, Lord Caverton, died two weeks after the dig and rumors of a mummy’s cruse began to grow.
Mummies as a horror figure started in the 20th century with The Jewel of Seven Stars, a book written by Bram Stoker, best known for popularizing another ancient monster you might know as Dracula. After the discovery of King Tut's tomb and the passing along of the curse of the mummy myth, Universal Pictures came along and once again gave us our modern idea of the Mummy with the release of the 1932 film The Mummy. With his limping stumble and outstretched arms Boris Karloff and his dusty Mummy had whole generations calling for their mummies. (Sorry, it had to be done.)
Since then Mummies have been popping up all over the place with movies like Monster Squad, The Mummy (remake), and The Mummy Returns. see more on Mummy
El Diablo is one of the most notorious monsters of Halloween. Satan plays a role in many religions as a keeper of evil. His storied past of represents the sorcery that Halloween tries to fend off. Satan, the Christian sense, refers to human sin an temptation that stands in the way of God. He and his demons roam the earth in every form imaginable to tempt you to come into the depths of his fiery hell.
Though he has been known to have many faces through the ages, the most common association with the devil is the Christian aspect with his red skin, horns and a tail.
It should be said though that since The Devil is the personification of all evil in most religions, he can appear as anything. Some religions, he has no form whatsoever, choosing to appear only as anything that a person feels is a temptation.
Since The Devil is so pronounced in all culture, he's appeared in films since almost the beginning of the medium. You can see him in such movies as Legend, The Devil's Advocate, or, my personal favorite, Bedazzled (nothing is more evil than Elizabeth Hurley in a low cut dress).
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To most people the sorcery powers a witch can contain are of no surprise. Witches and their craft date back to before the 1500's in Europe when women who were possessed were said to have been seen flying around on goats. We now know this to not to be true, it was brooms. Their trickery and isolation led to the popularity of blaming them for unanswerable questions and rarities of the time. Often casting spells or concocting strange potions, over 40,000 witches were burned at the stake.
The witch has been in myth in all of recorded history. There are good witches and bad witches. The main distinction being that the good witches use their powers and potions to help people, and the bad did not. Of course, by standards during the middle ages, one can go from being good to bad by pissing off the person that was paying for your services. That's like if you didn't like the way your waiter gave you your steak, you could burn him at one. Pretty neat right?
Some great examples of movie witches are The Wizard of Oz, The Craft, and Teen Witch. see more on Witch
These Middle Eastern creeps are giant folk monsters living in graveyards, dining on the dead. A spin-off on the mummy, they live with their half-decaying bodies sucking the life out of every last soul that enters the land of the dead. They eat children, drink blood and take coins from graves, but their favorite thing is to eat the fresh corpse of the dead so that they can take on it's form and torment the deceased family.
Their rise to top of horror-dom came in 1786 when author William Beckford wrote about these desert monsters digging up graves and eating the corpses in his Gothic book, Vathek. Later George A. Romero created Night Of The Living Dead and according to him the monsters in his film, which people have called the original Zombies, are in fact referred to in the film as Ghouls. Romero has been quoted to say that his monsters are ghouls not zombies as the term zombie reminds him too much of the Caribbean.
Some other popular movies featuring ghouls are Vampire in Brooklyn, The Ghoul, and the movie that made me stop wanting to use the bathroom for a while, Ghoulies.
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