THE 25 BEST MONSTERS IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA - PART TWO
PART TWO (10-1)
Sorry for the delay, but these things take time; and I don't have much of that these days. All that aside, I give you PART TWO of my list of 25 . . .
The Top-Ten Best Monsters in the History of Cinema:
Giant Mutant Amphibian
“The Host” was an excellent monster movie . . . It was frantic, funny, fearsome and creative – the monster itself being the core of the admirable creative efforts. A giant mutant amphibian marauds with rancorous zeal in broad daylight, at the beginning of the film. To serve the main course ahead of everything usually preceding it is usually an ineffective stumbling block over which several films have met the gravelly pavement of failure – ejaculating prematurely on their own faces. “The Host” pulled it off with style and finesse; and the monster was a whole heaping mess of fun. Why, when at rest, does it hand upside down like a bat . . ? Because it looks cool, that’s why.
SCARIER THAN: The crocodile in “Lake Placid.”
"Alien 3" was not widely praised – widely hyped, of course, but not a film prone to critical acclaim; which is too bad, really, as I thought it was a creative and effectively surreal effort. And who knew that Sigourney Weaver looked good bald? The highlight of the film, though, was indeed the alien itself . . . Sleek, glossy, fast as shit and quadrupedal -- this vicious creature was our first glimpse of an alien (a la Giger/Scott) as something other than a bipedal humanoid. ‘Well, damn,’ we may have thought, ‘if the egg gets laid in a kitty cat, do we get a super-quiet ambush predator that always lands on its feet?’ I thought ‘the dog alien’ was great; and the way it moved through those dark, amber-lit tunnels in the bowels of the prison compound was both terrifying and, I thought, the next logical step on the ‘cool scale’ after the masterful execution of “Aliens.”
SCARIER THAN: A prison planet without it.
“Cujo” was a masterful story . . . It was a story that I wish I had thought of. Helping to forever brand the Ford ‘Pinto’ as one of the most poorly-made cars in the history of America, this film – and the novel before it – also gave new meaning to the concept of “real” monsters. The predicament the mother-and-son victim/protagonist pair fell into was one of my personal favorite in all of 1980s American horror . . . Trapped in a tiny car that won’t start by a giant, rabid dog at a secluded location in sweltering heat; and you can’t roll the windows down or the dog will kill you. You can’t keep them rolled up indefinitely either, as the tiny car’s tiny cabin will turn into an oven-like chamber of torturous suffocation. Quite a pickle; and not a sweet gherkin, but a sour spear gone rancid.
“Cujo” was a scary movie, but the concept was more terrifying, for its foundation was poured by reality. And take a good look at that Saint Bernard – that dirty, droopy, pus-eyed, frothy-mucous-caked, bloodthirsty bear-of-a-canine . . . Has there ever been a more frightening dog?
SCARIER THAN: “Beethoven’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th & 6th" combined.
What’s to be said, really, that hasn’t already been said about one of the most masterful executions of design, special creature effects, animatronics, puppetry, sound, lighting – all the elements that make for a great monster . . ? ‘The Queen’ is an appropriate name for more than one reason, after all. The ambition behind “Aliens” and the giant alien monster gnashing acid-coated teeth at its spectacular climax is nothing short of extraordinary. In the end, not only were we graced (and, thus elated) by the appearance of such a monumentally frightening foe for our heroine to – somehow – overcome, but the manner in which the film’s ‘final showdown’ scene was executed was amazing. That giant, lethal alien hive queen did not disappoint the audience with a fleeting, frightful appearance – only to be sucked into space or blown to corrosive smithereens after just a taste of her [expensive] construct. No. The Queen Alien arose, pursued and leapt into hand-to-mechanical-hand combat with our heroine; a scene that should have a special place in every sci-fi/horror fan’s heart.
