Episode One: Monster Movies
You could ask a room full of people how they define monster movies, and you will get a room full of different answers, and none of those people would be wrong. That is the beauty a monster movie, everything is up for interpretation. Personally, a monster movie can cross over into many other genres, and situations. In this, you will of course find the traditional monsters, creature monsters, historical monsters, other-worldly monsters, and in one case, one of the most terrifying human monsters I’ve come across in all of my years of being a movie-watcher. One thing is for sure, this monster movie will not make my list:
So, without further ado, I give you a list (in no particular order) of what I would consider my favorite monster movies.
The sequel takes place approximately 50 years after Ripley’s first encounter with the species that nearly did away with the entire crew of the mining ship Nostromo. Of course, cryo-sleep will only age you seven years (the gap between first and second movies) in that span of time, but it makes no difference. Ripley is brought out of cryostasis to tell her story of the alien carnage on the planet LV-426. Of course nobody believes her, and eventually sends her with the guy from Mad About You (Paul Reiser), Twister (Bill Paxton), and John Connor‘s father (Michael Biehn) as Space Marines to investigate a communications breakdown with a colony on a planet in the process of being terraformed. You can guess what happens from there, right? Good ol’ wacky fun. No, but really, a lot
of bad things happen and people die, leading to one of the iconic scenes/lines in cinema:
Private Hudson (Paxton): “That’s it man, game over man, game over!”
That is just one of those movie moments that I’ve never forgotten, and one of those voices that just delivered it so well. A big ‘ol cocky grunt, losing his nerve and throwing in the towel.
Honestly, I loved this over all of the others in the series, even if she went all GI Jane, AND Charles S. Dutton was in it. The set design people deserve the lion’s share of the credit, for the amazing work that they did in bringing the colony and the hive to life. You may get elaborate sets and design work in movies these days, but the work put into that movie was phenomenal.
Monster: John Doe
Seven (or Se7en, depending on your preference) stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Kevin Spacey in a dark and gritty thriller about a retiring detective (Freeman), a newly promoted rookie (Pitt), and a series of murders that eerily relate to the biblical seven deadly sins.
This is a monster of a different nature than most any you will see in this article. If you honestly asked me to name the monsters/villains that have stuck with me from the moment the movie ended, to this very day, I would hands-down list Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of John Doe. Few things intrigue and terrify me quite like a monster who is well-learned. Someone who can commit such atrocities, and then rationalize it is something I think a lot of people fear.
Doe goes through the entire movie finding new and “colorful” ways to represent the seven deadly sins through his victims, many of which are a little too “R-rated” to list here. Needless to say that I can think of a few of them that still haunt me. Spacey seems to play these callous characters very well, and he creates a monster that will absolutely stand the test of time for audiences. No punch line here. Just… shudder-worthy.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Monster(s): “The Zed Word”
How could this movie not be on someone’s list? A total zombie movie spoof, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver A+ performances while the supporting cast provide very solid comedy, while managing to retain some feel of terror, in the midst of a zombie outbreak.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t cool enough to know about Spaced before this came out, so this was my introduction to Pegg and his unbelievable talent as title character Shaun. His girlfriend breaks up with him, one roommate is hopeless, the other hates the first, and his relationship with his step father is, shall we say, less than spectacular. Then the zombie outbreak spreads and he must navigate saving the ones he cares for, while not becoming one of the hordes of undead. Surely the safest place to hole
up and wait for the whole thing to blow over is the local pub, right?
The comedy alone is enough to love this movie, but the gore factor (however ridiculous it may be at times) just puts it over the top for me. I absolutely adore this movie. Favorite undead movie. Ever.
Okay, so maybe that isn’t the monster’s official title, but what do you expect? The monster that my friends and I so lovingly call “Clovie” doesn’t get the kind of screen time that you typically would expect from monster movies, but it makes the most of the time it does get and provides great insight into the scope of the situation in which the characters have found themselves.
As for the story, we all know it: Boy fancies girl, boy has awesome day with girl, boy gets promotion to move to Japan, boy runs away from girl. Boy has last big soiree before leaving. Monster attacks. Boy must navigate war zone to save girl.
Many people really didn’t buy the premise, and didn’t appreciate that the monster wasn’t the core of the movie. In some ways this was a human story set in the time of an attack, more than it was a “monster movie”.
As for good ‘ol Clovie itself, it looked remarkably done (why shouldn’t it, more was likely spent on the budget for CG than on the shooting and casting combined), and completely believable as a creature buried deep in an oceanic trench disturbed from thousands of years asleep (I followed the viral marketing religiously and dissected the movie to finally get the back story).
You could argue that the actors didn’t exactly do a bang-up job, but given that they were representing people panicking and clueless, I can give them a pass. Also, I know many complaints surrounded the choice to shoot it in what essentially amounted to shaky handy-cam. Yes, the Blair Witch style has been done, and many times, but this one felt suitable for the theme of the movie. Besides, the star of
this movie was the creature, and every scene it was in felt like payoff.
The Thing (1982)
Monster: The Thing
Is it safe to say that all of Kurt Russell’s best work came with the aid of a beard? Or is that just me? Oh, it’s just me, isn’t it? Nevertheless, The Thing is a classic. So classic, in fact, that Universal released it’s prequel in 2011, nearly thirty years after the original landed in theaters. This, however, is dedicated to the original and its awesome glory.
The movie plays at a psychological fear that everyone experiences in their lives: is the person standing next to you the person that you think they are? Take that simple idea and crank it up to eleven, with aid from an unearthed alien creature capable of copying any living physical form, be it human or animal.
