Monsters go all the way back to the earliest days of horror cinema. Think of pioneering movies like Nosferatu, The Mummy, and King Kong. Those are all very different films, but they have one key element in common: they all feature a terrifying monster that attacks innocent people. You might say that the horror genre was built on monsters, and they’re still just as popular today as they were 100 years ago.
However, no genre can keep putting out the same basic story every time and expect to remain successful. While horror fans love seeing good people bravely defend themselves and their loved ones against evil creatures, that time-honored template can get stale after a while. Like just about everything in life, the standard monster movie formula needs some variety to keep it fresh and interesting, and thankfully, genre filmmakers have happily obliged.
Throughout the history of horror, there have been movies that flip the script on us and make the monster a good guy instead of a villain. That inversion makes for some really intriguing storytelling, and it’s given us some of the most compelling films the genre has to offer. Here are five of the best movies that make the monster a good guy, from horror’s infancy right up until today.
Bride of Frankenstein
In the original Frankenstein, the monster was rejected before he really had a chance to be good, and Bride of Frankenstein takes that idea and runs with it. Throughout the movie, the monster is continually vilified and mistreated just because he’s different from everyone else. There’s even a sequence where he finally finds a friend who accepts him for who he is, but that friend is cruelly taken away from him by closed-minded villagers who stubbornly refuse to believe that he’s capable of good.
This nonstop rejection is the root of everything evil about him. He acts like a monster only because he’s treated like one, but during that short time when he has a real friend, he’s actually a pretty nice guy. All he wants is to be loved and accepted just like anybody else, but the human characters refuse to let that happen. By the end of the film, he accepts the fact that he will always be a loner, and we viewers realize that the real villains of this movie are the people who labeled him a monster just because he was different.
In many ways, Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s take on Bride of Frankenstein. It’s about an artificially created person who just wants to be loved and accepted, but he ultimately ends up being rejected by the human characters because he’s not one of them. Throughout most of the movie, Edward tries his best to fit into society by using his scissor hands to cut people’s hair and trim their hedges. The townspeople appreciate this generous use of his unique abilities, but they never fully accept him as one of their own.
By the end of the film, that underlying tension finally rises to the surface when Edward accidentally cuts someone while saving him from an oncoming car. The townspeople assume he did it on purpose, so they try to kill him, only letting up when they think he’s dead. After this harrowing experience, Edward accepts that he will never fit into “normal” society, and we realize once again that the real monsters here are the humans who were all too ready to suspect the worst from him at the slightest hint of trouble.
Guillermo del Toro loves to make his monsters the good guys, and there’s no better example of this than Pan’s Labyrinth, a dark fantasy about a young girl whose mother has just married a military officer named Captain Vidal. Soon after they move to his camp, the girl meets an ancient faun, and he tells her that she’s the reincarnation of a magical underworld princess.
This faun is an ugly monster, with a human torso, the legs of a goat, and devilish horns on his head. When you first see him, you wonder if he’s the villain of the film, and you suspect that he might be lying. In contrast, Captain Vidal seems like the consummate good guy. He’s handsome, he’s powerful, and he follows the rules of etiquette to a T. From his appearance and the way he carries himself, it’s easy to think that he’s the good guy who’s going to save his step-daughter from the faun.
However, Pan’s Labyrinth brilliantly flips the script on us and shows that we shouldn’t judge people by their appearances. The faun ends up being entirely truthful, but Captain Vidal is an utter savage who shows absolutely no regard for human life. He’s the real villain of this movie, and the faun is nothing more than the messenger of a benevolent king.
Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In is a Swedish movie about a young boy, Oskar, who befriends a girl named Eli and then finds out that she’s a vampire. Like any vampire, Eli has to drink blood to survive, but she’s not truly evil.
As her friendship with Oskar grows, she comes to genuinely love him, and that relationship humanizes her and shows her that there’s more to life than just surviving. Then, at the very end of the film, she proves once and for all that she’s not the ‘bad guy’ of this story.
Oskar becomes the victim of a cruel, potentially deadly prank, and Eli swoops in at the last second to rescue him in just about the most satisfyingly brutal way possible. She saves his life, and that act cements her as the ‘good guy’ of the movie despite her murderous nature. It’s very touching in a horrific kind of way, so even though Eli isn’t entirely good, Let the Right One In still manages to subvert our expectations just enough to land it a spot on this list.
Tigers Are Not Afraid
Tigers Are Not Afraid is a Mexican movie about a group of homeless orphans who get into trouble with some members of a human trafficking ring, and one of the kids, a girl named Estrella, is the epicenter for some creepy supernatural phenomena. She has three pieces of chalk that each grant her one wish, she sometimes sees little magical creatures flying around, and she’s haunted by terrifying visions of ghosts.
Those ghosts make for some truly creepy moments, but we eventually find out that they’re just trying to help Estrella. They’re the victims of the head trafficker who’s looking for her and her friends, and all they want is a little revenge. They soon get their wish and mete out the justice their murderer deserves, and in doing so, they also save Estrella’s life and show that they’re actually the heroes of the film.