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Another project has crossed my desk, this one dealing with monsters, and I have been charged with coming up with a fresh take on the monster genre. I invite my readers to submit their favorites — strictly monsters, not "horror movies" or "scary movies" or "ghost stories" or "serial killer thrillers" but pure monster movies. Points given for groundbreakers and movies that view their monsters from unique viewpoints, movies that really surprised you and made you think of monsters in different ways. I thank you in advance.


88 Responses to “Query”
  1. pirateman says:

    Easy; John Carpenter’s (remake of) The Thing. A “monster movie” that’s not really about a monster at all – instead, a movie about identity and trust.

    It also happens to be my favorite movie of all time, so I’m a little bias…

  2. amanofhats says:

    John Carpenter’s The Thing

  3. papajoemambo says:

    – An American Werewolf In London – my all-time favourite “new school” monster movie. Take the conventions on lycanthropy and the undead, fold in some ideas about what being part of the living dead would be like, and make the monster completely sympathetic. Also – best double-fake-out false-nightmare that isn’t over dream sequence ever. THE HOWLING may have come first, but this one worked better.

    – Swamp Thing – I know, the comic by Wein and Wrightson is better, but I love swamp monsters.

    – Pumpkinhead – sympathetic monster-activator played by Lance Hendrickson leads to a great “Gonna Get You” monster with teens in a forest cabin.

    – Jeepers Creepers – you think it’s one thing, then it’s another thing, then it’s ANOTHER thing, then the nasty rubby is a nasty MONSTER.

    – The Thing (John Carpenter – as mentioned elsewhere, a movie about where xenophobia begins).

    • mattyoung says:

      Oooh, Jeepers Creepers. Good one. I wish that one hadn’t been spoiled for me by waiting until video. I had an inkling there was a monster there, which left me waiting.

    • mitejen says:

      I freaking LOVE Pumpkinhead–written and directed by Stan Winston!

      There’s a common trope where you see a monster appear as the result of ‘non-white people magic,’ being that the asshole teenagers have stolen an idol, or disturbed a burial ground or something. That this one was ‘poor people magic’ delighted me, it acknowledged the difference between ‘cityfolk’ and ‘countryfolk’ without making the countryfolk into inbred cannibals.

    • strangemuses says:

      I love Pumpkinhead. Grief and rage will make monsters of us all. It’s such a sad story, which is one of the reasons that I love it so much.

  4. serizawa3000 says:

    One of my absolute favorite monster movies is Creature from the Black Lagoon. I saw it when I was seven. I was learning to swim at around the same time. I didn’t find the Gill-Man scary, really, but I thought he was cool. Even at that early age I had some inkling of an understanding of special effects, and knew that it was a guy in a rubber suit (well, two guys, actually: Ben Chapman played the Gill-Man on land while Ricou Browning was the Gill-Man in the underwater sequences), but that didn’t diminish the coolness of the monster. I like how David J. Schow put it: “If there were no Gill-Man, there would be no Alien. No Predator.” Funnily enough, I also like the first Alien film very much, along with the original Godzilla (in Japanese, uncut, and without the Raymond Burr scenes)… I’m pretty much into monster movies, old-school ones especially.

    There is, of course, talk about a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake… Little concerned about it… A marvelously updated Gill-Man (or a relative, really) already appeared in The Monster Squad…

  5. 55seddel says:

    How about something similar to “Them”?

  6. bassfingers says:

    I’ll agree with a nod to An American Werewolf in London, though I admit the first film that came to mind was Clive Barker’s Nightbreed… nice twist on the monster film… city of monsters who more or less want to be left alone. The REAL monster is the shrink who finds them.

    • mimitabu says:

      david cronenberg’s performance is so funny in that movie i’m laughing just thinking about it.

      • craigjclark says:

        He also has a great little part in the Canadian vampire movie Blood and Donuts. He always seems to inject a little humor in every part he plays. This is especially the case in Don McKellar’s Last Night (not a monster movie, but it was the only premillennial “the world is coming to end” movie that I thought was even remotely plausible).

