In the 21st Century, we’ve seen the monster movie experimented with and brought back to life several times, and one of the films responsible for this renaissance was Matt Reeves’ found-footage style monster/horror flick Cloverfield. The 2014 American Godzilla did something unprecedented for the series in focusing more on the characters and human element of the story more so than any previous Godzilla movie had.
Cloverfield has a similar concept; it tries to make the experience as immersive and realistic as possible – the premise being that one of the main characters is using a camera to film this attack on New York city as it happens, and as his friends and him try to survive. This technique works brilliantly for a monster movie because the audience is kept in the dark for most of the film.
We only get brief glimpses of the monster, we never get its origin story, and we don’t have any information about what’s going elsewhere. The found-footage genre is a love-or-hate concept, but most agree that it works wonders for what Cloverfield was trying to accomplish, and the film ranks among the most creative executions of a kaiju film.
4. Pacific Rim
Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Japanese kaiju films as well as the monster movies of Ray Harryhausen brought us one of the most epic and massive summer movies in recent memory. Unlike Cloverfield or the 2014 American Godzilla, Pacific Rim cuts right to the chase – the Jaegers-(giant robots controlled by humans on the inside)-on-kaiju fights are what you pay to see, and they are what you get.
It may lack the restraint of the latest Godzilla film, and because of that it also lacks the political commentary that many of the best monster movies are all about. The film more than makes up for it in the monster category however, with many uniquely designed kaiju, each with their own personality and fighting abilities.
Pacific Rim is a blast, and unlike the Michael Bay destruction-porn which its premise lends comparison to, Guillermo del Toro actually knows how to shot action scenes of this scale properly, and unlike in Bay’s Transformers movies, there’s actually a lot of genuine care and artistry to be found within Pacific Rim. Del Toro put it best in calling his film a “beautiful poem to giant monsters”.
3. Gamera trilogy (Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, Gamera: Attack of Legion, Gamera: Revenge of Iris)
The 90’s Gamera trilogy gives the monster a much needed update – here Gamera is back as we’ve never seen him: mean, badass and more destructive than ever. Sure he may still be the Guardian of the Universe, but that doesn’t take away from his destructive awesomeness.
The Showa Gamera films are fun to watch, but these ninety films are much more serious monster movies. They’re still a little campy in parts, and they retain the spirit of Gamera, but they also take the monster much more seriously, and gone are the hundreds of “GAMERA!!!” screaming kids. With awesome effects, great suits and intricate miniatures, these films are so much fun to watch, and when Gamera throws down, it’s just great.
Gamera’s fire and flying looks better than ever, and there are even some surprise attacks shown off that you might not have known Gamera was even capable of. If you enjoy the Heisei Godzilla films and like your monster movies big-budgeted and on the darker side, the 90’s Gamera trilogy is for you.
2. King Kong
Like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, King Kong was a huge inspiration for the original Godzilla. The 1933 film was rereleased in Japan in the early fifties, and it was no coincidence that Godzilla would rise from the ocean in all of his glory just a few years later. It’s interesting to note that like the Beast and Kong, stop-motion effects were considered to create Godzilla, but due to the cost and time of stop-motion animation, they decided on an actor in a rubber suit instead.
Watching the original King Kong today, the effects still look awesome, and this kind of filmmaking just makes you wish that effects-driven action films and blockbusters were half as inventive and creative. King Kong tells an exciting story, but it is lined with emotion. The film turns out to actually quite a humanist story. Also worth checking out is Peter Jackson three-hour long 2005 remake.
1. The Host
Joon-ho Bong’s The Host is like no monster movie ever made. The Host is tonally unique – juggling horror, science-fiction, and satire, and the end result is unique and gripping. This film is truly a part of the kaiju genre renaissance – it takes the formula in completely new and exciting directions, and it will completely surprise and take you off guard if you’re expecting just another monster movie.
The most unique and welcome aspect of The Host is the human characters and emotional element. For once, the characters in a kaiju film are actually truly interesting, and by the end of the film, you’re very invested in their plight. Kang-ho Song delivers a surprisingly powerful and memorable performance as a father looking for his daughter who has been taken by the monster, and as the film progresses, the story becomes more and more absorbing.
Also, the monster itself is an incredibly unique and interesting creation – it may not be as massive as Godzilla or Gamera, but that doesn’t make it any less watchable and horrific. The Host is a masterful, one-of-a-kind South Korean kaiju film, and if you’re interesting in exploring the genre, this one is a must-see.
Bio: Gavin Miller is a cinephile who keeps up his blog cinefreakdude.tumblr.com as well as a YouTube channel – both dedicated to film criticism and discussion. He is an ardent Blu-ray collector as well as the director of two short films – “A Chupacabra Afternoon” and “Coffea arabica”. Gavin models his lifestyle after The Dude from The Big Lebowski.