1. KING KONG
(King Kong, 1993)
The King. The Boss. The top banana. Other pretenders try to dethrone him (Japanese publicists claimed Godzilla “makes King Kong look like a midget!”), but the lord of Skull Island tramples them all. He’s a terrifying force of destruction, yet beautifully human. On his first appearance he beats his chest, then looks down in goofy surprise at a screaming Fay Wray. His performance is full of gems: waggling the head of a dead T-Rex: his aggrieved expression at a pricked linger, his pervy tickle game with an under dressed Miss Wray. Forget bloody Tolkien, Peter Jackson this King demands your total devotion.
(Jason And The Argonauts, 1963)
Over 30 years, Ray Harryhausen created innumerable iconic monsters, from the Beast From 20.000 Fathoms to the serpentine Medusa in Clash Of The Titans.
Yet Jason’s metal giant wins out, largely due to the great way he’s set up. As soon as you see him crouched statue-like on the gods’ treasure house you realise what’s going to happen. As the foolish humans approach, you know they’re going to get it. And you want them to. Yet, as the giants head turns and looks down at the thieves with an expression of fixed malevolence, you find yourself with them, thinking. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”
3. The Alien
It’s the tremble of movement in the alien egg. It’s the bloody eruption from John Hurt’s chest. It’s the fingernail-screech and Veronica Cartwright’s, “Ah. God.” It’s the calculated glimpses. It’s the bleeping Pac-Man on the monitor. It’s the sleek torpedo jawline and piston dentistry. It’s dismembered android Ian Holm saying calmly, “I admire its purity.” It’s the tail caressing your leg. It’s the last emergence in the strobe-light of the escape capsule. But it’s not the rubber thing bouncing round in space at the end, which just looks silly.
4. THE T-REX
(Jurassic Park, 1993)
Spielberg’s dinosaurs are so over familiar that their first impact is impossible to recapture. Yet, even with the initial wonder gone, the bravura showmanship remains.
From the trembling of the cups of water, it is a white-knuckle sequence fully comparable to Jaws, only with a monster whose realisation lives up to the build-up.
Spielberg plays the T-Rex attack relatively slow, music- free (barring the dino’s tenor bellow and the twanging of breaking ’Security fences) and extremely scary, placing us with two kids staring up into the monsters gullet.
5. The Thing
(The Thing, 1982)
Every little piece is an individual animal,” rasps Kurt Russell, contemplating an alien invader that turns body-horror into performance art But even he can’t do justice to the extraordinary organism that, following Alien, trashes all sense of bodily integrity Orifices open in solid-seeming flesh to chomp off hands; a man’s head becomes a bulging balloon leaking torrents of gore; screaming dogs are fused into a dripping alien new born that shoots out revolting red tentacles. At times the Thing seems as much vegetable as animal, thrashing intestines resembling spaghetti or spinach. Oh, and it might be your best friend……
(LOTR: The Return Of The King, 2003)
“…Bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow, for all living thing were her food and her vomit darkness. The spider bitch- queen of the Return Of The King is built up in marvellous style, as a terrified Elijah Wood finds himself: lost in a tangle of cobwebbed cave. We think it’s a cop-out when he escapes Shelob with seeming ease Then, just when we’re forgotten her, Shelob gives silent chase, looming hugely, hideously above the unsuspecting Hobbit before her dripping stinger drops down behind him (audience reaction: “Eeewww!”) to administer a poisoned coup de grace.
7. THE METALUNA MUTANT
(This Island Earth, 1955)
The 1950s sci-fi film cycle threw up a menagerie of wonders: the giant ants of Them; the id monster of Forbidden Planet; The Creature From The Black Lagoon and (ahem) the gorilla suit-diving helmet combo constituting Robot Monster. But for a ‘50s sci-fi archetype, the briefly-seen, brain-baring Metaluna Mutant (named after its dying home world) perfectly evokes classic pulp magazine covers outrageous, ludicrous, yet haunting in a way only a well-played Theremin can express. The mutant costume cost a then-hefty $24,000. Both the Metaluna Mutant and Robot Monster cameo in the recent Looney Tunes: Back In Action.
By chance, the late ‘80s saw two unrelated Japanese films with grotesquely transforming antiheroes : named Tetsuo. Shim a Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, about a man lose flesh turns to metal, was a cult favourite. The real icon, though, was Katsuhiro Otomo’s violent animation Akira, which added manage movie to the English lexicon. At the climax, teen rebel Tetsuo’s cosmic powers cause him to bloat into an unbelievable giant, his multi-coloured flesh seething and liquefying as he regresses into a huge baby, puking to oblivion. Body-horror for the troubled teenager, and a triumphant showcase of the animator’s art.
9. THE ‘SKINNED’ WEREWOLF
(The Company Of Wolves, 1984)
The early ’80s were a renaissance for the werewolf, with effects technology taking them far beyond their yak-haired predecessors.
There were impressive beasts in The Howling and An American Werewolf In London, and Michael Jackson had a turn in Thriller, but the scariest lycanthrope figured in Neil Jordan’s Freudian fairy tale. The Company Of Wolves. Stephen Rea is the Irish travelling man who’s hairy on the inside, bloodily tearing his own face away in rage at the faithless bride. Horribly, his human screams continue long after the skinned scarlet thing he becomes has lost all semblance of humanity. Then the wolf’s muzzle pushes out…
10. THE TROLL
(Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, 2001)
Christmas 2001 saw the battle of the CGI trolls, served up in the first instalments of rival fantasy franchises Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings. Fellowship’s cave-troll battle in Moria is exciting, hut the troll itself lacks personality and the high-speed staging leaves you confused about how big it actually is. More effective was the pea-brained specimen in Harry Potter, with its ludicrously small head, mouse ears, pale beer-belly and warty elephant thighs. Its idiot expressions are broad hut convincingly human, while it’s still a credible threat, quite capable of using its club to brain a bossy schoolgirl wizard.