Kaiju Profile: Skullcrawlers
Hey kaiju fans! I'm The Boy Who Cried Godzilla, and today we'll be taking a look at the devils who live below us, the Skullcrawlers!
Cranium reptant, better known as Skullcrawlers, debuted in the second MonsterVerse film, "Kong: Skull Island." They are a ravenous, subterranean species of megafauna forever trying to conquer the island and kill Kong, the last of the giant apes they've fought for eons. In 1973, the Eighth Wonder conquered an enormous Skull Devil in defense of the few surviving members of a Monarch expedition. Skullcrawlers continued to plague the island in the decades that followed, although Kong's continued growth made them less of a threat. By 2024, Apex Cybernetics was stockpiling the beasts to test the capabilities of their magnificent anti-Titan machine, Mechagodzilla.
"Kong: Skull Island" director Jordan Vogt-Roberts didn't want the monster nemesis of his movie to be a dinosaur, but it took him a while to figure out what he did want. Zach Berger's early concepts included a sea serpent and a creature with a sawtooth mouth, while Stephanie Levallois's concepts included a beast that used a Kong skull for protection. Vogt-Roberts eventually steered the design team towards a two-legged lizard, inspired by the monster from "The Host" and the only spider pit creature to make it into the original 1933 "King Kong." Berger named Simon Lee as the artist who had the greatest influence on the final design. Vogt-Roberts called it "this crazy fusion of all of the influences throughout my life – like the first angel from 'Evangelion,' and No Face from 'Spirited Away,' and Cubone from 'Pokémon.'"
The number of Skullcrawlers in the film gradually grew from one to four. First the filmmakers decided to deploy a second, smaller beast in the boneyard scene. As visual effects supervisor Stephen Rosenbaum put it, the Skull Devil was "so large that a person would be nothing more than an insignificant snack and being eaten would not [be] much fun to watch." Then two more Skullcrawlers attacked Kong earlier in the film, probably to spice up a long stretch of exposition. The creatures' name was even more volatile: from MacArthur to Mac to Dweller to Skullcrawler. Thanks to Trademarkia, we also know that "Ramarak" was under consideration for the Skull Devil at one point. A few years later, the "Godzilla vs. Kong" novelization added one more: Halakrah, or "persistent enemy" in the Iwi language.
The animators at Industrial Light & Magic found the unusual build of the Skullcrawlers a challenge. They ended up using the movements of snakes, Komodo dragons, iguanas, deer, and buffalo as references. [Lana Lan:] "The director came to us with the idea that the top of his body and the ribcage should be sort of translucent. You can see the bones through it. So normally we'll build geometry inside the body to help with the simulation, but they're not meant to be seen." According to Vogt-Roberts, "The whole idea was that this creature was like a bastard of evolution. It evolved wrong. It has a very painful existence. Its movement is awkward at times." Their roars were influenced by dying rabbits, sea lions, and squirrels.
An earlier version of "Godzilla vs. Kong" called for Mechagodzilla to execute a number of different monsters in Apex's testing facility. Number 10, a Skullcrawler larger and more colorful than others of its species, was the only one to make it into the movie. In the audio commentary, Adam Wingard adds, somewhat cryptically, “Originally they were in the opening too and they just got blown up.” The Skullcrawler eggs Team Godzilla encountered on the Apex transport were large props. One of them traveled to New York City right before the movie came out for display in Tamashii Nations' pop-up shop.
The particulars of the Kong-Skullcrawler war depend on who's telling the story. In "Kong: Skull Island," Hank Marlow explains that the Iwi feared all of the island's monstrous inhabitants for thousands of years before Kong's species suddenly started protecting them. He assigned the Skull Devil sole blame for killing Kong's parents. In "Skull Island: The Birth of Kong," mythographer Walter Riccio experienced a vision of the Skullcrawlers invading Skull Island millions of years ago, with the Kongs defending their territory. Over the following centuries, the reptiles whittled the apes down to one mated pair, who met the Iwi when they first arrived on the island's shores and became their protectors. Kong was born during their final stand against at least five gigantic Skullcrawlers, sealed away in a cave by his mother moments before she perished. Driven by vengeance, he would become the monsters' most fearsome foe. The opening credits of "Godzilla vs. Kong" suggest that the Skullcrawlers were also involved in the Godzilla-Kong war which took place millennia ago in the Hollow Earth, the Kongs' original home. The "GVK" novelization tries to resolve some of these inconsistencies, with some of the Iwi following the Kongs to the surface and others arriving on the island later.