  7. So what’s a monster?

    I’d say a monster is a living creature which is intelligent, malicious, and either not human (Godzilla) or no longer human (Frankenstein’s monster).

    But isn’t Sesame Street’s “Elmo” a furry monster?

    So I guess my favorite movie monster is Christiane from “Eyes Without a Face”. Great song, too.

  8. rxgreene says:

    “Them” and “Invisible Invaders” both tap into the investigation prior to becoming more traditional monster movies, as does “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”.

    “Alien” is an excellent monster movie, with great dialogue to boot. The original “The Thing from Another World” was terrifying to me as a kid. As an adult, I find the monster a bit more sympathetic (Imagine landing on a planet of intelligent carrots…) “The Quatermass Experiment” was well done as well.

    “The Terminator” is outside the range of what you are looking for, but at it’s core, is a monster movie in sci-fi clothing.

    I’d suggest you take a look at the RPG GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) – it has a supplement “GURPS Horror” that has a great filmography of required reading.

  9. jdurall says:

    Near Dark, for dropping the vampires into the Deep South, and treating them (if not sympathetically) in a naturalistic fashion.

    • stormwyvern says:

      It’s a little heavily 80s for some tastes, but I do like it quite a bit and it does have some of the cooler interpretations of vampires’ weakness to sunlight that I’ve seen on film.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “Monster Squad” was always a fun movie. At the time it came out, the idea of a monster shared universe blew my mind.

    The Boris Karloff “Frankenstein” films (and “Gods and Monsters” for the behind-the-scenes look at things).

    I Second “Nightbreed”.

    Any of the old stop-motion classics, especially those with effects by Ray Harryhausen, for visual inspiration.

  11. curt_holman says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Cloverfield is the best “giant monster running amok” movie ever made. (Gamera III: The Awakening of Iris is one of the most underrated — by the end, the giant fire-breathing turtle Gamera emerges as a Christ figure. No, really.)

    South Korea’s The Host is an extremely interesting, extremely odd example of the genre, with a dysfunctional family coming together to track and fight the mutant creature. People call it the Little Miss Sunshine of monster movies.

    The David Cronenberg version of The Fly is a brilliant treatment of the Jekyll and Hyde/Wolfman/transformation monster archetypes, with rich thematic implications (including the fear of mortality and betrayal of one’s own body).

    I prefer the 1951 version of The Thing, partly because it seems to bear the snappy pace and dialogue characteristic of producer Howard Hawks. (Howard Hawks is to ‘The Thing’ as Stephen Spielberg is to ‘Poltergeist.’)

    (Speaking of which, I’d recommend David Simmons’ 2007 novel The Terror for an interesting combination of monster lore and historical fiction: Simmons offers a thick, scrupulously researched historical novel about the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, during which two British ships, The HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, were frozen in Arctic ice for nearly three years in the 1840s. Simmons suggests that part of their ordeal involved being stalked by a huge, ravenous, inhuman creature. I mention the book because Simmons dedicated it to the cast and crew of the original The Thing.)

    The Incredible Shrinking Man isn’t a pure monster movie, but the last act, with the shrunken hero fighting a giant (i.e., normal-sized) spider in his basement, is a great monster-fighting extended set piece comparable to the last act of Jaws. (Plus, it has the most “cosmic” ending of a sci-fi movie up until 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

    • Anonymous says:

      Dan Simmons

      The Terror is fantastic, but then, he’s one of my favorite authors. His book Children of the Night is a fantastic take on the vampire legend, too.

  12. craigjclark says:

    I have to join the chorus of American Werewolf in London supporters in here. It’s my favorite werewolf movie of all time, partially because the main character is actually aware of how ludicrous the situation he’s in actually is, but mostly because we actually come to care about him and are saddened when he comes to his (inevitable) dying end.

    The same goes for David Cronenberg’s The Fly, which explores such heady notions as what it means to be human and how painful it is to watch a loved one slowly succumb to some disease — not the sort of things on which monsters movies tend to dwell. It’s also refreshing because it’s about adults who have adult problems and try to apply adult solutions to them.

