The greatest horror movie monsters usually take root in real-world folklore and mythology. To evidence this, we’re presenting down the ten best.
Mythology creatures have been the basis of many forms of adaptations. Whether those are TV Shows, books, or movies. Folklore has set the stage for many films in the horror genre throughout the years. Indeed, per CBR, many famous horror movies have taken a mythological creature or demon and put them in a story that coincides with the Creature’s background. For example, in The Conjuring, screenwriters based the first movie on a mythological demon named Bathsheba. As a result, this high-grossing horror franchise has two mythical spirits on this list. With the second being La Llorona, a spanish demon who seeks out children.
Recent movies like Antlers, released in 2021 used mythological creatures like the Wendigo. According to an interview with Inverse, the director Scott Cooper said using the Indigenous-based Wendigo was vital to his film. It required meticulous planning to get the mythological Creature just right. Whether the mythical creatures can be proven authentic, their legends make for scary horror movies. These are ten terrifying mythological creatures in horror movies.
Regardless of whether or not the mythological creatures are real, their legends make for scary horror movies. These are 10 of the most frightening in film.
1 HOMUNCULI (TOOTH FAIRIES)
The homunculi may not be huge like gaints, but they’re super fast, and there are more of them than you know. They’re the anatogonists in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which focuses on a curious girl known as Sally. She resents that her mother shipped her off to live with her father and his new girlfriend in a vast stuffy house.
While exploring the 19th-century manor, Sally accidentally stumbles across a secret basement, where the evil little creatures lie waiting. They lure Sally to her doom with promises of being friendly when they want to rip her apart in reality. They’re ancient demons that initially fed on children’s teeth until they wanted something more substantial. As a result, they are “tooth fairies” you hope you never see.
You can Stream this movie on: Justwatch.
2 MODER- The Ritual (SLEIPNIR)
When four friends hike in the Scandinavian wilderness to honor their dead friend, their spiritual journey turns dark. The forest is governed by an ancient entity, worshiped by a local cult, that expects death or obedience. The Creature is known as Moder, one of the Jötunn, Norse gods, and is said to be the “bastard offspring of Loki.”
In the film, Moder grants its worshipers long lives, free of pestilence and pain. But it requires ritual sacrifices to be appeased. The friends don’t heed The Creature’s wishes and try to leave the forest of their own volition, and that’s when they learn not to piss off mythological beings. The Creature is partially based on Sleipnir, the equine Creature ridden by Odin.
Netflix often has a fondness for dropping new movies with little fanfare. Mostly, these titles take off and secures a place in the top 10 for several weeks as movies to remember. Otherwise, they evaporate as soon as they premiere. “The Ritual,” became one of Netflix’s preeminent horror hits when it launched on the platform in 2018. With solid reviews and a terrifying central foe, it was provocative, unexpected, and defied expectations.
You can Stream this movie on: Netflix.
3 LA LLORONA (THE WEEPING WOMAN)
La Llorona, also known as “the Weeping Woman,” is a central figure in Mexican folklore. Though early texts identify her as a pre-Hispanic figure. Her story involves an indigenous woman who drowns her two children in a river after their father. Often conceptualized as a wealthy Spaniard or a conquistador, abandons her. She then drowns herself but finds herself unable to enter the afterlife and is doomed to roam the riverside in search of her children.
The mythology has been adapted frequently into a standalone entry in “The Conjuring” cinematic universe. Still, the best modern incarnation is in Jayro Bustamante’s Guatemalan horror film, aptly titled “La Llorona.” Replete with political trauma, the movie involves a Guatemalan dictator, and his family locked away in their country home. At the same time, patriarch and former ruler Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) is on trial for genocide. As the days move on, several family members report sightings of a weeping woman.
The scares only arrive in earnest in the film’s final few minutes, and those wary of slow-burn horror won’t find a lot that works here. But for those with patience, “La Llorona” is a tremendously frightening foray into generational trauma with a sensational specter at its center.
You can Stream this movie on: Amazon Prime Video
4 LEPRECHAUN (DEMON/FAIRY OFFSPRING)
According to Irish mythology, leprechauns are the offspring of demons and fairies. They’re mischievous creatures that hoard gold and love to play practical jokes on unwitting humans who search for their treasure troves. Leprechauns are always depicted as cute, lucky, green-wearing men. In the eight-film franchise, beginning with 1993’s Leprechaun, the titular Creature is malicious and murderous. It will stop at nothing to get back any gold stolen from him. While the Irish mythological Creature is often associated with good, humans tend to take things too far, which is the case in this franchise. Humans’ greed can often lead to bad things like carrying someone else’s gold and unleashing a terror they couldn’t imagine.
You can Stream this movie on: Hulu.
5 Krampus in Krampus
Writer-director Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus” had much to live up to. His long-delayed “Trick ‘r Treat” had since become a cult classic. Anyone who’s visited a Spirit Halloween can attest that the movie’s central antagonist, Sam, is Halloween’s new de facto face. With “Krampus,” audiences were eager to see whether lightning might strike twice. The cast looked great, with Toni Collette and Adam Scott leading the charge. Early promotional material promised something wickedly dark. Upon release, though, expectations were tempered. While critics called it “good, gory fun,” “Krampus” never really took off.
That’s a shame because “Krampus” is incredible. First, the titular monster himself is incredibly realized, a practically rendered behemoth with massive tusks and a fur-lined robe, all wrapped in an assemblage of chains and bells. That image is worth the price of admission, though “Krampus” also delivers a uniquely modern take on an ancient mythology.
