Here be monsters.
Earlier this week I talked about my favorite H.P. Lovecraft monsters. Since Halloween is almost upon us, I’m not done talking about monsters yet. In the spooky spirit of my beloved holiday, I’m going to talk about my favorite movie monsters. It’s a slightly more accessible subject than the works of Lovecraft, since films are easier to digest than the writing an author from nearly a century ago.
I’m leaving lovable monsters off this list, so Sully and Mike from Monsters, Inc. and similar characters won’t be making an appearance here.
THE THING I’m incredibly partial to John Carpenter’s version of this shapeshifting monstrosity from the stars. It’s a gruesome film with excellent suspense and an ever-present dread, as The Thing turns its victims against one another. What makes The Thing one of my favorite monsters is not only its grotesque transformations, but that it’s vulnerable out in the open. This is not an invincible death machine. The Thing has to hide because it can die just as easily as the humans it preys upon.
COUNT DRACULA From Bela Lugosi to Frank Langella to Gary Oldman, Count Dracula is a great, classic vampire. The Transylvanian accent, the looming castle on the dread cliffs, the sniveling manservant, everything about Count Dracula is iconic. Even his arch-nemesis, Van Helsing, is as well-known as he is! Dracula has been portrayed as a more tragic, romantic figure in recent films, but I prefer the versions where he’s a monster who needs to be stopped.
FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER I’m a sucker for constructs and golems, and Frankenstein’s monster is the granddaddy of them all to me. He only qualifies as a “monster” because he’s made of reanimated corpses, which is pretty gross no matter how innocent and well-meaning he may be. He’s a truly tragic figure, an innocent heart made mean by the hate of those around him. The details of his story vary from movie-to-movie (whether he accidentally kills that little girl or not is a big factor), but the tragedy of Frankenstein’s monster makes him one of my favorite monsters. (I know I said I’d omit comedic monsters, but I have to give a nod to Peter Boyle’s version of the monster in “Young Frankenstein.”)
THE BLAIR WITCH The Blair Witch Project scared the hell out of me on first viewing and it still gives me the creeps. Period.
WEREWOLVES I’m torn on werewolves. I’ve always liked them, but over the years I flip back-and-forth whether I prefer werewolves who can control their transformations and those who cannot. Both have monstrous merit: werewolves who can control their shifting, like those in “The Howling,” are akin to predators walking among us, ready to strike and feed their feral hungers; werewolves who cannot control their shifting, like “The Wolf Man” and “An American Werewolf In London,” are having their humanity devoured and their sense of self stolen by the lycanthropic curse. Screw it, both versions are equally awesome.
THE EVENT HORIZON A spaceship that traveled through another dimension in its attempt to fold space and returned a living tomb of incomprehensible horrors. I loved this movie. I loved the atmosphere, the characters, and how the ship was changed by its ill-fated journey. I think it’s a very underrated film in the sci-fi/horror genre and worth watching if you want a creepy, suspenseful surprise. It’s got a very Lovecraftian ending, too.
Honorable mentions include The Mummy, Sadaka/Samara from The Ring, The Blob, and Pumpkinhead.
Finally, this movie and its titular “monster” deserve a special mention because I don’t know if he’s really a monster or not. THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES is one of my favorite films, and Vincent Price is an absolute delight as Phibes. Many people who watch it end up weirdly cheering Dr. Phibes on, with his elaborate revenge scheme, his beautiful assistant who can change outfits with shocking quickness, and his eccentric sense of style. But is he a risen zombie, or is the line “You cannot kill me, I am already dead” a reference to the emptiness in his heart over the loss of his beloved wife? Whatever the case, The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a Halloween tradition for me and I encourage you to give it a watch if you haven’t seen it.