Monsters get a bad rap. Sure, that swamp creature may have stolen your girlfriend, but he did it out of love. That masked serial killer may have nearly caught you, but his attack showed you the error of your lax home-security ways. And while no one likes being mind-controlled by an alien invader, isn’t it worth discovering a new culture in an unexpected way?
Yes, even the most horrifying encounters with the so-called “bad guys” are full of valuable teaching moments. Read on for some of the lessons we can learn from movie monsters, maniacs, spooks and space aliens:
After being bitten by a bat, a once lovable St. Bernard becomes a murderous menace in 1983’s “Cujo.”
Lesson: Don’t forget those rabies shots, people. And while you’re at it, keep your giant dog on a leash.
In the 1958 original “The Fly,” Andre Delambre’s head and arm are replaced with a fly’s but the man remains in control of his body — for a while. David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake has Jeff Goldblumdocumenting the experience of transforming into a fly-human hybrid before kidnapping his girlfriend to protect the fetus she fears will be a horrible mutant.
Lesson: Work out all the bugs before testing your new invention on yourself.
Boris Karloff’s 1931 performance in “Frankenstein”—neck bolts and all — is probably the most iconic take on the creature. Dr. Frankenstein’s creation has unnatural beginnings and the brain of a criminal, but the creature isn’t violent until threatened, though it does accidentally drown a young girl.
Lesson: Don’t create something if you can’t be responsible for it.
Beginning with the eponymous “Godzilla” in 1954, a giant sea monster made by nuclear explosions wreaks havoc on Japanese cities, toppling skyscrapers as if they were made of blocks.
Lesson: Build bigger! Even Godzilla would find that a 400- story building is no pushover. Also, chill on the nukes.
A young man unwittingly unleashes an army of mischievous monsters in 1984’s “Gremlins” when he ignores three simple rules about caring for his cute, cuddly new pet.
Lesson: Whether purchasing animals or kitchen appliances, always follow the instruction manual.
In a host of movies through the years — from Boris Karloff’s “The Mummy” in 1932 to Brendan Fraser’s “The Mummy Returns” in 2001, the creature in mummy movies is a suddenly undead corpse that usually walks slowly and kills even slower.
Lesson: Cremation. It’s hard to get strangled by a pile of ashes.
In 2007’s “No Country for Old Men,” a hunter (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon the scene of a drug deal gone wrong and finds $2 million. But he soon finds himself stalked by a murderous hit man, Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who kills people with a cattle bolt gun.
Lesson: If you see a guy with a cattle gun and no cattle are around, stay at least an arm’s length away.
The killer in the Halloween ghost costume turned out to be two people in the first “Scream” film in 1996, and several others in the sequels. But they always have two things in common: making creepy phone calls and stabbing people. A fourth entry is due next year.
Lesson: When a creepy stranger calls you repeatedly, don’t talk to him—get out of the house and call the cops.
Eager to finish his book, an alcoholic writer takes a job as the off-season caretaker of a spooky old hotel in 1980’s “The Shining” — putting his wife and young son in peril.
Lesson: To quote the film, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Seriously, people. Bring along a few board games the next time you hole up in a haunted mountain hideaway.
2004’s “Saw” and its successors earned the term “torture porn” with their gruesome depictions of dismemberment, mutilation and murder. In “Saw 3D,” which opens Friday, survivors of serial killer Jigsaw’s deadly traps face a new threat.
Lesson: It pays to follow directions — especially when your life is on the line.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film “Psycho,” a pretty young embezzler Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) checks into the homey Bates Motel, then decides to take a nice, relaxing shower. Bad idea.
Lesson: Baths are a girl’s best friend.
After a 12-year-old girl is possessed in 1973’s “The Exorcist,” a priest is determined to free her of evil spirits, even if it kills him.
Lesson: A “Hail Mary” a day keeps the devil away.
After being burned alive by vengeful parents, child murderer Freddy Krueger haunts their teenagers’ dreams in the “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series, launched in 1984. His most recent appearance was in the 2010 remake.
Lesson: Although the obvious message here is “Don’t go to sleep,” the deadly consequences of the parents’ actions also make a strong argument against vigilante justice.
Spirits from beyond
A family encounters a string of supernatural phenomena — from broken dishes and rearranged furniture to an otherworldly portal in a bedroom closet — after moving into a quiet California suburb in 1982’s “Poltergeist.”
Lesson: Isn’t it obvious? Never build a housing development — or a pet cemetery, for that matter — on an ancient burial ground.
The unfriendly ghost from 2002’s “The Ring” kills people with her horrifying visage seven days after they view her haunted videotape. In life, the girl was kept isolated in a barn loft and later pushed down a well and left to die by her mother — no wonder her spirit lashes out (though she may have been evil all along).
Lesson: Take proper care of your children, especially if they’re troubled.
From the bloodthirsty Venus fly trap in 1986’s “Little Shop of Horrors” to the Pod People in 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the vicious veggies in 1978’s “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and the suicide-inducing spores in 2008’s “The Happening,” plants have a way of turning deadly.
Lesson: When your favorite houseplant hungers for human flesh, it’s time to grab the weed killer.
In “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” (1988), alien clowns cocoon people in cotton candy, then gelatinize them into a digestible form. In “It” (1990), a sadistic clown named Pennywise preys on kids.
Lesson: Some clowns just aren’t that funny.
John Carpenter’s 1982 film “The Thing” features an alien that consumes and mimics any life form it encounters. After masquerading as a dog it begins taking over the members of Antarctic research base. Terror and paranoia ensue.
Lesson: If a helicopter crew seems suicidally intent on killing a dog, don’t take the animal in after they die trying.
The parasitic creature in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film “Alien” remains a nasty piece of work. After its violent birth from the chest of a crew member of the towing ship Nostromo, the glossy-black monster picks off the rest one by one as they try to find it — and later, to escape — until only Sigourney Weaver is left to blast it out an airlock.
Lesson: Don’t hunt a predator alone — use the buddy system.