  13. zodmicrobe says:

    I think the big issue would be: is the monster a Character? Or a Force?

    For Character, I’d say AMERICAN WEREWOLF and I’d add THE FLY (’86), and also (contraversially) add THE FLY II, which I always liked what it was going for, despite huge issues with the cheesiness.

    Also, depending on how you look at it, a chunk of ALTERED STATES.

    For Monster As Force, definitely THE THING (’82) is that movie. Also the remake of THE BLOB (’88).

  14. crypticpress says:

    I should’ve hit refresh before mentioning Jaws below…

  15. Anonymous says:


  16. catwalk says:

    odd thought… would gremlins count?

  17. stormwyvern says:

    I doubt I need to mention “Jaws” to you, but I think it’s worth bringing up just because it has the perfect balance of showing the “monster” enough that the audience doesn’t feel they’re being shortchanged and keeping old Bruce hidden and all the scarier for it.

    The thing about the classic monster movies (like the ones you have screenshots from alongside the question) is that I frequently find them rather lacking. “Dracula” still has some good moments; I could watch Renfield go crazy all day. “Frankenstein”…well, Karloff is pretty good, but the story seemed like something of a mess. My husband brought up “Creature from the Black Lagoon” when I asked if he had any particular favorites, but didn’t give much reason for it beyond “it’s awesome because he swims and he kills.” (I think he means he likes the design of the Creature.) I haven’t seen “The Wolfman” or “The Mummy,” but I imagine it’s kind of the same: visually appealing monser, but not a lot else.

    If you need some visual inspiration, here’s a dracula.

    And a wolfman.

    And a Frankenstein scene with a shovel lady.

    • Todd says:

      The Universal classics have all aged poorly, but that tends to be true of horror in general — the special effects that repulse and terrified audiences twenty or forty or sixty years ago rarely retain their power, the acting challenges of bringing monsters to life change drastically, and ever-evolving editing techniques can make a powerful horror movie of the past look draggy and soporific today.

      • stormwyvern says:

        I do think it says something about the effective design of the Universal monsters that they’ve become the standard image that people associate with monsters who largely predate the movies that featured them.

        Psychological horror tend to hold up better than stuff that’s the visual equivalent of jumping out and yelling “Boo!” That’s another part of why the classic monster stories keep coming up again and again. Even if the film – or in some cases, the original material – has dated somewhat, there’s something in the conept that still frightens people on a deeper level: a man transformed into a beast that he can’t control, a creature created from parts of dead bodies (and Ms. Abigail Normal’s brain), a man who appears on the surface to be quite refined – even sexy for the time – who is in fact a monster capable of transferring his thirst for blood to others,

  18. shocka says:

    I have to imagine someone’s already mentioned Monsters, Inc. by Pixar – the particularly smart, funny and unusual little film that spins the monster genre on its head suggesting that they’re just as scared of us as we are of them (and mostly because they don’t actually understand or have any genuine knowledge of us) but further works as a parable of the US relationship with the Middle East, that later blossomed into two wars that no logical people wanted to be in and a subsequent gigantic dump on the US economy – if only we’d taken note of the subtext of this film rather than screwing ourselves into this corner…

    Hey Todd, on an unrelated note, you might enjoy reading this – Vern on Current Politics

  19. Anonymous says:

    Most of my favorites have already been covered, but I’d add King Kong, Aliens, The Elephant Man, and Little Shop of Horrors (the musical).

    Also, I have an unaccountable love for The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant.


    • Anonymous says:


      Reading your subsequent post, I don’t know how I could have forgotten Edward Scissorhands!
      Also, Island of Lost Souls, one of the great terrors of my childhood, and Pinocchio, one of the other great terrors of my childhood — though I mean the book more than the movie.

  20. mattyoung says:

    “Princess Mononoke” The creatures were fantastic and strange, but the humans were as destructive as the forest animals. I also feel like “Akira” deserves a mention for the ending act.

    Perhaps these are massive fails for not being genuine “monster” movies as much as monster moments. I’m getting stuck on the idea of movies where the monstrous character is either becoming an “other,” an alien, on the way to evolution to something else or the protagonist is the monster or the monster is a human being removed from their humanity.

