1. FireWater

    FireWater Senior Member

    Joined:
    May 29, 2016
    Messages:
    338
    Likes Received:
    205

    What features make a creature look physically terrifying?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by FireWater, Jul 8, 2017.

    I don't just mean the practical "it could hunt me down and maul me" danger of creatures like crocodiles, lions, tigers and bears. I mean something alien, like if you were hiking through the woods and saw a random new creature that you had never seen before.

    What kind of physical features would make this thing seem horrifying, like a monster that would make your heart drop and make you run like the wind?
    Instead of a reaction more like "Ooh, interesting, what kind of animal is that?" or "Huh, must be a unique local species."

    Again, something more unnatural and off-beat than the practical dangerous features of the predatory animals in our world that we know. If you came across a large bear in the woods, sure you'd be scared of getting hurt, but I'm looking for that extra level of "horror movie factor." A real-life bear would be scary if it entered your camping tent, but looking at Google Images of bears and reading about bears in nature books doesn't invoke fear. I'm looking for something where even its picture or video would make you feel creeped out. Know what I mean?
     
    Fernando.C likes this.
  2. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Senior Member

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2012
    Messages:
    476
    Likes Received:
    192
    Giant spider/scorpion is always a solid choice. They exist, y'know.
     
    PilotMobius likes this.
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2015
    Messages:
    2,464
    Likes Received:
    3,858
    Location:
    SC, USA
    Google some of the creepy shit that lives at the bottom of the ocean for ideas. I love those creepy bastards but I gather that most people don't so much.

    When it comes to scary creatures design, if you want it to hit as many people as possible, you have to cast a wide net. Most people are suceptible to the uncanny valley, so there's something to be said for things that seem normal but have just one thing off. Are you familiar with smiledog? It's that shoop of a dog with human teeth. It's been around for ages so I think most people are desensitized to it specifically, but it's a good illustration of the idea. There's also irl a fish that has very human-looking teeth (that's the ocean for ya). Maned wolves look like someone stretched out a fox and some people find them unsettling.

    On the thought of bears, though, check out what they look like with mange. It's not really uncanny, but they do kinda stop looking like bears. That's what I'd aim for. Take something that's real - scary or not - and add something that doesn't belong - scary or not. Or, take something away. Or both! It's juxtaposition. A bear with human fingers, or without a head, or an ordinary bear where there should be no bear, like in the elevator of your office building.

    I think it's a lot easier to tailor creepy critters to a specific audience. Have a theme. The sex and pregnancy themes in Alien, for instance.

    Another gross thing that came to mind is teratomas. They're a type of tumor that basically randomly grow shit like teeth, hair, and eyeballs anywhere in your body. Again - it's stuff where it shouldn't be, just body horror instead of the uncanny valley angle. Less unsettling, more repulsive. Depends on what exactly you're going for. A bear, but it's hairless with mange, human teeth are sprouting from its spine, and there are no eyes in its face but clusters of them, blue and cloudy, dotting its body.
     
    QueenOfPlants, Lifeline and FireWater like this.
  4. Walking Dog

    Walking Dog Active Member

    Joined:
    May 15, 2017
    Messages:
    151
    Likes Received:
    105
    Location:
    Texas
    It depends on size relative to me. Scary smaller creatures have multiple legs and appendages that stab, grab, sting, or slice. Or they have slithering bodies difficult to get away from. Or they fly with the ability to bite or latch onto something. Anthropomorphic creatures can be scary if they are human-like, yet too distorted to be confused as human. Stories of humans mating with animals and having offspring freak me out: pig-man, dog-girl, etc. Multiple heads, or the ability to mimic me in appearance and speech can be spooky. I scream like a little girl if a wasp lands on me.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2017
    Decatsmeow likes this.
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2014
    Messages:
    10,855
    Likes Received:
    11,673
    Part of it's what I can't see - seeing bits of a snake with other bits hidden by foliage is creepier than seeing the whole snake. Certain ways of moving are creepy (slithering, or anything that seems "unnatural" and stilted, but still fast). Sliminess is bad. Things that look like they'd smell bad or like their flesh would feel wrong...

