The world is still a big and scary place. There’s much we haven’t answered or catalogued. And folklore is full of stories of culturally specific cryptids, legends and stories which can be mined for our viewing pleasure. Some stories have been told so long nobody remembers their origin, and new ones are popping up every decade. In a world that struggles to come up with new content, it makes sense that we’d turn to our oldest most fantastical unexplained stories to inspire our imaginations and give them a facelift.
So to shake up a little extra creepy Halloween spirit, I want to go through some of the more interesting (and dare I say, cinematic) examples of these off-the-books animals. Some of these creatures are very well-known. We’re so familiar with them, it’s difficult to be afraid of them or imagine them as villains. Nessie seems like a cheerful dinosaur, Big Foot just a hairy guy trying to get along. Countless films have been made about these elusive creatures, but there are hundreds of regional versions. These first three represent the more widely-known cryptids, recognizing that there are multiple movies about them. As we go on, we’ll explore more niche regional monsters and the films devoted to them, for better or worse. One thing’s for sure, there are a lot of cryptid movies, but very few of them are great. Grab a snack and read on, there are all sorts of linked goodies tucked in here for you to explore!
The Far-Reaching Classics
Every country has its own version of Bigfoot, and he’s likely the most universally recognized cryptid of all time. We all know at least one person who genuinely and passionately believes in Bigfoot, and they know at least person who for SURE had a real sighting. For SURE. Because of its prevalence, there are probably thousands of movies about Bigfoot. This one came out in 2014 and it’s called Exists, obviously because he exists, for SURE. The forest man needs no introduction, a giant ape-like man who stumbles through the forest has his own memoir. Nevertheless, this group of friends is on a camping trip turned hunting expedition to find the truth. It’s been done before, weak relationships and bad choices make things deadlier than they have to be. But Exists was directed by Eduardo Sánchez of previous Lovely Molly fame. His experience with the genre makes this a formidable found footage creature feature that’s just as worth a watch as any other Sasquatch extravaganza. Pick your poison; remember Willow Creek?
THE HOST (2006)
Any respectable body of water has a mythical monster lurking beneath it. Sure, we all know about the Loch Ness monster, but what about Ogopogo (British Columbia) Tessie (Lake Tahoe), Chessie (Chesapeake Bay), and Bessie (Lake Erie)? You get the point. The unknown depths of water inspire us to create dreadful monsters, prehistoric or chemically-created, their presence makes knees knock in boats and children wear their life jackets. Coming out of Korea, Bong Joon-Ho has created a unique mashup of genres with The Host telling the tale of a river monster who has kidnapped the daughter of a snack-shack employee. How far will he go to rescue her? It’s part horror, part comedy, part touching family drama handled by one of the best working directors in the country. Here’s our full review.
THE RUINS (2008)
Much like the aforementioned cryptids, legends about murderous plants can be found all over the globe. The most famous is probably a mysterious human-eating tree in Madagascar told in stories since at least 1878, or its Central American cousin known as as yat-e-veo, or “I see you”. Making a horror movie about killer plants seems difficult. Plants aren’t inherently scary, and at their worst usually just give you a rash. For those with an interest the variety is fascinating, like the corpse flower that smells like rotting flesh (you can watch this one bloom in real time), or the bleeding tooth fungus that looks like it’s weeping blood. Little Shop of Horrors gave a comedic take on the venus flytrap, but very few movies about killer plants have reached a level higher than “cheese.” The Ruins is a little different, creating a genuinely chilling story about evil vines that have taken over some Mayan ruins. Anyone who touches them – like our group of American tourists on the last day of their trip – is forced to remain in the ruins, quarantined until they die from exposure or from the plant itself. There are some genuine cringe-worthy moments for those of you who like to get grossed out, so keep an eye out for this one.
THE NANABIJOU TAPES (2014)
The only thing unique about The Nanabijou Tapes is the fact that it’s Canadian, and based on an Ojibwe legend about The Sleeping Giant. This is a large rock formation across the waters of Thunder Bay that resembles a giant lying on his back, asleep. The story of Nanabijou has several versions, much like any legend passed down orally across vast distances throughout the years. Nanabijou (Nanabozho/Nanabush) is sometimes known as the spirit of the deep sea, and it is his body who has turned to stone in this instance after white men discovered the secret of a magical silver mine. According to others, he is also known as a trickster and can take on the form of a rabbit. The Nanabijou Tapes, written and directed by Chris Borgo borrows heavily from found footage classics and uses a scant budget to tell the tale with signature Canadian charm.
Wendigo (Atlantic Coast/Great Lakes)
Without a doubt, the best portrayal of the Wendigo in our recent history is in NBC’s Hannibal. Legends of the Wendigo feature in Ojibwe, Cree, Innu, Salteau, and Naskapi people, warning of a human-like cannibalistic creature that embodies an insane spirit of greed and murder. Some say a human can become one if they’re overtaken by their own greed, and that the Wendigo can never be satisfied so it continues to kill and eat for eternity. There are a handful of Wendigo movies with heavily racist overtones. This Larry Fessenden version borrows lightly from the legend and follows a photographer who takes his family on a winter vacation for a break, finding themselves affected by a dark presence. This cryptid has some of the most fascinating history and ideas, so though there are no really great movies about it yet, it’s always worth learning more about.