    On that last point, the Cowboy Bebop episode (from disc 5) “Pierre Le Fou” is a great moody example of the man-made monster. Warren Ellis’ comic “Desolation Jones” is all about people crushed and destroyed and made monstrous by other people.

    • mimitabu says:

      since i saw this entry posted i’ve been trying to think of a good anime monster movie/OVA/series/episode, but haven’t come up with one. “pierre le fou” is a good one actually, if there’s elements of a “good monster movie”, i’d bet it has most of them.

      the best i’ve come up with so far is the iria OVA (and live action movie), but i’m not sure that’s good enough to suggest checking out (unless you’re interested in what space anime was like pre-Evangelion turning all anime into self-referential otaku nods-and-winks-to-the-audience). it has a plucky, badass heroine, random helper side characters, and the best kind of monster/villain; borderline all-powerful with the singular motivation of destroying everything. fun anime, but probably meandering script since it’s a 6-episode OVA. the live action movie is equally fun, but even campier. also a bit hard to find.


      well, there’s urotsukidoji… but i can’t say i recommend that one…

      i know rumiko takahashi (ranma1/2, urusei yatsura, maison ikkoku, lolinu-yasha fame) wrote a bunch of monster/horror manga. those might be interesting, but they’re predominantly short stories.

      not anime but in the same area (japan:P), shinya tsukamoto’s tetsuo: the iron man is a very interesting and experimental take on monster movies (short too, and you can dl it @ isohunt). it’s about a metal fetishist who gets killed in a hit and run accident and then comes back to life as a metal monster. it’s a very strange movie, with chase sequences, a weird industrial soundtrack, and an odd “final battle” type climax that ends with a pretty blunt visual metaphor. i’d be shocked if the tsukamoto-influenced takashi miike hasn’t made an interesting monster movie. maybe ichi the killer counts.

      akira is a cop-out answer, but it’s sort of about a monster (tetsuo/akira). it’s really about power, in every form, or at least it wants to be. definitely a classic, though not a favorite.

      there’s monsters in evangelion, but that’s even more of a cop-out answer than akira (it’s not remotely about “a monster”).

      all that i can think of now are sort of cheesy 90s 1-off movies like wicked city (trash), vampire hunter d (classic), ninja scroll (classic for 15yr old boys). hope some of it helps.

      anyone else know any quality anime “monster movies”?

  21. matt_sturges says:

    If you haven’t read Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, now would be a great time to do so. He spends quite a bit of time talking about monsters (in cinema and in prose) and has some nice insights into horror in general and monsters in particular.

    • mimitabu says:

      tangential comment: i think stephen king is going to be remembered as a lot more of an important writer than he seems to be considered nowadays. the breadth of his imagination and variety of voices in which he writes novels is truly amazing. while he does sort of favor “you male english student/teacher”, he really writes about all kinds of protagonists, and sends them into all manner of plots.

      having read so many of his books as a teen i can sort of point out some things that cause people not to take him that seriously, but i kind of feel like saying “i defy anyone to find someone who can convincingly cover so much narrative space”. (shrug)

      • mimitabu says:

        you = young, of course:*-(

      • Todd says:

        I enjoyed Stephen King when I was younger, I can’t read him any more. He’s good at plotting and he’s good at turning on the movie projector inside the reader’s head, but I simply cannot stand the way he structures his sentences and his dopey jus’-plain-folks language. His teasing, cliff-hanger chapter-breaks have also become simply too tiresome for me as well.

  22. quitwriting says:

    Really? I’m going to have to be the one that says it? *sigh*


  23. blagh says:

    Does Slither count? Probably not, since I have to ask the question. But it is my current favourite, and nooone else has mentioned it yet!

  24. mitejen says:

    Creature from the Black Lagoon

    One of my favorite of the old guard Universal Monsters, I think because since he wasn’t human, I imagined I understood him the best. I was a weird antisocial only child who spent a LOT of time swimming, so I totally imagined we’d be BFF.

