Let’s Talk About Cinema’s Greatest Monsters

The god of Skull Island is about to resurrect himself on our cinema screens with Kong: Skull Island. For fans of monster films, the benevolent giant beating his chest is as good a price of cinema ticket can get.

Here’s looking at the monster movies that can still dazzle the child in us.

Frankenstein (1931) / Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

When James Whale adapted Mary Shelley’s epochal novel in 1931, he made the world see a monster in human terms, creating an essential classic of gothic horror. But his sequel to Frankenstein is a work of inventive reverie that subverts conventional morality to create allegories through humour and camp. Boris Karloff was already a legendary monster in the original, and in the sequel, he found the most memorable mate one can hope for, the one with lighting streaks. Now let Guillermo del Toro add his zing to the great Frankenstein.

King Kong (1933) / King Kong (2005)

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One of cinema’s most persistent icons, King Kong made his first appearance as the leading man in 1933 with rage, rampage, and a romantic heart that took him to soaring tops. A spirited telling of the beauty and the beast myth, this imaginative tale was a breakthrough in stop-motion animation, and showed the world that adventure tales can have a heart and throb with metaphors too. The original remains the grand-daddy of monster films, but when Peter Jackson remade it in 2005, he enhanced the core of the film with the kind of all-encompassing passion only a true fanboy can boast of.

Jaws (1975)

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The prototypical summer blockbuster, Jaws is one of Steven Spielberg’s crowning achievements. The man-eating great white shark has entered movie-lore as one of its fantastic beasts that never ceases to send chills down our spine with skilfully constructed suspense.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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For kids growing up in the 90s, the sense of astonishment they experienced when they laid their eyes on life-like dinosaurs in Jurassic Park can hardly be described in words. Money-minting sequels may have diminished the charm of the original, but the giant reptiles still hold up in todays age of CGI rumpus. That speaks volumes about Steven Spielberg’s mastery.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

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Not entirely a monster film, but a political parable in the garb of a fairy tale, Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece has a frightening monster at its core – the Pale Man who, according to the director, represents all institutional evil feeding on the helpless. Evoking the image of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son, this is great cinema at its scariest.

The Host (2006)

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South Korean master Bong Joon-ho’s film is about a father trying to rescue his daughter taken away by amphibian organism that emerged from Seoul's Han River. Joon-ho’s film is slyly dissident, taking in the socio-political paranoia to spin a yarn of intolerable cruelty of our world. But don’t mistake it for some bleak existential drama, for it delivers bewildering thrills non-stop, and the amphibian creature is a marvel of revulsion.

The Mist (2007)

A poster of the film.

A thick mist rolls in, and a small group of people taking refuge in a supermarket must survive the attacks of mysterious creatures. Illustrating a Stephen King horror story, director Frank Darabont is more concerned about the rational vs the radical than cheap thrills of monstrous uproar. Mirroring the post 9/11 unease, the film peaks itself into one of the bleakest ending of modern cinema.

Trollhunter (2010)

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It may not be the best of the found footage movies that The Blair Witch Project inspired post its release, but this little film from Norway has deadpan humour at his disposal to fight colossal trolls that spring to life from Scandinavian mythology.

Pacific Rim (2013)

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Pitching massive robots (known as Jaegers) against leviathans rising from the sea (known as Kaiju), Guillermo del Toro creates a palate of pandemonium that’s preposterously joyous, a feat that the Transformers series never managed to achieve. This may lack the emotional heft and symbolism of the director’s earlier films, but the clank and boom feast is sure to make anyone gleeful.

Alien (1979) / Alien (1986)

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Ridley Scott’s Alien can serve as a tool for sex education, but you’ve to prepare yourself for the horror it imagines along the way. Fighting an alien in the enclosed space of a spaceship that picks them off one by one, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley becomes one of cinema’s toughest heroines. James Cameron's gun slinging sequel goes a notch higher to turn Ripley into an action figure in splendidly detailed combats, but nothing matches the original’s claustrophobia and horror.

Gojira (1954) / Godzilla (2014)

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Serious art lovers may scoff at Gojira, but the Japanese monster has done more to bring the nuclear anxieties to popular consciousness than Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Akira Kurosawa’s assistant, Ishirō Honda, excavated his country’s disquiet in the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into what became a visionary work of nuclear apocalypse. Many droll remakes followed, but Gareth Edwards’ 2014 remake treated the original with reverence, and brought us a new hero in the giant lizard, propelled by striking visual grace, and a narrative restraint we seldom see in studio fares.

Special Mention: Anaconda (1997)

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This movie is so cheesy that it’s unmissable. A documentary film crew encountering giant anacondas one after another in the Amazon rainforest is magnificent B-movie delight that deserves new recognition in the world of fanboys. Jon Voight’s slime-covered wink still lives in memory.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise; he tweets @RanjibMazumder.)