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5 Creature Features That Make You Think

Great Inspiring Creature Features

By Kurt Amacker     November 12, 2010


5 Creature Features That Make You Think
© Bob Trate

 

The phrase "creature feature" is a bit overarching. A lot of horror movies have monsters or even hoards of the damn things. So, what separates a "creature feature" from a plain old horror movie? Well, horror movies can deal with frightening things found in society, or the mind, or science, or nature, or whatever. The scares can come from an invisible force (The Entity), a flesh-eating disease (Cabin Fever), or latent sexual deviancy (Twilight). There's no rule that every horror movie has a monster. But, a lot of them do. The best monster movies have an iconic and definitive creature with a clever name and an unforgettable face (or faces). And like any good movie, they should leave you with something to chew on--not a severed limb, but a thought or an idea. For instance, perhaps you'll ask, "Was the monster was really the bad guy?" Or, "Was the creature really an expression of post-war fears about atomic annihilation?" Or maybe, "Can I get my 10 bucks back right now?" In any case, any creature feature can show a half-ass monster on the tear. A good one should make you think. Here are five that will leave your brain with something other than a mutation.
 
 
5. Predator

Great Monster Movies

 
Everybody loves Godzilla, but everyone loves the Predator more. We've all seen the original movie 150 times. A special forces team is sent to Guatemala to track a downed helicopter carrying a presidential cabinet minister. Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) leads the team, with a CIA agent (Carl Weathers) in tow. When they get on the ground, they find a previous team that was sent in--found skinned alive and hanging from trees. It might be the Communist rebels (backed by the Russian advisors at their camp), or it could be something else--something not human. But, how does it make you think? First, Predator closely parallels Beowulf (the old story, not the Robert Zemeckis film)--but it's not as obvious as you'd think. The Predator is more like Grendal's mother with the rebels being more like Grendal himself (just read a summary online, please, so I don't have to repeat it). But, yes, Dutch, is Beowulf. It's that awesome. However, there's a bit more to chew on in Predator. It's endurance should make that obvious. It's cut and shot to maximize the tension. It's not always apparent these days, given that everyone has seen the Predator all over the place.  But, watch it again--and pretend you've never seen those beady eyes and those mandibles. It's really damn scary. And, you can't help but notice that all of the unit's modern weapons quickly succumb to the Predator's superior technology. That seems obvious enough, but it's only when Dutch reverts back to something primal that he beats the alien hunter. Truly, the toys don't matter. It's the animal substance--the intestinal fortitude--that makes a man. Predator may not be subtle, but it forcefully reminds you what makes a man at the end of the day--the ability and the drive to stand up, even against the impossible.
 
 
4. Splice (2010)

Great Monster Movies

 
Every best-of list has to have all of the classic examples, and a contemporary example or two thrown in. Splice explores the ethics of human cloning, organ growing, abortion, and the very definition of life as we know it. After a disastrous public demonstration involving lab-grown organisms (with lots of blood and death), Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, respectively)--two scientists, romantically involved--secretly introduce human DNA into their experiments. Quickly, it grows into a new life-form. They dub the creature Dren ("nerd" backwards) and try to raise it in secret, eventually taking it to Elsa's childhood farm. The inescapable (and, for most, uncomfortable) chain of sex, birth, adolescence, puberty, and, again, sex is explored in unflinching detail. Dren grows from a cute sort-of human to an unmanageable monster--complete with a stinger on her tale and wings. Then, she changes into a male. Shit gets real--and real fast. The make-you-think aspects are pretty obvious. Dren never asked to be born. She (or it) is an experiment that should've never occurred. But once she/it was created, killing her (can we just say her?)--even as a zygote--raises huge ethical quandaries. And then, once Clive and Elsa suspect she may be dangerous, they're in too deep to just kill Dren outright. They've raised her like a child and neither wants to let her go. But by that time, it's too late. Dren has become a teenage monster in the midst of the nastiest puberty anyone's ever seen. And, Clive and Elsa have to deal with the fallout--with only themselves to blame.
 
 
3. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Great Monster Movies

 
Most critics label The Creature from the Black Lagoon a simple environmental fable. It seems pretty obvious on the surface, though--a bunch of scientists brave a remote corner of the Amazon in search of fossils connected to a skeletal claw. They find the mysterious Black Lagoon, complete with the Gill Man, who stalks them and kidnaps the one woman in the party. But, it's not really his fault because they shouldn't have been there in the first place, blah, blah, blah. Creature is a lot smarter than that. There's a bit of a Freudian thing going on, whereby the scientists (mostly concentrated on the surface) are plagued by a primal force from below, driven by instinct and unbridled sexual drive. The fight between the id and the ego has never been more apparent. But, you can go for an even less obvious interpretation. The Lagoon represents the vast and perilous unknown that forever confronts science. There's a boatload of scientists floating on top of a mysterious, nearly impenetrable pool. Science seeks to learn, but sometimes the things outside of our understanding can be terrifying. The Gill Man is the chaos--and the potential danger--of the unformed and unknown world beyond our own--one that is all around us. However you look at it, it makes you think.
 
