As 2018 comes to a close, we take a look at the very best monsters from the year’s film, television, video games, or wherever!
2018 was one of the better years for horror. Titles like Halloween, A Quiet Place, and Hereditary showed that outside of the superhero genre, some of the year’s biggest hits were horror titles. Even beyond film, it feels like horror has never been more popular and rampant in popular culture, with television, video games, and comics embracing the genre in new and exciting ways. 2018 delivered lots of new horror classics, but it also unleashed plenty of new monsters on unsuspecting audiences. Accordingly, here’s our breakdown of the year’s most terrifying and impressive monsters, from film, to comics, and beyond.
Pretzel Jack (Channel Zero: The Dream Door)
Channel Zero never fails to create truly terrifying creatures for each of its new stories, but The Dream Door’s season produces the strongest of nightmare fuel with Pretzel Jack. Pretzel Jack is a childhood imaginary friend that’s come to life and he operates with a disturbing level of flexibility and resilience. Better yet, the character’s movements are entirely without CG-assistance and benefit from “Twisty” Troy James’ limberness.
Like some of the best monsters out there, it feels like Pretzel Jack is invincible and The Dream Door’s story nicely evolves to a place where Pretzel Jack’s role as villain and ally is beautifully blurred. All of the monsters on this list are frightening, but Pretzel Jack is the only one whose mannerisms and gesticulations make you feel like you’re lost in some fever dream. He defies physics and horror is always at its best when it makes you go, “How?!” And that’s all to say nothing of the Crayon Kids!
The Shimmer’s Humanoid (Annihilation)
Alex Garland creates an exciting, unique psychological thriller that blends science fiction and horror together in an inspired way that’s not dissimilar from the hybrid DNA experiments that come out of the film. Annihilation sends a team into an unstable area known as “The Shimmer” where DNA blends and acts all wonky. There are lots of bizarre chimera-like creatures throughout the film, but the film’s final set piece that takes place within a cryptic lighthouse is by far the movie’s most unnerving sequence. Natalie Portman’s Lena squares off with a mercury-like humanoid that immediately conjures Virtua Fighter’s Dural to mind. This humanoid entity is attempting to copy and assimilate Lena and she’s forced to defend her existence. It’s a chilling sequence that’s all the more effective because it’s without dialogue and we never know exactly what the “Shimmer’s” goal is other than “creation.”
So granted, Paimon in his pure demon form may not exactly show up here, but the demon’s disciples are heavily pulling the strings to make sure that everything goes in his favor. Paimon himself is intimidating, but the number of devout followers that he has to do his bidding make this entity even more alarming. Ari Aster’s Hereditary is just straight up a scary film and so much of that has to do with the incredible performances from the movie and that it’s just as much a grueling family drama as it is a horror film. There’s also, of course, that scene, which will forever go down as an all-time classic scene in horror.
Hereditary makes Paimon’s slow possession of its host absolutely horrifying. They get no relief, the entire family is at this demon’s mercy, and even you as a viewer feel vulnerable. There is never relief from Paimon’s clutches, which is why the film is such a relentless experience. Hail Paimon, indeed.
The Jötunn (The Ritual)
The Ritual flew under the radar for many people, but this low-budget Netflix horror film from David Bruckner is an absolute gem and features an unforgettable monster. A simple hiking trip into the woods between old friends gradually takes a disturbing turn once The Ritual gets moving. The stripped down horror film juggles dark witchcraft, cults, and sacrifices to a deadly elk-like entity in exchange for immortality. This is also the kind of beast that might even creep out Hannibal’s antler-centric Wendigo. The film doesn’t shy away from showing you this creature, which makes for a welcome change of pace. Not only is the Jötunn strong, fast, and super scary, but it also has the ability to inflict its prey with hallucinations of their deepest insecurities. It’s a hell of a way to psych out your opponent and force them to submission. Jötunn don’t mess around.
