Monsters have been scaring us in movies since the dawn of cinema, and they’ve been depressing us just as long, too. Outcast, exiled, cursed, undead—monsters are inherently sad, and every great movie monster has a touch of melancholy to balance their horror.
So in honor of the spooky season, here are the top ten saddest monsters in movies, and the reasons they make us sympathize as much as gasp in fright.
Fishman (The Shape of Water)
While everything ultimately worked out for the Fishman, never forget that he started The Shape of Water in captivity. Confined to a tank like bipedal Shamu, the Fishman was chained, tortured, and starved of any social comforts. Maybe he had a full, enriching life in whatever obscure tropical pond he called home. Maybe he had friends and a bustling social calendar. Some people worshipped him as a god—that has to be fun! But here he is, trapped, isolated, and brutalized. Sure, he got to bone the pretty egg lady, but he’s in for a lifetime of trauma recovery thanks to his time in a science lab.
Viago (What We Do in the Shadows)
Like the Fishman, everything ultimately works out for vampiric New Zealand émigré Viago, but first he has to endure almost a century of pining for his lost love from afar. A romantic vampire who lived through Romanticism, Viago craves the human connection lost when he became a vampire. The object of his affection is Katherine, a nonagenarian who out-aged him after marrying a mortal. Viago’s cheerful disposition is slowly eroding in the face of his loneliness, until he turns Katherine at pretty much the last moment. He’s finally reunited with his love, but he is in for an actual eternity of Harold and Maude jokes.
The ghosts stuck in Hill House
Hill House sucks, and it would suck to be stuck there forever. But such is the fate of at least a couple dozen ghosts glimpsed in the background of The Haunting of Hill House, trapped in various rooms for all eternity. Some, like Poppy Hill, can move around the house but others seem fixed in place, like the staircase ghosts, or the dining room ghost, or that guy stuck in the reflection of the hutch in the kitchen. And not only do you have to spend your eternity moping around a damp mansion, you also have to watch families like the Crains succumb to the house’s madness. It’s like having to watch the worst episode of The Waltons on repeat forever.
Being part of the Addams Family would be AMAZING, but let’s be honest, Uncle Fester gets a raw deal. He has to spend every day witnessing the epic S&M love of Gomez and Morticia, whose shared passion will certainly transcend death. His handsome brother and his fabulous witchy wife are the perfect macabre couple, and there sits Fester, all alone and a perpetual outsider in his own home. Gomez and Morticia do their best to include Fester, but nothing can eclipse their love for one another, leaving awkward Uncle Fester to brood silently, unloved. That would drive anyone into the serial killing arms of a black widow.
There have been many movie mummies over the years—least of all Tom Cruise—but the saddest of them all is Boris Karloff’s original iteration of Imhotep. Cursed and buried alive, Imhotep is vilified and feared and loathed as a monster. But look, all he wants to do is find his reincarnated girlfriend, murder and mummify her, and then resurrect her as his one true love, Ankh-es-en-amon. Is that really so bad? What’s a little death and resurrection between lovers?
The Phantom of the Opera
Honestly, the Phantom is such a creepy stalker it’s hard to feel bad for him. And yet, thanks to the musical, he’s become the image of misunderstood genius and thwarted love. I suppose there is something romantic about a masked figure, whispering his love from the shadows, promising fame and—no, it’s creepy. It’s irredeemably creepy. The Phantom is a huge creep and no one should feel bad for him ever.
A giant ape just wants to be loved! King Kong never did anything wrong except be a huge, exotic animal discovered by humans who inevitably destroy the things they love. Yes, he’s massively destructive, but he’s also a wild animal that never should have been captured and removed from the jungle. He’s like the Fishman but without the (literal) happy ending.
The Bicycle Girl Zombie
One of The Walking Dead’s earliest and most memorable zombies is the Bicycle Girl, a desiccated legless corpse who represents the humanity that these monsters once possessed. Even after almost a decade of television, the Bicycle Girl remains one of the saddest figures on The Walking Dead, a reminder of the lives ended by the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead has become a show almost comically defined by tragedy, but the Bicycle Girl lingers as one of the most spare, tragic figures on the show.
Yet another monster who didn’t ask to be here. Frankenstein’s monster was just an innocent collection of inert body parts, minding their own undead business in their respective graves, when Dr. Frankenstein rudely interrupted their dirt naps to form his unholy creation. And then, once animated, the monster is almost immediately reviled and vilified, and with no role model other than that jagoff Victor, of course everything goes off the rails and innocent people end up dying. Including the monster! It never asked for any of this, it only wanted to be left alone as a series of unrelated corpses, buried contentedly under the soft, moist earth.
The inspiration for The Shape of Water’s Fishman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Gill-Man has a decidedly less happy story. Basically he’s the victim of a home invasion, but there is no pretty egg lady to communicate with him. Instead, the Gill-Man is feared and reviled, and then hunted and murdered IN HIS OWN HOME. If you encounter a fish monster on land, there could be grounds for justifiable homicide, depending on the circumstances. But if you encounter a fish monster in the water? Where it lives? Well now you’re the asshole committing murder. The Gill-Man was just hanging out and being a fish monster when a bunch of nosy humans showed up and killed him.