Special: Monster Legacy’s Monstrous Hundred – Part 2

We continue with the second part of the Monstrous Hundred. Now we dive in he 70s and the glorious 80s, which saw a renaissance of practical effects.

King Kong (1976)
Probably the weakest of all Kong films (not including the abhorrent Skull Island), and one with a remarkably extended and multi-limbed controversy behind it. Regardless, this 70s colossal doesn’t fail in portraying the lonely and tragic nature of its main character, whose death is particularly well-orchestrated and effective.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
An excellent refinement of the 1956 film, boasting an all-star cast featuring Veronica Cartwright just one year before Alien, and Jeff Goldblum in the pre-Jurassic Park decades. updating the 50s classic with some fresh 70s paranoia, the film is less about an outside invasion and more about decay from within, and transposes this out of the intimate small town setting of the original and into the indifferent world of a major city.

Alien (1979)
Its reputation precedes it, and for good reason: Alien is a fine-tuned distillation of old school monster storytelling and lovecraftian themes, combined with a revolutionary sense of design with the biomechanical and allusive qualities of alien entities and constructs. The Alien is not only a sample of the horrors of worlds beyond, but also a physical manifestation of the deepest, unknowable fears of motherhood and sexuality. A timeless and resounding classic.

Without Warning (1980)
This obscure and schlocky film brings out some interesting creative elements (such as ‘living toothy discs’ used as weapons) and is also a forefather of Predator, a full seven years before it, with none other than Kevin Peter Hall playing the alien stalker.

The Howling (1981)
Director Joe Dante and screenwriter John Sayles deliver a remarkably witty narrative, packed with loving homages to the roots of werewolf cinema. The Howling‘s groundbreaking effects baptized Rob Bottin — a protegĂ© of Rick Baker at the time — just one year before The Thing. Its feral werewolf designs remain most influential, breaking from the norm of a man with subtle wolf-like features and revealing a truly bestial form.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Rick Baker’s hauntingly realistic transformation effects are lauded to this day, but American Werewolf‘s strongest asset is its wonderfully effective mixture of horror and comedy, creating a unique narrative embedded with an ever-present dark humour.

Dragonslayer (1981)
Its script may have not aged that well, but whenever the dragon roams the screen, this film erupts with energy. Vermithrax is the pioneer of the modern cinematic takes on dragons, with its four-limb configuration based on pterosaurs and bats, grounding down a mythological character into an animal that could very well exist in the real world. Dragonslayer was also the first film to employ the short-lived go-motion technique, to often astounding results for a film released in 1981.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)
The more stone-hearted will no doubt wince, but this heartwarming classic directed by Steven Spielberg has all the key aspects of the filmmaker’s style. Most importantly, it is a portrait of the purity of childhood and friendship — and at heart, fine movie magic.

The Dark Crystal (1982)
Unprecedented in its ambition, Dark Crystal lets the viewer dive into an entire world of creatures with no human presence outside of the voice acting. Its rich lore and intricate puppet work give it the kind of rare charisma only found in the tales of ancient mythology.

The Thing (1982)
Penned by none other than horror master John Carpenter, The Thing is a visceral journey of isolation and paranoia, all embellished by Rob Bottin’s groundbreaking and gruesome body horror transformation effects. A true wonder of its genre, one that never loses its strength even on repeated viewings.

Xtro (1982)
Possibly the most extravagant film to be spawned from Alien‘s success. This British flick starts with an abduction and proceeds to disintegrate a family from the inside-out, through a bath of blood, perverse sexuality, and (somehow) toys growing in size and coming to uncanny life. Also worth of note for a remarkably chilling alien encounter: a bizarre, almost human shape backtracking on the side of a road at night.

The Deadly Spawn (1983)
Lowest of the low-budgeted, and yet gruesomely fun, Deadly Spawn is a film with the heart in the right place, and some superbly creative effects work.

Ghostbusters (1984)
A witty, hysterical comedy shot the way of an old-school horror, Ghostbusters never fails to entertain — either through the performances or the creative and colourful supernatural effects. Pity that the original final visage of Gozer the Gozerian, a monster to behold, was left to sheets of concept art!

Godzilla (1984)
The king of the monsters makes a thunderous and much welcome return to the darker and more sober roots of the original Honda film, now further imbued with political commentary. A more than solid demonstration that Godzilla can very well carry a film on its own, without the need for another monster to fight with it. Interestingly, this narrative also introduces the idea of ‘giant monster with upscaled parasites’ in the form of the Shockirus.

Gremlins (1984)
A plethora of feisty demons invade a small town in this witty Joe Dante comedy-horror, poking fun at societal materialism — not in case, in a story set in America, during Christmas time. Chris Walas’ puppets also reek with creativity and personality.

Enemy Mine (1985)
A wonderful parable on overcoming racism in what feels like an episode of the original Star Trek series stretched over the length of a theatrical feature. Enemy Mine is often overlooked, but for fans of old-school slow-paced sci-fi, it’s a treat — especially with those Chris Walas aliens.

Fright Night (1985)
Your neighbour is a bloodsucking monster undercover. That’s the premise of this unusual vampire flick, which swiftly combines horror and comedy in a satisfying mixture, with some really inventive creature effects. Malcolm McDowell is a real gem in this.

