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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

MAKIN' LIST MONDAYS!: Top 10 Movie Monsters

Just pretend I posted this yesterday as I had originally intended.

Halloween season is upon us and I have to admit, I am a little torn.  I really love crazy scary movies and things, but at the same time, I have these insane neighbors that build this massive Halloween display ever year.  This may sound pretty awesome until you find out that they play “spooky” music loud enough that I can hear it in my house, over my TV, every night in October.  It’s the worst and it totally ruins Halloween for me, which makes me sad.  To recapture my love for the haunted holiday, I’m going to do a handful of Top 10 lists that cover my love for horror movies that you should enjoy every October.  First up, Top 10 Movie Monsters!

Here are the criteria—the Movie Monsters on the list must be the antagonist of a horror or horror-esque film.  I’m going to avoid any very general monsters that are awesome but have no specific personalities.  Since most mass-monster movies suck this criteria really only affects Romero zombies, Deadites, and the crazy awesome monsters from Cabin in the Woods.  They do not, however, have to be traditional monsters.  They can be horrific humans, just so long as they are either insanely scary or otherwise left an impression during their screen time in a film within the horror genre.

Honorable Mentions
DAVID – Lost Boys (1987) 
Kiefer Sutherland in his best role will make sure you never look at Chinese food the same way again.
CANDYMAN – Candyman (1990) 
Tony Todd was excellent in the surprisingly intelligent horror film from the mind of Clive Barker.
THE FAMILY – The Hills Have Eyes (1977) 
I definitely should not have seen this film until I was much, much older, but the shocking and horrific actions of those desert rednecks will haunt me forever.
NOSFERATU – Nosferatu (1922) 
Nosferatu may not be all that scary now, but 90 years ago, this German horror original set the stage for every monster we’ve seen since.

Child’s Play series (1988-2013)
One of the interesting things about this list is that I watched the vast majority of the movies mentioned here before I even hit puberty.  I probably shouldn’t have been subjected to horror films at such a young age, but surprisingly, I handled them pretty well for a little lad…except Child’s Play.  The problem with this movie is that Chucky, the smartass killer doll voiced brilliantly by Brad Dourif, was based upon My Buddy, a cuddly best friend that I actually owned at the time I saw this movie.  My Buddy had a permanent place stashed next to my toy box, where he watched over my room every night before I went to sleep, but after 1988, his kindly eyes turned sinister thanks to Chucky.  I’m surprised that I ever slept again.

The Omen (1978)
Speaking of pint-sized frighteners, #10 on my list is shared with Damien Thorn, the disturbingly little hellspawn from the 1978 film The Omen.  The frightening stare of young Damien as he torments and ruins the life of his adopted father, played by the brilliant Gregory Peck, is burned into my memory.  The kid was totally creepy, but it was the idea of an anti-Christ existing that frightened me most growing up (thanks in part to my mother’s strict Catholic upbringing, that was passed along to me in the form of a very real fear of Satan when I was growing up).  Don’t bother with the mid-2000s remake, though.  Surprisingly, horror movie remakes haven’t been too bad in the last decade, but this one totally missed the mark.

Halloween series (1978-2009)
I did some research leading up to this column and found that Michael Myers, the big bad from the Halloween films, topped most of the lists I came across.  While I enjoyed these films immensely growing up, Myers never hooked me the way that some of his more colorful counterparts did (more of that later in the list).  What makes Myers so haunting, though, was the ridiculously awesome musical theme that followed him through his killing spree.  As soon as you hear the first few notes, you immediately get on edge, which is really what elevates the character for me.

08. GOZER 
Ghostbusters (1984)
I totally cheated by choosing Gozer here.  Of all the antagonists in the comedy classic Ghosbusters, Gozer is the least interesting and has the smallest amount of screen time.  I could have easily gone with Slimer or the Stay Puft Mashmallow Man, or even Zuul or Vinz Clortho to a lesser degree; however, by choosing Gozer, I technically get all of those characters since it was Gozer’s ascension that led to all of these more awesome characters appearing.  So, when you see Gozer here, know that I actually mean all of the Ghostbusters baddies (even decidedly non-monster Walter Peck (who has no dick)).