SCARIER THAN: All of “The Abyss”
‘L.S.A.’ was an acronym used in the film, “Cloverfield” to describe the titanic monster that was destroying the city . . . The acronym means, ‘Large Scale Aggressor.’ Hilarious. ‘Clover’ was a sort of affectionate, tongue-in-cheek moniker given by the production staff working on the film. I think both names are great in their own individually special ways. I’ll call the monster “Clover” herein, as it is my favorite. . .
‘Cloverfield’ was a good movie – I rated it at three-out-of-five stars on ‘Netflix,’ and I stand firm there. The monster, however – Clover, that is – was a spectacular achievement; scarier, even, than the little mini-monsters it pooped out into the city streets and subway tunnels to tackle and “infect” the tiny, scurrying bipeds underfoot.
As far back as I can remember, gargantuan monsters as tall as skyscrapers have never been scary . . . Godzilla, for example, is a classic, revered movie monster that never once frightened me. The scariest monsters (for me) have always been those that are small enough to consider individual humans as separate and distinct targets for annihilation or mutilation, or mastication or what-have-you. Fifty-story beasts, while evolutionarily absurd, also give the impression of being concerned only with obstacles and menaces existing within the same [cognizant] scale as itself . . . That is to say, if you were looking to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ – whereby the unavoidable path charged through a swarm angry hornets – while ‘suffering’ as few painful stings as possible, would you be overly concerned with how many ants you stepped on? No, the ants are incidental to your goal, and the same could be said of fleshy, helpless little apes scurrying about the feet of Clover.
But, unlike Godzilla (the original as well as the idiotically-reinvented), Mechagodzilla, King Ghidorah, Mothra, Gigan or any of those blasted, foundation-pouring Japanese creations, Clover marauded as terrifying, inescapable destruction and chaos that felt real enough to inspire tension. That tension and that inspiration was, of course, due to the personal connection the viewer was “forced” to establish with certain characters in order to follow the narrative. Those mechanics of storytelling had never been approached with as much zeal and effectiveness as they were in “Cloverfield.” The audience was able to relate and identify with the senses of helplessness, hopelessness and terror felt by the ever-dwindling group of survivors. Clover was an unstoppable force; one that, in fact, would not stop outside of its own, unknown terms.
SCARIER THAN: A man in a rubber suit amidst a scaled-down replica of Tokyo.
Oh, thank you, Neil Marshall for executing so skillfully an updated and frightening ‘werewolf movie.’ Marshall is the only director to have sat heavily at the helm of more than one film included in my list (see "The Descent"). “Dog Soldiers” was a low-budget effort of the grandest design . . . Marrying a simple story with a wilderness setting and a bunch of Scottish men with guns, Marshall and his team put to good use the remaining funds and created some truly scary and original werewolves. To boot, these massive 'lycanthropes' hunted and killed in a pack; and not just at night, so bollocks to the ‘full moon’ cliche'. If you haven’t seen it and you dig werewolves, go get it and prepare for a most pleasant surprise.
SCARIER THAN: Other werewolves.
Which of the following films featured your favorite on-screen werewolf?
This particular extraterrestrial trophy hunter is a favorite of mine. I collected all the comic books that arose from the success of the movie as well as the undeniably and stratospherically-awesome creature design (courtesy of the great Stan Winston). The predator alien (known eventually and officially – within notoriously demanding and detail-obsessed comic/sci-fi geek circles – as a Yautja or Hish) was a truly frightening menace; as its calculating, careful, clever and high-tech approach to skinning, decapitating, deboning, disemboweling and otherwise slaughtering elite American special forces soldiers in the middle of a steamy jungle was definitely some skillful movie magic to behold. Everything about this villain was sleek, fearsome and very cool. From the moment the creature began to wreak havoc in the jungle it established itself as a sort of unstoppable force – something that could not be defeated easily; or, perhaps, at all. And when the mask came off to reveal it’s face – with its arthropod-like mandibles and jutting, bony protrusions – and that infamous line was uttered by our “hero,” it amounted to quite a spectacular payoff.
