"Touch a button. Things happen. A scientist becomes a beast."A sub-trope of I Love Nuclear Power, Nuclear Nasty is a monster (usually the Monster of the Week) created when a creature is exposed to radiation. Very common in 1950s monster movies, as well as works trying to be throwbacks to that era for obvious reasons. Tends to be an Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever. When played straight, this is a case of Artistic License – Biology. See also Radiation-Immune Mutants, a Required Secondary Power for some of these nasties.
— Narrator, The Beast of Yucca Flats
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Anime & Manga
- There were quite a few radiation created monsters in Marvel's early monster comics, including a fairly adorable weed with mind-control powers and a scarecrow made giant and mobile by nuclear radiation.
- In Godzilla: King of the Monsters!, Godzilla fights a yeti which has been turned by nuclear radiation to match it in size and strength.
- The French comic Les eaux de Mortelune (The waters of Deadmoon) had mutant animals. Lyon is now inhabited by giant flies, Avignon by giant termites and Les-Baux-de-Provence by giant telepathic praying mantis.
- Franquin's Idées Noires has one comic about a talk-show debating over the dangers of nuclear energy. A woman calls them to claim that nuclear energy is perfectly harmless since her husband worked in a reactor for 10 years and is fit as a fiddle and that everybody opposing nuclear energy is either a hippy or a communist. Turns out her husband and children are horribly mutated and she spouted lies just because "There ain't a reason that we should be the only ones in deep shit!"
Films — Live-Action
- Them! is probably one of the most well known movies featuring this trope.
- Godzilla may well be the mascot for this trope. The newest incarnation is a subversion, Godzilla and the other giant monsters existed long before the Pacific nuclear tests, the "tests" were actually attempts to kill them.
- The mutated algae in The Horror of Party Beach possess human corpses, which, for some reason, tended to look in practice like a muppet version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon with a mouth full of hot dogs.
- Bert I Gordon loved this, whether it's the giant grasshoppers from Beginning of the End, The Amazing Colossal Man, The Food of the Gods, the horrible cyclopic giant from The Cyclops, or the giant ants who mind control people by farting pheromones on them from Empire of the Ants.
- Roger Corman also had quite a few of them, like The Beast who Brings Death With Its Touch from Teenage Caveman, the three-eyed; horned; big-nosed mutant from The Day The World Ended, the giant leeches from Attack of the Giant Leeches, and the titular creatures from Attack of the Crab Monsters.
- The Incredible Melting Man, with an incredibly disgusting appearance done by Rick Baker himself, who gets stronger as he melts (How that works is anyone's guess).
- The movie started off as a parody, but the distributors wanted it to be a serious horror film and exorcised all of the comedy from the final cut.
- The B-movie From Hell It Came featured a tree-man named Tabonga. Head Injury Theater article here.
- Tromie, the giant, mutant radioactive squirrel from the not-quite-serious Class of Nuke 'Em High series by Troma.
- The Last Days of Planet Earth a.k.a. Prophecies Of Nostradamus features a few creatures mutated by radiation in New Guinea. Carnivorous Trees, poisonous leeches, flesh eating flying foxes (big ol' bats), and cancer-ridden human cannibals. The film also shows "softbodied humans"(severely mutated humans) at the very end. The last two depictions got it banned in Japan—where it was made.
- The Beast of Yucca Flats has a man getting caught inside a nuclear test explosion, becoming the eponymous beast.
- C.H.U.D. had homeless people in New York's sewers turned into mutant cannibals by illegally dumped radioactive waste.
- The original Night of the Living Dead (1968) includes a speculative Handwave about radiation from a returning space probe to Venus causing the Zombie Apocalypse. This explanation is discarded in the subsequent Dead films, however.
- The frog-people from Hell Comes To Frogtown are likely this, and they likely also have a few more exotic features, given the infamous "Dance of the Three Snakes" scene.
- In The Hideous Sun Demon, Dr. Gilbert McKenna is exposed to radiation which causes him to turn into a monster in sunlight.
- The Mutos from Godzilla (2014) are ancient creatures from a time when the world was intensely radioactive, and feed off radioactive material. This presents a problem when they steal a live nuclear warhead and use it in their nest at the heart of San Francisco...
- Atomic Shark features a shark mutated by a nuclear submarine wreck, leaving it covered with radiation burns, glowing red, and emitting enough heat to cause things around it to burst into flames. It's also more or less a swimming one megaton nuclear bomb that will detonate if killed.
- Andre Norton's Star Man's Son had mutant creatures in a post-apocalyptic world.
- Also No Night Without Stars. A dog/wolf hybrid large enough to ride, for example.
- Metro 2033. Looks like the heavily irradiated, post-nuclear Moscow became a gigantic nest of monsters, mutants and dinosaurs.
