As you’re no doubt aware, Monday is Halloween (in those countries that celebrate it, anyway). That means that this weekend is the perfect time to watch some scary movies! Since we’ve done a Roundtable on the general topic of horror movies once in the past, we’re going to hone in specifically on monster movies in this go-round. So snuggle up with a loved one and prepare to have the wits scared out of you as we look at some of the ickiest, goriest, most awesome creature features that we love to watch this time of year.
M. Enois Duarte
This is an easy pick for me. I love everything to do with Frankenstein’s creature, from Mary Shelley’s novel to recent, unexpected takes on the story such as ‘Splice’. He’s just one of the coolest and best monsters ever! He’s also one of the first and earliest archetypes of the horror genre when it was finally emerging into its own style of storytelling. Of the hundred different variations available, the 1935 film ‘Bride of Frankenstein‘ is without question the best version. The cinematography from John j. Mescall is simply stunning and effective at establishing an atmosphere of the macabre. James Whale’s direction is lavish with an energy and urgency that keeps the film suspenseful. And of course, there’s the amazing performance of Boris Karloff as the Monster. He provides the despised creature with a great deal of humanity and passion. It’s a wonderful film for one of Hollywood’s most memorable and iconic figures of the horror genre.
When I was sent this week’s topic for the Weekend Roundtable, the first monster movie that came to my mind was ‘Bubba Ho-Tep‘, a delightful dark comedy directed by Don (‘Phantasm’) Coscarelli, based on the Bram Stoker Award-winning short story from the twisted mind of Joe Lansdale. This bizarre tale set in East Texas features a redneck mummy sucking the life forces out of the defenseless elderly residents of the Mud Creek Shady Rest Convalescence Home. Their only hope is a geriatric Elvis Presley (yep, the King LIVES!), who decides to take matters into his own hands and become a hero. It’s an endearing, hilarious and incredibly faithful adaptation of the source material. The icing on the cake is the one and only Bruce Campbell as Elvis! Speaking of which, an honorable mention has to go the cult icon’s ‘Evil Dead‘ trilogy. Hail to the chin, baby!
I thought I’d leave out zombies since… well, as much as I like zombies, there are too many flicks I truly dig to pick just one. So, I thought I’d go all monster on this one. My fave monster movie is, hands down, ‘Deep Rising‘. Go ahead, laugh all you want. This was Stephen Sommers in his heyday! (I’m selling it hard, no?) Well, if you haven’t caught ‘Deep Rising’ and like monsters, ‘Evil Dead’, Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, a Jerry Goldsmith score, Jason Flemyng, and even Djimon Hounsou and Cliff Curtis, you are missing out! Of course, you’ll need to stop what you’re doing and pop this bad boy into your… well… your DVD player. It’s silly and violent and funny and predictable, but the cast is great and the action and gore are fantastic. I HIGHLY recommend it!
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
Although I was a huge fan of the Creature Double Feature on channel 56 (or was it 38?) growing up in New England, none of the ’50s/’60s schlock or Japanese monster movies left a lasting impression on me.(That giant robot who fought Godzilla was pretty cool, though.) I’d have to say my favorite monster movie is ‘An American Werewolf in London‘. Walking the line between dark comedy and classic horror, the film features some impressive special effects for its day (courtesy of Oscar-winner Rick Baker), and a strong leading man in David Naughton (formerly of the “Dr. Pepper” commercials). Who can forget the dream within a dream, or the slowly decaying corpse of his friend (Griffin Dunne) trying to convince our poor antihero to off himself before he kills again? I’ll take that over any of the more recent lycanthropic let-downs.
I’ve tried to get into the classic monster franchises like ‘Godzilla’, but they just don’t do it for me. The first of the large-scale monster movies to ever have an impact on me was the J.J. Abrams-produced ‘Cloverfield‘. Unlike the disaster-esque ‘Godzilla’ movies, where several groups of characters come together in the end, ‘Cloverfield’ literally has one point-of-view. The shaky footage may have been nauseating for some, but it’s a risky artistic decision that just so happens to work perfectly. The film’s short run time prevents you from getting burned out by it. Made with a tiny budget and a no-name cast, it’s shocking how well ‘Cloverfield’ turned out.
