5. Predator in Predator (1987)
Special effects legend Stan Winston makes a couple of appearances on this list. And we’d be remiss not to mention his otherworldly work on the first two Predator films. To make a long story short, the road to Winston’s final Predator design was a windy one (in one iteration, Jean-Claude Van Damme was playing the creature in a mantis-like costume on stilts). Ultimately portrayed by 7’2” mime artist Kevin Peter Hall in a suit that took Winston and company a mere six weeks to build, the final Predator design stood toe-to-toe (or is that bicep-to-bicep?) with his body-building co-stars.
Inspired in part by a painting of a Rastafarian warrior in producer Joel Silver’s office, legend has it that the Predator’s distinct, arthropod-like mandibles were the result of a throwaway comment by Aliens director James Cameron, who was sharing a flight with Winston to Japan. For the Predator’s blood (if Alien taught us anything it’s that fluids really sell a creature effect) the team used the ingenious combination of glow stick liquid and lube. And you know what they say, if it bleeds fluorescent KY Jelly, you can kill it. (Meg Shields)
4. Darkness in Legend (1985)
It is an honor, a privilege, and dare I say a requirement, to feature the work of Rob Bottin on a list celebrating practical effects. Hot off his physical and mental breakdown in the wake of John Carpenter’s The Thing, Bottin set to work bringing the many creatures of Legend to life. And among the film’s multitudinous latex delights (including a swamp witch played by Bottin’s old pal from The Howling, Robert Picardo), one monster suit horror design reigns supreme: Darkness, the film’s satanic antagonist who, as his name suggests, wants to plunge the world into eternal night.
Played by cinema’s greatest ham, Tim Curry, it took five and a half hours to get the actor devil’d up. In addition to 18-inch iron frame lifts and full-body prosthetics, Curry was tasked with wearing two three-foot fiberglass horns atop his head. As Ridley Scott puts it in the DVD extra “Shadows of Darkness,” the thought-process behind Darkness’ look was initially inspired by lustful satyrs which Bottin then took down a distinctly satanic route. Grand, operatic, and captivatingly realized by Curry, Darkness is one of cinema’s best devils, best villains, and absolutely one of the best guy-in-a-suit performances out there. (Meg Shields)
3. Pumpkinhead in Pumpkinhead (1988)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — Stan Winston‘s title creation for his own feature directorial debut is the absolute best of its kind. While he was the driving force on the film, the creature was birthed from the collective minds of several practical effects legends including Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. As evidenced by the photo above, Pumpkinhead is more than *just* a dude in a costume. He is monster suit horror, personified. The creature walks on stilted legs allowing it to tower over its victims, its claw-like fingers add to its reach, and a demonic visage grins, squints, and scowls at those unlucky enough to find themselves nearby.
More than that, the costume conveys the creature’s origins both in its devilish appearance and its changing face. It was given life by a witch at the request of a man (Lance Henriksen) seeking vengeance. And as the beast claims lives its face comes ever closer to resembling the man who wished it into existence. Man and monster are tied together in an unsettling way, both physically and spiritually, and it adds unexpected humanity into this nightmare on two legs. (Rob Hunter)
2. Gill-Man in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)
Despite being the Universal Monster with the fewest credits to his name, Gill-Man is one of the studio’s most artful creature designs. You can keep your lumbering Frankensteins and suave Draculas. All I want for Christmas is the titular half-man, half-fish creature from the Black Lagoon. Skillfully realized by the steady hand of former Disney animator Millicent Patrick, Gill-Man was brought to life by underwater jack-of-all-trades Ricou Browning. Strikingly unique alongside his peers, Gill Man’s form is at once alien and human; a physicalization of his would-be captors’ interest in harnessing the amphibious powers for interstellar travel.
Unlike his other monstrous peers at Universal, Gill-Man is an undeniable outsider; a fishy freak who (as Marilyn Monroe notes in The Seven Year Itch), wasn’t really all that bad, but merely craved affection the world refused to reciprocate. Indeed, as described by producer William Alland, Gill-Man is “sad but beautiful;” a grotesque that “would frighten you because of how human it was, not the other way around.” With gracefully articulated limbs and dexterous hands contrasted by an accusatory, inquisitive gaze, Gill-Man is the apex of man-in-a-suit creature design; an emerald green, airtight, full-body skin of molded rubber sponge that allowed the creature to feel both otherworldly and recognizably human above and below water. (Meg Shields)
1. Xenomorph in Alien (1979)
Bolaji Badejo may not be a name most horror fans are familiar with, but all are undoubtedly familiar with his work. The Lagos-born Badejo was in London studying visual art when pure chance had him in the same pub one evening as casting agent Peter Ardram. At the time, director Ridley Scott was looking for someone to step into the H. R. Ginger-designed rubber suit and bring to life the Xenomorph. Scott needed someone that was extremely tall and slender with long arms. No one quite fit the bill until Badejo, and his 6’10” frame, walked into that pub.
With the help of endless amounts of K-Y Jelly, a pair of stuntmen, and a team of special effects wizards, Badejo morphed into one of the most iconic man-in-a-suit monsters the world has ever seen. Badejo never worked in film again, but his impact and lasting legacy on the genre are nearly unmatched. (Chris Coffel)