I remember first realizing my love of monsters when I saw James Cameron’s Aliens for the very first time. I must have been only eight years old and I watched in complete terror, hidden half behind the door to my parent’s living room so my Dad wouldn’t see I was out of bed. I didn’t sleep well for weeks and always checked under the bed for Facehuggers before I went to sleep, staring at shadows convinced that a Xenomorph was lurking there, staring back at me. What began as bed wetting terror became curiosity as I started to seek out every creature feature I could find playing on late night TV and begging my parents to let me rent the likes of Critters and Pumpkinhead from Blockbuster Video. When myself and my good friend Paul Butler decided to make our first feature film it was obvious that we had to make a creature feature and The Creature Below drew upon so many years of fondness for rubber monsters and their hapless victims. With Book of Monsters we wanted to take this even further, pitting our characters against six unique monsters that are inspired by the pantheon of creatures I grew up watching. In between developing both films, I always made sure I found the time to watch at least one new monster movie each week and so I have compiled a list of my top 10 creature features.
10 – Zygote
This is a fresh addition to my list only this week but if you’ve seen the short film as part of Neill Blomkamp’s Oats Studios Volume 1 you will know why! Whilst Zygote’s creature is clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s The Thing, it is an utterly terrifying, lumbering mass of body parts and it’s wailing screams as it chases down Dakota Fanning are bone chilling. For a short, it packs so much terror into its run-time and I for one would love to see this monster and concept get a feature length film. Also, the short gets bonus points for demonstrating Blomkamp’s clear fan boy level love for Aliens, as Fanning runs down metallic corridors lit by flashing red lights and narrowly makes it into the elevator as the creature tries to get her. If only Ridley Scott had let the man make his dream Alien film!
9 – Mimic
Guillermo Del Toro has brought some amazing creatures to the screen over the years (Hellboy 2 has more than its fair share) but Mimic is his movie I always go back to. It’s 90s aesthetic makes me feel right at home and Del Toro knows how to use the insectoid creatures to full effect, keeping them in the shadows and playing out some very creepy scenes. The little kid with the spoons and the interaction with the Mimic in the alleyway is skin crawling stuff and when we finally do see the monsters up close, the practical effects look great. The film also gets bonus points for Norman Redus’ short scene – “It’s a Lobster, right?”
8 – Deep Rising
I have a massive soft spot for Stephen Sommers after thoroughly enjoying his Indiana Jones inspired version of The Mummy and only after did I discover Deep Rising was by the same director. This film screams the 90s and I love every second of it’s corny set up. The badass mercenaries and their hard as nails attitude conjures up a laughable attempt at mimicking the marines from Aliens and the cocky, anti-hero Finnegan played by Treat Williams chews up the scenery making this a very guilty pleasure. The big monster reveal at the end is terrific and has that great 90s CGI that’s so bad it’s good. Bonus points for the woman who is sucked into a toilet bowl by a giant tentacle in the first ten minutes!
7 – Tremors
I went through a phase where I was obsessed with the Tremors movies while in high school and forced all my fiends to watch 1 to 3 back to back at least once. The first one is a classic and the fact that this is Jaws on land doesn’t detract from its amazing cast of characters and comic wit. Burt Gummer played by Michael Gross is a brilliant character and I’m so glad he kept coming back for every sequel to fight new and increasingly ridiculous Graboids (Ass Blasters anyone? Bonus points for “broke into the wrong goddamn rec room didn’t you, you bastards?!”
6 – The Host
This is a film that word of mouth sold to me. It’s unique blend of horror, comedy and family drama makes it stand out from the rest of the films on this list and the film’s monster is a fantastic slimy creation. The lumbering monstrosity is almost funny in brief moments before devouring hapless pedestrians in its introductory scene which blends the film’s humor and horror perfectly together. The real story is that of the Park family breaking quarantine to go find their youngest daughter and you care about all of the interesting and quirky characters that come along for the ride. Bonus points for the crying scene!
5 – Splinter
Splinter was a wonderful surprise of a monster movie that I never expected to enjoy going in. A couple end up at a gas station with an escaped convict where a vicious parasite wreaks havoc and they have to work together to survive. What struck me most about the film is the design and execution of the creature itself. The way in which it takes over the body and drives the shambling mass of meat along with primordial instinct is terrifying and the mix of practical effects and CGI is very well executed. Bonus points for the re-animated hand gone wild!
4 – Jeepers Creepers
I first saw this on late night TV when I was quite young and the Creeper scared the living s**t out of me the entire time. The pacing of the film is well executed, teasing out our monster who first appears to be a trench coat wearing killer and eventually reveals its true, horrifying form. It’s the best use of an old timey tune for creepy effect (Insidious doesn’t event touch it) and Justin Long & Gina Philips are great as the out of their depth teens. Every time they think they are safe the Creeper always finds them and its relentless pursuit of the characters makes it a fast paced and exciting horror. Bonus points for the eyeless Justin Long!
3 – Cloverfield
Watching Cloverfield was like unwrapping an amazing, unexpected birthday present. During a time when found footage films hadn’t yet over saturated cinemas, Cloverfield gave us a modern take on the Kaiju and the way in which the monster is teased throughout the film kept me wanting more. Unfortunately the film ends up giving too much away in it’s closing moments but up till that point I was drawn into the mystery of this monstrosity in a way only a Bad Robot production can. The design of the monster feels fresh and the little touches like the parasitic critters that drop from its body add to its intriguing mythology. Bonus points for the explosive reaction one of the characters experiences after being bitten!
2 – Aliens
James Cameron is very good at making sequels that respect the first film whilst also taking them in a new direction (Piranha 2 not included). Aliens the perfect example of this and it takes Geiger’s twisted designs and expands upon them, giving us the Alien Queen. Sure, Alien is an absolute classic but Aliens is my personal favorite of the two to put on the TV, turn down the lights and dial the surround sound up to 11. Ripley’s character gets a whole new level of depth and the interaction between the hard as nails marines has been replicated by other filmmakers and video games in the genre for decades since. You feel the loss of every character in the film as a result of the brilliant first act which sets them all up perfectly and the final hour of the film is pure joy with pulse rifles popping aliens left and right and James Horner’s iconic score bringing the whole thing together. The climactic battle with the power loader and the Alien Queen is iconic stuff and it’s hard to find a film that has melded action and horror so well since. Bonus points for anything Bill Paxton says or does in the movie!
1 – The Thing
The film I can watch again and again without getting bored, The Thing is one of my favorite movies of all time by one of my favorite directors. Expertly paced, brilliantly cast and the best creature effects I’ve ever seen, The Thing is the perfect movie for fans of creature features. Kurt Russel is perfect as McReady in his second best role (Snake wins obviously) and when you have intense scenes like the infamous blood test peppered throughout the film, it makes The Thing an absolute joy to watch. The less said about the remake the better but if only they had let Studio ADI’s amazing practical effects stay in the movie, we might have had a passable watch! Bonus points for McReady’s ridiculous yet beautiful hat.
Honorable Mentions: Pumpkinhead, Alien, From Beyond, Godzilla, Gremlins, Critters, Jaws, Slither, Dog Soldiers, Relic, Pacific Rim
There are many more creature features I would love to talk about and I’m sure there are many I have yet to see! With Book of Monsters we will be bringing six horrific creations to the screen and unlike The Creature Below‘s more reserved body count, the blood will certainly flow this time around!