The “misunderstood monster” is an archetype you’ll remember from stories like Shrek, Beauty and the Beast, King Kong, Frankenstein, the Incredible Hulk, and Where the Wild Things Are.
And while it’s nice to be reminded that certain beasts “have layers,” it’s more fun to find hidden depth in places you aren’t expected to look for it. Here to show you why not to take horror at its oozing, maggot-ridden face value are eight monsters with less malice than you might first think.
1. Grendel’s Mother (from Beowulf)
The (Bum?) Rap: Grendel’s mother is a degenerate bog harpy hell-bent on terrorizing Danish warriors; alternately, she’s a nude, gold-covered beauty queen who wants to spawn your dragon offspring.
The Reality: Living quietly on the outskirts of town, Grendel’s mother keeps to herself until Beowulf murders her son and keeps Grendel’s mangled arm as a trophy.
When she kills one Danish warrior in retaliation – as per, you know, Viking protocol – Beowulf tracks her down, murders her, and drags her severed head back to town like a proud housecat with a mouse. Who’s crossing the line now, Beowulf?
The (Bum?) Rap: The drunken uncle to vampires’ suave exsanguination, zombies are stumbling, soulless flesh bags with an insatiable hunger for human meat.
The Reality: Flesh-eating? Yes. Stumbling? Hardly.
Second only to munching on your brain, zombies live/reanimate for the pleasure of showing off on the dance floor. Just ask Michael Jackson or season seven of The X-Files.
3. The Wicked Witch of the West
The (Bum?) Rap: The Wicked Witch of the West is an umbrella-wielding aquaphobe with nothing better to do than chase lost children and threaten fluffy terriers.
The Reality: In Gregory Maguire’s tell-all biography, the “Wicked” Witch of the West (a.k.a. Elphaba) shows up as a social outcast who becomes the unfortunate victim of slander.
Although we shouldn’t necessarily trust Maguire over L. Frank Baum, anyone who’d want a horde of winged monkeys at least has a sense of humor.
4. Bloody Mary
The (Bum?) Rap: Bloody Mary is a malicious, spiteful ghost that will crawl through your mirror and gleefully scratch your eyes out.
The Reality: Chanting “Bloody Mary” into a mirror is a form of spiritual invocation, meaning that it creates a portal through which to pull Mary’s spirit into the world of the living.
Try spending a few centuries getting repeatedly yanked into giggling teenagers’ bathrooms at all hours of the night; you’d probably threaten to tear some heads off, too.
The (Bum?) Rap: Hannibal Lecter is a born psychopath who’d just as soon eat your face as psychoanalyze your darkest childhood memory.
The Reality: Although Hannibal really would like to eat your face, it’s only because he watched Nazis cannibalize his sister when he was six.
Under better circumstances, you might have just known him as a brilliant psychiatrist or your mom’s quirky bridge partner.
The (Bum?) Rap: This great white shark is so bloodthirsty that it will try to eat you, everyone you’ve ever loved, and your little boat, too.
The Reality: After either studying up on his antagonist or sitting down to a Shark Week marathon, author Peter Benchley insists that “the shark in an updated Jaws could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim; for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.”
Which is true, but just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Don’t go in the water.”
The (Bum?) Rap: Sauron is a dark lord so powerful that, even when phoning it in as a giant floating eyeball, he almost manages to overthrow Middle-earth.
The Reality: That’s Lieutenant Sauron to you, buddy; Sauron is actually the servant of a much darker, more powerful entity known as Melkor, whose evil exploits far exceed anything Sauron ever attempted.
That’s right: reading The Lord of the Rings is like getting through a thousand-page novel on the Battle of Midway only to find out that it was part of this whole other incident known as “WWII.”
8. Cookie Monster
The (Bum?) Rap: Self-styled as “the Robert Downey, Jr. of cookies,” Cookie Monster practically freebases baked treats while singing about the letter “c” in a voice most death metalists can only dream of.
The Reality: As of 2006, Cookie Monster is an outspoken supporter of Healthy Habits for Life, praising the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables while explaining that cookies are “a sometimes food.”
We don’t know what sparked this drastic personal transformation, but we’re pretty sure Cookie announced it with: “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.”