Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Ten: Movie Monsters

So I was pondering a good top ten for October and realized that I never catalogued my favorite movie monsters. So lets start with defining what a monster is. In this case I'm going to call a monster any type of creature that is more powerful than a human. It also has to be of animal intelligence. Beyond that and it we are getting into more villain territory. Movie monsters may be the main antagonist, but usually they are supporting cast to the main villain. So if we take an example from Return of the Jedi, I'd call Jabba the Hutt a villain, but the Rancor and the Sarlacc would be monsters.

So these are my favorites, and to be honest they ones I thought up pretty quickly. I'm sure you'll come up with others that I may want to add to my list.

10. The Cyclops - The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

So yeah, prepare yourself of a lot of Harryhausen on this list. When it comes to monsters, childhood is probably the best time to have them cast their spell on you. When I was a kid Harryhausen was the master wizard. His work with creatures of all shapes and sizes just fueled my imagination. The Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad has to be on the list. He goes beyond the Greek vision of the creature but giving him a satyr-like lower half, a horn protruding above his eye and even a smattering of scales. He's a mix of horrors and colossal to boot! But I love the personality that Harryhausen gave him. His face is one of brutish malevolence. He likes to hurt and kill because he is just a huge bully. He's the scariest monster on the island, because you know if he sees Sinbad or any of the crew, he will do horrible things to them - for fun.

10. Vermithrax - Dragonslayer

For the longest time dragons and movies just didn't mix. Hollywood just couldn't seem to get them right. Once again Harryhausen had the best one in Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, but that creature was more like a pet than a character. Then along came Dragonslayer in 1981 and it held the crown for years, until Smaug finally made it to the big screen in 2013. And even so, I give big old Vermithrax the edge. She is terrifying in her size, her look, and her ability to rain down fire and death. She accepts human sacrifices and has no problem letting her children devour hapless princesses. The special effects team used a mixture of life sized rigs, computer controlled stop motion (called go-motion) and puppets to bring the old girl to life, and for the most part it works. I will admit that Smaug has more personality, because he can speak. But I think Vermithrax is actually a bigger badass of the two.

9. Kali - Golden Voyage of Sinbad

I'll be the first to admit that stop motion is always the best solution to brining a monster to life. But when the monster is mechanical and/or doesn't require smooth motion, then it can be very effective. Perfect example is the statue of Kali brought to life by the diabolical wizard Koura (played with gusto by Tom Baker). She can dance alluringly, but give the goddess a sword, or six and suddenly she's cleaving Sinbad's sailors like you wouldn't believe. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is filled to bursting with cool monsters, but Kali is the queen here. She does more damage to the crew than any of the other creatures and seems invincible. Metal sword and spears just bounce of her metallic body. And watching Harryhausen bring this complex figure to life in a full blown sword battle against a battalion of men is something else. From a stop motion perspective she is amazing, but she's also the deadliest challenge Sinbad ever faced.

7. The Balrog - Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

When you read The Fellowship of the Ring and try to imagine the Balrog, a creature made of flames and shadow, it seems like something best left on the page and in the imagination of the reader. But Peter Jackson had to get this beast on the screen in 2001 for a climactic battle of evil and good in the form of Ian McKellan's excellent Gandalf. In this case computer graphics was the only way to go, and the result is an amazingly dynamic monster. Much like the Cyclops from Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, this creature is pure brutish malevolence. It exudes that in his poses, his stride and his confident and powerful attacks. It is an amazing creation that made for an iconic moment in that movie and maybe in all fantasy cinema. The Balrog is a beast to be reckoned with.

6. Stay Puft Marshmallow Man - Ghostbusters

Not all monsters are created equal. This list had to include one silly monster or it just wouldn't be my list. Well look no further than the hilariously evil Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He's huge, he's tasty and he's destroying New York. Maybe the fact that he's so ludicrous makes him scarier... Probably not. But the image of a giant mascot for a baking treat is fighting the heroic Ghostbusters all makes sense for some reason. He's the perfect capper for a fun film and I just couldn't leave the big grinning guy off this list.

5. Godzilla - Godzilla

You can't have a favorite monster list without adding the king on it can you? And as much as I enjoy King Kong I have to say that Godzilla is just a giant green juggernaut that can't be stopped. Besides I've always like giant reptiles over giant apes anyway. Godzilla is a force of nature on the screen and as a franchise. Much like Dracula, Frankenstein's monster or zombies, you just can't keep the big guy down. Japan keeps bringing him back and if they aren't than Hollywood tries their hand at the rampaging beast. Most of the Godzilla movies are lot of fun, but the classic 'zilla films from the 50s, 60's and 70s will always be my favorites.