- In David Drake's short story "Men Like Us" a post-apocalyptic wanderer tells the people of a town that most of the stories about mutants were exaggerated. Babies with extra limbs or heads existed even before the bombs and even if there are more born now the wasteland has not been kind to them. Sure, there were dog-sized rats but they've mostly been wiped out. And Changelings? Men made immortal by the blasts despite being skeletonized in some cases? Don't be ridiculous. Later they attempt to behead him, and his neck knits back together as they're pulling out the axe. And then his more conspicuous friends show up.
- The X-Files: Fluke man! More accurately called Tape man... Flukes and tapeworms are both flatworms, but flukes do not have scolexes. Tapeworms do. (But "tapeman" isn't nearly as cool sounding as "flukeman".)
- The Daleks in Doctor Who were initially explained in "The Daleks" to be the result of a nuclear bomb detonated by the Thals in the distant past. They had locked themselves in metal travel machines to survive the radiation and over many years mutated into something else (although their experiements later reveal them to be a particularly extreme form of Radiation-Immune Mutants - they aren't just unharmed by radiation, they need radiation to survive). Most of this was ignored in later appearances and they were completely Retconnned in "Genesis of the Daleks" in the 1970s.
- All over the place in Gamma World, though modern versions use Nanomachines and Magical Particle Accelerator as an explanation. Some of these include giant insects, the many-legged Centisteed, the multi-armed Snake People called the Menarls, the cactus horse, the humanoid metal-to-rubber-making bunny rabbits called Hoops and The Yexil.
- Monsterpocalypse has those cosy radioactive giant insects that eat you, instead of making you a super hero.
- Although it was mainly based on hard science, the After the End game The Morrow Project allowed for radiation-mutated animals that were treated as monsters.
- Mutant Future had mutated monsters.
- Paranoia had at least one mutated monster: giant intelligent cockroaches in the adventure "Into the Outdoors with Gun and Camera".
- d20 Modern's Urban Arcana setting has the Nuclear Toxyderm, a pile of nuclear power plant waste given life.
- Promethean: The Created has the Zeka, nuclear Prometheans who have the ultimate in Blessed with Suck. Not only do they suffer Disquiet, they spread fallout wherever they go, meaning they can rarely interact with humans and have a lot of trouble undertaking the Pilgrimage. As a result, most of them go Centimanus, and hoo boy, do they go Centimanus. Two NPC examples are Oleg Wormwood (an Eastern European arms dealer who longs to get his hands on a suitcase nuke and start some real fun) and Tsar Bomba (a hulking brute who seems content to just barge into nuclear power plants, subject the staff to a slow death, and bask in the radiation as the place starts to go critical). And that's not even starting on the Carcinomas...
- Zeka can have a Bestowment (innate power) that lets them irradiate corpses to bring them back as zombies. The Irradiation tree of powers also includes the abilities to control insects and then, later on, to mutate those insects into giants (ala Them!). It's also mentioned that the Wastelands created by Zeka tend to include huge, mutated invertebrate lifeforms.
- Werewolf: The Apocalypse puts a corrupted form of radiation in the hands of minions of the Wyrm. In fact, nuclear fallout is regarded as somewhat holy by the Black Spiral Dancers (werewolves who fell to the Wyrm); one of their greatest sacred sites is a hive under the Trinity test site.
- Bleak World has the Radio Zombie class of the Experiments. They require a perfect 10 to keep up their human disguises, and get no bonus to keeping it up anyway. Furthermore, their magic and skills make it so that they are built to destroy their opponent, as such it is nearly impossible to maintain a good karma playthrough with the Radio Zombie.
- Being inspired in part by 1950s sci-fi and taking place after a nuclear war, the Fallout series has a bunch of these. Mutated animals include giant roaches, mantises, scorpions (including the fearsome Albino Radscorpion), flies, ants, geckos, and rats (both the regular kind and Mole Rats the size of large bulldogs), monstrous bears with hairless skin covered in lesions and tumors, and deer and cows with two heads. Shall we mention that tougher varieties can shrug off minigun bursts and high explosives?
- Deathclaws. Nobody knows what those came from.
- Ghouls are people who mutated from long term residual radiation (and maybe some FEV thrown in too) that allows them to absorb and even heal from it, specifically the Glowing Ones who see radiation as being "comfortably warm". Feral ghouls are ghouls that have lost their minds over the years as the higher functions of the brain is not preserved as well as the rest of the nervous system.
- Swampfolk are crazed rednecks who are mutated due to long term residual radiation in the waters of Point Lookout and inbreeding who have become ungodly tough and viciously territorial of their swamp lands.
- Lonesome Road has the Tunnelers, Lizard Folk that live beneath the ruins of Hopeville and seem to be mutated from either lizards or the people of Hopeville themselves.