Mothman (West Virginia)
THE MOTHMAN OF POINT PLEASANT (2017)
Everybody knows about The Mothman Prophecies (“Chaaaaapstiiiiick”). It’s a fine movie, but to date no movie has been able to fully capture the most fascinating cryptid out there. At least, it’s always been my favourite. The Mothman of Point Pleasant is a new documentary by Seth Breedlove that chronicles the first (or second) sighting by a group of teenagers in 1966 and gives a comprehensive overview of the history of The Mothman’s many sightings throughout the years. The name is pretty self-explanatory: this cryptid is a humanoid moth with glowing eyes. Other than looking kind of weird, he seems to be a decent fellow. Well, as long as you don’t believe he had anything to do with the collapse of Silver Bridge in 1967 that killed nearly 50 people. Smalltown Monsters is making all of our dreams come true with quality independent movies about our best cryptids, starting with “Michigan’s Bigfoot” Minerva Monster in 2015.
Jersey Devil (New Jersey)
THE BARRENS (2012)
The Jersey Devil has a particularly interesting origin story that has only been put to film once in a movie called 13th Child. Legend has it the devil was borne in the 1700s of Deborah Leeds, her thirteenth child that swiftly transformed into a hooved, winged creature that mutilated the midwife and took off into the night. It has been spotted by skeptics and dreamers alike to this day, a creature who destroys livestock and screams into the night. It all sounds very Salem Witch Trial-esque, and if you go digging you’ll be entertained for hours learning about this history. Along with a handful of modest movies, The Barrens aims to turn it into a horrific tale. Richard takes his family on a camping trip south of Jersey and is subsequently terrorized by repressed memories and a mythic creature in the woods. What’s real? Who knows? Why can’t anybody get an adaptation of this legend right?
Montauk (New York)
THE MONTAUK CHRONICLES (2015)
The Montauk Chronicles caused waves for its outlandish take on a conspiracy theory that suggested an airforce camp in Long Island was covering up experiments from the ’70s and ’80s. This documentary was created by Christopher Garetano over a decade and is the culmination of 2 separate films he was making on the subject. Though the movie is polarizing, the subject matter of the Montauk Project is wild enough to pique even the most casually curious – time travel and psychological warfare are just the tip of the iceberg and where the government is concerned we know it always comes down to aliens. Always. Now, all of this being said, the actual Montauk Monster was an unidentified corpse which was found washed ashore in Montauk. Many believe it’s just a decaying raccoon, but it falls into the category of unidentified corpses (like the Panama Creature) and is related to Globsters, enormous decomposing carcasses found ashore that often inspire similar stories. Here’s a dedicated website about the monster to lose yourself in.
Chupacabra (South America)
Chupacabra is a goat-sucker, leaving livestock behind exsanguinated with puncture marks from its terrible teeth. At first, people thought their animals were being drained for Satanic rituals, but then a mysterious and frightening figure began to haunt the peripherals of the community. They spoke of a modestly sized creature with spines all down its back and a tail. This cryptid is relatively new; sightings of chupacabras only date back to the mid-nineties in Puerto Rico. Its territory has expanded since then, and this specific tale in Indigenous is told in Panama. A (say it with me) group of friends decides to go on vacation where they learn about some gruesome deaths attributed to chupacabra. They’re warned of the danger but also encouraged to hike into the forest to look at a waterfall. It has all the ingredients of light group entertainment, and a creative display of what the creature might actually look like.
LORD OF TEARS (2013)
Lord of Tears feels like a kind of gothic video collage, sopping in atmosphere and dread. It heavily values its style and commits to it the entire way through. Back in the ’70s, a couple of young girls reportedly saw a large creature hovering above a church tower in England. This creature was described and drawn as half man, half owl and later dubbed by one of the girl’s father as the Owlman. Anyone who has looked deep into the eyes of a bird (give it a try sometime!) knows how creepy and endlessly dark those glossy globs can be. Lord of Tears is a Scottish horror film about a man who returns to settle an estate where memories of an obsession with the Owlman resurface. It’s a neat little film that uses haunting imagery and genuinely eerie costume design to make an impact.
The Philippines have some of the best cryptozoology out there, and they’ve been telling legends about the Aswang since the 16th century. This creature is a blend of vampire, werewolf, and ghoul and changes its form based on the source of the legend. It’s also used interchangeably with the term Manananggal – “the separator” – so for the sake of this list we’ll address them as one in the same. The Manananggal is one of the more terrifying and unique mentions on this list, a horrifying, hideous female creature that’s capable of splitting its body in half horizontally. The top portion has wings like a bat that can fly off into the night, leaving the legs behind. It is said to prey on pregnant women, puncturing their wombs with its proboscis and sucking the lifeblood out of the fetus. A little Filipino horror gem from 1997 exists called Aswang and it tells the story of a young pregnant woman forced to accept an offer to marry a wealthy man and stay in his estate, but her presence might just be part of a larger, more evil scheme.
