Cinema’s Greatest Movie Monsters: Slimy and (Occasionally) Sympathetic
Throughout cinema history, studios, directors, and production designers have created some of popular culture’s most memorable artistic endeavours. In all honesty, the visual aspects of any film, great or terrible, are worth noting. Over the course of several months, teams of people pool their resources to develop each production’s visual layout. Hungry for success, these teams work tirelessly to inform and entertain mass audiences. Nowadays, explosions, gunfights, and superheroes drive blockbusters. However, there was once a time when monsters and murderers commanded the screen. Their frightening aesthetic features and masochistic tendencies drew people in with baited breath. Every so often, big-budget extravaganzas like last year’s smash hit Pacific Rim pay homage to this valuable time in cinema history. With Gareth Evans’ Godzilla remake about to smash through the big screen, I decided to look back on a conquering aspect of Hollywood’s overwhelming resolve. These monsters – ranging from the grotesque to the misunderstood – have stood the test of time whilst connecting audiences to this visual medium’s majesty.
8. The Pale Man (Pans Labyrinth, 2006)
Inevitably, one of Guillermo del Toro’s creations is on this list. With the Hellboy series, Blade 2, and Pacific Rim showcasing his artistic talents and guile, his filmography pays tribute to a memorable time in cinematic history. Thankfully, del Toro never wholly mimics anything. His style revolves around taking his influences and creating truly original and confounding characters. In Pans Labyrinth, we see his greatest works crawl, wriggle, and fly across the screen. With its lead character, a little girl named Ophelia, discovering her true worth, the movie presents a kingdom hidden deep under the Earth. One of its inhabitants is the Pale Man. With eyeballs stuck in its hands, the creature’s mannerisms tell their own tales of heartache and despair. Testing our lead character’s resolve, this sickly creation whiles away his years in an immaculate dining room. In addition, to add to the terror, he waits for children to fall into his trap. Bloodcurdling and grotesque, the Pale Man is an amoral, skeletal villain unafraid of the afterlife or his kingdom’s future. Credit goes to character-actor Doug Jones for capturing this character’s more disgraceful yet captivating habits.
7. Cloverfield (Cloverfield, 2008)
Captured by irritating twenty-somethings on their video camera, the Cloverfield monster is a mysterious and all-powerful creation. Much is kept in the dark about this particular creature. Before the final third, the video camera acts as a portal into an apocalyptic New York. Through the camera, we see segments of new reports and shadows swiping across buildings. The creature, a peculiar cross between Godzilla and a frog, holds several secrets under its slimy surface. Thankfully, we discover these features only when our characters do. Spitting out mutant tarantulas, the creature shows no signs of weakness throughout the movie’s brief run time. Fortunately, in the final few minutes, the movie pulls back to showcase the entire creature. Attacked by jet fighters, the creature fights back by attacking the helicopter our characters use to escape the city with. The lack of exposition and details delivers a guessing game for the audience to participate in. Chewing up and spitting out our cameraman, this vicious and angry creation illustrates director Matt Reeves’ visceral style. With the creature taking over New York, this creature feature proves that Roland Emmerich/Michael Bay’s filmmaking styles are unwarranted.
6. Predator (Predator, 1987)
From the muscle-bound handshakes to the nuclear blasts, John McTiernan’s Predator is a kick-ass action flick unafraid to dabble in other genres. Here, placing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s abs and pecs in full view, the movie embraces masculinity unlike any sci-fi explosion fest of its type. Scarily so, this rag-tag group of tough guys must deal with CIA Agents, South American militia, and an even greater threat. From the opening frame, this action flick establishes itself as an exhilarating and enjoyable sci-fi epic. Keeping the scope, characterisations, and action sequences low key, the monster eclipses everything else lurking in the movie’s labyrinthine jungle setting. Picked off one-by-one by an invisible entity, the men begin to suspect one another of committing multiple atrocities. Here, unlike with the seceding Predator features, the titular alien is a terrifying and indescribable presence. With his claw-filled mouth and dreadlocks, his facial structure alone is cause for concern. Along the way, Predator’s suspenseful tactics and threatening motives keep us guessing throughout. It’s stocky structure, bizarre technological advancements, and durability push it toward its blissful showdown with Arnie.
5. Xenomorph (Alien, 1979)
Stopping critics and audiences dead in their tracks at the end of an already blistering decade in cinema, influential horror flick Alien bolstered the careers of director Ridley Scott and underrated actress Sigourney weaver. Despite the acclaim given to these two big-name personalities, its acclaimed visual effects supervisor Stan Winston’s visionary monster that defined this intensifying and eye-catching sci-fi thriller. Picking the mining ship Nostromo’s crew members one-by-one, the beast lurks in the ship’s darkest and dullest nooks and crannies. Luring people into its pulsating trap, the creature is a terrifying creation unlike other vicious alien counterparts. Winston’s vision results in catastrophic and everlasting obstacles for the unsuspecting crew. Complete with an oval shaped head, jet-black aesthetic, whip-like tail, and elongated tongue-mouth, its slimy presence wowed and scarred audiences simultaneously. On top of that, the creature’s acid-laden blood rips throughs the ship’s entangled systems. The creature, causing jump scares throughout, became a cult icon – resulting in three sequels and two spin-offs, and a prequel/relation. Before long, hopefully, we’ll be seeing more big-name directors, writers, and actors tackling this beast like Scott, Weaver, and James Cameron did all those years ago.