    I liked how nebulous his ‘origin’ was; they found a fossil, wanted to know more about it, and found a living specimen but there was no explanation if there were more gillmen, where they were, what happened to the species as a whole, et cetera. It didn’t seem like sloppy storytelling so much as an invitation for the viewer to fill in the blank, and all those unanswered questions made his attraction to Kaye (can’t believe I remember the character’s name after all these years!) all the more poignant. I remember the scene of him swimming along underwater below her as being this beautiful and sad moment, almost balletic with the interplay of light and shadow underwater. It wasn’t even that they made the monster sympathetic–that happened a lot in the Universal films, and others. The strange thing is that they almost made him the protagonist!

  25. drshoggoth says:

    The Gamera trilogy; as a comment mentioned above, it takes the traditional man-in-suit Japanese monster movie into a story about a giant, flying, fire-breathing Christ figure.

    Brotherhood of the Wolf is the best werewolf movie made this generation. It’s weird, but the monster is great.

  26. My favourite monster movie?
    Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, definitely.

    • sheherazahde says:

      Return of the Killer Tomatoes was great too. But more of a commentary on movie making than a monster movie. I love the idea of tomato-less pizzas. I really want to have Killer Tomato pizza party.

  27. medox says:

    Bubba Ho-Tep
    Elderly still-alive Elvis vs. a soul-sucking Mummy in a run down Florida retirement home. Fun? Of course. But also a surprisingly touching exploration of fame and aging. The real monster is growing old alone. Directed by Don Coscarelli, of Phantasm fame.

    Swamp Thing Monster as the Hero!

    Forbidden Planet Monster as manifestation of own fears/desires. Plus a cool robot!

  28. yesdrizella says:

    Nosferatu has always been a favorite, even if he did walk like a Sim. I also liked No Face from Spirited Away. A quiet monster transformed by greed into something horrendous.

  29. ndgmtlcd says:

    The Thing from Another World (1951)is very nice. I was so bored by the 1982 Carpenter remake that I didn’t watch it to the end. The idea of having a monster from your Id still amuses me, so Forbidden Planet (1956) is still my favorite monster movie, even if I’ve reached a stage in my life where I find the animated, visible monster to be rather inept and a major factor in spoiling things.

    There are good monster movies in animation but I’m not sure if they count. Fantastic Planet (1973) was a very good one despite its tendency to dip too violently into an expressionistic style, from its usual naturalistic style. Monsters Inc. (2001) was great because of the variety of monters living in a coherent society.

  30. greyaenigma says:

    Do you still have the long write-up I did on horror and monsters? I can dig it up again if not.

    Anyway, that aside:

    Alien and The Thing, already mentioned, scary as hell at least partly because they violate the barrier between us and them (or it). Vampires and zombies can do something similar, converting the what had been protagonists into monsters.

    It Conquered the World (remade, I think, as Zontar, the Thing From Venus, neither good) — the monster design is pretty pathetic, but I was always intrigued by the way it sent out little drones and controlled the populace by remote.

    Cloverfield: Mr. Grumpypants. You’re familiar with this, of course. Conceptually pretty much the same as Godzilla and the Creature from 20,000 Fathoms.

    And, stretching “monster”, but… Orca. (Yes, again.) I loved this as a kid, and when I rewatched it as an adult, realized that who the monster is can be completely a matter of perspective.

    I should watch my Call of Cthulhu DVD and maybe even the just-in-theaters (here) Cthulhu and report back on those. There’s tons of off-kilter monsters in Lovecraft.

  31. chatoyant_1 says:

    These are the “Aurora model”-type monsters you have pictured. In that line, I suppose, the continuation would be horror “characters” from the slasher pics, or Alien and so on.

    But in contrast to that, I’m also one of those selecting Carpenter’s “The Thing”, which pretty much inversed the logic of iconic character – it did away with the character and model on all levels, and one of the reasons it was so moving was because we didn’t know by the visual alone, where was the “monster”.