Mongolian Death Worm (Mongolia)
MONGOLIAN DEATH WORM (2010)
When will humans learn that experimental drilling processes are just a bad idea? In this case, an American oil company has awoken a nest of aggressive death worms, giant underground worms who burst through the ground and devour their prey. These worms are based off the ones said to exist in the Gobi desert, and can spit venom and can be tracked via waves in the sand in the path of their travel. These Mongolian worms are firmly rooted in history, sighted since the mid 1920s but never proven (or disproven!) and are given the limelight in Syfy’s Mongolian Death Worm, a film that will only please diehard creature feature aficionados. The rest of us should stick with Tremors but appreicate that people are trying to get all these delicious legends out from underground.
RED BILLABONG (2016)
Billabong is an Australian word that describes a sort of lake that is left behind by a dead river. Seems like the perfect habitat for the Bunyip, an Aboriginal mythical creature whose appearance is hard to describe. This is thanks to its early 17th century origins and its changing appearance. Most can agree it is some sort of large water spirit that leans towards the shape of a hippo or manatee, even a disturbing type of platypus. Still others have described it as part of a giant starfish. In any case, it is the monster featured in Red Billabong, an extra conflict for brothers coming to terms with their family secrets in the Outback, and maybe an explanation for the whereabouts of their missing friends.
Experimental Student Film, NSFW
My first introduction to Imbunche was through an episode of Lore podcast detailing a legendary group of warlocks in Chile. They lived in a cave that was guarded by Imbunche, terribly malformed creatures who communicate with guttural sounds and scare anyone who might stumble upon the lair. Chilote legend states that a first-born son is stolen or sold to the warlocks and then his body is broken and twisted to complete its hideous shape. The tongue is forked, the limbs are broken, the head is twisted backwards. This experimental student film is interesting, but can you image what kind of horror movie could be made with this? Somebody, please. Here’s some more history on that, because I know you’re wondering.
Many cryptids, much like the classic fairytales, were born of a desire to keep children in line. Parents and communities adopted scary stories that taught a lesson or warned children of the consequences of misbehaving, and a lot of the time they worked. The Qallupilluk is one of these, a child-snatcher from the ice cold depths and a tale told to keep children away from the dangerous waters and thin ice. The National Film Board of Canada has a charming animated short above, but this has the potential for real blood-chilling fear.
Bonus: 6 Cool Cryptids that SHOULD Have Movies
Flatwoods Monster (West Virginia) – A film based on this West Virginia cryptid (also known as the Braxton County monster as that’s where it appeared) has been in production since 2013. Perhaps the filmmakers have disappeared, much like the subject of their movie, as nothing has been heard about it since. The Flatwoods Monster is almost as interesting as its regional neighbour The Mothman. First witnessed by children, it’s a seven foot tall inhuman maybe-extraterrestrial with a diamond shaped head that gives off a sickening mist. It’s also the cryptid I was assigned when I took this “Which Cryptid Are You” quiz, and that’s pretty neat. This just in – the aforementioned Smalltown Monsters crew is working on a film to be released in 2018!
Loveland Frog (Ohio) – Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog! Okay, this is really special. Cincinnati has good chili and, as it turns out, good people. A group of which created a zany musical based on sightings of The Loveland Frog, a giant bipedal frog. It was first sighted in 1955 and as recently as 2016 during the Pokemon Go craze. If I may quote from a review of the show, “What’s all that hootin’ and whoopin’ and bluegrass goin’ on at Art Academy?” I know, it’s not a movie, and you probably can’t even watch it but I really want you to know that it exists, because if anything it’s a joyful example of the impact local legends have on the stories we tell and the art we make. But what if it was a horror musical…
Bandage Man (Oregon) – The Bandage Man is a crytpid sighting in Oregon that generally involves seeing a man wrapped in bloody, oozing bandages along the side of the freeway. He was first spotted in the psychedelic ’60s and emits a powerful stench of rotting flesh. Seem gross. I’d watch it.
Kurupi (South America) – This cryptid is a tiny man who boasts an extremely long prehensile penis, capable of sneaking in windows and doors and impregnating unsuspecting victims. Kurupi was used often to explain unwanted pregnancies, or to scare kids into listening to their parents. This could be an incredible horror comedy, and I’d love to see someone -preferably a woman – get a crack at it.
J’ba Fofi (Africa) – Thousands of people are terrified of spiders. I bet hundreds of thousands would be afraid of a giant one. This has been explored in films like Big Ass Spider or 8-Legged Freaks, but nobody has made a movie specifically about J’ba Fofi, the famed giant tarantula in the Congo that people have been writing about since the 1800s.
Yara-ma-yha-who (Australia) – According to Australian Aboriginal mythology, the Yara-ma-yha-who is a large hairy frog that lives in trees waiting for unsuspecting victims. It swallows them whole, drinking all their blood, and then regurgitates them later (minus some height and adding a red tint to their skin) repeating the process until its victim turns into a Yara-ma-yha-who themselves. This is ripe for sci-fi body horror, and anyway, there’s something so interesting about amphibians even when they aren’t monsters.
Featured Image: Hex Media (Lord of Tears)