Crush, Crumble, and Chomp! Holla if you know what I mean.
I LOVE GIANT MONSTER MOVIES! I always have. When I was little, I would tune the family’s little black and white Sanyo television to try and get the reception from Portland’s UHF channel 12, every Saturday afternoon. We lived some eighty miles from Portland, and that channel was not a particularly strong broadcast, and we didn’t have cable, which was new to our neighborhood in the early eighties. What I was trying desperately to watch? Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster. Or Destroy all Monsters. Or Mothra. Or Gamera. I had an obsession with Kaiju. They weren’t in the least bit scary, but I still considered them monsters and thought myself somehow brave for watching them.
This is a modification to my list of favorite monsters, that I did for our Podcast Episode VII, in that I added “Giant” to the list. From that list, I’m considering Relic a beast movie (roughly human sized ferocious creature) and Alien and the Thing go into Alien movies. What I’m looking at here are big as a house or bigger monsters.
10. The Host (2006)
The Korean mutant amphibian creature feature has what will be the smallest of the monsters on my list, but this bugger still gets to be about the size of a bus and definitely has figured out that the most plentiful food supply is the local populace. What is amazing about this monster is that they don’t hide the monster at all! This crazy thing runs around (And boy, can it run!) in broad daylight. And still, it’s a lot to try and take in. The mouth opens up four ways, with each one telescoping out, full of razor-sharp teeth. The claws have smaller claws on the end, and there are a number of extra appendages on this beastie. There are lots of panicking crowd shots, clearly reverential to the Godzilla fare. The charming and eccentric food truck family faced with having to rescue their youngest from this freakshow critter helps cement this entry onto my list.
9. Monsters (2010)
Gareth Edward’s second mention in this list. Much like Trollhunter, this is an indie film that managed to be supremely efficient in how to tell a giant monster movie. Edwards, a special effects man, by trade, did this micro-budget movie by traveling to Honduras after a big hurricane had it. That allowed him to propose that the damage in this “Mexican” town was caused not by a hurricane, but by giant octopods that took to land after being transformed by something contained on a NASA probe that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a quiet and somber movie, as giant monster films go, and it is as much of a road trip movie as it is a monster movie. The movie proves to be an allegory for immigration, featuring a very big wall along the US and Mexican border, meant to keep the Monsters out. Clearly, this is what got Edwards the directing chair for Godzilla. (foreshadowing!)
8. Them! (1954)
The greatest of all the 1950’s Matinee monster movies. Them! took itself seriously, and was several cuts above other like titles of the era, and it was so successful that it spawned a craze of imitators like Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, and The Black Scorpion. This film features what was at that time some of the best special effects of the era, being nominated for a Best Visual Effects Oscar, utilizing a mix of miniatures and full-sized props. The acting was compelling too, and it was nice to see Joan Weldon cast as a scientist. My mom is an entomologist, so yes, there are women who study bugs! The rest of the cast is a cut above the typical creature feature fare as well. James Arness, (The Thing) this time is on the more human side of the equation. James Whitmore (also in the Relic, many years later) is excellent as the police sergeant Peterson. Dated looking now, this movie was, along with Godzilla, one of the best cautionary tales about messing around with the A-bomb of the era. As an added bonus, it has one of the best movie posters ever made!
7. Tremors (1990)
It’s impossible not to have fun with Tremors. You get a big cast full of colorful character actors (Michael Gross, Fred Ward, Reba McIntyre, Kevin Bacon, and Victor Wong) and isolate them in a little desert town and have giant subterranean prehistoric creatures that tunnel through the earth to try and eat all the townsfolk! What’s not to love? All practical effects here, and masterfully done, this movie was made just prior to the breakthroughs in technology that allowed for Jurassic Park. Fortunately, there was room for these mid-budget horror comedies back in the 90’s. Snappy dialogue and a great setting really help, but it’s the monsters that do the heavy lifting here. They are true originals: Mega-maggots with grasping tentacles, and a squid-like beak. I think the movie poster (which makes a strong Jaws parallel) did the graboids a disservice, as going in, I thought that there was going to be a toothier monster. Tremors did well enough to get several rinse-and-repeat paydays for Michael Gross. They just did Tremors 5 in 2015… and I just watched the trailer… and I think I’m going to have to watch it! Looks like it’s still fun stuff.
6. Trollhunter (2010)
Something in the wilds of Norway is eating the local bear population. Strange, right? What eats bears? Well, there are some student journalists intent upon unraveling this mystery, and they set off in search of the bear killer, when a mysterious hunter tells them that it’s actually… trolls! It can be hard to remember that faerie tales that spoke of creatures like giants and trolls to scare children to behave well, as they have ceded their scary status to serial killers and zombies. Well, watch Trollhunter, which reclaims the troll as a monster to be feared. They are gigantic, stupid, and mean (which makes me think of a particularly orange-haired troll, nudge nudge, wink wink!) and very deadly. This horror mockumentary was a big surprise for me. Most of the time, the found-footage hand-held camera style of film is done because you don’t have the budget to have big VFX, but in this case, they pulled off the authenticity of the shaky cam, and the polish of a bigger budget special effects movie.
