Undefended: Monsters

This year, in the spirit of Halloween, FilmFisher’s writers picked their favorite movie monsters – though they were given leeway to define the word “monster” as loosely as they wanted. Chime in with your own selections in the comments section!

A.C. Gleason

The greatest movie monster of all time is the original H.R. Giger alien in Alien. But I’m not gonna put it on this list, someone else will, I’m sure.

In no particular order:

  1. Arthur Denker & Todd Bowden, Apt Pupil (Bryan Singer, 1998)
  2. Pennywise, IT: Chapter 1 (Andy Muschietti, 2017)
  3. Hellboy, Hellboy (Guillermo del Toro, 2004)
  4. “Calvinism” or “Puritanism”, The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
  5. Drugs, Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

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William Connor Devlin

I decided to tackle this by listing the five best types of cinematic monsters, using the horror-centric definition that anything distinctly, perversely inhuman therefore is monstrous (and all the films listed therein are ones I consider exceptional works of horror).

In no particular order:
  1. The Hypnotist – Often recognized cinematic horror’s “first monster,” the hypnotist remains frightening for the insidious way they take control of our bodies, actions, and minds. First brought onto the scene with 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it’s no surprise Jordan Peele also tapped into the hypnotist for his modern horror stablemate, Get Out (2017).
  2. The Vampire – Boundary-breaking in all the most frightening ways, the vampire got its start with F.W. Murnau’s deliciously gothic Nosferatu (1922) and evolved into something disturbingly seductive as it moved from castles to the suburbs (seen best in 1985’s Fright Night and 2009’s Let the Right One In.)
  3. The Zombie – Brought to vivid cinematic life by George A. Romero in the horror masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968), the zombie proved itself an undead vessel to explore deep-seated sociopolitical fears. No matter the decade, this monster has been the perfect metaphor for many anxieties, from the punk rock zombies in Return of the Living Dead (1985) to the frightfully fast runners in 28 Days Later (2002).
  4. The Psycho Killer – No other horror genre better explores the fear of being a teenager and encourages that its audience can find self-actualization. The slasher genre’s most memorable monsters are Leatherface from Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Michael Myers from Halloween (1978), Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Ghostface from Scream (1996).
  5. The Shapeshifter – Few things are more frightening than being unable to rely on the validity of the flesh or to combat a monster with no real face, best typified in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), but also explored immensely well in Under the Skin (2014), The Fly (1986), and even An American Werewolf in London (1981).

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Timothy Lawrence

  1. For years, I laughed at the thought that The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963) could be scary, but for a few weeks after I saw it, I eyed birds with a certain wariness whenever I went outside.
  2. Mother and children in The Brood (1979), which is likely the most frightening film of David Cronenberg’s generally frightening career.
  3. As far as enormous, city-stomping monsters go, Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014) is my favorite.
  4. Davy Jones of Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (2006-2007) remains the best, most human, most tragic monster of the CGI era. Thanos need not apply.
  5. With all due respect to the Xenomorph, The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) is probably the grossest and most terrifying alien monster I have seen in a film.

Bonus: Albert Brooks with a sharp object in Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011).

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Joel Bourgeois

  1. Time as experienced in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)
  2. Man as experienced in Bambi (David Hand, James Algar, et. al., 1942)
  3. Rev. Harry Powell from Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
  4. The Shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
  5. The Xenomorph from Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)

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Jackson De Vight

In no particular order:

  1. Jabba the Hutt from George Lucas’ Return of the Jedi (1983) – Vice embodied.
  2. Yubaba from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001) – Miyazaki is unparalleled in his ability to write and draw characters and monsters which exist in the uncanny valley but also make you think and feel things beyond discomfort!
  3. The Pale Man from Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labrynth (2006) – Horrifying. Compelling. Visceral. Brilliant.
  4. Sully and Mike from Pete Doctor’s Monsters Inc. (2001) – Unforgettable characters – some of the most human non-humans ever put on film, in an era where hair was considered remarkably difficult to animate.
  5. The Balrog from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This is the best combination of technical and screenwriting for a monster in the ‘animalistic’ category I can think of.

9-Yabba, man!

Robert Brown

  1. Jonathan Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
  2. The board game in Jumanji (1995)
  3. Judge Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
  4. Carol in Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
  5. The Horde in Split (2017) and Glass (2019)
Timothy Lawrence

A graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at BIOLA University, Timothy Lawrence teaches great books through Emmaus Classical Academy in Southern California. He writes essays and fiction and counts the Coen Brothers and George Lucas among his personal heroes.

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