Krampus, per Alpine folklore, was the anti-Santa Claus. A horned monster whose role was to scare misbehaving children during December, whipping them with birch rods for their misdeeds. “Krampus” respects his legend, turning Krampus into a genuinely unsettling presence summoned to punish a family that’s lost its holiday spirit. With a league of monstrous toys and elves in tow, “Krampus” is uncompromising in its commitment to visceral, playful holiday terror.
You can Stream this movie on: Apple TV.
6 The Wendigo – Antlers
In the 2021 film Antlers, the mythological Wendigo creature is brought to life after the Creature inhabits a father. The Indigenous-based evil spirit makes its captive human body crave flesh and blood of others. In Antlers, the Creature possesses a father and slowly drives him insane in his thirst for human flesh. Unfortunately, his youngest son was also infected, and it’s up to his other son to take care of the two, which he locked in their attic.
Scott Cooper’s “Antlers” is the most recent movie on this list. Of course, the Wendigo isn’t new to the cinema (see: “Wendigo,” “Dark Was the Night,” or even video games like “Until Dawn”). However, it has never been as gloriously realized as it was in Cooper’s Pacific Northwest creeper. Keri Russel stars as Julia Meadows, a schoolteacher who, despite grappling with her latent trauma, takes an interest in student Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas). She suspects Lucas is being abused by her father. However, what she discovers is considerably more terrifying than she could have imagined.
See, both Lucas’ father and brother are Wendigos. Cooper goes to great lengths to ground the Wendigo mythology in its original form. A cannibalistic Native American spirit, perennially hungry. Hidden mainly in the shadows, Cooper wisely shows the beast in all its glorious, practical might. Gory, gooey and wearing the fleshy face of its most recent victim, it’s nightmare-inducing. It’ll be a long while before the Wendigo looks this good again.
You can stream the movie on Disney+ Hotstar.
7 DULLAHAN- Sleepy Hollow.
While Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow may have made the Headless Horseman a frightening monster for Americans, the legend actually comes from the Emerald Isle. Tim Burton used the Headless Horseman as the main villain for his gothic horror film Sleepy Hollow. As a black-clad rider on a black horse who comes from the depths of Hell under the command of whoever has taken his head.
When the Dullahan goes out to ride, it’s to claim the soul of some poor victim, and when he stops riding and calls out their name, legend has it they drop dead where they are. He’s said to have skin like moldy cheese, stink like rotting corpses, and use a spinal cord as a whip, a detail we’re surprised Burton didn’t include.
You can Stream this movie on: Amazon Prime Video.
8 DAGON (DOGON)
When a young man travels with his wife and friends, trouble off the coast of Spain forces the group to seek refuge in the small fishing village of Imboca. Unfortunately, he becomes plagued by a series of dreams involving a beautiful mermaid. Soon after, fantasy and reality merge into a horrifying existence involving half human, half fish people.
An old drunkard explains to the man that when the town fell on hard times, they cast aside their faith and praised Dogon. An ancient Mesopotamian fertility god who brought them wealth and abundance. Dagon follows the attempts of the group to flee the town before the sinister deity and his followers can make their blood sacrifice.
You can Stream this movie on: MX Player.
9 The Djinn in Under the Shadow
“Under the Shadow” is another mythology-centric horror movie that, unfortunately, never got the credit it deserved. Like “Antlers,” it inserts an ancient monster into a deeply socio-political text, using a distinct cultural context to augment its central menace. Babak Anvari’s Persian-language directorial debut follows Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a mother and former medical student living in post-revolutionary Tehran. Unallowed to continue her studies because of her political affiliations, she stays in the city with her daughter, Dorsa (Avin Manshadi), despite her husband’s objections. He has been consigned into military service.
After new neighbors move in, a missile crashes into the building, and all spooky goings-on are reported. Shideh is told the legend of the Djinn, spirits in Islamic mythology that, while sometimes benevolent, are often said to be responsible for misfortune and death. Anvari uses the mythology to maximum effect, delivering searing social commentary on womanhood in Tehran while delivering the expected supernatural scares. There are several noteworthy jolts, and the ending is all out Djinn-tastic. “Under the Shadow” is the rare political horror film that delivers commentary and scares in equal measure. It’s simply sensational.
You can Stream this movie on: Netflix.
10 The Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth
After many films inspired by and alluding to Guillermo del Toro, we’ve finally reached an entry from the master of modern mythology. Despite having titles such as “Cronos,” “Mimic,” and “The Devil’s Backbone” in his filmography. Del Toro’s legacy was cemented with “Pan’s Labyrinth,” which is arguably still his most profound achievement. A fairy tale borrowed from his preceding output, it’s del Toro at his peak, a horror-fantasy hybrid that remains inimitable.
The prologue outlines the tale of Princess Moana, a young girl whose father is the king of the underworld. When she visits the human world, the light blinds her, and she dies, so her father builds several labyrinthian portals, hoping they’ll help her find her way home. Later, 10-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is forced to move to the country with her ailing mother and stepfather. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) is a general in Francoist Spain who hunts down Republican rebels. He’s a cruel, callous man, and Ofelia wishes for nothing more than to escape. Finally, she is given a chance when she meets a faun (Doug Jones) in a stone labyrinth near the property.
Symbols of peace in Roman mythology, fauns are often conceptualized as half-goat, half-man. This faun believes Ofelia to be the spirit of Princess Moana and gives her a book with three tasks she must complete before she can return. A tender and troubling examination of war, trauma, and escape, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is the apotheosis of modern fairy tales.
You can Stream this movie on: Amazon Prime Video.