4. Brundlefly (The Fly, 1986)
Among the greatest intricacies of David Cronenberg’s oeuvre, the Brundlefly monster is a disgusting yet sympathetic character. Unlike the other monster mash features in this list, The Fly chronicles its monster’s descent into degradation and chaos. The plot kicks off with renowned scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum). Interviewed by hot-shot journalist Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis), Brundle is eager to tell the world about his startling new invention. Brundle’s teleportation devices, intended for the good of mankind, accidentally lead to his horrific downfall. Cronenberg, fuelling his efforts on psychosexual tendencies, takes place during a valuable time in sci-fi horror cinema. Cronenberg’s vision takes shape shortly after Brundle tests the devices on himself. With Brundle’s DNA fusing with a fly’s genetic code, the amicable scientist transforms into a mystifying and terrifying hybrid. Brundlefly evolves over the course of several weeks. With Veronica watching on, strange hairs sprout out of his skin, his hair falls out, and puss-filled bumps form all over his body. However, with a love story crumbling under Brundlefly’s feet, this tragic narrative is aided by Brundle’s sickening downfall. The final shot, featuring Brundlefly accepting his fate, is a haunting and electrifying visual splendour that’ll live with you forever.
3. Jaws (Jaws, 1975)
Are you scared of the ocean? If you are, then Steven Spielberg’s hit blockbuster Jaws might have something to do with it. Kicking off the Summer blockbuster season trend, this action-thriller presents us with a real-life monster that still acts and reacts like its fictional cinematic counterparts. In Jaws, we see a cop struggling to protect people during his seaside town’s most popular time of year. Backed up by John Williams’ profound score (du-dun, du-dun, du-dun), the monster’s trained-to-kill behaviour is second to none. Created with practical effects, Bruce the Shark was a work of puppetry that nearly cost Spielberg his blossoming career. However, this ever-lasting concept paid off. The creature’s monstrous size and pinpoint actions are a testament to the work of Hollywood’s best and brightest practical effects artists. The subtle and intensifying antagonist keeps viewers guessing right up until the final act of bravery from our lead character.
2. Kong (King Kong, 1933)
How do you make a 50-foot tall gorilla a sympathetic character? By partnering him with a hot blonde. This may be a harsh truth about 1933’s action classic King Kong, but it’s nowhere near as simple as that. To obtain the correct balance between adventure-fantasy and touching love story, the original Kong touches on the fear of change. Here, the beast meets a woman who sweeps him off his big hairy feet. Toying with his ‘victim’ in the first third, Kong is presented as a mythical presence unable to be conquered. This awe-inspiring creation, a feat of stop-motion technology at the time, continues to hold Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking in high regard with critics and audiences alike. In the second half, we see a warrior fighting for the beautiful temptress he almost snacked on. Fighting off Skull Island’s more dangerous inhabitants, Kong’s commendable actions develop this gigantic creation into a likeable character. The final third, however, delivers Kong’s most tragic shades. Due to Carl Denham’s impulsive actions, this untameable beast is accidentally released onto the streets of New York. Before he is shot down, at around the 70 minute mark, the original Kong has delivered more impressive feats of greatness than its remakes could ever have hoped to accomplished. It may have been beauty that killed the beast, but it was Hollywood’s best and brightest that brought him to life in the first place.
1. Godzilla (Godzilla, 1954)
Of course, the one and only devastator of cities, armies, and freedom tops this list. It may seem biased, given the remake’s imminent release, but the original Godzilla is cinema’s most intriguing, entertaining, and masochistic creation. Kicking off Japanese cinema’s monster-mash trend, the original sees Japanese cities reduced to rubble under Godzilla’s massive feet. However, despite the impressive and unique action sequences, its the design of Godzilla that stands out as truly confronting and awe-inspiring. With spikes running down his enormous spine, this predator’s aesthetic is as iconic as his name. Standing above skyscrapers, buildings are turned to ash and the cityscape is turned into a sea of fiery debris and destroyed livelihoods. Godzilla is one of cinemas most memorable creations. Hiding in ocean trenches and mountain ranges, the creature, despite its gargantuan size, lurks eerily before attacking. After his gravely roar is heard, our heroes look on in horror as the monster stomps through their towns. This particular imagery, though continually parodied after its release, are prime examples of the pristine and unconscionable moments these sci-fi/action/horror flicks can, and occasionally do, deliver. However, under the scaly surface lies a tale of sacrifice and political control. Choosing to use a specialised device to kill the monster, the movie’s scientist character wrestles with the ethical ramifications of his own creation. Understanding that Godzilla is a lost soul wandering our lands, the narrative looks to us for answers to its vital questions. Is he misunderstood? Does he deserve to die? Could we ever co-exist? These illuminate Godzilla‘s worth as a frightening cinematic gem and a mirror for us all to look into.
From murderous sharks to skeletal fairytale creations, these monsters represent one of cinema’s greatest eras. Sure, these aren’t the most intelligent or intelligible characters. Ripping through genres and emotions, these monsters are born from a sorely missed action/sci-fi era. Godzilla, soon to blessed with yet anther reimagining, stands tall as the genre’s most intriguing creations. Yes, the other monster in the list are all interesting, thrilling, and memorable. However, the big, bad Japanese lizard proves that practical and special effects are used for show and tell.
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