Some mornings I wake up, and resolve myself to treat (or trick) the day as if it were the greatest day of all: Halloween. And I don’t know whether it’s because of today’s dreary, overcast sky above Wichita, or Film Editor Christine’s recent article, “Putting Faces to our Nightmares,” but today is one of those days. Thus have I been inspired to compile a list of my top ten favorite monster movies. Let’s set the mood, shall we?
Here’s that all-time classic tune we all know and love, by Bobby “Boris” Pickett:
And then the cover that Crabcorps did for Silver Linings Playbook:
You good? You ready? All right then, let’s do the monster mash. (Scroll slowly, so as to build suspense. =D)
10. Pacific Rim (2013) “To fight monsters, we created monsters.”
The movie: Director Guillermo Del Toro’s love-letter to kaiju films everywhere–more specifically, to Godzilla–is a mecha anime-inspired action film about humanity’s war against beasts from another dimension.
The monster: Technically, monsters plural. The kaiju are beings who come from “The Rift,” and attack largely-populated human cities. They are highly adaptive creatures–some specialize in swimming, others in flying. Also, they glow, and hey, what else can I ask for?
The marbles: Why Pacific Rim? I love it not for its awesome action, nor even for Del Toro’s amazing monsters. In fact, I was ready to dismiss it as only a decent movie until the end, when it becomes apparent that Raleigh and Mako’s world-saving actions are a homage to a similar event in the original Godzilla. I got chills; it was so epic.
BONUS: Ramin Djawadi’s score for the movie is downright sick. That guy continues to prove he is one of the most versatile composers working today.
9. King Kong (2005) “The eighth wonder of the world.”
The movie: Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 original is a sprawling, 3-hour period piece with enough “Conradian” (I made this word up) elements to satisfy even the most prickly of literature buffs.
The monster: A gargantuan gorilla with a liking for 1930s stage dancing. He also likes to climb skyscrapers, swat at airplanes, and long walks on the beach. King Kong is proof that even animals can be the tragic antihero.
The marbles: Say what you will about Jack Black, but in my opinion, he was perfect for the role. He personifies so perfectly the dogged ambition of Man, and the consequences He will ignore in the pursuit of greatness. Add to that Kong’s badass fight with the two T-rexes and I just had to put it on my list. Visually, it’s phenomenal–this is well before Jackson begins his tragic overuse of CGI (see Hobbit films).
8. Godzilla (1954) “The legend begins . . .”
The movie: Ah, the original Godzilla, directed by Honda Ishiro, is the black and white classic that started it all. When a fire-spouting, dinosaur(ish) creature rises from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, post-WWII Japan must do all it can to survive.
The monster: The “King of the Monsters” needs no description.
The marbles: Even putting aside the fact that without Godzilla, half of the movies on this list wouldn’t even exist, there’s still a lot to like about it. Godzilla is a darkly satiric film that is completely divorced from its comedic, B-movie sequels. Not only does Godzilla illustrate the sinister consequences of the use of nuclear weaponry, it also stands on its own as a heart-pounding thriller.
BONUS: In this movie, when women die, they twirl before falling dramatically to the ground. Its a little hilarious.
7. Little Shop of Horrors (1986) “Don’t feed the plants.”
The movie: Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Frank Oz, is a musical (yep, you read that right, a musical) about a blood-drinking plant that may or may not resemble the piranha plant from Mario.
The marbles: A hugely entertaining 80s flick that redefines the phrase “life is a living hell,” by using top-notch production design, signature “doo-wops” and deliciously hammy performances. You gotta love it. “Downtown, where the cabs don’t stop! Downtown, where the food is slop!” Oh, sorry. Moving on.
6. The Host (2006) “Man has made its newest predator.”
The movie: Directed by one of the greatest alive, Joon-ho Bong, The Host chronicles the attempt of a food stand purveyor to rescue his daughter from the clutches of a monster.
The monster: A many-legged polymerization of an eel and a tadpole, born in the grey depths of the Han River. Its long, tentacle-like tail gives it extremely high acrobatic prowess for an aquatic creature.
The marbles: The Host is the very definition of a genre-bender. It combines action, horror, and comedy for one of the most unique movie experiences I’ve ever had. At times, it is emotionally arresting and in others, laugh-out-loud funny. I didn’t know whether or not to laugh or cry, but I guarantee you I did both. The easiest–and probably most unhelpful–way to describe this movie is that it’s a “sci-fi Korean Wes Anderson film with a river monster.” Make of that what you will.