The Peaches (Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block)
2018 was a mess for so many reasons, but hey, we got two seasons of Channel Zero this year, so silver linings and all that…
Hallucinations, deep concepts like a disturbing take on sacrifice and the idea of ignorance being bliss. The Peaches, led by Rutger Hauer’s Joseph Peach, are horrible for their manipulative, cannibalistic, eternal ways, but then the series also throws these awful Brood babies and a Meat Servant into the mix. They’re like if Clive Barker and Cabbage Patch Kids did a collaboration. These tiny nightmare warriors that roam outside when it’s dark out add a consistently dreadful tone to the series. Whether the Peaches or their creepy harbingers, there’s never safety. And don’t get me started on the worm-esque entities that muck around in these characters’ brains. Few things have gotten under my skin as much as Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block and its mind-disabling monsters. It’s such a twisted take on mental illness that finds new, nightmarish ways to explore what’s an already tragic topic.
Captain Wafner (Overlord)
Overlord operates like the very best kind of B-movie and plays into its silliness. The film is basically Wolfenstein meets H.P. Lovecraft and the movie’s gruesome monsters are born from a mysterious reanimation serum that’s found under the ground. The Nazis’ use of this serum results in some resilient zombie warriors that also have a habit for raging out and mutating without warning. There are many serum-spurred abominations that keep Private Boyce and company occupied, but the film’s major antagonist, SS Captain Wafner, injects himself with the serum while he’s still alive and the aftermath is gory bliss. Wafner’s exposed jaw and super strength make for such an exaggerated villain that culminates in a Terminator 2 type showdown between two mutated juggernauts. He’s the perfect pulpy monster for their story and Pilou Asbæk delivers such a memorable performance in the role.
Mater Suspiriorum (Suspiria)
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s horror classic is certainly a patient, methodical film, but by the end of the movie it truly feels like it’s cast a spell over you. For the majority of the film, Mother Suspiriorum works in the shadows, yet her presence is always felt. The dance sequences where her vengeance gets doled out are seriously difficult to watch. Death is one thing, but bones twisting, contorting, and breaking is a lot more painful of an experience, especially with the film’s stellar sound design. Mother Suspiriorum’s “big number” is saved for the film’s conclusion, but it’s one of the most dazzling sequences from out of any film of this year. The witch’s magic is unleashed and the film turns a massacre into a trippy, poetic take on retribution. Suspiria and Mater Suspiriorum’s talons will be sunk in you long after the film is over.
Michael Myers (Halloween)
2018 was an absolutely bonkers year for horror for the sheer fact that not only was there a Suspiria remake, but also a new sequel to Halloween and they were both really freaking good. The newest Halloween film took both the series and Michael Myers back to their roots and it was so extremely satisfying to get a bad-ass version of The Shape wielding the knife once more. Let’s be honest, Halloween is much more a showcase and love letter to Laurie Strode and Jamie Lee Curtis, but this is a fierce, unrepentant version of Michael that hasn’t been present for ages. Busta Rhymes wouldn’t be able to land a single hit on this version of Michael. Halloween succeeds in making Michael Myers scary again and every death in his Haddonfield killing spree feels vicious in a different sort of way. He may not kill a baby, but who cares when he’s stealing people’s teeth and murdering loved ones?
The Aliens (A Quiet Place)
First Jordan Peele and now John Krasinski; comedic actors are suddenly turning into some of the most prolific new names in horror. Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is a remarkably restrained take on horror and it’s one of the better examples of less being more. The film introduces some deeply upsetting aliens that use their evolved sense of hearing to wipe out anything that they identify. A creature with extraordinary hearing that forces you to operate in unnatural ways in order to survive is already a frightening idea, but these things are also bulletproof. These aliens also look like something that William Birkin from Resident Evil 2 would have cooked up in his lab, but they feature a really inspired design that actually makes sense based on the evolution of the aliens. The film features an extremely tense game of cat and mouse that simultaneously feels like something from out of Jurassic Park and Alien. Everything about these monsters, whether it’s their disturbing look, their tremendous abilities, or the complete lack of information that we have on them, makes them a success.
Andre Toulon’s Puppets (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich)
The Puppet Master series has been kicking around for nearly three decades, but this year’s Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich set out to be a harsh reboot of the quirky series. The film brings back classic murderous toys, Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, and Torch, but it also adds plenty of new ones into the mix like the uniquely twisted Happy Amphibian, Mr. Pumper, or Money Lender puppets. The film knows that killer puppets are an inherently silly idea, but S. Craig Zahler’s script makes sure to make these tiny terrors as brutal as possible. Lovers get horribly burned and disfigured, couples are murdered in the middle of sex, and there’s a ridiculous set piece that results in a now-dead man urinating on his own severed head. This reboot features arguably the most extreme deaths in the entire franchise and at one point a puppet bursts through a pregnant woman’s stomach and then runs away with her fetus. These killer puppets do not care about your hang-ups and they do not hold back here.