Lifeforce (1985)
Born from Alien creator Dan O’Bannon and one of the last productions by Cannon Films before their demise. Lifeforce is a surreal experience, going from decrepit bat-like aliens, to energy vampires, to flashes of blue light in the sky of a chaos-coiled London, all connected within an outlandish script that doesn’t seem to have a sense of pretty much anything. Also Patrick Stewart’s first on-screen kiss.

Critters (1986)
Whether or not it is a derivate of Gremlins, Critters packs enough personality and punk attitude to deserve a mention. Between reckless alien bounty hunters and Chiodo-penned toothy monsters, this film is pure fun.

The Fly (1986)
A thorough character study enveloped in a visceral narrative dealing with sexuality and the horror of one’s inner and outer change. Like its predecessor, it is a Frankenstein-type story where creator and creation are made into one, but David Cronenberg adds a fleshy depth the likes of which is likely to never be paralleled. Chris Walas’ gruesome transformation and creature effects are also more than worth a mention.

Aliens (1986)
a quintessential sequel, with perfect stylistic continuity with its predecessor in narrative style, design and photography. It expands upon the foundation of the first one, turning a single horror into a horde of horrors (the original trauma, or fear being amplified with passing time) as well as motherhood (Ripley) against the perversion of motherhood (the Alien mother queen).

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Thinly veiled behind the facade of a musical lies a fantastic, multi-layered narrative concerning greed and the risks of it — especially when one can’t stop feeding their greed, no matter the cost. Both the theatrical and director’s cut are highly enjoyable separately — a pity that the original ending was glued in from the workprint without any professional editing to refine it.

Night of the Creeps (1986)
An underrated, clever combination of horror tropes from the 50s and 80s — part zombie thriller, part alien invasion, with wonderfully grisly special effects that bring its slimy invaders to head-popping life. A forefather to Slither.

The Gate (1987)
In short, a very fun Goosebumps episode turned into a full-length feature, but before Goosebumps was a thing. It features most clever in-camera forced perspective shots and the evergreen stop-motion animation by the master Randall William Cook.

Predator (1987)
This brilliant film is a thematic elaboration as well as subversion of other 80s pulp action and slasher films, beginning as one and ending as the other. The intense atmosphere is helped at by the photography and the real location shooting, the score, and the mind-blowing creature effects — which still look intimately real even after 30 years.

The Monster Squad (1987)
Exploiting on the legacy of The Goonies, this film pits an unlikely band of tiny heroes against Universal’s classic monsters, all aesthetically revamped into very interesting design iterations — delivered by none other than Stan Winston Studio.

Critters 2: The Main Course (1988)
Continuing with the colourful personality of its predecessor, Main Course adds plenty more Critters to the plate and ends with an absurd Critterball consuming everything in its path. Crazy movie!

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Of all the movies in this list, this one is probably the most bizarre (and that is saying a lot). Delightfully blasphemous and clumsily whimsical, Lair is a British horror film with the DNA of a Bollywood spectacle, with the least subtle sexual imagery you will ever see — starting from the titular worm. Lair can also boast would-be Thirteenth Doctor, Peter Capaldi starring as a bagpipe player warding off human-snake vampires.

The Blob (1988)
Worth seeing for the endlessly creative special effects alone, the 80s Blob doesn’t quite have the charm of the original film, but is a fantastic ride for any old school monster movie enthusiast.

Pumpkinhead (1988)
In the tradition of Forbidden Planet, this dark fairy tale concerns a demon born out of the desire for vengeance — an ID monster tearing through a group of unfortunate brats. Boosted by its excellent sense of photography and atmosphere, Pumpkinhead is true hidden gem of 80s horror, penned by Stan Winston in one of his few outings as a director.

The Fly II (1989)
Any sequel to Cronenberg’s The Fly would have immense shoes to fill, and this film of course quite doesn’t do that, distancing itself from the visceral psychoanalysis of the first film and instead reverting to a more straightforward ‘monster in the basement’-type of story. Nevertheless, it is a fun creature feature with glorious creature and gore effects.

Godzilla Vs. Biollante (1989)
An interesting outing in the Godzilla series — one trying to be both an espionage story and the emotional journey of a grieving father. Also worth seeing for what’s arguably the most beautifully realized monster in Godzilla’s immense rogue gallery — Biollante herself.

Leviathan (1989)
Much like 1981 was the year of werewolves, 1989 somehow saw the release of a handful of underwater thrills. Leviathan is one of those and, despite some dead moments, is entertaining enough thanks to a RoboCop-fresh Peter Weller and Stan Winston’s creature effects.

Deepstar Six (1989)
Where Leviathan had RoboCop, this one has Bob Morton, and not only that: it features some interesting miniature effects, a wonderful crustacean beast from the deep, and some very creative character deaths. Recommended for those that found that Leviathan just wasn’t enough.

The Abyss (1989)
As is usual for James Cameron, this film is deeply immersive (!), going from claustrophobic thriller elements to utterly gorgeous fantasy scenarios. The aliens really are something to behold, aptly designed to look like our own dwellers of the depths.

Next: Part 3
Previous: Part 1

About the monster philologist

I'm always bored and monsters were the first thing to entertain me

Posted on 23/02/2020, in Movie Monsters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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