Back in August, Den of Geek posted an article asking whether CG movie monsters are frightening or not. The question arose when writer Simon Brew realized how little fear the alien creatures of ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ and ‘Super 8’ generated in him. Now, with the new remake/prequel of ‘The Thing’ opening tomorrow and Halloween just around the corner, I’ll take that question one step further: Have movie monsters in general ever been frightening?
Brew claims that the closest he’s ever come to being frightened by a CG monster were the dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park’. Where he doesn’t make the following connection, I will: The dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park’ are frightening because they’re based on real “monsters” that actually used to roam the Earth. The monsters of ‘Super 8’ and ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ are purely fictional, and require more suspension of disbelief to emotionally commit to the movies they appear in. If the science of ‘Jurassic Park’ were plausible, then there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t see a theme park with real dinosaurs. ‘Jurassic Park’ requires you to suspend your disbelief for the science, not the monsters. Every other monster movie with fictitious beasts requires the opposite.
I believe that movie monsters have rarely ever been frightening. They’re closest to frightening when they’re unseen. The best way to market a new monster movie is to not reveal the creature’s look. Think back to ‘Cloverfield‘ or ‘Super 8’. Neither monster was revealed in trailers or TV spots. With ‘Cloverfield’, you had to sit through more than half the movie to finally get a quick look at its body. ‘Super 8’ dragged along even further, waiting until the climax to give you the goods.
In both cases, the monsters themselves were less frightening when finally unveiled. Less is more. Not seeing something is far more frightening than actually seeing it. ‘Super 8’ and ‘Cloverfield’ were more terrifying before the destructive monsters were shown in full. Leaving it to the audience’s imagination is always the best route.
Sometimes, seeing the monster completely ruins the film. I know many people who hated ‘Signs‘ mainly due to the last-minute alien reveal. After seeing the unoriginal-looking alien, all interest was lost and the perfect intensity that the film built up prior to that moment was rendered worthless.
Likewise, the Smoke Monster from ‘Lost’ lost its intense presence once we saw fully saw it in Season Two (not to mention how much less threatening it became when it was explained in Season Six). The monsters in ‘The Mist‘ lost their terror once revealed as well.
Nothing fictional (CG or not) will ever carry as much impact as an exaggerated version of something based in our reality. Whether it be the dinosaurs of ‘Jurassic Park’ or the “Infected” zombies of ‘28 Days Later‘, reality is more frightening than make-believe. This is why evil characters will always be much more terrifying than movie monsters. It’s easier to believe that there’s an Anton Chigurh out there killing people with a pneumatic cattle gun than a fleet of aliens in tripods that zap people into dust. It’s easier to believe in a flesh-eating genius cannibal than a decked-out, tech-savvy cloaked predator. And it’s easier to believe in a smiley-faced agent of chaos dressed in a tailor-made clown purple suit than a district of ostracized extraterrestrials with ‘Halo’-like weaponry. For this reason, no science fiction monsters will ever be as terrifying as the real life ones walking around today.
You want to be truly terrified? Watch the news.