 
2. Gojira (1954)

Great Monster Movies

 
Everybody loves Godzilla. We can't get enough of rubber monster suits trashing miniature cities in sequel after sequel . But, it all started somewhere more respectable than Saturday afternoon kitsch. The first film is a darker affair that expresses Japanese post-war fears of nuclear attacks. We can be snooty and call it Gojira instead of Godzilla, because the Japanese and American versions are pretty damn different. The American version edited Raymond Burr into a bunch of scenes to act as a narrator for American audiences. It didn't wreck the movie, but it was an  unnecessary revision to the film. But, the original Gojira is available now, and the film still resonates. Its dense night footage hides some of the special effects shortcomings in the shadows (though in a couple of shots, the Big G looks like Cookie Monster), and the aftermath of the attacks looks like, well, a bomb went off. Whatever your opinion of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no culture escapes something like that unscathed. That trauma frequently manifests itself in art. Gojira is an unsettling look at a country standing up to an impossible monster--from a country that endured something just as bad.. And, in the end, only a scientist prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice can stop the creature--until the sequels, of course.
 
 
1. King Kong (1933)

Great Monster Movies

 
Yeah, we all know how great King Kong is. But, people have been trying to justify the Beauty and the Beast parallel since the film came out. But Maniacs, in my humble opinion, it isn't there. People have said that for years, and it's obvious in Peter Jackson's way-unappreciated remake. But, watch the original again. As Ann Darrow, Fay Wray screams in every scene with Kong. She evinces nothing but terror. Never once does she express sympathy for him. Where King Kong makes you think is the way Carl Denham and his crew treat the poor ape. The natives of Skull Island worship him as a god. As soon as they see the lily white Ann Darrow, they want her as a sacrifice. We can agree that there are some ethically questionable religious traditions among the indigenous peoples of the island. But, Denham and his men aren't any better. They kidnap Kong and put him on display as a spectacle. And, it blows up in their faces. Kong goes, well, apeshit. A bunch of planes shoot the poor primate down from the Empire State Building. The point is that Denham and everyone that paid to see Kong are just as bad as the natives. Kong is just an animal. He didn't ask to be what he is. On his island, he was contained by a wall and essentially harmless. But, Denham and his men had to kidnap him and turn him into entertainment. And, people suffered and an innocent movie monster died for it.
 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 14
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FrozenFear 11/12/2010 8:30:35 AM

I know it's a video game, but how about the stable of creatures in Shadow of the Colossus?

monkeyfoot 11/12/2010 9:58:44 AM

I haven't seen Splice so I can't say anything on that front but excellent choice of monsters who have stood in as metaphors. You are right about Kong. The love thing was all on the Eighth Wonder's side not Ann's.

You forgot the metaphor that is sometimes brought up about the film. A tribe of black people (Fijian/Melanesian) desiring the first white woman they have seen as does the metaphor for the ultimate scary black man Kong himself ("Yeah, blondes are pretty scarce around here!"). Its often been brought up that this was an expression of white society's racial and sexual fears of African-Americans at the time.

Speaking of King Kong, I'm surprised Mania hasn't put up news of the death of 1976 Kong producer (and ten trillion other things) Dino De Laurentiis. My condolences to his whole family and thanks for the great movie memories. 

krathwardroid 11/12/2010 12:22:27 PM

I've lost count how many times I've seen Predator, but even to this day it still resonates with me the same way. Just as the first time I watched the Predator remove his helmet, it is still impressive to watch. 

And since we mentioned the Predator, doesn't the first Alien movie make you think too? 

violator14 11/12/2010 1:24:34 PM

Hey, u guys HAVE to watch Splice. Just caught it recently on Netflix and that movie is legit, .... and pretty twisted.

samurai1138 11/12/2010 4:13:24 PM

I like your thoughts on Kong, but think maybe part of the point was missed. While its true that Denham and co. were essentially to blame for Kong's demise, it was Kong's lust for the beauty that put him in that position to begin with. Like so many of us, he would have been alright if only he had settled for a nice local girl instead of chasing the smokin' hot babe that was clearly out of his league. Lesson learned I guess.

samurai1138 11/12/2010 4:14:17 PM

Of course, Kong's albino son makes you wonder just how far with Ann he really got. Hmmmm.....

DarthoftheDead 11/12/2010 4:33:03 PM

Everybody love's Predator more than Godzilla???? C'mon guy's, really, I'm the only one who think's that that statement belong's in the Bizarro Zone.

Let's see....

Godzilla - 20 odd film's, god know's how many fan's who are almost as rabid as S.W. fan's.

Predator - 3 film's (5 if you want to count the A-vs-P movie's, which I've noticed on this site that alot of people really SEEM to dislike) which I've also noticed on this very site that alot of people really SEEM to dislike the 2nd and 3rd one. 

This very article has Predator listed at #5 and Godzilla at #2.

And no one else is gonna point out this little flaw of logic and defend the big G-man.........

DKnight0212 11/12/2010 6:30:48 PM

Splice makes you think huh?  Think too hard is more like it. Its simple, Science kills, the end. But then Jarassic Park taught us that .

3rdSBS6 11/13/2010 3:50:07 AM

 A nice addition to this list should have been John Carpenter's "The Thing". I am rather surprised it didnt make it, really. Nice enough list though. (=

3rdSBS6 11/13/2010 3:54:07 AM

@monkeyfoot

  I saw that on the news too. Dino De Laurentiis brought to my world, you might laugh and snicker, "Flash Gordon" I loved that film when I was a kid...still fun to watch with the sound truned up during the airship assault by the Hawk men...lots of fun! (=

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