With Godzilla stomping back into cinemas in two days time, here is my list of nine great giant film monsters:
1. The Tusseladd Troll
It is a typical trait of monster movies, that the tension builds immediately before the first reveal of the creature. This is certainly the case with Ándre Øvredal’s Norwegian film Troll Hunter but then, when the first of the beasts lumbers out of the woods, it looks totally ridiculous.
It’s about twenty feet tall with a crusty grey elongated torso and gangly arms like someone has put Peter Crouch on a rack and covered him with plaster of Paris. Balanced on its skinny shoulders are three heads, each with the face of Mr. Magoo. Yet it is still scary as it looms toward the students who have followed the mysterious hunter Hans, hoping to find an explanation for a series of bear killings.
It is a great movie that can use the same school of monster design as Sweetums from The Muppets and get away with it. This first troll sets the tone that allows them to do so.
2. Mr Stay Puft the Marshmallow Man
Clearly though, Troll Hunter was not the first film to give us a gargantuan monster with a comedy face.
Demonic god Gozer seems like a pretty intense girl but she clearly has a sense of humour when she picks the image of the marshmallow man out of Ray Stantz’s head and has a great idea for how to make the character more intimidating.
The sight of the jolly white sailor stamping his way down Central Park West like a parade balloon of Caspar the Friendly Ghost gone bad is just brilliant. The whole idea of taking the tropes of a hundred old Hollywood monster movies and giving them a totally unprecedented twist is genius and was instantly such an iconic image that it could never be repeated with anything like the same success.
They tried to top it in Ghostbusters 2 with The Statue of Liberty but that didn’t work anywhere near as well.
3. The T-Rex
Dinosaurs have enjoyed great moments on the silver screen since the early days with artists such as Ray Harryhausen pioneering special effects so that they didn’t have to glue plastic fins to lizards anymore.
There may not be any of Harryhausen’s creations on this list but his influence runs right through it.
It was Jurassic Park though, that properly brought the prehistoric reptiles back to life. CGI creatures and characters are totally common place now but in 1993 it was as though they really had cloned them and put them in a movie.
Of course, a good director doesn’t just throw a Tyrannosaurus Rex at the screen and expect that to be enough, no matter how real it looks. It is everything that happens around our favourite Theropod that makes her scenes so great. It’s the bit with the goat, it’s the bit with the glass of water, it’s the bit later with the car up a tree. The greatest moment comes at the end when, even though the action has been handed over to those clever raptor girls, the T-Rex comes back in and shows everyone who’s boss.
Digby the Biggest Dog in the World was a great favourite of mine when I was a kid. Imagine my excitement, a few years ago, when I stumbled across a DVD copy for £4.99 in a Garden Centre. I brought it home and tentatively put it in the disc drawer, nervous that it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered.
It totally holds up. It is basically the story of an Old English Sheepdog who grows to the size of Wembley Staduim and it stars Jim Dale and Spike Milligan. It’s brilliant.
I picked up a copy of One of Dinosaurs is Missing a little while ago too but I haven’t been brave enough to try that one yet.
5. The Balrog
The first Middle Earth film is still the best. The beginning in The Shire is really twee but that only serves to emphasise the incredible action and drama that follows.
It is inside The Mines of Moria that things really kick off. Having escaped a battle with a cave troll and an exhilarating avalanche of orcs, the fellowship come face to fiery face with the Balrog. Stepping right off the page of Alan Lee’s incredible book illustrations, Durin’s Bane is a breathtaking beast, a masterpiece of design and visual effects. I’m sorry Benedict Cumberbatch but a mere dragon just doesn’t compare.
6. The Kraken
There are a number of cinematic Krakens but the one of which I speak comes from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
You could argue that this sea monster represents the point at which the franchise took a turn for the worse (Han would have shot it first) and certainly by the time the big squid spits Jack Sparrow up again in film 3 the whole thing has disappeared up its own mythology. It all just looks so cool though.
The special effects in the film are fantastic and the Kraken is simply a thing of beauty. The moment Captain Jack Sparrow faces off against it is also possibly the single coolest moment of Johnny Depp’s entire career. “Hallo beastie!”
7. The Rancor
The original Star Wars trilogy is full of references to the rich history of films that came before it with the aerial dog fights, the dusty border town saloons, the corrupt rulers, the troubled lovers, the comedy double acts, the gun fights and the dashing sword play. This is why it represents the point at with Hollywood grew up, looked back at what it had achieved in life and smiled.
The Rancor, living under Jabba’s sofa, homages all the old monster pics. CGI can be shiny but this super imposed puppet has more charm in its little finger than anything created in a computer.
Certainly the effects have not dated well. When the creature consumes the Gamorrean Pig Guard it looks like Cookie Monster eating a biscuit but it doesn’t matter. Even George Lucas loves its creakiness and he is a legendary perfectionist. You know if he didn’t he’d have just pixel painted a new version over the top.
8. King Kong
I’ve tried not to just go with the obvious choices here but the original big monkey has to be on the list.
King Kong may look and move like a hairy version of Morph but he is a true icon of the silver screen. Clearly the film has been remade twice but neither are a match for the 1933 version. It is like giving the Venus De Milo arms and a pretty dress, I know it isn’t quite right but it is a historical piece of art and it is perfect the way it is.
9. The Mako Shark
The genetically engineered smart shark in Deep Blue Sea is not as large as the rest of the contemporary titans mentioned here but what it lacks in size it makes up for in comedy timing.
Dr. Susan McCallister has been secretly increasing the brain capacity of sharks on a floating mid ocean lab in an attempt to cure Alzheimer’s disease. This of course makes the fish clever and they respond by escaping and laying waste to the facility and several of the crew.
It’s okay though because Samuel L. Jackson is there and he is taking no crap and bringing the team together. He gives one of those rousing speeches that we so love him for:
“You’ve seen how bad things can get and how quickly they can get that way. Well, they can get a whole lot worse. So we’re not going to fight anymore. Were going to pull together and find a way to get out of here.”
At which point said Mako jumps out of the water and eats him.
I know the film has its critics but I kind of love it.