Kong: Skull Island (2017): The turning point in Kong's campaign against the Skullcrawlers came in 1973. Monarch agents William Randa, Houston Brooks, and Lin San had latched themselves onto a LANDSAT expedition to Skull Island. Once they passed through the perpetual storm surrounding the island, the Sky Devils helicopter squadron began dropping seismic charges to gather information on the island's subsurface. They found that the bedrock was "practically hollow," seeming to vindicate Brooks's Hollow Earth theory. The blasts angered Kong, who routed the Sky Devils. The vengeful Lt. Col. Preston Packard led one group of survivors, tracker James Conrad led another, and Maj. Jack Chapman found himself alone with a crashed Sea Stallion full of explosives. Conrad's group encountered the Iwi and Hank Marlow, an American soldier who had been stranded on the island since World War II. He told them about Kong's role as the guardian of Skull Island—and the dangers posed by the Skullcrawlers, who had emerged from steam vents since the seismic charges fell. As he spoke, two of the monsters felled a Sker Buffalo and tried to ambush Kong, but he quickly dispatched them. Another Skullcrawler successfully ambushed Chapman. After the two groups reunited, they encountered it in the boneyard where Kong's parents fell. It ate Randa and cut further into the Sky Devils' ranks. Photographer Mason Weaver finally managed to kill it by throwing Conrad's lighter into a vent expelling flammable gas. With Packard still determined to kill Kong, heedless of the havoc the Skullcrawlers would wreak in his absence, the humans split up once more. Conrad and Weaver communed with Kong just before Packard lured him into a trap with more seismic charges. While his plan was successful, it also called up the dreaded Skull Devil. Kong summoned enough strength to smash Packard flat, but the monster easily defeated him, then unwisely turned its attention to the rest of the humans. It caught up with them by morning, and proved clever enough to bat away Cap. Earl Cole before he could set off a pair of grenades. As it closed in on the rest, Kong joined the fight by slamming a boulder into its face. They were evenly matched until the Skull Devil threw Kong into a graveyard of ships, trapping him in chains. It prepared to finish him, but Brooks and San distracted it with Marlow's boat, the Grey Fox, and Weaver took out one of its eyes with a flare gun. Kong freed himself just in time to save them in turn, plunging a boat propeller into its shoulder. He threw it into a hillside, causing Weaver to fall into the water below. Kong used the propeller again to slash the Skull Devil's throat before rescuing her. But it wasn't dead, biting onto his left arm before wrapping its prehensile tongue around his right. The battle came down to a contest of pure strength, and Kong prevailed, ripping out the Skull Devil's tongue and guts. He had avenged his parents, proving himself the king of Skull Island.
Skull Island: The Birth of Kong (2017): In 1996, Brooks and San's son Aaron led an unauthorized Monarch expedition back to Skull Island. While there, mythographer Walter R. Riccio experienced visions of... all the stuff I already said in the Origins section. The Skullcrawler threat had receded, though the group still had to evade two of them in the boneyard.
Kingdom Kong (2021): By 2021, Kong had grown too large for the local Skullcrawlers to challenge, even ones approximately the same size as the Skull Devil.