5. Monsters (2010) “Beware.”
The movie: Before Gareth Edwards directed the most recent Godzilla, he directed the sleeper-hit Monsters, which tells the story of an American journalist who is ordered to escort his employer’s daughter back to the United States. Due to circumstances *ahem* alien in nature, he (and his charge) are forced to traverse the Mexican Extra Terrestrial Infected Zone, which, I assure you, is not what it sounds like (E.T. wandering mindlessly around the Mayan Ruins).
The monster: Glowing, squid-like tentacle behemoths which make love (or at least, show affection) by rubbing said tentacles against each other’s tentacles. Because after the flower-sex of Avatar, why not?
The marbles: Monsters is one of those rare monster movies that isn’t about the monster. I know, it sounds counterproductive, but to me, it can be very powerful. For Monsters, Edwards himself did most of the CGI work, and left the rest of the heavy-lifting to real-life husband and wife actors Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able. They both do stellar jobs.
BONUS: Monsters also contains what is probably my favorite shot in the history of film-making.
4. Super 8 (2011) “It arrives.”
The monster: A massive burrowing creature that resembles an “Ancient” from Warcraft III, except with less bark, less leaves, and oddly human-looking pupils. He’s also more technologically savvy than the entire human race.
The marbles: Super 8 is another one of those movies that really doesn’t focus on the monster. A lot of the people I’ve talked to about this movie have the same complaint that “the monster was barely in it.” Well, guy, you’re missing the point. Super 8 is, ultimately, about letting go. Letting go of home, and in doing so, finding a new one. It all plays out in an obtusely mirrored format, once you find out the monster’s story. See? The monster is important.
BONUS: Best ensemble of kid actors, hands down.
3. Godzilla (2014) “The King will rise.”
The movie: The 60th anniversary reboot of Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, is a conspiracy “action thriller” about the eponymous Godzilla that the real world has known for over half a century, but that the in-movie world is only just meeting.
The monster: The “King of the Monsters” STILL needs no description. But let’s talk about his enemies. In this movie, Godzilla fights creatures known as MUTOs. More specifically, he fights a pair of them–a couple–who meet to make baby MUTOs. Yay, MUTO sex! Yay, Godzilla, Enforcer of Alien Population Control!
The marbles: I could go on and on about the merits of this movie, bad reviews aside. The movie’s depiction of humans always screwing themselves in the butt, the paralleled journeys of the main characters and that of the monsters, the mirrored shot of smoke enveloping the face of the main character’s mother, and the face of Godzilla. KEN WATANABE. The MUSIC. The COLOR. The ACTION. This is one of those rare times where I’ll #feels
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) “What happens when make-believe believes it’s real?”
The movie: Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece is a gothic fairytale set in Spain during World War II. It tells the story of a young girl who becomes enveloped in a magical world of make-believe. Unless, of course, it isn’t.
The monster: There are a myriad of monsters here, ranging from feral fairies to a “not-sure-if-he’s-going-to-eat-you” Satyr God. But the real monster in this movie is the all too human villain, General Vidal.
The marbles: Pan’s Labyrinth makes most lists of “Best Movies,” the monster genre notwithstanding–and for good reason. Pan’s Labyrinth benefits from the singularly visceral performance by its star actress, the at-the-time 12-year-old Ivana Baquero, and Del Toro’s unique monster-art. Its lush visuals, haunting soundtrack, and utterly thrilling narrative makes it a movie I’ll never forget, nor grow tired of watching.
Digimon: The Movie (2000)
The Thing (1982)
The Fly (1986)
1. Alien (1979) “In space no one can hear you scream . . .”
The movie: Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic is a monster movie for the ages. Alien tells the tale of a spacecraft crew that investigates the distress signal from a derelict ship. What they find there is terror incarnate.
The monster: The iconic alien that horrified and still horrifies so many. It can basically meld into shadows, which allows it to hunt its prey with frightening efficiency. Also facehuggers. *shudder*
The marbles: Alien put sci-fi/horror movies on the map. I’m not saying it was the first–far from it. But without Alien, there wouldn’t be movies like Europa Report (2013), Pitch Black (2000), or Pandorum (2009), just to name a few. Not to mention, it’s influenced countless video games too–Dead Space and Doom being the most obvious. But its legacy aside, Alien illustrates the very epitome of what a monster represents. It is isolation, it is paranoia, it is fate.
And that’s it. What would you add/replace to my list of Top 10 Monster Movers? Let me know in the comments!