When thinking of monster movies, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth‘ may not be the first thing to come to mind. Much of the movie is about the terrible things that humans can do to each other. However, there’s a scene in the film that has affected me more than any other monster movie I’ve ever watched. Ofelia encounters many weird and wondrous creatures on her quest, but none as terrifying as the monster with eyes in its hands. It’s a monster that consumes children. I remember the first time I saw that scene. I got more chills than the first time I watched ‘Jaws’. That’s how creepy that scene is. Only Guillermo del Toro could think up such an inspired but demented creature. I know that this only makes up a part of the entire movie, but that scene has stuck with me ever since I first saw it – more so than any other monster movie I can think of.
My last two Roundtable picks have been movies that just hit Blu-ray, which is sure good luck for me! In struggling to come up with my favorite monster movie, and having the usual problems that arise when trying to name a favorite in a genre that’s really not my thing, the one movie I kept thinking about again and again was ‘Jurassic Park‘. Now those are some monsters, and man, is that ever a masterful film! It uses just the right amount of buildup, actually delivers on its promise, and scares the shit out of you when it hits its frenetic peak. Having just looked at the film again last night, I think this was Spielberg’s last great popcorn movie. Every film since has had a different look, feel, and set of problems, including and perhaps especially the sequel ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’. But back in 1993, Spielberg was at the top of his game, working in a genre he had utterly mastered in the 18 years since he’d made another masterpiece monster movie, ‘Jaws’. Now, 18 years after ‘Jurassic Park’, the film that the director himself called “Land Shark” holds up beautifully.
I generally can’t take monster movies seriously. There are some exceptions, but I find them a little too goofy for my tastes, or just not goofy enough. That is, of course, with the exception of the ‘Gamera‘ movies of the 1960s (the “Showa series,” per Wikipedia). They’ve got this kind of weird, wacky thing going on where Gamera is some sort of superhero/monster that saves children from whatever crazy misadventures they happen to fall into. It’s ridiculous and fun. If you can’t handle watching them straight, pick up the ‘MST3K’ versions. Oh, and a special second-place honorable mention goes out to ‘Crank 2’. It’s not a monster movie in and of itself, but at one point the flick turns into one. Like the rest of the film, it’s brilliant.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
There is no escape. There is no hope of rescue. No one around you can be trusted, even familiar faces you’ve been boxed in with at this remote, frostbitten research facility for who knows how long. Some sort of otherworldly shapeshifter is gradually replacing everyone you’ve come to know there, one by one. No one knows where this… thing came from. Its motivations are primal, beyond logic or reason. It’s hardly even a question whether this creature will somehow creep its way outward towards civilization at large… more of a matter of when.
When I strip the concept of my absolute favorite horror movies down to bare metal, it almost always boils down to an unknowable, unstoppable and inescapable threat. I’m sure that’s why John Carpenter’s take on ‘The Thing‘ continues to rattle me all these decades later. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Carpenter’s direction is brilliant, particularly the legendary sequence where a series of blood samples have a heated metal wire dipped into them to reveal who among the characters is one of these creatures in disguise. I’m still in awe of Rob Bottin’s twisted, grotesque creature designs, and it’s a testament to his immense talent and imagination that the CGI-laden prequel couldn’t approach the practical effects work of a film made thirty years prior. ‘The Thing’ remains one of the most intense, unnerving and suspenseful films I’ve ever come across, and its visceral creature effects make for one of the all-time great movie monsters as well.
Could there be a more perfect monster movie than Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien‘? Not as far as I’m concerned. While the plot essentially boils down to a haunted house thriller in space, the film is artfully designed and dripping with both creepy atmosphere and nerve-jangling suspense. It has compelling characters, a terrifying monster that looks to have leaped directly from the darkest recesses of artist H.R. Giger’s psyche, and some of the most iconic imagery in film history. It’s a straight-up masterpiece.
What monster movies will you watch this Halloween weekend?