Some are blood-curdling, some are awe-inspiring, some are funny, and some can even sing. Here’s a list of seven great — and each very different — movie monsters to get you ready for Halloween.
The giant lizard that terrorizes Japan has been a classic movie monster since he first appeared in 1954. There have been 27 Japanese Godzilla films and five American movies made since then, with the most recent reboot being released just last spring. Godzilla’s most common origin story sees him born as a lizard that is mutated into a giant monster through contact with nuclear waste left by the WWII-era bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Sometimes Godzilla is an evil character that destroys the city, but sometimes he is a protective figure that battles other monsters to keep the humans safe. The 2014 Gareth Edwards-directed film was successful enough that it’s being spun into a franchise, so Godzilla is still a compelling monster 60 years after his first film appearance. The giant, lumbering lizard seems to have a safe future as one of film’s longest-lasting and most endearing monsters.
2. King Kong
King Kong is the gigantic and iconic gorilla from the 1933 eponymous film that’s considered a classic of both monster movies and Hollywood cinema in general. The stop-motion special effects used to animate Kong were cutting-edge technology for the time and are still beautiful examples of the animation technique. That original film is still considered to be the best of the King Kong movies for its strong acting, stop-motion sequences, and evocative story.
Peter Jackson did a decently received remake in 2005 that ran over three hours and painted King Kong as an even more sympathetic character than previous films. Like Godzilla, King Kong has retained a grip on audiences’ imaginations since he was first introduced. There’s currently a King Kong prequel in the works that will explore the history of Skull Island, the remote, exotic island where Kong was born.
Clowns are a common fear, known as coulrophobia, and Stephen King’s book It, plus the movie adaptation, made that prevalent phobia even worse. It is a demonic being that most frequently takes on the shape of a clown named Pennywise, using the friendly facade to lure his young victims to their deaths. It returns to the unfortunate town of Derry, Maine, every 27 years to prey on the town’s kids. Pennywise takes influence from the popular characters of Ronald McDonald and Bozo the Clown, forever tainting those figures.
The 1990 film starred legendary character actor Tim Curry as Pennywise in a performance that received nearly universal acclaim and makes pretty much everyone who watches it afraid of clowns. Pennywise has the ability to see his victims’ personal fears and manipulate them to give them the most horrifying death possible — as if being a homicidal clown wasn’t scary enough. A remake of the 1990 film is also currently in the works and is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.
The red-headed killer doll Chucky was first featured in the 1988 movie Child’s Play, which was eventually spun into a long-running franchise. Chucky is possibly the grossest-looking doll ever created and just happened to be on hand when a voodoo-practicing serial killer named Charles Lee Ray needed something to transfer his soul into when the police were about to catch him.
The possessed doll ends up being sold to a single mother by a hobo and then used the child as his lackey to help with his evil bidding. The earlier Child’s Play films were more traditional slashers, but by the time filmmakers got to 1998’s Bride of Chucky, the movies were more raunchy horror-comedies, with Chucky being a comedic as well as scary figure.
Not all movie monsters come from horror films. Disney-Pixar’s Monsters Inc. looks at an alternate world where monsters live and use the screams of children as energy to power their homes and cars in the monster-populated city of Monstropolis. Scaring is just part of the job: They enter portals to kids’ rooms at bedtime in order to frighten them and collect the scream energy.
Sulley is a lovable, furry blue giant voiced by John Goodman who’s the scariest monster in Monstropolis, but becomes attached to a young girl nicknamed Boo when she accidentally escapes through one of the portals between children’s bedrooms and the monster world. She isn’t afraid of Sulley and dubs him “Kitty”; he learns that children are more than just bottomless sources of scream energy. All the monsters in Monsters Inc. are amazing creations sprung from the minds of Pixar’s talented animators and a great voice cast that includes Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, and James Coburn.
6. Creature from the Black Lagoon
This 1954 campy monster movie classic features a group of scientists — including the impossibly curvy Julie Adams, who somehow manages to wear pristine white shorts while doing scientific research in a swamp — on a geology expedition in the Amazon. They realize something’s dangerously wrong when they discover a crew that came to this spot before them has been all killed, they guess by a jaguar. Eventually, the creature, which the scientists say represents a link between marine and land animals, makes himself known by terrorizing the crew, mostly the white-swimsuit-wearing scientist played by Adams.
Creature from the Black Lagoon has had a long-lasting presence in pop culture ever since, influencing the appearance of a plethora of movie monsters and creatures. The character is open to some interpretation: Marilyn Monroe famously says in The Seven-Year Itch that she doesn’t think the creature is all bad, and that he “just wanted to be loved.”
7. Jack Skellington
Jack Skellington is a singing skeleton with an existential crisis in Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. This film is populated with a darkly beautiful world of monsters created using figurines and stop-motion animation.
Jack Skellington is one of the most intellectual of all movie monsters, with an operatic singing voice, an interest in amateur chemistry, and a philosophical yearning to discover his true purpose while the people around him all just want him to stay the same. There’s always some debate as to whether it’s better to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas around Halloween or Christmastime, but the film’s rabid cult fans would just say, why not both?
Obviously there are a ton of movie monsters that I didn’t include here. What’s your favorite movie monster? Which of the creatures listed here do you like best?
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