    Yeah, I'm mostly with @izzybot - it's the wrongness that creeps me out.

    I'm not scared of bears. But a hairless bear with slimy skin? Yikes.
     
  6. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2006
    Messages:
    3,179
    Likes Received:
    1,387
    Location:
    Ohio, USA
    I think people have a primal fear of being devoured. So a creature that appears like it is carnivorous to a major extent...

    I think darker coloration and possibly slimy. Foul odor that can be described might help. Fetid breath, for example--where fetid means nasty or unpleasant. Or description such as: smelled like it normally fed from barrel of raw sewage spiced with rotting pig intestines.

    In the end, a reader's imagination will go further than any detailed description could do. So, saying a little and letting the reader's imagination run with it, will make the creature as frightening within the description as possible.
     
    Odile_Blud and FireWater like this.
  7. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2017
    Messages:
    1,183
    Likes Received:
    1,488
    Location:
    Ann Arbor, MI
    I was working on beasties and the rabbit hole led me to shaved primates and bears. They really look alien.
     
    Ethan Gargantiel and FireWater like this.
  8. PilotMobius

    PilotMobius Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2016
    Messages:
    130
    Likes Received:
    111
    Location:
    'murica
    You'd probably want to try invoking the uncanny valley and the fear of the unknown. Maybe describe vaguely human features with subtle details that something isn't quite right.
     
    FireWater likes this.
  9. Pericles

    Pericles New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 10, 2017
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Michigan
    Some feature (which I'll leave up to you) that makes the creature resilient and if it catches you, you will die a very painful death. Don't shed too much light on it, fear of the unknown is powerful. This stuff is basic though, it all depends on the context I imagine.
     
    FireWater likes this.
  10. Alistair Black

    Alistair Black Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2017
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    38
    A very alien creature, with features that aren't comparable to any animal on earth. It's hard to tell if it's intelligent or not, but it needs to be immediately threatening. Maybe its mouth is on its chest, an oval with rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth. Perhaps its body bends and contorts in ways that aren't consistent with a vertebrate. Maybe it doesn't have eyes, or at least visible eyes, and relies on detecting electric currents in its prey, or echolocation.
     
  11. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    6,771
    Likes Received:
    5,384
    Location:
    Funland
    Lamprey mouths and hatchetfish eyeballs (and gaping maws) freak me out. The former has too many teeth and the latter... I guess since their "expressions" can be human like as in they seem to be in unimaginable pain or screaming in abject terror.
     
    BayView likes this.
  12. C.F. Boehlke

    C.F. Boehlke Member

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    37
    Likes Received:
    32
    Dead, empty eyes.
     
  13. birdspoon

    birdspoon Member

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Washington DC
    I think that the eyes of a predator are the most alarming. Tiger eyes freak me out really badly. Maybe go with something that has a really intense gaze. The sensation of being watched majorly freaks people out.
     
    Homer Potvin likes this.
  14. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    6,886
    Likes Received:
    13,302
    Location:
    Rhode Island
    I can't speak for tigers but I've come across a mountain lion or two at night, and those glowing eyes are freaky as fuck!
     
    birdspoon likes this.
  15. birdspoon

    birdspoon Member

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Washington DC
    Yeah they really are scary! I saw wolf eyes once in Montana many years ago, it was really terrifying too. Ughh
     
  16. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2017
    Messages:
    823
    Likes Received:
    1,599
    Anything insectile would get me. If I saw something like, let's say a roach the size of a dinner plate, I would run and keep running. Doesn't matter what it's doing, I'm gone. Because there could be a nest, you see.
     
    birdspoon likes this.
  17. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    5,933
    Likes Received:
    10,703
    Location:
    The great white north.
    Definitely this. To me, Uncanny Valley is more terrifying than any animal I've ever seen. Need an example? Watch this:

    This is pretty much my nightmare fuel.
     