4. Medusa - Clash of the Titans

Ok I swear this is the last of the Harryhausen monsters. But I did warn you at the beginning right? Medusa is the most frightening of all the creatures from that era because of the whole package. Her lair is a ruined temple lit only by firelight. She can slither in and out of the shadows, but does so in a slow, measured pace of a hunter. She has a bow which she is a deadly shot with and uses it to knock her pray around so they end up looking at her, and when they do - well its all over for them. She is a sinister looking creature and a patient hunter on top of it. She makes quick work of Perseus' two companions and you wonder how the young man is going to get out of this one. It takes some quick thinking and a bit of trickery to do it, and we admire Perseus even more for his victory. In many ways this is the climax of the original version of Clash of theTitans. After facing down Medusa, the Kraken doesn't seem like much of a threat. I will say the remake in 2010 improved on that aspect, and their Medusa was a worthy upgrade. But the original had more tension and terror in that sequence and wins the day overall.

3. The Thing - The Thing

You can't trust anyone. One of the most horrifying things that can happen to you is complete isolation and despair and that is what The Thing taps into. The idea of a creature that can mimic humans so perfectly is scary enough, but the execution of this creature just ups the gross-out factor and the horror. It is almost as if the Thing is mocking us as it disassembles human forms, makes them move in impossible ways and accomplish disturbing attacks. John Carpenter keeps upping the stakes as the move progresses and we never get a true idea of what The Thing is trying to accomplish or even if it has a personality. It just is and we are in the way. So with fear of the unknown added to the mix, its no wonder The Thing ends up high on this list.

2. Cthulhu - Call of Cthulhu

As a Lovecraft fan how could I leave the big guy off the list. This 2005 film is done in the style of a silent movie. That means that Cthulhu himself is a stop motion creation that looms over the characters using all kinds of classic camera tricks. He looks great in the context of the film and when he emerges from his sunken tomb, it is really a great moment. For now Cthulhu doesn't seem to be a creation we'll see on the big screen. Even an adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness ended up falling apart in pre-production. This may be the closest we get to seeing this iconic monstrous undead god on the screen in all his glory.

1. The Alien - Alien

When it comes to the truly terrifying I have to hand the monster throne to the alien from Ridley Scott's 1979 horror masterpiece Alien. The monster is built up through the course of the film. His planet of origin is dark, stormy and visually disturbing. The eggs are slimy and disgusting. Then you get the face hugger hatchling stage. The strange wormlike larval stage. Then you have a creature that seems to get bigger and more powerful each time you see him. It has acid for blood. It can hide in the shadows and appear  from hiding spots above or below. It is insect-like, reptile-like and not remotely human. It seems to be nothing more than a beast at first, but as the movie progresses you realize it has some kind of intelligence. It doesn't kill Ripley at the end because it knows it must escape the doomed Nostromo with her. This is a creature nightmares are made of, and in my opinion the most frightening monster put to film yet. Alien is a classic for many reasons, and the title creature is certainly one.

What did I miss on my list? Are any of your favorites on here?


  1. Pretty good list. I was born the 90s so I dont really get that nostalgic feel about the classic stop motion works of Harryhausen, but I still really appreciate them.

    Can't agree with you final pick more, but I always assumed the alien was a she.

    1. You know, I always thought the Alien in the first movie was a he. But if they follow the insect biology then yeah I think it is a she. In any case it is the scariest.

      My wife who is my age also doesn't get the nostalgia for the Harryhausen stop motion. We have to agree to disagree there. :)

  2. Good choices. All such lists are idiosyncratic, of course, since we are bound to favor some fond memories from childhood. My list would include “Rodan” (1956) – though I didn’t think of it as a kid, terror from the skies was a pretty thin metaphor in Japan scarcely more than a decade after the war. Also, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” which predated Godzilla.” The “Jurassic Park” raptors would make the cut, too.

    1. Oh yeah Rodan is a classic. But I actually think the worm creatures in the movie are scarier than the giant beast itself. Oh man the Raptors are great... I might have to modify my list. The cyclopes may have to go down!

  3. Good picks all. Here's a few I might add: The seed pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, King Kong, Jaws, The Blob--I was always a fan of gelatinous creatures, Frankenstein, the Cenobites, and Gossamer, the orange hairy monster from Bug Bunny, that first appeared in Hair Raising Hare.

    1. Oh yeah the Blob is a great one too. I'm not sure I'd put the Cenobites on my list since I treat them as more of enemies or antagonists. They would be high on my list of villainous personalities though, along with Freddy Krueger.