For our theme of ‘Monsters’ this month, I thought it would be a fun idea to list some of our favourite movie monsters, recommend the ultimate monster film and to muse about the future of monsters in cinema.
Fearsome ‘Movie Monsters’
The Great White Shark in ‘Jaws’
Jaws [DVD] the infamous great white shark has to be included as it is such an iconic movie monster. Yes, the special effects weren’t great then but that is what is go effective about this monster as for a large majority of the film you only either see things from the shark’s point of view (such as in the opening sequence) or you may just see a fin. The film-makers had to be innovative and played on the fear of people that things are more scary when they can’t actually see them but use their imagination instead. A classic cinematic technique that has been used in horror films since the very beginning of cinema.
Godzilla in ‘Godzilla’
I love Godzilla  [DVD] My dad is a huge B-movie horror and sci-fi film fan so I have watched quite a few of these films. I remember watching Godzilla vs. King Kong as a child and wanting Godzilla to win as they fought in the sea! I also always liked dinosaurs as a child so wonder if my affinity to Godzilla is from this time? Godzilla is interesting because he is a dinosaur-like monster awakened from extinction due to the effects of nuclear war. As the first Godzilla film was created in 1954 in Japan this must have been inextricably linked with their experiences of the after effects of nuclear catastrophe. Godzilla has been made several times since it’s first outing in 1954 but for true authenticity and to learn about the origins of this monster then I recommend watching the original.
Werewolves in ‘The Company of Wolves’
Though there are many werewolf depictions on cinema, my favourite has to be in the film The Company of Wolves (Special Edition) [DVD] This film is adapted from the short story by Angela Carter (who also wrote the film’s screenplay). This is a feminist and psychological re-interpretation of the story of Red Riding Hood. Red Riding Hood is depicted as a girl who is growing from a child to a woman. Although the wolves are seen as something to be afraid of initially, Red Riding Hood does not become so [SPOILER] and in the end she becomes a wolf-woman who runs with the wolf pack. It is quite a strange film and would benefit from you reading the short story beforehand contained in Angels Carter’s book of re-imagined fairy tales The Bloody Chamber And Other Stories
Dracula the Vampire in ‘Dracula’
There have also been many movie representations of the vampire ‘Dracula.’ Among my favourite interpretations though are the classic Hammer Horror film Dracula (Blu-ray + DVD) with Christopher Lee in the titular role. Also, though this is not strictly a film as it was on television I also think Louis Jordan’s interpretation of Dracula in the BBC’s Count Dracula [DVD]from 1977 was also great. The latter production is fairly faithful to the original story as it contains the character of Renfield who is often omitted from adaptations.
Vampires in ‘Interview with the Vampire’
Another great vampire film, though it does not contain Dracula it does feature Brad Pitt, Christian Slater and Antonio Banderas, which is always a bonus! This film is based on Interview With The Vampire: Number 1 in series (Vampire Chronicles)by Anne Rice. The story really encompasses the rich, creepy Southern Gothic atmosphere (even though it is set in other countries) the images of hanging Spanish moss and cemeteries. I think it must have been an influence on later Southern Gothic supernatural novels such as the entertaining Sookie Stackhouse series and TV adaptation True Blood – Complete Season 1-7 [DVD] 
Benign ‘Movie Monsters’
Some monsters are benign in film representation. Monsters are often used to represent the ‘Other,’ a difference that can alarm people if they choose to only look on the surface and not beyond. These films often have a message that we need to be kind to others regardless of how they look on the outside.
Edward in ‘Edward Scissorhands’
Edward Scissorhands  [DVD]has to be one of Tim Burton’s best films. Edward and his creator live in a Gothic castle on a mountain overlooking a kitsch American version of suburbia. He is discovered by an Avon lady who decides to adopt him and bring him home to her identikit house in suburbia. He meets her daughter and they fall in love. Moments of comedy (such as when the ladies queue up to have their hair cut by Edward) but also tragedy ensue due to Edward’s difference and the people’s suburban intolerance. Edward Scissorhands as a monster represents an updated kind of Frankenstein’s creature. The influence of fairy tales such as the story of Beauty and the Beast can also be seen. References to Hammer Horror can be seen in this film such as Edward’s creator being played by Hammer stalwart Vincent Price.
Yoda in ‘Empire Strikes Back’
Who doesn’t love Yoda! First featured in the original second Star Wars film Empire Strikes Back (1980) Yoda is a strange looking creature but is a powerful Jedi master. He is fierce but very wise and trains Luke Skywalker up to be a Jedi. He is also dryly humours and has become a huge popular cultural character quoted on everything from T-shirts to TV adverts!
E.T. in ‘E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial’
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial [DVD] has to be one of the best examples of a benign cinematic monster. E.T. is a classic and great film that many people have watched, and have either cried, or know of someone who has cried at the end! It was clever how the film-makers created E.T. to move and talk like a human toddler, so though he is an alien and looks very different there are some characteristics within him that we can all relate to. E.T.’s first interaction is with Elliott a ten year old boy who forms a bond with him and tries to protect him. A clever twist in the story is that the Government scientists are portrayed as shady evil characters as opposed to E.T., Elliott and his family and friends. There are some notable scenes such as the flying BMX scene and of course the ultra-sad ending.
Gizmo in ‘Gremlins’
Gremlins – 30th Anniversary Edition [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]is quite a dark, slightly sinister film. Gizmo is an adorable cute fluffy mogwai (monster) bought from a shop in Chinatown as a Christmas present from a father for his son Billy. He will stay benign if he is kept according to three strict rules: he is not exposed to sunlight or bright light, he does not get wet and is never fed after midnight. If any of these things happen then either Gizmo will die or will spawn a series of evil gremlins that not only cause havoc but also kill and torture humans!
