I’ve been closing out the last few marathons with Top Five lists that cover the overall theme like films about politics or Nicolas Cage performances. To make this site more interactive and enjoyable, I'm going to post a top five list every Friday that connects to the movie featured that week. I’ll still summarize each marathon with rankings at the end but now have more opportunities to stick my neck out.
Choosing the right list to connect with Monsters was trickier than it might seem. Instead of simply going with “best monster movies”, I decided to go a bit deeper and outline my favorite films where the monster is barely seen. I’ve far from an expert on this genre, so these are fairly conventional picks. This gives you the perfect opportunity to tell me why my picks are stupid. Without further rambling, let’s check out the picks!
Honorable Mention: Pitch Black (2000), Monsters (2010)
Sometimes it just takes a simple premise to deliver a convincing and scary monster movie. In Pitch Black, Director David Twohy (A Perfect Getaway) gets remarkable mileage out of simply dropping a small group into a nasty environment. They’re stuck on a planet, but that’s the least of their problems.At night, a vicious group of blood-thirsty creatures hunts them down. It works much better than expected, largely because we rarely get a decent view of these monsters. Another good example is the movie I just screened this week, Monsters. In that case, the squid-like creatures provide the backdrop for a well-made indie romance. However, they do appear in several intense moments that make this a deserving choice.
5. The Mist (2007)
Adapted from a Stephen King short story, this suspenseful film traps a group of townsfolk in a grocery store as vicious monsters lurk outside. Because of the eerie mist, they have little knowledge of what’s out there, which creates huge tension. Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) actually delivers an even more depressing finale than the original King ending, which is a rare feat. One of the main reasons this movie works is because we see glimpses of the massive creatures but never really catch a full view of them.
4. Cloverfield (2008)
Although its shaky-cam style can be a bit much, this Matt Reeves film throws us into the crazy action of a monster attacking New York. Because the characters never have a good view of the huge creature, we don’t truly understand its scope and the danger. The hand-held style doesn’t work for everything and has been overused, but it fits nearly perfectly for this intense movie. The love story is inconsequential, which leads to a few eye-rolling scenes, but Reeves uncorks some big, energetic moments at the end.
3. The Descent (2005)
This truly horrifying picture sends a group of thrill-seeking cavers into unexplored territory beneath the ground. At first they just get lost in the claustrophobic setting, and that’s already scary enough. When flesh-eating monsters start appearing to attack the unsuspecting women, it becomes even more frightening. Neil Marshall doesn’t rush the action and gives us only brief looks at the monsters, which increases the terror. There’s also a great mind-bending climax that seems implausible until we reach the stunning final twist.
2. Jaws (1975)
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those classic films that has a huge reputation, but I wonder how many people have watched it recently. When I finally caught up with it again back in 2005, I was surprised at how well the story worked 30 years after its release. It’s been widely reported how the mechanical shark didn’t work, which forced Spielberg to show it less. This wonderful stroke of luck, combined with John Williams’ classic score, helps this film immensely despite its limited special effects. We're going to need a bigger boat, indeed.
1. Alien (1979)
The power of Ridley Scott’s original movie has been seriously diluted by three direct sequels and two spinoffs in the Alien vs. Predator series. In those movies, we’ve seen a lot more of the vicious aliens, who don’t seem as unstoppable now. In more of a straight-up horror film, Scott spent a lot less time shooting the creature directly, which makes it scarier. Even when we know the attack is coming, the tension still reaches a feverish pitch during the killing.
What do you think? Even with the obvious, mostly recent choices, is this still a solid list? I’m interested in hearing some alternatives to these rankings.
Next week, I’ll join Kevin Costner as he uses a bag of mail to save the world in The Postman, the most ambitious, egotistically awesome epic in movie history.