I think monsters are great. To really enjoy a monster is to not necessarily be afraid of it, but to recognize the effort behind its creation as one of laborious design and admirable execution. The reason I’ve focused on “modern” monsters is because I want desperately to avoid taking up space with the same listings EVERYONE puts in these compilations – the default monsters: Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, a mummy, a zombie; The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Lon Chaney’s Wolfman, Godzilla, King Kong and any of the 'classic' creatures. I feel that credit has been given where credit is due; and a more updated, discriminating perspective is deserved by all.
I’ve included some of the nasties that frightened ME as a child, and the monsters that are relevant to those of us that have been desensitized by technological advances in special effects; which rendered our calloused brains nearly immune to the atmospheric macabre offered by movies from the 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's. I will say, however, that a truly remarkable exception is Nosferatu(circa 1922), which is a brilliant depiction of a truly frightening creature. Also, 1959's Return of the Fly was a remarkable effort, and one I still find effective.
So, obviously, I love monsters. Everyone should try and find a little love somewhere inside themselves just for monsters. Monsters are one of humanity’s greatest creations. From giant, man-eating cephalopods, all the way down to goat-blood-sucking gremlins. People have always been keen on exaggeration, misrepresentation, poor recollection, and lies. In fact, these tendencies are what make up most of what we call ‘human society.’ And, amidst the lore, larks, and outright falsehoods of our existence, live perfect realizations of our fears. Monsters, they’re called.
Everyone has some sort of monster they’re most afraid of. And 'monster' is a strong word; one that is appropriately applied to the deepest, most insidiously heart-stopping terrors to inhabit our collective and/or individual psyche. Monsters earn their moniker through the strength of their creator(s) – the more frightening, vicious, and bloodthirsty, the better. And, when our deepest fears meld to create a terrifying, unstoppable force, we can expect the worst. And the best.
Monsters are exciting.
For some (many, even), the most frightening monsters are the 'real' ones; that is, certain animals that inhabit this spinning mass along with us: Giant Kodiak bears, twenty-foot great white sharks; cunning and murderous lions; or vicious snarling dogs. Even relatively harmless creatures can cripple people through chronic, synaptic misfires called phobias. Spiders, for example, can scare the living daylights out of a true arachnophobe. You see, our brains are astonishingly perverse blood-soaked sponges; and that’s a good thing – a great thing – when it comes to making monster movies.
Following the description of each monster in my list, you’ll find the SCARIER THAN portion. Each monster in the list is scarier than something that didn’t make the cut or something amusingly related... it’s supposed to be fun, so have fun.
Here now, then, are my personal choices for the top-ten monsters of modern horror, listed from least wonderful to most wonderful; for NO poorly-realized monster is a waste – only a missed opportunity.
The Medical Horror Creep
While not fully iconic, the monster in Creepwas a truly unsettling concept. Hell-bent on revenge by any means necessary, the man-made monster was completely immune to empathy, knew nothing of mercy, and it imprisoned people in cages submerged in water. Which was a nice touch. It moved with a terrible limping gate, adding an extra-special dimension of subtle terror. And, though it was certainly a monster, this “creep” had just the right amount of humanity to add a dash of relatability. All good.
SCARIER THAN: a C.H.U.D. (Though it’s a close call)
GIANT MAKO SHARKS DEEP BLUE SEA
It’s tough to make a shark movie these days. Jawsset such a monumental standard for films about the fearsome fish that to make a flick about sharks is to automatically elicit direct comparisons to the Spielberg/Benchley/Gottlieb masterpiece. Quite an achievement for a mechanical shark that only sort of worked sometimes...
Against Bruce, Deep Blue Sea ran at an acceptable pace. Obviously, though, it was a race it could not win. But it also never bothered to try, because that would have been embarrassing. What it did do is make for a fun time watching giant, intelligent mako sharks kill people. Yes, it has its flaws, but those were some cool-looking sharks (both the animatronics and the digital renderings). What I found especially delightful was the obvious homage paid to each and every Jaws film – including the reprehensibly bad, Jaws: The Revenge.
SCARIER THAN: normal-sized mako sharks.
CRAWLERS THE DESCENT
The sudden and startling movements of these subterranean killers, lurking at the heart of Neil Marshall's masterful horror film, are what make the crawlers refreshing concepts. Equipped – so it seems – with the supremely-evolved faculties of certain bats, the monsters in The Descent are lightning-fast killers. They dart in and out of an environment they exploit as a serial-murderer might a dark street laden with desperate, drug-addled prostitutes. As the film moves along and more blood is spilled by these screeching beasts, it becomes desperately apparent that the protagonists never had a chance. Like the monster in Creep, the crawlers are made even more terrifying by the fact that, despite their humanoid build, there is nothing human about them.
SCARIER THAN: The giant rat-bat in "The Graveyard Shift."
GIANT MUTANT AMPHIBIAN THE HOST
The Host was an excellent monster movie... it was frantic, funny, fearsome and creative – the monster itself being the core of all the admirable creative efforts. A giant mutant amphibian marauds with rancorous zeal in broad daylight, at the beginning of the film. To serve the main course ahead of appetizer is usually a stumbling block over which several films have met the gravelly pavement of failure. The Host pulled it off with style and finesse; and the monster was a whole heaping mess of fun. Why, when at rest, does it hang upside down like a bat? Because it looks cool, that’s why.
SCARIER THAN: The crocodile in "Lake Placid."
Cujowas a damn good story. It was a story that I wish I had thought of. Helping to forever brand the Ford ‘Pinto’ as one of the most poorly-made cars in the history of America, this film – and the novel before it – also gave new meaning to the concept of real monsters. The predicament the mother-and-son victim/protagonist pair fell into was one of my personal favorite in all of 1980s American horror. Trapped in a tiny car that won’t start by a giant, rabid dog at a secluded location in sweltering heat. They can’t roll the windows down because the dog will kill them. They can’t keep them rolled up indefinitely either, as the tiny car’s tiny cabin will turn into a suffocating oven. Quite a pickle; and not a sweet gherkin.
Cujo was a scary movie, but the concept was more terrifying, for its foundation was poured by reality. And take a good look at that Saint Bernard – that dirty, droopy-eyed, frothy-mucous-caked, bloodthirsty bear-of-a-canine... has there ever been a more frightening dog?