Monday, January 10, 2011

The Descent of Monster Movies

Part 2 of my Horror Movie breakdown thing.

Monster movies are rough. What constitutes a monster you ask?

a legendary animal combining features of animal and human form or having the forms of various animals in combination, as a centaur, griffin, or sphinx.
any creature so ugly or monstrous as to frighten people.
any animal or human grotesquely deviating from the normal shape, behavior, or character.
a person who excites horror by wickedness, cruelty, etc.
any animal or thing huge in size.
an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure, as from marked malformation or the absence of certain parts or organs.
a grossly anomalous fetus or infant, esp. one that is not viable.
anything unnatural or monstrous.

That is what the internet has to say. So I am going to go with that.
In regards to monster movies I want to go with the idea that the monster is the central Antagonist, if the monster is the Protagonist it is generally a character piece and isn't really a horror film. This is another good example of how lines get blurred and the genres cross. I mean there are man made monsters, magic monsters, space monsters, and just monsters so again this is hard to really do correctly but I am going to give it a shot.

11. Mimic -
I saw this movie once when I was a kid and it scared me. So it gets honorable mention. Mira Sorvino creates a new kind of cockroach thing to help create a cure for this disease that is killing a bunch of children, then it gets released into the city sewers and evolves like 1000 time faster than expected and starts killing people. It generates limbs that when put together over it's face it looks like a human and its also really tall. This is a good example of a man made monster, science comes back to haunt us and is part of our downfall etc. etc. etc.

10.Tremors -
Campy. Awesome. I love Bacon and this is classic Bacon. There is a good amount of mystery as to what the monsters look like for part of the movie and as to what is going on, I also like that it takes place in a small town. Its really scary to think that you can't touch the ground. Don't get off the bed because the monsters will get you, don't step on the red tiles at the mall because they are lava. Its a base primal fear for some reason.

9. Hammer Films-
I would be remiss if I didn't include these, but I am going to lump them together. I have a problem with Movies that are dated and don't work anymore being anything other than classics. Its hard for me to accept something as the "best of" if I don't enjoy watching it anymore. Also most of them have the Monsters as the main characters not the baddies. Dracula is a little of both but The Wolfman and Frankenstein (Particularly Frankenstein) focus on misunderstood monsters. The Creature movies less so. HOWEVER, they did set the ground work for every monster movie, for better or worse, that followed.

8. Gremlins-
Those little guys were fucking brutal. I mean they really fucked things up. Now I think of this movie primarily as a comedy but it does get scary and its very rare that you get a posse of monsters rather than just one. I think that is what I like. That is why I like Zombies the fact that there is more than one, they can help each other out in wrecking havoc. Gizmo is cute and he helps out too. THere is a nice little romance in there too.

7. It-
This movie is best example of what I hate about Stephen King. He has an idea. It is really scary. There is some human drama in there. And then it turns out to just be some big monster that doesn't have anything to do with anything.
Pennywise = Scary and helped many of my friends believe that clowns are actually scary, this movie made that fear trendy.
Giant Spider that can only be killed with a piece of silver from a sling shot = dumb.
Anyway, Pennywise is definitely a monster and is definitely scary.

6. Brotherhood of the Wolf -
I really like this movie but a lot of people hate on it. It starts great, There is a long mystery of who and or what the monster is, There is a nice gothic classic romantic tone to the whole thing. It is sincerely horrifying at times and drags on just the right amount for suspense to take hold.

5. Slither -
Oh man, This movie shouldn't be as good as it is. If you watch the trailer you assume that it is going to be stupid and a big budget B movie. Here is the thing is it is a low budget A movie. Michael Rooker is awesome and so is Elizabeth Banks. Nathan Fillion is perfect for the leading man, and I don't even care about the dumb space story. There are some truly grotesque moments that pull on heartstrings. Wonderful human interactions and again plays on base and primal fears. Slugs and Slime. People don't like slime. I mean who doesn't flip out when seaweed touches them. HP Lovecraft knew it. The other fear is being possessed by some creature or having something happen to you internally that alters how you look and what you feel. Think about tapeworms, gross.

4. Monsters Inc. -
The monsters are the protagonists. That is easy to overlook because they are also the villains. I like it when new worlds and mythos are created, particularly if they explain something that we already know and except but never explored. Pixar has some wonderful way of making me care, a lot, about all of there characters I am always drawn into their world and feel real danger and excitement for everyone involved.

3. The Host-
Another foreign film on this list. I wonder if that means anything.... Anyway, I didn't really want to see this but went to the theatre with a buddy of mine. Pleasantly surprised. So often what happens nowadays is that directors will use the Jaws format and we will see very little of the creature and then at the end there will be a reveal where we get to see it in its horrifying entirety. The problem is that isn't horrifying. It is either so detailed that we are curious about how it works, or we don't see enough of it and we want to know what it is and how it works, or we haven't been set up for it, or it is bad CGI and we don't believe it exists. The Host somehow does all of these things right. We see a lot of the creature, a lot of it, and maybe that is why it works. We see so much of it that we become desensitized to it and then learn to accept it. Also I like that it is about a family that just wants to be together and be happy. What a good group to fight off a monster.

2. Cloverfield -
This is a gem of a movie. One of the best 100 movies of all time along with #1 on this list. Godzilla and his pals are not on this list because they are not scary, they aren't horror films. Monsters yes, but not really scary. They are just so grandiose that I never get scared. Big wide shots show monsters battling and make them more like brawl movies with a bunch of destruction. And even as a four year old I didn't believe them.
Moving on, see the monster attack from street level, looking up not at. This makes the attack more relatable. We also spend like 20 minutes getting to know the characters intimately, their ins and outs and motivations outside of survival so we feel for them. The monster is just the backdrop for the human psyche under duress and is more of a catalyst than an antagonist. Also small bugs fall off of it and are scary as shit. We don't really get the full story of the attack, it is limited to what a small group of characters experience and that level of intimacy is what makes it horrifying. I love the view from a handheld, if you don't get motion sickness from it don't think of it as a gimmick but a wonderfully executed storytelling device that has only worked here and in Blair Witch.
Also, TJ Miller steals the movie.

1. The Descent -
To reiterate this is one of the greatest movies of all time. The crawlers are the most terrifying creatures to be created in a long time. So close to what humans would be without civilization. You just know that there is no way to stop them, they will keep coming faster and stronger than before. But the brilliant part of this story is that there are two things going on. Yes there are some crazy monsters attacking our heroines but they are also trapped in a cave. Claustrophobia. Everyone suffers from it at some point in time. Especially if it is in a strange place. They even list all of the problems that can occur from spelunking at the beginning. The lighting and camera work are spot on and add an air of uncertainty as to what is going to happen next.
I like how the cast is all ladies. I don't know why. Maybe because gender wars don't come into play and they are all fully capable of handling the situation...well sort of. But seriously who would be. It is brilliant in its simplicity. Characters want to get from point A to point B and there are monsters in their way. True there is some personal shit going down that gets in the way, but i don't really care about any of that. Although it doesn't ruin the movie, it does sort of ruin the ending. The theatrical ending I was here in the US was great. The unrated DVD, and I think the UK release ending is not as good. It is unnecessary and brings up an idea that was never touched throughout the rest of the film. Other than that the movie is perfect, and that is clearly something that is based on the, release money making dvd lost in translation type things that happen today.

Thats it for now.

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