Ah, the monster movie. Now we’re back in comfortable territory!
While I hate torture horror, and tend not to be fond of slasher flicks… who doesn’t love a good Monster Movie?
You, with your hand up there in the back, you can leave. Turn in your taste (such as it is) at the door. Thank you.
Now… monster movies. It covers quite a range, doesn’t it? Indeed, these days (and in the beginning) most monster movies are cross-pollinated with another genre; the earliest ones started out as part-gothics (Frankenstein, Dracula, and the other Universal Horror flicks are gothics more than monster movies, to a large extent), while modern monster flicks are often mixed with elements of slasher flicks. However, some pure monster movies still exist… at least if you count the fact that most ‘pure’ monster movies are as much sci-fi as horror.
Monster movies are, contradictorily, both some of the deepest horror flicks and the most shallow. After all – the fear of Godzilla, Kong, or the Cloverfield Monster is pretty obvious. Nobody wants to get stepped on. At the same time, the monsters are ultimately allegorical figures. Let’s take a look at some of the most famous ones
Godzilla – King of the Monsters! Godzilla’s got to be one of the best examples of Ye Olde Monstrous Analogy. While he softened up over time, Godzilla started out as an unapologetic stand-in for the atomic bomb and the havoc he wreaked on Tokyo. Released only nine years after the end of WWII, Japan’s movie industry still dealt with strong censorship regarding what they could say against the remaining American forces and the War in general. The original Gojira worked around that by presenting the destruction of atomic warfare through the ravages of a monster, but there’s little working around the powerful imagery of the aftermath of Tokyo’s destruction.
Sticking with the terror of atomic monstrosities, we come across the grand-daddy of monster bug movies… Them! (presented here with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms). Giant insects (and other creatures) have been a popular part of the genre for ages (especially with one Bert I. Gordon… initials which may have led to his preferred horrors), but they really got started with Them. I only wish that this movie hadn’t been ruined for generations to come with the fact that the posters typically show the ants. The idea to keep it secret up front was, in many ways, brilliant.
Moving along to other terrors, we find a rather smaller sort of monster… or, at least, usually smaller. The alien monster typically represents the primal fear of the unknown. All the way back to Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, aliens have represented our fear of The Other. In The Thing, it was more blatantly communists we were afraid of – cool, emotionless, and without a shred of mercy or charity in their soul (according to the propaganda of the time). It’s no surprise that the ‘mad’ doctor involved wears that distinctive hat….
The Alien Quadrilogy addresses similar fears of the time; the fear of a superior being from outside of our experience, beyond our ability to fight. It also spoke to our fears of unchecked capitalism, like a good many movies of its time – it wasn’t the military that wanted to save the monster. It wasn’t a mad scientist. No, it was somebody with an eye on the bottom line.
Moving even further into the realm of science fiction, I’d never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t point each and every one of you towards the Forbidden Planet. This science-fiction retelling of Shakespeare’s Tempest reminds us that each and every one of us has a monster on the inside, no matter how high-minded we might normally be. It speaks, in a way few movies do, to the horror of being the absolute master of everything around you… except yourself.
The Monster still manages to be cool and terrifying all at once, even more than 50 years after it was unleashed on the unsuspecting colonists from the Bellerophon. Its hand-animated form is, if anything, even more convincing than the CGI it would inevitably be made with today – not because it looks more realistic, but because it looks more unnatural and alien. The Forbidden Planet sparked a revolution in science fiction movies that continues today – away from cheap little thrillers that had a rocket in them, and towards a more thoughtful future. You really owe it to yourself to get the Special Edition version, complete with its many extras, though you might not want to shell out for the tin-boxed Collector’s Edition – the extras included with it are nice, but the 2-Disc is sufficient.
Well, that’s enough about monster movies for now, I think. Next week, the Gothics… and maybe something special just in time for Halloween. 😉