    Lifeline and birdspoon like this.
  18. birdspoon

    birdspoon Member

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2017
    Messages:
    24
    Likes Received:
    16
    Location:
    Washington DC
    This horrifies me. Thank you.
     
  19. Lifeline

    Lifeline North of South. Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2015
    Messages:
    3,324
    Likes Received:
    4,565
    Location:
    On the Road.
    For me it's a way of movement. If the thing moves with precision, with a controlled surety, a primal instinct kicks in and I automatically assume 'danger'. The extent of my reaction depends on who/what the thing is looking at/moving towards.
     
  20. raine_d

    raine_d Active Member

    Joined:
    May 30, 2011
    Messages:
    158
    Likes Received:
    140
    Something vaguely arachnoid, combined with something vaguely human-skeleton-like, would combine some of my fear buttons....
     
  21. QueenOfPlants

    QueenOfPlants Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2017
    Messages:
    174
    Likes Received:
    117
    Location:
    Germany
    Teeth.
    Human teeth.
    Not in its mouth, but on its face.

    Like that fake hyperdontia picture. If you don't feel too freaked out by teeth, look here: https://videos.deathaddict.com/2017/05/28488_teeth.jpg
    They don't have to be REAL human teeth, but can be any kind of alien surface structure that looks a bit alike.

    Or another skin/shell/surface pattern that evokes trypophobia. Like this: http://images.mentalfloss.com/sites/default/files/67867-istock-616012888_0.jpg?resize=1100x740 Bonus points if things come crawling out of it.
    What if coral have evolved into sentient beings and now want to colonize Earth? Their surface houses polyps that grab insects and other yummi foodstuffs out of the air. ^ ^
     
    Seven Crowns likes this.
  22. FlyingFishPhilosophy

    FlyingFishPhilosophy New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2017
    Messages:
    16
    Likes Received:
    11
    Large eyes for me!
     
  23. Megs33

    Megs33 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    163
    Likes Received:
    153
    Location:
    Flagstaff, Arizona
    wide, unblinking eyes that show too much white and a smile that's too large gives me the heebie jeebies.

    but having it just standing there isn't gonna cut it. imagining its hot breath half an inch from my ear or being backed in to an inescapable corner as it advances slowly is what gets my pulse racing. something that invades my impression of personal space or sense of safety. sometimes the best monsters are the ones that don't look like one.
     
  24. CerebralToxins

    CerebralToxins New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2017
    Messages:
    9
    Likes Received:
    2
    For me personally, the closer something is to human while still not quite fitting into the role, the more terrifying it comes off as. Things like tall humanoid beings with blacked out eyes and unnaturally lithe limbs are a good example appearance-wise.
     
  25. MythMachine

    MythMachine Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2017
    Messages:
    198
    Likes Received:
    141
    Location:
    Arizona, US
    The eyes are a major part in how people connect with each other and understand each other. If you take away the eyes from your creature, or hide them in some way, you're taking away that potential connection. That's one reason why H.R. Giger's alien's were terrifying, they didn't appear to have eyes, but could still very easily find you and kill you.

    Monsters that mimic or resemble humans in some way are terrifying. If they move in a way that seems inhuman or is slightly off from typical human movement, it's pretty nerve-wracking. Strange noises during the movement is even worse, such as popping of joints or scrabbling claws makes it even worse.

    Giving the monster a pungent or rotted smell may be a good touch for horror effects. Probably the most horrifying things I've seen, when done right, are pure or cute things that have been corrupted in someway and become twisted. The Crawlers and Lurkers, from the Dead Space games, are a good example of this. They're babies infected with an alien virus that crawl on the ground, walls, and ceilings, and either explode or impale you with long and grotesque tentacle arms.

    While I generally follow those concepts when designing horror monsters, you can pretty much turn anything into something gut wrenching with enough thought. =)
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice