THE 25 BEST MONSTERS IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA - PART ONE
PART ONE (25-11)
I began my Hub Pages effort by posting an article I had written a while back about my experiences with the SSRI known as Paxil. I Got a response and I followed up with a Hub about Scientology... That turned out to be a mistake, as the hub-powers-that-be had reoccurring issues with the [interpreted] aim of the content. Perhaps I’ll take another stab at a later date. Perhaps not. We’ll see.
So – succumbing to what seems to be the popular notion of what a ‘Hub’ should be – I wrote about movies. I enjoy movies very much – all sorts of movies as often as I can; but few genres offer the excitement of horror. Horror fans are a specially evolved lot (not necessarily advantageously) – easily categorized and alike, it seems, in very particular ways... That is, I can say one thing about every true horror movie fan I’ve ever known: each one is supremely odd, unhealthy or altogether awkward in more than one way. The same could be found within other circles, of course; but, in tandem rolls the horror fan.
I am a horror fan. My first choice in film – my first inclination when it comes to “watching a movie” is to watch a horror movie. I get excited about new horror movies and I enjoy the search for truly grand examples of the genre. I write horror movies. I want to talk about horror movies. Horror movies are – as far as pinching and tugging the raw nerve of excitement – the best. I am not alone, but those that disagree are as passionate about their feelings as I am about mine.
So it goes.
That being said, the itsy bitsy buzz generated by my writing about “The 11 Best Endings in Modern Horror Filmmaking” was enough to inspire an effort within the same vein... So, I present to you now:
“The 25 Best Monsters in the History of Cinema - PART ONE”
Writing thoroughly about 25 monsters that I like and love is a daunting task, so my decision to divide this list into two parts (PART TWO, containing the oh-so-trusty ‘TOP TEN,’ will be posted as soon as I’m satisfied with it) was one arrived at through my desire to give you people another high-quality HUB . . . I refuse to put out half-assed articles, so I hope you enjoy it.
Look, monsters are great; and to enjoy a monster is to not only, or not necessarily, be afraid of it (in the context of suspended disbelief) but to recognize the effort behind its creation as one of laborious design and admirable execution. I am writing to avoid including (by default) all the god damned 'default monsters' people expect to see in a movie monster list (Frankenstein’s Monster a la Boris Karloff and others; Count Dracula a la Bela Lugosi and others; a mummy a la Boris Karloff and others; a zombie a la George A. Romero and others; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lon Chaney’s ‘Wolfman,’ Godzilla, King Kong and any of those blasted “classics” most often taking up space in these lists... Credit has been given where credit is due; and a more updated, discriminating perspective is deserved by all).
I want to write about the monsters that frightened ME as a child – the monsters that were relevant to those of us that became desensitized by technological advances and therefore nearly immune to the atmospheric macabre offered by movies from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's. I will say, however, that the notable exception (among others, of course) of “Nosferatu” (circa 1922) is a greatly admirable depiction of a truly frightening creature. Also, 1958's “The Fly” was a remarkable effort, and one I still find effective.
All that being said, I love monsters... Everyone should try to find a little love somewhere inside themselves just for monsters. Monsters are one of humanity’s greatest creations... From giant, man-eating cephalopods, all the way down to goat-blood-sucking gremlins. People have always been keen on exaggeration, misrepresentation, poor or fanciful recollection and lies – in fact, these tendencies are what make up most of what we call ‘human society.’ And, amidst the lore, larks and lies of our existence, live imaginary, imaginative, perfect realizations of our fears. Monsters, they’re called.
Everyone has some sort of monster they’re most afraid of. And “monster” is a strong word; one that is appropriately applied to the deepest, most insidious, most spine-tingling, cringe-inducing, heart-stopping animalistic terrors to inhabit our collective and/or individual psyche. Monsters earn their moniker through the strength of their creator(s) . . . The more frightening the monster – the more vicious, voracious and bloodthirsty - the better. And, when our deepest fears and forebodings meld to create a terrifying, unstoppable and – usually – supernatural force, we can expect the worst... And the best.
Monsters are exciting.
For some (many, even), the most frightening “monsters” are the “real” ones; that is, certain animals that inhabit this spinning mass along with us . . . Giant Kodiak bears, twenty-foot great white sharks; cunning and murderous lions, huge killer crocodiles or vicious snarling dogs of a particular breed... Even harmless creatures cripple people through chronic, synaptic misfires called phobias... Spiders, for example, can reduce a true arachnophobe to a trembling, nonsensical cripple. You see, people’s brains are astonishingly perverse blood-soaked sponges; and that’s a good thing – a great thing – when it comes to making monster movies.
