There are plenty of terrifying myths and urban legends you could feature in horror media. But what are some mythical creatures typically portrayed as friendly, cute, or helpful, and what would happen if we were to take those friendly beasts and turn them into something much scarier? Let’s begin. Note: This post was inspired by Sirius Editorial, an online fiction, nonfiction, and poetry journal who also happens to be a Twitter buddy. If you’re interested in their cool and helpful posts like “Rules for Crafting Fiction,” or trying out their editorial service, check them out!
UnicornsOrigin: Arabic, Roman What Are They? Magical horses with a horn on their head, believed to have healing properties that could even be powerful enough to bring the dead back to life. Probably viewed as one of the friendliest mythical creatures. Why Should We “Horrorify” It? This one might probably end up being more of an awkward B-movie or satirical horror novel than a legitimately scary horror story, but hear me out: That pretty horn on their head also makes for a very convenient weapon. See The Cabin in the Woods if you don’t believe me. It would also be pretty ironic that the horn that’s supposed to have healing capabilities could instead be used to impale someone. Just saying. If you wanted to go further than just a quick scene where a unicorn impales a scientist à la Cabin in the Woods, you could create a warped and twisted version of the unicorn where instead of having healing properties, its horn instead causes decay. And instead of healing someone back to life in a beautiful fairy tale-esque way, they can instead resurrect someone necromancer-style and create an army of zombies. Yes, I’m writing this all sober. Don’t judge me.
Genie/DjinnOrigin: Arabic What Are They? Magical beings that dwell in inanimate objects (though we know them for being trapped in lamps) and can grant wishes if you play your cards right. Why Should We “Horrorify” It? Maybe I’m cheating a little, because calling djinn “friendly” mythical creatures” is…debatable. Truthfully, I don’t even think it would take much effort to turn a djinn into a scary movie villain, as they are already sometimes portrayed as tricksters and life-ruiners if you aren’t specific enough in your wish-making. They have the power to warp reality itself, and while they are bound to an object in popular culture and forced to serve whoever frees them from that object, that’s a relatively new take on them. In the actual mythology, they have free will. Whether that reality-warping power comes with the free will is something I couldn’t really figure out. So there’s a couple of ways you could handle this:
- Give the djinn complete free will and maybe a grudge against humans. Honestly the grudge can come from anything. We humans have a habit of screwing things up and it wouldn’t take much to find a reason for a djinn to be mad at us.
- The djinn works the way they do in popular culture and serve whoever frees them from their lamp. Maybe whoever frees them has to deal with the loopholes that genies are famous for that makes their life increasingly chaotic and miserable. If you wanted to go nuts, you could even make it so these wishes accidentally ruin the world, not just this person’s life.
- The djinn works the way they do in popular culture, and whoever has their lamp is a real turd. Protagonist has to find a way to overcome this person and their reality-warping genie who is forced to serve them.
AngelsOrigin: Lots of major religions What Are They? Holy winged beings who serve the highest being in the universe (whatever your religion interprets that to be). Why Should We “Horrorify” It? Angels, depending on the interpretation, can be crazy powerful. They are also deeply devoted to God. There’s been some different, scarier versions of angels where they get a little too wrapped up in their quest to purge evil from the world, so a warped sense of justice could definitely be one way to turn a story about the holiest beings known to man into a horror. Or maybe the protagonists could be dealing with a fallen angel who’s just not very nice and not very happy about being cast out of Heaven. Okay, that one’s been done before. But has it been done in a horror movie kind of way? I don’t think so. You would need to tread carefully, but there’s also a lot of commentaries you could make about the abuse of religion and the manipulation of something that’s meant to make you live as best and as pure a life you can into something that lets you judge everyone as less than you, and condemn everyone who isn’t exactly like you to hell.
FaeOrigin: All over Europe (Celtic, Slavic, German, English, and French, according to the Wiki) What Are They? The mythology around them varies (probably because of how many origins they have), but they’re commonly known as “fairies,” tiny creatures with a humanoid appearance save for their size and butterfly wings. They’re known for being mischievous, but just how mischievous they get also varies. And that’s where the horror part comes in. Why Should We “Horrorify” It? If you know your mythology, then you know that the fae can be a lot worse than many kids’ shows and movies make them seem. They like playing pranks on humans, and they really like getting revenge on those who have wronged them. Hell, if you’re someone who isn’t to be messed with, you might have gotten Fae as your result for my Which Mythical Creatures Are You? quiz. You scary. You know those prank YouTubers who get a lot of flak because sometimes their pranks go way too far and end up being cruel instead of funny? Yeah, that’s fae if you offend them. And what they see as a “prank,” a human might see as, “Oh my God, you’ve killed my entire family and made me watch as you devoured my baby” or “Oh my god, you’ve buried me ten feet underground and cursed me to slowly suffocate for all eternity.” All I’m saying is, fae are one of those underrated terrifying mythical creatures whose whimsy and grace belies their more sinister nature. If you wanted to, you could write a great horror story about some doofus pissing off a faery and having to navigate all of the “pranks” this fae has in store for them.
ElvesOrigin: Germanic What Are They? Similar to humans, but gifted with magic and tend to live much, much longer lives. They’re nimble, fast, gifted in the arts, and often closely connected to nature. Why Should We “Horrorify” It? I’ve noticed that in a lot of fantasy stories, elves are long-lived magical beings who build these beautiful, complex cities that usually get destroyed at some point before the story even takes place. That makes me sad. So why not put a little spin on it? Instead of elves being friendly mythical creatures struggling to rebuild what was lost, make them these scary, magically-gifted mythical creatures hellbent on destroying human civilization as thanks for destroying their homeland? Or maybe they’ve always been scary. Maybe homeland has remained intact, and they rule the world with an iron (slender) fist? You could really make all kinds of dystopian horror stories by flipping this racial stereotype around and making the elves the war-mongering magical badasses instead of the peaceful, nature and magic-loving beings that they’re usually portrayed as. Let them be the destructive monsters for once, dammit.
DryadsOrigin: Greek What Are They? Tree spirits and a type of minor nature deity (nymph in Greek mythology). They tend to be shy, and I believe that’s where their reputation for being one of the more harmless and friendly mythical creatures comes from. Why Should We “Horrorify” It? So there’s this scene in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters where the evil witch really messes up some hunters’ days by basically using the forest against them. This includes:
- Taking control of the hunters’ dogs, making them maul one of the hunters to shreds
- Making tree branches latch onto one of the hunters, ripping all of his limps (and head) off
- Compelling the last hunter to ravenously devour worms and dirt so that when he returns to the tavern to warn everyone, he proceeds to explode in a shower of bugs and viscera