The T-Rex and Velociraptors in ‘Jurassic Park’
Are dinosaurs monsters? If they are placed in a situation with humans then I would say so! The T-Rex and velociraptors steal the show in Jurassic Park [DVD]as they are arguably the most dangerous dinosaurs that the humans encounter in the film. Jurassic Park is based on the novel by Michael Crichton posed the interesting theory that if science were able to extract and clone dinosaur DNA then dinosaurs could potentially be re-created. If you add to this mix an eccentric entrepreneur who is fixated on creating the ultimate theme park then you have a potential disaster. The two best scenes in the film feature these the T-Rex and the Velociraptors. First we have the infamous build up to seeing the T-Rex with the glass of water vibrating. Here we see a nod to Spielberg’s Jaws’ heritage as we are scared initially of what we can’t see, but this time when we do see the monster, the effects live up to the initial fear. The velociraptors chasing the children in the kitchen is also a very good scene, scary!
People as ‘Movie Monsters’
Perhaps though the most scary monsters are not those that represent the ‘Other’ but those that look exactly like us and are expert at blending in. Often adapted from their primary source in literature, the psychopath has long been a horror movie favourite and is presented in films such as ‘Patrick Bateman’ in American Psycho [DVD]  and ‘Hannibal Lector’ in The Silence of the Lambs [DVD] Nazis are often represented as ‘people monsters’ as can be seen in films such as ‘Amon Goeth’ in Schindler’s List – Special Edition [DVD] (1993)Bond villains are often portrayed as being psychopaths Raoul Silva in the excellent Skyfall [DVD]is a good example. Captain Jack Randall is also another example of a truly terrifying man in Outlander – Complete Season 1 [DVD]Sometimes, humans as monsters are presented in a ‘comic book style’ sort of way to make them less scary good examples of this can be seen in the character of ‘Han’ in Enter The Dragon (Uncut) [DVD] and in endless Bond villains from the early films. At other times cinematic psychopaths are presented as ruthless corporate figures such as the aforementioned ‘Patrick Bateman’ in American Psycho and arguably ‘Gordon Gecko’ in Wall Street [Special Edition]  [DVD](who if not a fully blown psychopath, appears to have psychopathic tendencies). Examples of female psychopaths are depicted in films such as ‘Phyllis Dietrichson’ in Double Indemnity [DVD] ‘Amy Elliot Dunne’ in Gone Girl [DVD] and ‘Jane Hudson’ in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? [Blu-ray]  [Region Free]From these examples we can see that film-makers have experimented with tactics of scaring us by presenting a monster in our midst as a terrifying set-up.
The Ultimate Monster Movie – ‘Clash of The Titans’ (1981)
Ray Harryhausen was a classic monster model maker and animator. He is responsible for bringing some of the iconic monsters to the screen (such as the skeleton army, Hydra, harpies and giant bronze man Talos) in Jason & the Argonauts [DVD]  He is also responsible for the monsters in the film that I am going to nominate as the ultimate movie monster film, Clash Of The Titans [DVD] Forget the remake, the original Clash of the Titans is a great film to watch if you are a fan of movie monsters! This film also contains the ultimate mother of all movie monsters, ‘Medusa!’ Medusa is a snake like gorgon with hair made from living vipers! One glance from her can turn any living thing into stone. The scene where Perseus has to kill Medusa is the best in the film as it is so atmospheric and really builds up tension. Here we see Perseus as he tries to hide from Medusa and behead her in her shadowy underground lair list only by fire torches. This scene is pivotal, as Perseus has to defeat Medusa in order to obtain her head in order to defeat the Kraken (a giant sea monster that will devour his wife Andromeda within thirty days). Not only is Medusa an excellently animated monster but Clash of the Titans also contains a host of other excellent Harryhausen creations, including the huge Kraken, giant scorpions, Charon the skeleton ferryman, the devil like Calibos and Pegasus the last winged horse amongst others. Clash of the Titans also contains three Stygian witches who are blind but see by using a glass eye and also eat humans! All in all due to the sheer number of monsters this has to be the ultimate monster movie of all time!
The Future of ‘Movie Monsters’
As computer technology moves ever faster, film-makers reliance on digital effects and CGI grows. Whilst CGI can give us fantastic special effects an argument against the overuse of it could be that a film that relies completely on CGI may lose some of its resonance with spectators as it feels less real and film-makers can tend to rely less on traditional narrative techniques to build up tension such as we saw in Jaws.
The imagined unseen can be more scary than that which is visible. A good example of this is by viewing the Medusa scene from the original Clash of the Titans 1981 Medusa Scene and comparing it with the clip in the remake here. In my opinion the original scene builds up the tension beautifully and although it doesn’t have the digital effects, it draws the story out and makes it more menacing whereas the remake is just like a madcap, computer game chase free for all! The remake scene is not scary, there is much less tension and it loses it’s narrative flow.
CGI and digital effects in film can be a good thing as they speed up the process of film-making and you need less people to work on the film, all elements that will be attractive to investors. However, the increasing reliance on CGI and digital effects means that an incredible skill-set of artists and model-makers will be lost, film audiences lose out in that the narrative tension in films is arguably lessened and scenes are not given as much chance to build tension. The second reboot of the Star Wars films (Episodes 1-3) were criticised for exactly these reasons, there was an over reliance on digital effects at the expense of character and narrative development. Though arguably the new Star Wars film is meant to have addressed some of these issues and has pleased fans. The Harry Potter films whilst utilising digital effects also relied on sets and models too and seems to give hope that this is a balance that can be readdressed and successfully utilised in the future.