In a select few cases, the monsters are listed below as a collective – or a group – because their origin and true efficacy as a monstrosity knows no alternative. Additionally, as a semi-humorous bonus, I’ve included single-sentence/word/phrase statements referencing a film and/or monster or actor or, even, concept that each of the listed monsters out-do in the ‘scary’ department – thereby ousting many of the said comparisons . . . These notations conclude each description following the phrase, “SCARIER THAN:” It’s supposed to be fun, so have it.
Here now, then, are my personal choices for the TWENTY-FIVE BEST MONSTERS IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA - PART ONE (25-11); listed from least wonderful to most wonderful, for NO poorly realized monster is a waste – only a missed opportunity . . .
“Return of the Jedi”
The Rancor Beast – as it was popularly known at the time of the film’s release, and to those [children] fortunate enough to acquire the large action figure – was not, to me, terribly scary, only a formidable obstacle for Luke Skywalker to inevitably overcome (it was, after all, the beginning of the movie; what should we have expected?). Nevertheless, the Rancor remains, to this day, a stellar example of the efforts of those working tirelessly to create a special, infinitely expanding reality through the medium of film. Stop-motion or not, the Rancor is a favorite.
SCARIER THAN: The immobile, belching Sarlacc Pit – even the one with the beak in the 1997 “special edition.”
Gremlins is more comedically enjoyable than it is a festival of fear. Regardless, ‘Stripe,’ as he is known, was a puppet that exploited his fabricated niche to the point of true historical scarification... I’ll never forget that raspy line, summing up Stripe’s entire being: “Gizmo ca-ca.”
SCARIER THAN: All the other gremlins.
"Gremlins" or "Gremlins 2"
The Medical Horror
While not fully iconic, the monster in “Creep” was one that planted firmly its feet upon the grounds of truly unsettling concepts... It was hell-bent on revenge by any means necessary, and it was completely immune to empathy and knew nothing of mercy; plus it imprisoned people in cages submerged in water. And it had a very “creepy” limping gate and the correct amount of humanity to add that special accent of relatability. All good.
SCARIER THAN: a C.H.U.D. (Though it’s a close call)
Giant, Semi-Intelligent Mako Sharks
“Deep Blue Sea”
“Deep Blue Sea” did a fine job of running alongside the bar set so high by 1975's “Jaws,” without ever rising above it, of course. But, when it comes to a fun time watching giant intelligent mako sharks kill people, one cannot compete with this dagger-toothed romp. Yes, it has its flaws, but those were some good-looking sharks (both the animatronics and the digital renderings) and obvious homage was paid to each and every “Jaws” film – including the reprehensibly bad, “Jaws: The Revenge.”
SCARIER THAN: A regular mako shark.
“An American Werewolf in London”
The inclusion of this particular werewolf was not a difficult decision. This was a landmark film and, along with a rich layer of dark humor and supreme makeup effects, “An American Werewolf in London” sported one of film’s best examples of time-well-spent . . . When the inclusion of a monster in your film was something to be considered arduous, time-consuming and an all-or-nothing effort, Landis’ 1981 horror/dark comedy plowed ahead, trudging admirably through the thick, tangled mess that was the on-screen realization of this murderous, quadrupedal horror. Still a queasily enjoyable lycanthropic transformation scene.
SCARIER THAN: The stupid armored beast from “The Brotherhood of the Wolf.”
“Lord of the Rings” [trilogy]
2001, 2002, 2003
Simple: Mix orcs with humans or goblins or dirt or whatever the hell an evil wizard can imagine and get this special breed of tireless, killer soldiers. The most effective aspect of their fearsome demeanor was their consciousness . . . ‘Uruk-hai’ were monsters, indeed; but they were exacting and intelligent – efficient and strong – careful and sadistic. Pointy teeth, leathery black skin and war-paint also helped their positioning on this list.
SCARIER THAN: the ring wraiths.
“Octalus” is the name given to the skillfully-rendered beast at the heart of the mediocre film, “Deep Rising.” Yes, it had tentacles equipped with their own jaws; but the ‘head’ – the ‘face’ of “Octalus” was a mishmash of angles, sinews, fangs and raw fleshiness that happened to come together seamlessly; forming – quite possibly – the most visually spectacular monster to rise from the deepest blackness in quite a while.
SCARIER THAN: The timid, watery snake thing in “The Abyss.”
Philippe Delambre/fly humanoid
“Return of the Fly”
This [returning] ‘Fly’ monster was a spectacular achievement . . . Essentially, it was a giant, helmet-mask-thing and a claw glove; and appropriate-for-the-times gentlemens' attire. When I first saw it, I was scared off my balls. The black-and-white cinematography helps, but it’s the closeness and urgency we feel when confronted with the monster that make your skin crawl.
SCARIER THAN: The first one – though just barely.
