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The Origins of the 10 Most Iconic Monsters in Pop Culture

Updated June 14, 2019 90.5k views10 items
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.
  • Werewolf

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.