Wednesday, October 21, 2009

5 Monsters to Love

Seeing as how we are approaching Halloween, it seems only fitting that we take a look at five great monsters. Back in the day (whenever that was) monsters had a certain style. Not like today, with all these serial-killer inspired mad slashers like 'Jason' and "Freddy' running around. If you ask me, those guys come a little too close to reality. No, when I was growing up, monsters were distinctly cool and fun, and sometimes, scary. There's a lot of great monsters to choose from - the whole Universal Studios pantheon has to be in the top echelon - but for today I'll focus on five of my personal "monsters to love".

1. Frankenstein's Monster (as portrayed by Boris Karloff). I guess this is the monster every kid wished was his best friend. Despite his appearance - and occasional murderous fits - we could tell that he was a tortured soul, loved by none, misunderstood by all. Karloff imbued the Monster with real emotions; watch the scene in Frankenstein where he accidentally drowns the little girl. The Monster is absolutely horrified at what has happened. Later (after Karloff had stopped playing the Monster) in movies like Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, and House of Dracula , he came across as almost a robot, displaying little expression. But Karloff's classic version certainly inspired such later creations as the Hulk. The Frankenstein Monster was the original 'misunderstood' anti-hero.

2. King Kong (1933). After many years of seeing this classic film in a badly cut version on TV, I got to see the original cut a few years ago on the latest DVD release. It was a shocker: I had never known how incredibly vicious and brutal Kong was! TV censors had cut out many scenes of 'bad behavior' by the giant ape. I had no idea, for example, that he actually ate some people! My view of Kong changed quite a bit - I still felt sorry for the beast, but he really did need to be put down!Regardless of my change in attitude, seeing Kong still sends a shiver of excitement down my spine.

3. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (three films from 1954 to 1955 ). The Gill Man - aquatic missing link! The last of the Universal Horror stars. The Creature just has such a great look - I'm still amazed that such a complicated suit could have been built back in the 50s! Not only that, but it works just fine underwater too. The primary appeal of the Creature for me is visual - I just can't take my eyes off of him when I see him. The fact that the gills on the side of his head moved was awful cool too! I never felt like he had much of a personality, although the idea that he was the last of his species did make me feel some pity for the poor thing. But honestly, all I really wanted was to see him throwing guys around and beating the crap out of them! And that was one thing the Creature did very well.

4. The Thing from Another World (1951). A marauding alien plant-man vs. heroic American joes! This is a great sci fi film, probably one of the very best produced in the 1950s. Although we see very little of the actual "Thing", his presence looms over the film in every scene. The sense of fear and paranoia builds with every minute. Our heroes are confined to their arctic base, trapped with the Thing. One of the most disturbing scenes involves the discovery of seedlings in the greenhouse. Again, the Thing is not directly seen but his menace is felt. When we finally get a real look at the alien, he himself is not so horrific, but by then the fear has grown so strong it makes him seem more frightening. I like the John Carpenter remake too, but the monster in the original has a lot more personality.

A very similar film from 1958 was It! The Terror from Beyond Space, which featured a spaceship crew threatened by a stowaway alien monster. Although an entertaining film, The Thing is definitely the better made of the two. It! is now best remembered by many as being one of the influences on the 1979 film, Alien.

5.Count Orlok from Nosferatu (1922). An odd choice I suppose, but this silent-era vampire really scared the heck out of me! I recall seeing this movie -which for some reason, was being shown on the local PBS station! - at a sleep-over at my friend Pam's house. Why two 10 year olds would think it was a good thing to spend the day looking at the Time-Life Encyclopedia of the Unexplained, and then stay up late and watch a silent vampire movie is beyond me. But we did, and when creepy Count Orlok started rising from his coffin, every sound outside became a 19th century european ghoul about to get us! The name of the actor who played Orlok was supposedly Max Schreck -"schreck" in German means "fear". I can say unequivocally that he earned that name. Certainly the most frightening vampire I ever saw.


Doug said...

Karen --

Nosferatu was on Turner Classic Movies, Sunday 10-25-09! I didn't watch it, but knew you'd want to know that it's alive and well!


Karen said...

Hopefully it is still frightening small children everywhere. I can't say I'm sorry I missed it -it still creeps me out!

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