The “Possum” (Possum)
Matthew Holness creates something special with Possum, an existential psychological horror film that’s practically silent for most of the picture. The film slowly gets under your skin and is a master in atmosphere. Sean Harris delivers an unnerving, tortured performance that stems around this troubled man’s relationship with a totem of trauma that he’s created; a disturbing spider-esque puppet with human characteristics known as the possum. Harris acts utterly terrified of the puppet, even when it’s concealed in a bag, but the reveal does not disappoint once it’s out in the open. A movie like this would fail if the central puppet wasn’t appropriately scary and Possum’s creation exceeds expectations. The fact that the nightmarish toy also involves a Babadook-esque nursery rhyme makes it even creepier.
The Ice Cream Man (Ice Cream Man)
Even if you’re not a comic fan, Image Comics’ Ice Cream Man should be mandatory reading. Each issue presents an entirely new morality play where some poor soul goes through a new version of hell after they encounter the series’ big puppet master, the ice cream man. Every story presented in this eight-issue anthology lands and the demonic ice cream man always finds creative ways to plague his victims. It’s unclear entirely what the ice cream man is (he may even be God…), but the point of these stories is not to defeat this guy. These are his stories and he’s always going to win and they’re a bummer. There’s an especially brilliant issue that presents a triptych of alternate storylines that stem from a single event and the entire thing is done without words. Disturbing images and an unjust universe paired with precise storytelling make Ice Cream Man and its antagonist one of the more creative and sadistic monsters of the year.
Rag Doll (The Flash)
So The Flash definitely isn’t a horror series, but this season’s “All Doll’d Up” episode features a genuinely unsettling “metahuman of the week.” The villain makes for not only one of the most frightening characters to appear on The Flash, but a scary threat in general. This is a villain who has the superpower of contorting their body however they want, which makes them an ideal thief. Rag Doll isn’t a character that The Flash television series created, but their take on the classic DC villain involves an eerie porcelain mask that seriously ups the creep factor as they twist about. It also shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Troy James also plays this character, which means his contortionist game is incredibly on point. Rag Doll is definitely an unexpected source of horror, but a strong one all the same.
Keyface (Insidious: The Last Key)
The fourth film in the Insidious franchise is very problematic and it’s far from a good movie, but damn if it doesn’t feature an incredibly horrifying demon! In fact, “Keyface” has such a great design that it feels like the entire film was predicated off of this one cool element and the rest just couldn’t match it. Keyface is a particularly vengeful demon that feeds off of hatred, has a real penchant for killing nurses, and takes a particular shine to making life difficult for Elise Rainier and her family. However, backstory really isn’t important here because this demon has keys for fingers and he’ll insert them into you! Keyface locks various aspects of his victims away, whether it’s their voice or trapping their soul in The Further. It’s a very visceral image and even if the film doesn’t fully connect, the villain at least doesn’t disappoint.
The Bent-Neck Lady (The Haunting Of Hill House)
Mike Flanagan’s grueling family drama and delicate ghost story deconstruction knocked everyone back this year and throughout the season there was one disturbing ghost at the center of it all, the Bent-Neck Lady. The mystery of who exactly this broken-necked spirit is hangs over the season, but there’s a beautiful, sad story behind this macabre monster. The Bent-Neck Lady looks scary and punctuates many of the season’s more frightening moments, but she’s also a dark portent of what’s to come for this grieving family. This ghost represents the dangers that await us and will surely go down in the ghosts from haunted houses hall of fame, right alongside the Grady Twins from The Shining.
While all of the above monsters impressed us the most, it was such a strong year for horror that we thought we’d also throw in some Honorable Mentions: The Nun’s Valak, Vampyr’s Jonathan Reid, The Predator’s Super Predator, Mandy’s Demon Bikers, Hell Fest’s The Other, AHS: Apocalypse’s Michael Langdon, and We Happy Few’s Police (they may not be literal monsters, but masks are creepy and we don’t have Strangers: Prey By Night on here, so…)