Types of Monsters

“That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.”– Stephen King, Introduction to The Shining (Simon and Schuster edition, 2002)

(I made that sign. Isn’t it cute?)

Ah, October. What a lovely, spooky month. And what better time to turn our minds to thoughts of goblins, beasts, vampires, murdering psychopaths, ghouls, zombies, and the occasional resident ghost?

Wikipedia tells me that “the word ‘monster’ derives from Latin monstrum, an aberrant occurrence, usually biological, that was taken as a sign that something was wrong within the natural order.” So if you think about it, monsters are simply the abnormal in the worst possible way — anything different that is perceived as frightening.

Since I love to categorize and classify things, let’s break it down, shall we?

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

I contend that there are only 2 broad types of monsters:
1) Physical
2) Metaphysical

A monster is one, the other, or both. No monster is neither, or it does not exist and is therefore not a monster.

And all monsters can be categorized in one or more of the following sub-types:

Alien– from another planet/world/dimension/time
example: Alien

Belief-based– only exists if the victim believes it exists
example: Voodoo creatures

Historical– long-lost, previously existing creature
example: Bigfoot, King Kong

Human– people, but bad
example: Psycho, American Psycho

Supernatural– things with no explanation other than “it just is”

Magic– spells, power, ritual, etc.
example: Pet Cemetary

Religious/mythological– beings created by higher powers
example: Cerberus, Satan

Biological– a being or creature with a viable scientific explanation

Man-made– an experiment
example: Mr. Hyde

Natural– a species created through evolution, etc.
example: apes in Planet of the Apes, Graboids in Tremors

Perceived/false– the faux monster
example: The Sandlot’s “The Beast,” To Kill a Mockingbird’s Boo Radley

And all of these types are scary for one or more of these reasons:
Malicious intent

Motive unknown
example: Michael Myers in Halloween

Motive known
example: Aileen Wuornos in Monster

Instability of motive
example: Jack Torrance in The Shining

Superior ability

example: Jigsaw

example: Jason

example: 28 Days Later zombies

example: Hellraiser, Lestat

example: The Ring, The Faculty

Willingness to do evil
example: villains in Scream, killer in Frailty

Physical appearance
example: Nosferatu, The Grudge, monster in Pan’s Labyrinth

The unknown
example: The Sixth Sense

Distant presence
example: The Blair Witch Project

All of this works together to create a sense of inevitability, a sort of looming powerlessness as if the protagonist/victim is helpless against what’s coming. And that, my friends, is why monsters are scary.

What do you think? Who (or what) is your favorite monster? What “type” are they? And of all the types, which kind is the scariest to you?

I’ll be doing several scary/horror-based posts this month in honor of Halloween. Welcome to my dark little corner of the world. Happy October.

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  • Aww, I don’t think I can really categorise my favourite monster. They all work for their own reasons. My favourite for writing, however, is usually the supernatural unknown. I like to write people and creatures who are just off the edge of your vision, lurking, mysterious, and creeping the hell out of you. 😀 I haven’t found a good reason to use other types of monster yet.


    • Ashlee, I’m totally with you on the lurking creepy monsters being the scariest! I think my favorite movie monster is the spirit thing in Paranormal Activity, which I guess would be belief-based, since paying attention to it gives it energy. And I think what makes it scary is the unknown motive + distant presence. Totally works for me.

      Thanks for commenting, Ashlee!

  • Kyle

    My favorite monsters are infectious zombies caused by an unstoppable man made virus. Totally awesome and completely scary. And totally unoriginal of me. Zombies are trending! Probably for a reason.

    • It is scary! That’s why it’s trending; it works. I prefer an evolved virus to a man-made one, though. I’m tired of movies making humans responsible for everything evil. Too much proselytizing. But overall, zombies are very effective as monsters – a classic!

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  • Ruthie

    i really like reading stories about monsters and other mythical creatures it think its because we can all relate to them in one way or another (even if it sounds silly). And when i think about it i would rather be friends with a werewolf than a serial killer because you know when the werewolf is gunna attack and y they do it but does a serial killer really ever have a reason other than being crazy. im kinda young but i no i want to write a really good story about monsters and creatures but as i said im young do u have any ideas on how to keep my ideas focused on one thing at a time instead of different ideas for like a million books.
    ps i dont really write like this i always spell check and write proper for my writitng.

    • Ha! Well, welcome, Ruthie. Thanks for stopping by. I can see what you mean about werewolves vs. serial killers. And as far as being young… don’t let that stop you! To write a really good monster story, I think you need to write about what scares you the most. Invent the monster that you least want to imagine could be real, and then create a story around that. Good luck!