    It also has something to do with a new feeling in movies, where movie-narrative itself carries some of the load, rather than make-up or special effects. So like many in that time period, it was influenced by drawing on a 50s atmosphere, but made it something contemporary.Effects were obviously employed, but only when necessary, and kept in a dialog, or balance with the limited sets and actors.

    The “monsterous” was found in the gaps between sightings of the “monster”, in the still space as the people were getting more and more paranoid, and the overwhelming sense of dread at this “thing” potentially in them. Just perfect.

    • Todd says:

      “These are the “Aurora model”-type monsters you have pictured.”

      Before they were Aurora model kits they were Universal monsters, which is where, for better or worse, our notions of cinematic monsters come from.

  32. lilinthra says:

    Many people have mentioned An American Werewolf In London (and rightly so). I’ll throw in Ginger Snaps as an alternative werewolf movie.

    At this point, anything else I’ve thought of has been covered.

  33. dougo says:


    Changing the subject for a moment, did you read David Mamet’s recent essay in The New York Times? Agree/disagree?

    • Todd says:

      I agree that Speed-the-Plow is a great play (and, perhaps, Mamet’s last great play). I don’t agree that public television should be left to wither and die.

      Mamet is right about many things concerning art in the marketplace, but government-sponsored art in Europe has produced many, many great works, including, oddly-enough, the original version of The Office, which Mamet cites here as proof of the radiant beauty of the marketplace.

  34. Anonymous says:


    – Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loups): A great “Is there a monster or isn’t there?” story;

    – Dog Soldiers: Can you tell I like werewolves?

    – The Host (Gwoemul): My favorite monster movie of the past ten years; even better than Cloverfield.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Not a movie, but…

    The 22 minute long prog rock epic “Grendel” by Marillion.

    Flips the story on its head.

  36. sheherazahde says:

    Just since no one mentioned them, the Jurassic Park movies are monster movies.

    I just watched “I Am Legend” with Will Smith last night and was very disappointed with the ending. The point of the novel and the earlier movie treatment, Omega Man, was that the main character was the Monster. Sort of reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where the old woman spends the entire night fighting off some monster that turns out to be a human astronaut who is tiny because old woman is a giant alien.

  37. malsperanza says:

    Since some of my favorites have already been noted, I’ll add two that are slightly off-center:

    The somnambulist Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is still one of the scariest and most original inventions of horror films. I don’t know if you’d consider him a monster, but I do, because for me he fits the main points: He’s grotesque and ugly, he seems to think in ways that are almost but not quite human, he’s violent and perverse, and yet he has an element of innocence about him. The classic monsters all had that quality of innocence about their own monstrosity–King Kong being the most complex of them (with all its racial subtexts and whatnot).

    The other one I’d like to toss into the pot is the Monster in Young Frankenstein. Obviously a comedy has different goals, one of which is to make sure the audience *isn’t* really scared. What remains when that is stripped away is the Monster’s *potential* to be terrifying as well as his core of human qualities. It’s the mix of violent grotesque inhumanity with some core of human spark that makes the best monsters. Alien has it (who wouldn’t sympathize with a mother?). The shark in Jaws does not, and remains a big windup toy, to me.

  38. toysdream says:

    I’ll second (or third) ‘s endorsement of The Host. What really struck me about this one was that the authorities seem to have little or no interest in actually catching the monster, even after they pick up our hero who knows its actual whereabouts. Instead, they schedule our hero for brain surgery and begin making plans to test their shiny new chemical weapons in the middle of an inhabited area. They’re effectively using the monster as a pretext to do whatever they wanted to do anyway, making it a kind of Osama Bin Laden figure with fangs and flippers. It struck me as being very modern in that respect.

    I’m also very fond of vintage werewolf movies. The original Wolf Man is interesting in that the opening title card defines lycanthropy as a mental illness, and with that in mind it’s striking how great a role local superstition, hysteria, and peer pressure plays in the story. Even the hero’s father eventually succumbs to superstition, but after he clubs the wolfman to death, the slain monster turns back into his son before his eyes. Apparently screenwriter Curt Siodmak wanted to leave the existence of the wolfman much more ambiguous, but the movie as filmed is a lot more literal about it, so it’s the 1942 Cat People (released the following year) that gets the credit for pioneering the “monster or delusion?” school of horror film.