Godzilla vs. Kong (2021): After Godzilla inexplicably attacked an Apex Cybernetics site in 2024, an unlikely trio began investigating the company: Monarch agent-in-waiting Madison Russell, her hapless friend Josh Valentine, and conspiracy podcaster Bernie Hayes. Beneath the site's ruins, they discovered a transcontinental tram service and stumbled onto a transport bound for Apex headquarters in Hong Kong. Inside, they were stunned to find a clutch of Skullcrawler eggs. Apex's interest in the monsters became clear when they entered a "sacrifice pit" and Mechagodzilla, the company's ultimate anti-Titan weapon, rose into view. CEO Walter Simmons ordered the release of a gigantic Skullcrawler called "Number 10" from its pen. It lunged at Madison, but Mechagodzilla caught it mid-leap. The predator became helpless prey as the machine sliced it in half with a Proton Scream.
Physical abilities: The Skullcrawlers' weapons of choice are their teeth, claws, prehensile tails, and prehensile tongues. The Skull Devil used its tail to grapple Kong and even throw him. In the novelization, it nearly killed him with a "cruel ivory barb" on the tip of its tail. This weapon also appeared in a piece of concept art by Stephanie Levallois.
Durability: The Skull Devil held up well against Kong's blows and improvised weapons, though his sheer strength finally allowed him to kill it. Any Skullcrawler smaller than him stands little chance, although they are an enormous threat to humans at any size. Bullets—and Hank Marlow’s sword—can pierce their skin, but only serve as a distraction at best. They seem to be more vulnerable to elemental attacks. The weapon that proved most effective against a smaller Skullcrawler was a flamethrower, and a gas explosion ultimately killed it. Mechagodzilla's Proton Scream easily bisected a larger one at only 40% power.
Hypervore: As malevolent as the Skullcrawlers might seem, they can't help it. Monarch's superspecies profile states that the monsters possess "such a hyper-adrenalized metabolism that [they] exist in a constant state of starvation." Even Number 10 couldn't resist charging at a trio of humans who were about the size of Tic Tacs to it, ignoring the inorganic Mechagodzilla.
Mimicry: In the "Kong: Skull Island" novelization, Skullcrawlers can mimic the sounds of crying human children. One used this trick to lure Marlow's enemy-turned-friend, Gunpei Ikari, to his death.
A storied tradition: There are two other obscure cases of two-legged serpents in "Godzilla" and "King Kong" media. In the "Godzilland" hiragana OVA, Mothra challenged the other monsters to think of impossible animals whose names start with は, ひ, ふ, へ, or ほ. Baragon came up with "a snake (へび) doing push-ups." The sinister archeologist Ramone De La Porta created a much deadlier creature in the third episode of "Kong: The Animated Series" by merging with a giant snake. De La Porta's new form actually beat Kong, but only after rubble fell on them.
Novel differences: I've talked about the "Kong: Skull Island" novelization by Tim Lebbon in this video already, but there are a few other differences from the film worth mentioning. In this telling, Kong's brawl against the two smaller Skullcrawlers was completely absent. Instead, Packard watched him trigger a rock slide to seal one of the monsters' burrows. Cole's sacrificial grenade attack actually worked, although the Skull Devil was only briefly stunned. Kong's finishing blow against it became a punch thrown so far into its throat that it crushed its innards. Also, San observed that a Skullcrawler had gills during the boneyard fight, suggesting they could get off the island and plague the rest of the world without Kong to contain them. In the "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" novelization by Greg Keyes, Ghidorah's alpha call riled them up, forcing Kong to go to work. As for the "Godzilla vs. Kong" novelization, also by Keyes: if you were hoping for it to explain how Apex obtained so many Skullcrawlers, I'm sorry to disappoint you. It did include a scene where Bernie theorized that Apex was planning to build a remote-control Skullcrawler army.
In video games: The Skullcrawlers' first appearance in a game was, depressingly enough, the Empire DCX slot machine "MonsterVerse" in 2020. You could also fight them in PUBG Mobile's Titan Strikes mode… or let the larger monsters take them out.
With a "Skull Island" animated series in the works at Netflix, the Skullcrawlers are likely to continue their reign of terror—but we figured you had waited long enough for this video. Thanks for your patience. See ya.