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Top MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES

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Scary films and monster movies are not only meant for the month of October, and this summer’s selection is proof – IT, ANNABELLE: CREATION, IT COMES AT NIGHT and THE MUMMY.

The evolution of creature technology and the fundamental role technology have played a huge part in shaping monster movies.

From the evolution of creature technology beginning with KING KONG (1933), BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), PLANET OF THE APES (1968), THE EXORCIST (1973), AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and ALIENS (1986) through the digital age of JURASSIC PARK (1993), ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE (2005) and KING KONG (2005), audiences love the monsters that grace the silver screen.

In honor of Universal’s THE MUMMY, opening in theaters this Friday June 9th, we decided to look back at one of our lists of those creepy, loveable characters that fill our dreams and create those nightmares during that 3am block when every creak in the house can be heard.

By Travis Keune

I grew up watching Godzilla, the Universal Monsters, the Harryhausen creations and a whole slew of b-movie creations. I have spent hours at a time, and still could, staring wide-eyed into the television at these creatures of the imagination. Those were the days, but these days we have a different standard of what’s cool and scary in the monster world. Here is my list of the top ten movie monsters, from 1980 to the present.

The Thing (1982) was director John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 classic The Thing from Another World. While definitely falling comfortably into the scarce category of superior remakes, the fact is that this movie was an incredible horror thrill-ride. Kurt Russell plays MacReady, a researcher leading a group of scientists on an Antarctic expedition, when they are confronted by a mysterious alien presence that can shift its shape to that of who or what it just killed. The search is on to discover who is really the alien before they’re all dead. The Thing is full of nail-biting jump-outta your seat suspense, has a well-structured plot and the special effects are convincingly scary as hell. I would even go so far as to say the special effects were ground-breaking for their time.

Hellraiser (1987) was written and directed by Clive Barker, based on his own novel. Hellraiser introduced audiences to a new type of monsters. The story centers on a man and his wife who move into an old house, but soon discover the house holds an evil. This evil being turns out to be the woman’s former lover who has lost his earthly form to a group of torturous demons. Hellraiser brings a new style of demonic terror to the screen in the form of Pinhead and his masochistic Cenobites. The film would spawn a hugely popular franchise with several sequels, each of them introducing new Cenobites and altogether new and more gruesome ways to torture their victims.

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) created one of the most fun and original movie monsters of all-time in Freddy Krueger. The story introduces the character after having been killed by the small town’s residents for being a child killer. Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund, returns in the town’s teens dreams to terrify and kill them one by one. Krueger turns his reign of terror on the town’s teens into a vivid, creative and often humorous carnival of absurdity while still maintaining its frightening nature. The film’s massive success would spawn a franchise with eight sequels and a television series. Englund would return to portray his trademark character in each and every sequel, including the television series.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) was directed by John Landis. Considered by most fans of the genre to be the greatest werewolf movie ever made [I agree], Landis perfectly combined shocking horror, dark comedy and some truly awesome special effects to create a literal horror masterpiece. The story follows two American tourists who are backpacking through England when they’re attacked by a werewolf. One of the two tourists escapes, but his friend Jack, played by Griffin Dunne, does not and is brutally mauled and killed … sort of. His friend Jack returns in the movie as an undead entity, taunting his living friend and warning him of what has and will happen. The movie is lots of fun and the creature effects, especially during the transformation from human to werewolf, were revolutionary in design.

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) introduced the audience to the concept of these nomadic alien killing machines to audiences world-wide. However, Scott’s initial film was much more of a psychological horror film, whereas the concept of the alien threat and danger it presented was much more the antagonist than that of the alien itself. It wasn’t until James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) that H.R. Giger’s legendary alien design took hold with movie audiences as the popular movie monster we know it to be. Predator (1987) actually would not have made the top ten, but I paired it with Aliens due to its connected history and fan-base. While the predators are very cool, I never thought of them as scary monsters.

Ringu / The Ring & The Ring (2002), referring to the American remake by Gore Verbinski, may have you wondering why it made my top ten list. The truth is, I actually enjoyed both the original Japanese film Ringu (1998) and the American version. The Korean remake, The Ring Virus (1999) wasn’t bad, but it didn’t do anything new for me. The reason I’ve included The Ring in my top ten is due to its influence on the genre in America.

Since its success, we’ve been inundated with Hollywood remakes of Japanese and Korean horror films, which are usually far creepier than their American counterparts. Daveigh Chase was great as Samara Morgan, a young girl who returns as an evil spirit through the video tape. I only hope I never have a daughter capable of being that freakin’ scary, even as an actress.

Director Danny Boyle made waves with 28 Days Later (2002), a wholly new take on the zombie genre that bucks the boat on the traditional concept of zombies being lumbering, mindless masses that suck brains. Instead, Boyle’s film recreates them as hyper-aggressive, almost super-human killing machines, rampaging as though they’ve all gotten into some really strong PCP. In turn, it made for a much more exciting zombie film and also delivers it’s central message with a much more powerful punch. The film speaks to what the human race could ultimately face if we continue on our paths of selfish technological and intellectual progress, despite the clear and inevitable circumstances. How far do we go to achieve ‘perfection’ if by doing so we risk our own health and happiness?

Personally, Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II (2002) is the best of the three blade movies. His direction invoked a dark and mysterious atmosphere, the story carried some great supporting roles including Ron Perlman (one of my favorite character actors) as Reinhardt, and del Toro developed the coolest vampire interpretation I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. The reapers are a mutated species of vampire that feed on other vampires, thus leading Blade to reluctantly team-up with the vampire council to eradicate their mutual threat. The reaper’s creature design, combined with the action and dialogue, make for one helluva fun vampire killing spree, loaded with great fight choreography and some cool vampire-killing weapons. Yes, I am a huge fan of del Toro, but can you blame me?

Guess who? That’s right … my boy del Toro makes the list again. Hellboy (2004) is based on a comic book about a child demon that is adopted by a human, who raises it with Christian morals to become a soldier against evil. Actually, Hellboy is technically the least qualified movie to make my list, but it does for two reasons: Sammael, the hound of resurrection that simply wouldn’t die and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, the invincible animated sand-filled puppet assassin. This movie is so much fun and so dark and creepy at the same time. Well, I have to I I

I admit that Hellboy also made this list with the help of its sequel due out in 2008, which looks to be an even bigger monster-fest than the original. I suppose Hellboy cheated a little in making this list, but that’s alright with me.

The two most recent qualifiers for my list, these films share the final spot for another reason; they are both a return to the giant monster genre that we’ve lacked for so long. Sure, we had Godzilla (1998) but does that really count? The especially nifty thing is that they’re both original works and they are both super cool. The Host (2006) is a Korean film that speaks to humans polluting the Earth through occupying American scientists discarding massive amounts of formaldehyde down the drain, resulting in a giant amphibian creature with a taste for humans. The Host is stylish and fun, with great action and special effects, often humorous and occasionally poking fun at itself. As for Cloverfield (2008), refer to my review of the film.

* Honorable mention is given to the following: Candyman, the Tall Guy and his spheres from Phantasm, Pumpkinhead, Cronenberg’s The Fly and Ghostbusters’ Stay Puft marshmallow man.

Welcome to a New World of Gods and Monsters – THE MUMMY arrives in theaters, RealD 3D and IMAX 3D on June 9.

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