Saturday, October 1, 2011

10 Monster Movies You Might Not Know

It's October and I decided to do something Halloween-themed with the blog this month. I am not the biggest fan of horror movies, but I love a good monster movie. There's a lot of pverlap between the two to be sure, but a monster movie always includes a monster which (in my humble opinion) is just about always better than a psychotic killer, a deadly disease, unseen demonic forces, or a number of worror elements.

Why? Because monsters are cool, of course. :-)

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite movie monsters.

1) Gargoyles (1972) This was a made for TV movie that both scared and fascinated me when I was a kid. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) is a scientist who, along with his pretty daughter, is stranded in a flyspeck of a Southwestern desert town. They discover a bizarre skeleton on display in a souvenier shop. Boley thinks the horned, clawed, and winged humanoid figure has been cobbled together from the bones of half a dozen different creatures. Of course, he's wrong; the skeleton belongs to one of a race of gargoyles that have lain dormant for centuries but are now due to reawaken.

This is a fun movie with minimal voilence and gore but a lot of tension and atmosphere. The odd mix of real folklore about gargoyles with the odd setting worked surprisingly well and Berney Casey is great as the charismatic leaders of the creatures. Watch for a very young Scott Glenn as the leader of a biker gang who decides to help our heroes.

2) Curse of the Demon / Night of the Demon (1957) This is a wonderfully scary based on a story by the brilliant English writer of ghost stories, M.R. James. The story features Dr. John Holden (Dana Andrews) a psychaitrist who has come to England to debunk the occult pretensions of Julian Karsewell (Niall MacGuinness), a cult leader patterned on real-life occultist Alistair Crowley.

As you might gusee, Karsewell really does have occult powers, though the movie plays this idea out with delightful subtlty. I'd love this one without the fire demon that appears briefly at the end (the producer insisted in inserting a monster against the wishes of the director and star) but it's a special treat when the beastie briefly appears.

3) The Gaint Majin (1966), Return of Gaint Majin (1966) and Wrath of the Giant Majin (1966) The three movies are all about the same monster, all very similar in plot and all came out the same year. Other than that, the plots of the movies are unrelated. The premise is simple: the majin (Japanese for "devil-god") is a supernatural being that watches over the people of a small community in feudal Japan. An evil warlord comes in, takes over, and brings great suffering. The people cry out and the stone statue of the Majin comes to life and stomps the villain out of existence.

The appeal of the Giant Majin (or Daimajin as more recent English dubs renter it) is that it is unstoppable. The warlords send their armies at it but the monster ignores arrows and musket balls, swords and spears, and brushes away warriors like they were insects. Not even explosives stop the inexprable march of the giant. It's slow, ponderous movements accompanied by the sound of impossibly heave footfalls make it the perfect embodiment of divine justice, slow but unstoppable.

4) Hellboy (2004) This one you probably know, but I had to include the Hellboy. He's a tough guy with a heart of gold; a monster cum superhero who raises kittens in his spare time; he has a fantastic character design, including an absurdly large right hand; and his movies are a rip-roaring combination of pulp adventure and old school horror. add to that the fact that Hellboy is played by Ron Perlman who has made a career of playing great characters under a ton of makeup and prostetics and you have a winner!

5) The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1957) The first of three Sinbad movies featuring special effects by legendary stop-motion animator. Kerwin Matthews is okay as the hero in this movie, which stays closer to the Arabian Nights stories than either of the sequils. The real stars are the animated skeletons, the two headed roc, the cyclops, and the dragon. The movie concludes with a rousing fight to the death between the cyclops and the dragon.

6) The Golden Voice of Sinbad (1974) The second of the Harryhausen Sinbad movies has hprehaps the best casting with John Phillip Law as our hero and Tom Baker as the evil sorcerer, Koura (the best villain in the franchise). It also features some excellent animated monsters of course, including a griffon and a one-eyes centaur. The best sequince of the movie is when a statue of the six-armed goddess Kali comes to life and engages in a srowdfight with a number of human combattants.

7) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) This is the third of the Harryhausen Sinbad movies, and possibly my favorite (though its a hard call). Ptrrick Wayne is a good Sinbad, and the young Jane Seymour is my favoirte leading lady in the series. There's also a heroic monster, a giant caveman called the Troglodyte, who accompanies our heroes and defends them in mortal compbat with a gigantic saber-toothed tiger.

That monster fight, though rousing, was actually a bit of a let down for me. I really wanted to see the Troglodytre fight the Minoton, a bull-headed mechanical man made of bronze.

8) Mighty Joe Young (1949) As you can probably tell from this list, I like monsters, but I like heroic monsters even better. You can't get much more heroic than Mr. Joseph Young, a ten foot tall gorilla who (like King Kong) is brought to civilization so the rubes can gawk at him. Poor Joe is so badly mistreated that you can't blame him when (again like King Kong) he breaks free and goes on a destructive spree. Unlike Kong, the gentle Joe can't resist his heroic impulses and risks his life and freedom when he stops to rescue a little girl from a burning orphanage.

Ahem... excuse me. I'm not tearing up, I just got an ember in my eye.

9) The Valley of Gwangi (1969) I love dinosaurs, but I doubt that anyone reading this needs me to tell them about Jurassic Park. What you may not be aware of is this much earlier, but still fun, dinosaur western. Cowboys and dinosaurs! What more do you need to know than that?

10) 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) This is the story of a little alien called Ymir (after the frost giant of Nordic myth) who hitches a ride on a probe to Venus and comes to earth. Once here, he grows into one of my favorite monsters of all time. The way Harryhausen cobbles together unique monsters and imbues them with personality is amazing. His animation may seem clumsy by our standards, used as we are to digital effects, but Ray built his creatures and then took them through the painstaking process of animating them one frama at a time. He did this by hand, and all by himself.

You've got to admire that kind of artistry and dedication.

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