Cape Fear (1991)
It really blows my mind how rarely people talk about Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear starring Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte.  It is definitely one of Scorsese’s most thrilling films, but also features what I consider to be DeNiro’s best performance as the relentless Max Cady, who stalked Nick Nolte and his family in this thrilling film. Cady’s actions alone are horrifying enough, but the twisted religious zealotry of the character is really what made the character so disturbing.  DeNiro’s performance is unsettlingly charismatic, which allows him to draw you into the character before he commits simply astonishing acts, all the while quoting the Bible.  I suspect that this film will be the least watched film on my list, which is a damn shame.

Alien franchise (1979-2012)
While most people lump the Alien films into the sci-fi genre, I would argue that the original film has more in common with horror films than it does science fiction.   The slow build towards the pulse-pounding climax and the limited use of the big baddie is classic horror.  The other films definitely relied more on sci-fi tropes, but the first is horror enough for me to consider the titular alien to make the list. As we slowly learn more about the alien, it becomes more and more frightening, ending with a full reveal of HR Giger’s disturbing design that must have blown viewers away when the film first dropped in 1979.  Sure it’s hard to take xenomorphs seriously after the campy AvP films, but if you go back to the original, you’ll see just how frightening they can be.

Evil Dead (2013)
I’m sure I’ll take flack for this one, but I can assure you that my heart will always belong to Sam Raimi’s original.  That being said, the recent remake of Evil Dead does have one leg up on the original by having a clear antagonist, rather than the unseen evil force.  Jane Levy’s performance as Mia is powerful as we see her transition from recovering addict to bloodthirsty Deadite.   As the film ratchets up the gore, Mia’s story becomes all the more interesting, especially as she fights against the evil force to become the protagonist, which makes her evil turn all the more horrifying.  Levy made the remake work as Deadite Mia, which is what puts her on this list.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Leatherface is really the first of the “modern monsters” that the majority of us have grown up with.  You wouldn’t have a Michael Myers, a Freddy, a Jason, etc if not for the easily manipulated homicidal maniac Leatherface.  His over the top nature, amazingly straight-forward method of killing, and family full of manipulative cannibal freaks made him an instant hit with viewers that has lasted for nearly 40 years and multiple sequels, prequels, and remakes that really aren’t worth watching.  But still, watching Leatherface’s personality develop in the original as he “changes faces” (literally changing his human-hide skin mask) is one of the coolest things you’ll ever seen in a horror movie.

Friday the 13th series (1980-2009)
Leatherface may have been the first of the flashy modern monsters, but Jason really took it to another level.  The jumpsuit-and-hockey-mask clad killing machine with a tragic past taught us how enjoyable a repetitive plot could be as long  as you filled that plot with impressive murders.  Whether he was terrorizing Camp Crystal Lake, taking a cruise ship to New York, and killing in space, Jason won our hearts  with his methodical pace and attention to detail. Plus he did deliver my all-time favorite horror movie murder and tribute to said murder.  In Friday the 13th Part VII, Jason kills a girl that was hiding in a sleeping bag by slamming her into a tree, which was amazing.  In the otherwise awful Jason X, Jason is trapped in a virtual reality simulation where he kills two virtual-girls by wrapping one in a sleeping bag and then using her to beat her friend to death.  Sleeping bag kills always win!

Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984-2010)
I really dig creativity in my monsters and there are none more creative than the infamous Freddy Krueger of the very uneven, but always entertaining Nightmare on Elm Street films.  Wes Craven’s amazing creation, so gleefully portrayed by Robert Englund, isn’t always the scariest monster, but he sure is a heck of a lot of fun.  I don’t think there is a move murderer that enjoys his work quite as much as Freddy, the creepy undead burn victim that kills his own victims while they sleep.  Plus, he may have the single best design of any characters on this list, with only the Alien Xenomorph coming close.  

Psycho (1960)
Interestingly enough, my favorite move monster is also the most human…ish.  Deeply disturbed and socially inept, the charming, childlike Norman Bates is entirely engrossing.  He steals every scene without being over the top, thanks entirely to the nuanced performance by the late Anthony Perkins.  Hitchcock’s classic character isn’t monstrous on the surface, but that is what makes him so interesting and frightening.  As long as you avoid the handful of non-Hitchcock sequels, Bates will stick with you from the moment you see him at the Bates Motel to the haunting smile at the very end of the film.  Side note, I would recommend checking out the A&E series Bates Motel, where Freddy Highmore plays the high school aged Norman Bates.  While it doesn’t match up 100% to the original film, the tone is similar and its very enjoyable.  But watch the classic film first.  Multiple times.

What are your favorites? 

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