- Far Harbour has plenty of irradiated nasties found nowhere else inhabiting the Island, such as harmless if grotesque mutant chickens and rabbits, packs of mutated wolves, humanoid angler fish, enormous bipedal salamanders and giant, monstrous arthropods such as hermit crabs that use abandoned trailers as shells and two-story tall Fog Crawlers (once some sort of shrimp), all thanks to the radioactive fog shrouding the Island.
- Certain Perks can turn you into one. Rad Child and Rad Regeneration makes you regenerate when you have radiation poisoning, and Atomic! makes you stronger and faster when exposed to radiation, on top of giving you a boost to your AP regen.
- Super Mutants, Centaurs, Cazadors, and Nightstalkers avert this as the former two are created by the FEV and the latter created by the morally bankrupt and insane scientists of Big Mountain, specifically Doctornote Borous.
- Used seriously, but knowingly, in Metal Gear Solid 3 to explain why some of the animals are bigger (like the tree frogs) or more aggressive (like the gavials) than they are in real life. Para-Medic even compares it to Godzilla.
- Like their source novel above, Metro 2033 and Last Light have multiple unpleasant types of mutants for Artyom to deal with.
- In Starcraft II Heart Of The Swarm the Torrasque strain is unlocked after some Ultralisks are hit directly with an experimental nuke, and Abathur incorporates the radiation into their genome.
- It Came From The Desert suggests this is what created the giant mutant ants.
- The Fangame Pokemon Uranium features a "Nuclear" elemental type that is basically this trope. Nuclear type Pokemon are typically found near failed nuclear power plants. For Nuclear counterparts of pre-existing species, the radiation has corrupted them and turned them hostile; repels don't work on them, and, if captured and used, they are disobedient like a high-level traded Pokemon. They are distinguished from their non-nuclear counterparts by a black and green color scheme, as well as having unique radiation-based attacks. There are a handful of Nuclear types that lack a Non-Nuclear counterpart—these are stable and can be captured and trained like a normal Pokemon without the obedience problems. Nuclear type attacks are super effective against everything except Steel and Nuclear, and Nuclear type Pokemon are weak to every type except Nuclear, making Nuclear type Pokemon Glass Cannons in battle.
- The season 5 premiere of Adventure Time implies the Lich was made this way.
- And "Simon and Marcy" has Simon and Marceline wandering into a ruined city and being attacked by mutated, misshapen creatures who are implied to have been the inhabitants of the city.
- In "The Vault" Finn's past life Shoko is turned into this after falling into a radioactive river. However, it seems as though the process also caused death by radiation poisoning shortly thereafter.
- Duke Nukem in Captain Planet and the Planeteers is a human mutated by radiation into a hulking yellow figure with Super Strength. He goes beyond Radiation-Immune Mutants into actively feeding on nuclear materials and energy, can fire bolts of lethal radiation from his body, and is inconsistently portrayed as a Walking Wasteland as a result.
- There has been investigation into whether nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl disaster have mutated animals over generations. It didn't. In Real Life, this wouldn't be able to happen. The nuclear poisoning will kill any higher animal or at least give health problems. The children of given animals may have some abnormalities but usually not good. Scientists discovered that numerous species of birds that lives in the general area of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have actually thrived and adapted to the irradiated areas. They began creating more antioxidants that are needed to repel free radicals that would normally age the bird into a premature death.
- For the ultimate real-world inversion of this trope, check out what The Other Wiki has to say about Deinococcus radiodurans. It's a microorganism (so an inversion on the size front, as well as the radiation-effects front) capable of surviving radiation doses a thousand times greater than what's required to kill a human being. It's a pain in the ass for nuclear reactor operations since it can survive in places where life really shouldn't (like cooling pipes), and it also causes problems with radiation sterilization to preserve food long-term. Being resistant to a whole pile of other things as well, it's known in the world of microbiology as "Conan the Bacterium".
- Operation Crossroads, the first post-WWII nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, was a serious debacle due to the second bomb in the test being set off under water. Seawater turned out to be a superb transit vector for fallout, and decontaminating the test ships in the operation proved to be utterly impossible. Stafford Warren, the senior medical doctor from the Manhattan Project, realized how dangerous conditions were but he was unable to convince his superiors to cancel the operation for several days. He was finally able to do it by showing them an x-ray of a surgeonfish he had pulled out of the lagoon. The impressive factor was that the fish was so radioactive it had created the x-ray spontaneously when exposed to x-ray film.
- The trouble here is that radiation-prompted mutations would happen randomly. Such mutations are overwhelmingly silent (cause no change in phenotype), deleterious (cause a reduction, sometimes drastic, in reproductive fitness), or lethal (cause the individual to die as an embryo, fetus, or infant). For a large macroscopic change to present itself in a living thing, a number — usually a large number — of genes have to be mutated in a specific pattern, with no severely deleterious or lethal mutations happening. The odds against this are rather large, we're afraid. Even this change is itself much more likely to be useless or deleterious, like having an extra pair of legs, than to create de novo even a mildly useful complete trait.