    The Hammer movie Curse of the Werewolf, starring Oliver Reed, is also really good. Although the existence of the werewolf is an objective fact, it’s depicted as a kind of moral birth defect – an innate susceptibility to blood and violence that can be controlled, but never eliminated, by staying away from situations that might provoke it. In a way, it seems like an allegorical examination of sin and criminality – where they come from, and how circumstances and environment can suppress or provoke them.

    Plus, Oliver Reed is always kind of monstrous even without fur and fangs. 🙂

  39. samedietc says:

    I think The Others does a good job of re-terrorizing ghosts (i.e., they’re not sticking around because they love you, like in Ghost or Truly Madly Deeply). The big reveal may not be revolutionary (cf., Lovecraft’s story “The Outsider” where a first-person narrator escapes a ruin and tries to communicate with people, only to be haunted by a monster which happens to be his reflection; also Borges’ “The House of Asterion” in which a first-person narrator wanders his house, thinking of his life, until Theseus shows up to kill him, since Asterion is the Minotaur, and his house is the labyrinth); but even if you know or can guess the reveal, I think it does a good job of creating an atmosphere of small dreads. (It is, in my opinion, perhaps the best non-adaptation version of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw.”)

    I’ve been on a ’50s sf/monster movie kick right now, and several critics have noted how the 30s monster movies (the Universal movies, they’re talking about) all try to reinject some mystery/wonder into the world, but then redomesticate that wonder through a series of laws that even the supernatural follow. (So, vampires don’t like crosses, werewolves transform with the moon.) Moreover, the rules that the supernatural follow are known even before you go in to see the movie.

    However, the ’50s monsters are unknowns–not terrors from the past (a la King Kong and the Mummy), but terrors from the future. When the Thing is thawed out, you don’t know what it wants–which is why these movies are even more involved with experts than the ’30s–in the ’30s, you have Van Helsing, but in the ’50s, you have whole teams of scientists–because you have to have someone who can plainly explain the laws that this new horror follows. (A similar case might be made for the ending of Psycho, with its ultra-clear explanation of what’s going on.)

    My last, general comment would be on the monster movies where the monsters almost don’t matter, of which 28 Days Later is the first that springs to mind. That is, in its plot-structure, 28 Days Later follows pretty perfectly the post-apocalyptic plot: man fights his way towards some sort of secure outpost and then realizes that the leader of that outpost is evil (often an evil reflection of himself), and has to fight his way back out. Why zombies? Why couldn’t it be some sort of poisonous gas or a nuclear attack or werewolves? I wouldn’t argue that these movies are failures, I just want to note that the motivating device isn’t itself so well thematized in these movies.

    I would also make a similar case about Cloverfield, which, with all due respect to the people who liked it, bored me. (One key difference between Cloverfield and the 1951 Thing from Another World is that I cared about the people in the latter, even if they were fighting an intellectual carrot that wasn’t very interesting in itself.) Cloverfield‘s monster could almost be replaced with a towering inferno or a tsunami (or, frankly, 9/11) since the really important thing is that the people caught at death’s door realize they love each other. Heck, put that way, Cloverfield has the same basic theme as Autumn in New York.

    • toysdream says:

      Why zombies? Why couldn’t it be some sort of poisonous gas or a nuclear attack or werewolves?

      Or, say, carnivorous plants feeding on the blinded survivors of a meteor shower, as in the book Day of the Triffids which 28 Days Later seems to be directly patterned on. 🙂

      In some cases, you could probably argue that zombie movies are using these monsters as a commentary on the humans as well. E.g. in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead the protagonists comment that the zombies all converge on the shopping mall because it’s a familiar place from their old lives, but you could say the same thing about the heroes as well; in Romero’s The Crazies the title could apply just as easily to the deranged plague victims or the Strangelove-style bureaucratic insanity of the military forces trying to control the outbreak. I don’t think 28 Days Later makes the same kind of man = monster equation, but I think the sequel 28 Weeks Later hints in that direction.