‘Count Graf Orlok’
‘[Count] Graf Orlok’ is the name of the creature so often displayed as an all-purpose, go-to image for the ‘vampire-horror’ genre. Everyone knows what the ‘Nosferatu’ looks like – everyone has seen its stark, contrasting, elongated features – its hairlessness, its eery pallor; its spindly, clawed fingers, waif body, crooked fangs and bat-like ears. It is a quite literal statement that ‘not a single image of Max Schreck’s ‘Nosferatu’ exists on film that is not truly frightening.’ This masterwork of silent film, circa 1922, is public domain . . . Watch it, if you haven’t already.
SCARIER THAN: Gary Oldman.
Parasitic Alien Monstrosity
The best thing about this creature was that its efficacy was pleasantly surprising. “The Faculty” was not a bad movie – it was, in all honesty, a ‘good’ mainstream horror flick. Granted, as far as horror/sci-fi films go, I would first recommend the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” circa 1956 -- as it is brilliantly acted, paced, filmed and scored. “The Faculty,” however, has a monster that is very, very cool . . . And the death of teenagers is ALWAYS a bonus.
SCARIER THAN: Josh Hartnett’s Hair.
Killer Parasitic Mutant
This, perhaps, was the most effective deep-sea horror/thrillers – along the lines of “Deep Star Six” and “The Abyss” – to come out of the 80's. Stupid? Nearly. Silly? Almost. Simple? Indeed. That near-stupidity and silliness, and inherent simplicity, however, were the factors that made for a good horror movie . . . The monster itself was the result of a ‘parasitic infection,’ overtaking members of the crew and – eventually – resulting in a nauseous, foreboding ambiance and a pretty good-looking monster. Forget “Deep Star Six . . .” Watch “Leviathan.” “The Abyss” is different, in that it is much longer and much more disappointing.
SCARIER THAN: “Deep Star Six’s” monster.
The sudden and stunted-but-fluid movements of these subterranean killers, lurking at the heart of a masterful horror film, are what make ‘the crawlers’ refreshing concepts . . . Equipped – so it seams – with the supremely-evolved faculties of certain bats, “The Descent’s” ‘crawlers’ are fast-moving, green-grey killers, darting in and out of an environment they utilize as one mass-murderer might a dark street laden with desperate, drug-addled prostitutes . . . Our protagonists never had a chance.
SCARIER THAN: The giant bat thing in“The Graveyard Shift.”
Seth Brundle/fly humanoid
Not the same film as its predecessor, but the same basic concept. Seth Brundle plays an idiot scientist that accidentally melds his DNA with that of a common house fly – thereby becoming a hideous abomination eventually overtaken by base instinct. David Cronenberg did a fine job with the pacing and it is because of that skillful execution that this film works at all.
Having little in common with other monsters listed herein, Seth Brundle’s biological fate is conjured up before our eyes – moment-by-moment; hideous deformity by hideous deformity, the result of an experiment gone horribly awry delivers generously after nail-gnawing anticipation. The fly humanoid mutation is pitiful in that its very existence is a mistake – a horrible, physiological bastardization – and this monster, as shudderingly grotesque and imposing as it is, moves with pained desperation.
Much of this movie’s efficacy erupts from Cronenberg’s innate ability to be grotesque and excessive without falling prey to the grip of ‘schlock.’
SCARIER THAN: Vincent Price.
The ‘Pale Man’ was startling just as a still photograph released for promotional purposes. When one finally got around to watching “Pan’s Labyrinth,” not only was the ‘Pale Man’ frightening, but he lived up to the anticipation created by the release of his picture within a very short period of time; holding, as it were, a tertiary role at best within the magnificent framework of Guillermo del Toro’s film. And, for the most part, that is what makes the ‘Pale Man’ such a great monster . . . Even just a relative glimpse of his ‘full-on’ monstrousness is enough to provoke that utterly satisfied smile that I – along with other fans of a good monster, I’m sure – long for while wading through mediocrity en masse.
SCARIER THAN: “Blade II”
“The Clash of the Titans”
Oh yes, the miraculous effects of stop-motion animation! A remake of “The Clash of the Titans” is currently in post-production; set for release in March of 2010. And I’m sure it will be just spectacular to look at, rife with the finest displays of monster-making CGI has to offer. Nonetheless, as far as hands-on, model-constructing artistry in fantasy film goes, “The Clash of the Titans” had many high-points – not the least of which was my personal favorite aspect, “Medusa.” Her movements were somewhat awkward and stiff, but the mood conveyed through lighting, color and sound made “Medusa” one of the most frightening movie monsters of my childhood. Even her decapitated head was scary.
SCARIER THAN: Cerberus
PART TWO coming soon.