Do The Monster Mash - A Primer of Great Monster Movies of Past
by Barry Wurst
March 9, 2007
The monster makes an attack in The Host.
Growing up in a household rich with artists in film and theater was a blessing, as was having a Dad who encouraged me to watch Rodan and Godzilla as much as the "classics". With today's (March 9th) release of The Host, one of last year's best films (it played the US film fest circuit but never had a release here until now), you have an entry in the monster movie genre that stands up proudly next to the rubber suit epics of old and with the f/x driven spectacles of now. The Host is a smart, surprisingly funny and one of the most all around thrilling films of its kind. The following is a list of just a few films that share the same irreverent DNA as The Host and are equal parts chilling and funny.
The creature in the Alien films may be the most frightening in all of cinema, but the films themselves don't fit in the monster movie category (they're too highbrow and are clearly examples of sci-fi / horror instead). Here's a movie that is unabashedly cheesy (even when it was released) and plays like a redneck pre-cursor to The Host, a film it matches in inventiveness, jump-out-of-your-seat scares and sly satire. In fact, the giant tadpoles of The Host even LOOK like the whatever-they-are from Tremors!
GODZILLA 2000 (2000)
Not the best 'Zilla movie by far (my vote goes to Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster, Godzilla 1985, King Kong vs. Godzilla or even the immortal Bambi Meets Godzilla). Yet, the infusion of modern day CGI with the charmingly tacky staples of the series (cardboard sets, hilarious dialogue, nonsensical pseudo-science, guy in a suit, etc) make this irresistible. Best of all - the closing line is an unintentional howler.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
The best werewolf movie ever made earns comparison to The Host because, in addition to stunningly realized special effects, shocking gore, potent suspense and a fresh take on the genre, the film is hilariously funny. Not because it tries to be a comedy, but because the characters themselves are funny and smart enough to ponder their outrageous circumstances.
KING KONG (1933)
Arguably the greatest monster movie of all time, with still-great stop motion animation, the wonderful dinosaur attack, the poignant Fay Wray / Ape connection and the thrilling Empire State Building finale. Kong himself is funny, ferocious and ultimately tragic. The one thing Peter Jackson's overly-long remake did better - the bug sequence is remarkably, splendidly, unbelievably gross.
Okay, we're talking spiders, but KILLER spiders, lead by a GIANT LEADER SPIDER! The inferior Eight Legged Freaks came close but couldn't top this film, a one-shot attempt by Hollywood Pictures at creating a new genre: "thrill-omedy". Most remember this fondly, and for good reason - few movies convey and create the fear of spiders better than this one and are hilariously funny as well. Definitely a distant cousin to The Host.
DEEP RISING (1998)
Yeah, it's bad and Treat Williams, Famke Janssen and Djimon Hounsou don't make it look any more dignified. Still, the laughs (intentional or not) are there, as are the special effects and the whole thing is dumb fun. If you've never seen it, imagine Titanic crossed with Alien with a third of the budget.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)
Intentionally campy, but as vibrant, stylish and goofy as Pee-Wee's Big Adventure but with a far more demented sensibility. People with real clown issues find this one genuinely scary. Most everyone else can enjoy this cult classic for what it does beautifully - wring laughs and visual delights out of a teeny budget and exploit the premise to the hilt, with every clown-related gag thinkable.
Some of the best special effects of its day mixed with still gut-bustingly hilarious jokes, this one skims the line of horror and comedy. Often comic but downright scary at times, with large scale scenes of destruction at the climax. The classic Mr. Stay Puft sequence is a sly nod to the Godzilla movies.
GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990)
The first one is scarier and was fresher, I know. Yet, this crazy, "anything goes" sequel (directed by the wonderful Joe Dante, whose Piranha and The Howling wouldn't be out of place on this list), which becomes a parody of sequels and pop culture at the mid-point, is such a wondrously sick joke on its studio, its audience and the Gremlins themselves, it achieves near-brilliance. If only all sequels were this defiant, bizarre and twistedly different.
MARS ATTACKS! (1996)
Not Tim Burton's best film and more uneven than most remember, but matches The Host in creating a retro-large scale monster attack with conviction and laughs. The aliens themselves are still funny and a handful of scenes stand out for their audacity ("They Blew Up Congress! Ha! Ha! Ha!") and quirky weirdness (Martin Short's failed seduction of a martian assassin).
There are certainly a lot more monster movies that are undeniable classics (Jaws being an obvious one) and are bone chillingly scary (The Fly, old and new). The Host, like Scream, is a self-aware, post-modernist entry in the genre. You can argue whether these films are funnier if they're trying to be funny or if the laughs are accidental. The brazen, audacious nature of this genre (which, from Them! to Q and everything in between) promises outrageous, possibly breathtaking sights and can obtain a child-like awe. The Host manages to be a modern day Rodan and, in all honesty, was the most fun I had at the movie theater all last year.
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