      Anyways, I like all the observations you’re making here, and wanted to thank you for sharing them with us. 🙂

  40. Anonymous says:

    If I’m not too late to get in on this… Samarra from the U.S. version of “The Ring.” (I haven’t seen the Japanese original; the U.S. version may be weak sauce, comparatively, but it scared me like nothing else ever has.) The fact that the monster is a child, and worse, a wronged child — implacably angry, with no regard for logic or fairness, just lashing out at the entire world — was the punchiest bit of that film for me. Followed swiftly by the fact that the only way to save yourself from this particular monster is to effectively damn yourself by dooming someone else.

    — N.A.

  41. voiceofisaac says:

    How about EVENT HORIZON, where the ship/setting itself was the monster?

    Also notable for deliberately defying the “Black Folks Always Die First” rule.

    I’ll also put forth MANOS: THE HAND OF FATE, which tried oh so hard to have a monster, but failed in that as it did with everything else. Torgo, the large-knee’d housekeeper, was apparently supposed to be a Satyr, but instead just came across as a wobbly-walking peeping tom.

  42. sean_tait says:

    Am I too late to post?

    Dang it, I guess I’m later to the party than I thought. Speaking of which, is it the “Sigmund the Sea Monster” movie or the “Mad Monster Party” remake you’re working on?

    Just kidding… You couldn’t tell us anyway.

    My favorite monster movies all invite us to sympathize or empathize with the monster as much – if not more so – than its victims.

    “King Kong,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” and the original “Godzilla” all show the plight of a confused, lonely animal torn from all it knows (“Godzilla” least of all but how can you not at least wince at Godzilla’s dying screams as he’s dissolved by the Oxygen Destroyer?). The same basically holds true of “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and its sequels (plus the original has astonishing on-location work and swimming scenes). The monsters of “Wolfen” are simply highly-adapted wolves trying to survive alongside mankind’s rape of the environment. Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” gives us essentially a senile old man in search of his lost love (and wolf-guy on redhead sex, which invites a different empathy from hirstute nerds desperate to get laid). The latter-day Godzilla movies and the Gamera films, of course, portray the monster as an out-and-out hero.

    Speaking of Gamera, I highly recommend the ‘90s Gamera trilogy. They do for giant mosters what “The Dark Knight Returns” did for Batman: make all the beloved silliness cool for immature adults.

    • sean_tait says:

      Re: Am I too late to post?

      Rats! I just noticed someone mentioned “Brotherhood of the Wolf” which is one of my favorite movies but which I always somehow fail to think of as a monster movie. I guess I think of it as a kung-fu movie set in 18th Century decadence. Also a sympathetic monster for the same reasons as Kong and the Beast.

  43. yetra says:

    The freaking scary as hell monster dude from Pan’s Labyrinth is the first thing that popped into my mind. I like the way the wicked witch of the west is portrayed in Wicked. May be too far out there, but the way that the pedophile father was portrayed in Happiness is an interesting take on a “monster”. Frank from Donnie Darko. Elephant Man. Interview with a Vampire. Gods and Monsters. The worlds of Miyazake (Spirited Away comes to mind). And of course, gotta throw in a vote for The Host.

  44. teamwak says:

    Definately The Thing. That movie terrified me as a kid.

    But my personal favourite would have to be Zombies, I think you could call them monsters. I think Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is my favourite horror movie of all time. The thing about the Zombie movies is that there is nowhere left to run as the whole world has changed. Its that feeling of total futility that permeates the movie and its sequal Day of the Dead that makes it so terrifying.

    Good luck with your project 🙂

  45. mikeyed says:

    I haven’t scanned all of the threads, but…

    I’m surprised not to see Shadow of the Bat mentioned yet. Willem Defoe’s Nosferatu was possibly my favourite classical monster of all time. Christopher Lee slides in as a close runner up…

  46. Does it have to be movies? I can think of a few X-Files episodes that would otherwise fit the bill. Ever see the episode “Home”?

  47. Anonymous says:

    Coppola’s Dracula. I always enjoyed how he gave a bit of a story to the origins of the character.