There’s nothing more frightening and exhilarating than confronting what goes bump in the night. This thrilling observation has helped craft the monster movie genre and kept it around for nearly one hundred year. In many ways, the monster genre shows great flexibility and durability across genres and cultures. Perhaps most famous for the monster genre is Japan, as Godzilla began his pop culture reign sixty three years ago. Whether its aliens from outer space creeping into our atmosphere or a shark with an appetite, monsters are alive and well. Just this weekend, Universal starts their own monster cinematic universe with “The Mummy.” (review dropping at 12 pm ET) If Tom Cruise running away from the undead isn’t your cup of tea, check out these frightening monsters. Don’t blame us if you can’t sleep at night.
10. “Cloverfield” (2008)
Some may direct much ire at the film for spawning the “shaky-cam” genre. What was an interesting gimmick here turned into a crutch subpar films used to seem “real.” However, the filmmaking style isn’t what makes “Cloverfield” a great monster movie. There’s a degree of realistic uncertainty and faux-authenticity that makes the film so inventive and engrossing. Jason (Mike Vogel) is leaving New York and in the middle of his going away party, a monster attacks New York City. The sketchy nature of details and fear in lack of information is something few monster movies address. Here, the tension comes from not knowing what’s going on, rather than a monster in one’s backyard. Then newcomers Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller fill out the ensemble, who are all doing stronger work than one would expect. For all that is maligned about it, the film deserves to be re-evaluated.
9. “Cabin in the Woods” (2012)
There are few minds as inventive as Joss Whedon. Whedon takes the basic premise of “hot, young people terrorized in the woods” to a new level. On the surface, Whedon gives us those familiar elements as a group of college students go on a weekend getaway to a friend’s house in the woods. However, he creates a whole global conspiracy where each country’s government has to sacrifice a group of people in order to keep peace. There’s a whole whiteboard full of various creative monster types that would all make fantastic films. What can we do to earn a cinematic universe where we see all of them interacting together? For a fun, post-modern take on the monster movie genre, it’s hard to do better than “Cabin in the Woods.”
8. “Monsters, Inc.” (2001)
Who said all monsters have to be scary? Pixar took a delightful look into the average work day of the monster in their fourth feature film. It turns out, monsters have been scaring children in order to use their screams as energy to run the town. The only catch is, monsters are terrified of children. The best scarer in the business, Sully (John Goodman), comes face to face with his fears when a young human girl named Boo (Mary Gibbs) enters his world. As per usual, Pixar picks an interesting world and populates it with wonderful charms and affectations in every frame. However, at its core, the film is a heartwarming tale of Sully and his roommate Mike (Billy Crystal) learning to love and take care of this child.
7. “The Babadook” (2014)
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to contend with her possibly disturbed son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Upon discovering a book called “The Babadook,” Amelia reads it as a bedtime story to Samuel, only for him to insist the titular monster is real. As his behavior becomes more and more erratic, Amelia starts to believe the creature may reside in their home. Some may consider the depression allegory to be a tad on the nose. However, the skill at which director Jennifer Kent elicit screams and terror only makes the metaphor more potent. Davis is a revelation in the role. As her attitudes towards her son morph and are tested, the actress contorts her performance into something masterful. One can never truly rid themselves of the Babadook, which makes living with it all the more painful.
6. “Gremlins” (1984)
Not all monsters come in terrifying packages. When Billy Peltzer is gifted Gizmo, a cute looking creature called a mogwai, he loves and takes care of it. However, he is told never to get it wet. Accidentally spilling water on Gizmo causes him to spawn more mogwai, not all of them nice. In addition, once fed after midnight, these docile creatures turn into frightening gremlins of terror. There’s no limit to the amount of fun set pieces that happen as the Gremlins terrorize Kingston Falls. The most warranted and hilarious involves local grouch Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday) and a stair lift. In many ways, this epitomizes why the ’80s are looked upon with such warm nostalgia. It’s a live action cartoon that gets away with way more violence than one would expect. However, there’s a lovable gooey center to it in Gizmo that one can’t resist.
5. “Alien” (1979)
Few images are more indelible than a baby xenomorph busting through John Hurt’s chest to a room of terrified crew members. In just one moment, “Alien” cemented itself as a classic monster movie. The film follows a space merchant vessel crew who responds to a distress call only to pick up an unwanted alien companion. Having since become a popular series, with a new installment having opened this year, people forget how simple the original film was. The film draws the audience in with a pensive, artistically understanted tone, but never fails to punctuate with insane thrills. While many regard “Aliens” as the definitive film in the franchise, not even a kickass Sigourney Weaver can beat the sparse artistry Ridley Scott brings to the first film. It’s true, in space, no one can hear you scream.
4. “Jaws” (1975)
It’s fitting that the modern blockbuster as we know it began with a monster movie. After all, how many fears are more universal or terrifying than a shark attack at a local beach? This is exactly the crisis that the people of Amity Island in New England have to deal with. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) deals with the problem by setting out to sea with oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and fisherman Quint (Richard Shaw). From the opening scene, where a young skinny dipping woman meets her doom at the hands of Jaws, it’s impossible not to be sucked in. Speilberg’s deft control of tone catapults the film to classic status. From John Williams’ immortal score to the choice to hide the monster until the climax, each scene makes you want more. It’s insatiable entertainment.
3. “The Thing” (1982)
A group of researchers in Antartica are visited by an alien force that has infected someone in their facility. The trouble with the plague is that it does not change how a person looks and uses this to infect more people in the group. The greatest source of tension in “The Thing” is that the ones closest to you might be the monster. Few scenes in film history are as tense as when the team goes around and pricks each others’ fingers to test if anyone has become infected. The panic grows with each second with tension one could cut like a knife. Symbolism to the AIDS epidemic illustrates how the traditional “monster movie” formula can be used to say so much about the human condition.
2. “Nosferatu” (1922)
Graf Orlock is a vampiric creature that takes an active interest in the wife of a new person who entered his area. There’s a creepy, yet seductive nature to his gaze at going after this couple. It’s interesting to see how the modern depiction of a vampire bore from this film. The 2000 drama “Shadow of a Vampire” explored the mythology behind the making of this film. However, there is still a beating soul to the Nosferatu figure at the heart of it. Exploring the loneliness that drives Orlock adds humanity to the decidedly inhuman figure. Plus, it helps that Max Schrek’s performance is utterly legendary and one of a kind. There’s much that’s frightening about the film. More than anything, its is a great starting point that knows how to interestingly humanize a figure that isn’t quite human.
1. “Frankenstein” (1932)
Doctor Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) slaves tirelessly away in his secluded manor in an effort to bring the dead back to life. His fiancee, Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), tries to bring him back home in order to get him back to her for their wedding. Unfortunately, he has succeeded, and his monster (Boris Karloff) is running around the city unattended. In many ways, the film is an ensemble dramedy, with the tone and focus of the movie shifting from character to character. All the characters culminate in a final scene where Frankenstein has to confront his monster as the windmill they are in burns to a crisp. Frankenstein, by classification, is a monster. However, Whale makes sure to make him purely human, and his death nothing more than heartbreaking. Perhaps the only thing monstrous is our inability to work to understand one another.