5. Cloverfield (2008)
One of the most imaginative uses of shaky cam done to date. Like Trollhunter, but this time with a bigger budget, and guided by the firm vision of J.J. Abrams. The scares in Cloverfield are of the 9/11 variety. Whit the twin towers still firmly in the minds of the audience, this movie captures the chaos and confusion of something inexplicably tearing down the city. Since it is all filmed from the perspective of a hand-held camera, you only get fleeting glimpses of the monster, never getting a really good understanding of it until the very end. The screaming hordes of the panicking populace have never been represented better than Cloverfield. AAAIAIIIIIIEEEE! Run away! J.J. loved his monster so much that he used a variant of it in his reboot of Star Trek. With the recent release of Netfix’s Cloverfield Paradox, and last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, I’m not sure what form the big monster is going to have, as each film is radically different from each other, and are only tenuously held together with a few key plot points. Cloverfield 4 is already in the hopper, apparently, and who knows what form this next film will be.
4. Godzilla (2014)
Purists would want me to list the original 1954 Toho production. And, there is no doubt that would have been a good selection, particularly how much the rubber-suited kaiju were so important to me when I was a kid. But I have to give proper respect to Gareth Edwards for showing us a Godzilla with the full power of a major studio behind it. Godzilla is majestic in this outing, even if it does seem that the big fella has had a few too many tuna sandwiches. Edward’s restraint in not showing the monster in his full glory was, I thought, well executed… though I tend to think that Legendary tried to reign in on how much VFX was spent on the film, and it was worth it. It was a very convincing Godzilla. Look ma! No rubber suit! This movie took Godzilla seriously, unlike the disastrous big iguana we got from Roland Emmerich in 1998. This is a beast that could convincingly flatten a city, and yiou can’t help but watch (and root) for the big guy.
3. The Blob (1987)
Total guilty pleasure! For those who like gory fun movies, this is a favorite. The movie didn’t take itself too seriously, but it took its shock value seriously. The blob allowed for some real creative fun for how it dispatched the poor folks of Arbeville, Colorado. Spoiler alert here, as I discuss the memorable moments! The blob getting the drop on would-be hero Paul and you can see Paul dissolve as Meg tries to rescue him (but instead pulls his arm off). Ewww! The blob pulls the dishwashers head into the pipes. Wow! The blob ambushes a theater full of people, ala the original Steve McQueeen 1953 film. Yay! And, in an appropriate comeuppance for no means no… the blob attacking Scott for copping a feel. (He had it coming, right?) And the willingness of the movie to have teh blob grab and digest a little kid. Ooooo! The original blob was a heck of a lot of fun, but when they made it an R-rated movie, the imagination was able to get pushed just that much further.
2. The Mist (2007)
I will say that this is the scariest of the giant monster movies. Psychologically intense, Frank Darabont foreshadowed his work to come with the Walking Dead, in that in a situation where you are surrounded by terrifying monsters, sometimes the most horrible things happen when the society that is trapped breaks down. That’s not to say there aren’t some absolute doozies of monsters here. The tentacles that nab the stockroom boy were horrifying! The scene kept going and it just kept getting worse. The scene where Andre Braugher defies the warnings and gets hauled up in the air (suggested off screen that he and the others in his group get turned into a meat kite was powerful.) And the titanic walking monstrosities that we see near the conclusion of the film, all have a cold Lovecraftian vibe to them. Tentacles, for one. And also that they are both predatory and once they get big enough… aloof. The fortress sized beastie at the end paid the survivors no mind, as it strode past, it didn’t even notice them. And, the ending. The unforgettable, bleakest end to a movie of all time.
1. King Kong (1933)
The original giant monster. And still the king. There is no giant monster more iconic than Merion C. Cooper’s King Kong. Kong isa sympathetic misunderstood monster, as most of the great golden age monsters of the 1930’s were. He had a story, and he was fierce, and to the audiences of that age, and to me when I was eight, he was SCARY. I remember the first time seeing him appear in front of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray) and I don’t blame her for screaming her lungs out. When Kong pokes his head through the subway tracks, and all you see is an enormous eye? Yikes! And then he grabs the train car and shakes it like a giant pez dispenser with human candy inside. Or, when the big hand comes through the window? Awesome! I think the Oscars should name the special effects award as the Willis O’Brien award, even over Harryhausen. King Kong’s visuals are still as beautiful today as they were the day that it opened. The 76 film was an abomination. I did really enjoy Peter Jackson’s version, and I didn’t mind the amount of time he spent on the preamble. Once on Skull Island, Jackson’s film was dynamite. Kong Skull island? Pretty good. But I do want him to be more gorilla than yeti, in appearance. But the original was so wonderful, right down to “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplaines. It was beauty killed the beast.” King Kong was a perfect monster movie.
BTW: Crush, Crumble, and Chomp was 1981 video game produced by Epyx, that I played on my old Commodore 64. Before Rampage, there was CCC.