SCARIER THAN: Deforestation via gunfire.
‘The Cenobites’ (original four)
‘Pinhead, Chatterer, Butterball’ and the aptly-named ‘Female cenobite’ are the original four harbingers of pain and suffering introduced in the film “Hellraiser.” The film – which was based on the novella, “” by The Hellbound HeartClive Barker – and its design/effects crew took visually stunning poetic license with the physical appearances of the Cenobites; and created four icons of terror and pain and imminent damnation. Barker himself was at the helm as both screenwriter and director and thus had his share of ideas translated to celluloid, of course.
To open the rift between earthly reality and hell (by solving a little wood-and-brass puzzle cube known (in the original script) as the “Lament Configuration,”) is to suffer at the hands of these unparalleled demonic torturers known as 'Cenobites.' The Cenobites have spawned a universe of horrors that spans most every popular medium, from film to literature to ‘toys.’ Nonetheless, the on-screen appearance of these twisted, tortured hellions is always cause for wincing alarm. Hooks on the ends of whipping, dragging chains don't ever lie.
SCARIER THAN: Any and all cinematic depictions of Satan.
Yes, it’s on the list – ‘Bruce,’ the awkward, marginally-realistic mechanical great white shark is on my list; in the number two spot even. What can I say, “Jaws” is still a scary movie and it exploits one of humanity's (as well as any animal's) most primal fears – being attacked and consumed by another animal. Albeit a silly notion now (knowing what we do of shark behavior) that a white shark could or would perform any number of the unnatural acts of aggression and pursuance we are tickled to experience in “Jaws;” these acts nonetheless continue to delight me. Yes, when the giant, oddly-proportioned monster shark leapt from the water to crash down on the stern of the doomed ‘Orca’ -- it’s jaws flapping wildly in hopes that some on-board collection of fat, flesh and bone would tumble end-over-end, helplessly into its gaping maw -- it was, by rational standards, stupid; but this was a movie so well-constructed, so brilliantly written, acted, directed and edited that it swallowed you whole (pun intended); and you sat in its gut, marveling at the pitch-perfect grasp of what it takes to make a good monster movie . . . A great monster movie.
Due to many reasons – most of them mechanical – The shark itself spent very little time on-screen, but its presence NEVER waned – it was always there, lurking just beneath those calm New England waters. Even when its attacks amounted to little more than flailing limbs and churning, reddened sea, the monster shark in “Jaws” never once failed to terrify.
SCARIER THAN: Most things.
Ridley Scott’s masterpiece of so-called “gothic horror” contains the most iconic killer in the annals of cinematic extraterrestrials; and we have the perverted and painful horror-erotica of the Swiss surrealist artist, H. R. Giger to thank for much of it. Never before had a space-alien risen to such heights of inspired terror; and this is why “Alien” is so clearly a ‘horror’ film and its successor, though very good, is more of a ‘sci-fi, action-adventure’ (with horror elements, of course). What clinched the top spot for the Giger/Scott alien was more than just its gutturally horrifying appearance; but also the implications of the screaming, stealthy menace’s presence, which were made so starkly and brutally clear . . . The film’s promotional ‘tagline’ summed it up nicely: “In space no one can hear you scream.” Indeed, nor can anyone come to your rescue; nor can you escape, and your chances of survival – locked, as you are, in a ship which is to be both the setting of your excruciating butchery as well as your tomb – are comparable to being blind, naked and at the mercy of a hungry tiger – nil. The film’s progression – it’s pacing, lighting, timing were all flawless (especially by 1979's standards). The highly claustrophobic setting added rich, exploitable senses of doom, despair, helplessness, torment and imminent death; and, when suddenly – with a rasp and a squeal and a clamor – these feelings were met by that glossy black antagonist, you had yourself a gourmet recipe for what I believe to be the Best Monster in the History of Cinema.
SCARIER THAN: The previously noted monsters.