As the movie progresses, the viewer is forced to try and figure out who is human, and who is an alien copy, and before it’s all said and done, you are probably wrong more than once. The design felt very unique, and creepy. Why don’t people use more practical effects when they make movie monsters these days? I’m sure that they aren’t impossible to pull off. It’s depressing to think of all the movies that have terrible CG, where practical effects could have really improved things.
The Thing lives on as a classic horror movie, and definitely one that I can/do watch time and again.
Monster(s): Those wormy things.
Hosting a slew of recognizable film stars, Slither is set in a small town, as a crater crashes in the forest (where else?). After one drunken night, a brash man by the name of Grant Grant(Michael Rucker) ventures out into the forest to be infected by the creature that came from the aforementioned crater. Over the course of the movie, the alien creature impregnates a woman who balloons up (literally),
bursts and unleashes little slug-like creatures that possess many of the town’s residents through oral entry.
I saw this movie almost by accident one night while spending time with a friend. Having heard nothing of it, I didn’t pay much attention to it. As the movie progressed I found myself highly amused and entertained by the cast’s ability to sling one-liners and witty banter back and forth with natural timing. The movie feels just as much a b-horror comedy as a legitimate horror film the entire way. Nathan
Fillion delivered everything I had come to expect, having seen and fallen in love with Firefly, and Elizabeth Banks (pre-headlining days) as the object of affection from both Grant and Bill Pardy (Fillion) was funny as hell. I’d regret if I didn’t mention Gregg Henry, who played the mayor, and may have been my favorite character through the movie.
The Mist (2007)
Monster(s): Awkward, colorful things from another dimension
Of everything that I have on this list, Frank Darabont’s The Mist would probably be the most hated of all. I get it. Not everyone is going to like or agree with everything that I love. It’s all up for debate, and that’s great, I love debate. I’ve heard from one end of the spectrum to the other, love and hate (probably more the later though).
The Mist stars Thomas Jane, and takes place in a sleepy little town in Maine after a massive storm hits. The bulk of the story occurs in the days following, and is centered in a grocery store while a dense mist envelops everything in sight. A massive earthquake, claims of creatures in the mist, and one religious zealot pave way for paranoia and betrayal, as the inhabitants of the store begin to question each other, and the truth of what is happening around them.
Without really giving any spoilers away for those who haven’t seen it, the story gets kind of screwed up in a number of different ways, leading to an ending that I don’t think I’ve ever successfully been able to get out of my mind. Of course, had The Punisher (Jane) really been on his A-game, the movie would’ve only lasted a good ten to fifteen minutes at the most. Nevertheless, the visuals were really
kind of neat, and the acting was pretty decent for the most part. Definitely something I’d suggest to people who hadn’t seen it.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Monster(s): Zombies, Lickers, Nemesis
Between the plot and the visuals, Apocalypse easily resides as my favorite of the Resident Evil franchise to date. You pretty much have Alice (Mila Jovovich) pre-super brain powers. Of course, spoiler alert, she gets them at the end of this movie. So, perhaps the plot wasn’t flawless, but it didn’t feel nearly as convoluted as the story has become in the more recent installments. On top of all that, you introduced new allies (ones you could actually like!), as well as an evolved version of the original licker from the first movie, and the badassery known as Nemesis!
Unfortunately, I don’t know that any movie that they can make in this franchise could really satisfy those of us who are die-hard RE fans. However, this felt like the most enjoyable one that they released. More than likely, until they decide to scrap the current film saga and reboot (hopefully with a straight line VG plot), Apocalypse will live on as the most entertaining of the bunch.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Finally, a movie that clears up the conspiracy around Elvis’ demise! So the story goes that one day, Elvis became so tired of his fame that he wished to live as a normal man. So he found the greatest impersonator alive, lowly Sebastian Haff. He struck a deal with him, agreeing to sign over all of his assets, and trade his lifestyle for that of Haff’s. Only, the agreement was that once Elvis Presley was ready to return to his life of fame, the two would simply switch back. Unfortunately Elvis’ written agreement would burn up along with his trailer home, in a barbequing accident. Years later he would find himself in an assisted living center, spending his last days alone, and without his mojo. A bus crash leads to the disappearance of an ancient Egyptian mummy sarcophagus. Soon after, the elderly begin dying in the rest home, and it is up to Elvis and his new friend Jack to stop an ancient menace, before it eats the souls of everyone!
I promise I didn’t make this up. It’s bloody awesome. The movie is pure Bruce Campbell. A lot of fun, some cool action sequences, and a little story thrown in there. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ossie Davis, who plays “Jack”, or none other than John F Kennedy. Try wrapping your mind around that one. It’s one of those movies that when it comes up in conversation with people, and they tell me they
haven’t seen it, I rush them away to go find somewhere and rent it. You can’t tell me that you haven’t ever wanted to see Elvis, played by Bruce Campbell, and a black Kennedy (both senior citizens), battling an ancient mummy. Bubba Ho-Tep has a bit of a heartfelt story to it, underneath all of its cheesy b-movie glory, which only adds to the watch ability of the film.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park came out when I was 10 years old. I remember seeing it in theaters, and being fascinated with everything having to do with the creatures of another time. The animatronics that were used to bring each species of dinosaur to life blew me away, and still does to this day. The story that was built by Michael Crichton and adapted from his novel was completely believable as being possible, keeping it from feeling too much like a science fiction film. If you add to that the colorful cast of characters in the story, and the awesome actors who were cast in said roles, it makes for a fun, suspenseful, and intriguing film. Unfortunately what came after the original failed to come anywhere close to living up to their predecessor.
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