Monsters have haunted the nightmares of mankind for centuries, first through myths and folklore and later through literature and eventually film. In the early years of film, it already was a popular genre to explore. German expressionist films like The Golem and Nosferatu are some of the earliest examples of feature length monster movies. These German expressionist movies later inspired the classic Universal monster movies like Dracula and Frankenstein which spawned a countless number of sequels, but also inspired new monsters like The Mummy. After this era of Universal classics Japan took over the monster genre with their Kaiju (translates in ‘strange beast’) films; Gojira in particular.
Besides these two eras in monster movie history, probably the other most notable moments in its history are the spawn of the zombie and of course: The spawn of the blockbuster with Jaws. Since Spielberg’s masterpiece there have been countless of popular monster franchises that took over the world just like their monster antagonists.
This list will discuss a number of great monster movies that are often being left out of the discussion, but before we do that it’s important to define some restrictions of what is and what is not a monster. Monsters are often described as beings without a moral compass, so in this case you could call Halloween’s Michael Myers a monster, but for this list we’re not looking at the human monster, we’re looking at creature features here. We’ll restrict our monsters to the otherworldly, the mutated, the supernatural, the animalistic… We’re looking at the monsters similar to the ones from the German Expressionist period and the Universal classics. In these films it’s the collective humans against the monster(s)!
One last thing to mention, since there are so many options with these creatures; this list restricts itself to horror movies, while the monster genre does not. (Think A Monster Calls for example…) Now without further ado, here are 10 great monster movies no one talks about.
1. Dog Soldiers (2002)
In Dog Soldiers a British military squad is on a training mission in the Scotland Highlands. Despite hearing questionable stories about the area, they continue their mission until they find the remains of a Special Ops Squad that had been on a mission in the same era. Just as they hear the terrifying howls of their opponents for the first time, they meet a zoologist who is familiar with the creatures that now hunt them. Their training is over at this moment, since they must escape the Highlands whilst fighting for their lives.
Neil Marshall is probably most well-known for directing the terrific monster movie ‘The Descent’ and his arguably less terrific rendition of Hellboy. His directorial debut ‘Dog Soldiers’ however, is one that’s often disregarded. Quite a shame, because with a small budget Marshall managed to create one of the best werewolf films of the century. Despite having a small budget, the crew manages to find lots of practical solutions for making everything look as realistic as possible. Nowadays monsters often rely heavily on CGI, but Dog Soldiers proves there is another option by creating some terrifying-looking Werewolves.
2. Them! (1954)
The atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki of 1945 and the fear people had for its aftereffects spawned the first Godzilla movie in 1954. Similar the Nuclear testing in New Mexico and the fear it came with it spawned ‘Them!’ nine years later in 1954. In the US Them wasn’t the first response of the film industry though. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, which was an atomic monster movie from a year earlier, inspired lots of them to come, including that first Godzilla movie. While Them isn’t the first atomic monster movie, it is regarded as the first big bug movie. It might be the film responsible for many giant spiders in film and with that many nightmares thanks to Arachnophobia.
Them itself isn’t about spiders though, so no worries: Ants can be scary as well. In the New Mexico desert, officer Peterson and his partner find a child wandering around in shock. When investigating they come across strange footprints and soon discover there are giant ants attacking the locals. Peterson teams up with FBI agent Graham and Doctor Medford to put an end to these attacks. They end up destroying a colony of ants of which Medford explains that the atomic testing of 1945 had caused mutating ants into these giant creatures. However, the victory is shortly celebrated when they discover two queen ants have flown away to LA, where they will start a new colony if they aren’t in time to stop them.
3. Brain Damage (1988)
Brian is your regular, average dude from New York. He has a healthy relationship with his girlfriend Barbara as well as a good connection with his brother Mike. His quiet life changes when a leech-like parasite called Elmer convinces him into a symbiotic relationship. Elmer latches onto Brian’s neck to inject a highly addictive fluid into his brains. In return for an occasional shot of this fluid, Brian must seek out victims for Elmer so he can feed off their brains. As his addiction grows, Brian ends up drifting away from his girlfriend and his brother, whom worry about his mental state.
With Brain Damage, Frankenhooker, and Basket Case, Frank Hennenlotter has established himself an exploitation master. His comedic approach to the horror genre makes his every film a refreshing watch. Brain Damage includes lots of these characteristic comedic moments. The relationship between Brian and Elmer causes lots of peculiar moments, which according to some interpretations of the thematic dive into metaphors for both heroin addiction and discovering ones sexual preference. Which interpretations are to be taken for granted is hard to say, but either way it’s a very entertaining watch!
4. Tumbbad (2018)
The Hindi-language film Tumbbad is the first list entry that dives into the mythological. Not your average creature feature, but nonetheless an entry with such an eerie atmosphere and such a terrifying monster that it couldn’t be left off!
The film begins with Vinayak Rao (Sohum Shah) telling his son the story about Hastar, the greedy son of Pandurang, goddess of prosperity. He explains Hastar was exiled and erased from all history by Pandurang after he stole her unlimited wealth and attempted to steal her unlimited food. Hastar was cursed to be forever hungry and now sleeps for eternity in his mother’s womb: Earth. As a kid Vinayak lived in Tumbbad, were his mother served a lord and his great grandmother (somewhat of a monster herself). From her, Vinayak learns the location of Hastar and his treasure of unlimited gold. Having grown up Vinayak occasionally visits Hastar to steal gold coins from this unlimited treasure.
With his directorial debut Rahi Anil Barve creates a very impressive world, unlike any other in Hindi cinema. The visual aspects from design of the monsters, to use of colors all work perfectly together to make this such a stunning piece to look at, while also creating the most haunting mood. Tumbbad is a very unique entry into the monster-horror genre and hopefully the start of a great new trend.
5. The Monolith Monsters (1957)
Another gem from the 50s! Definitely more of an oddball this time, maybe even the one that turns the most heads since its reception is mixed. We’ve also could have gotten with director John Sherwood’s other creature feature in ‘The Creature Walks Among Us’, but people do talk about ‘The Creature From the Black Lagoon’ so that was not an option. Also, since directors like John Carpenter and Edgar Wright approve of The Monolith Monsters, it sure has to mean something.
The movie starts off as a mysterious science-fiction film as an odd meteor crashes near San Angelo and shards of it are spread around the area. When a storm exposes the shards to water it becomes clear that this is not a normal rock. The little rocks grow bigger and bigger until they’re the size of skyscrapers (an impressive sight to behold) and until they topple and shatter into a thousand pieces which start growing themselves, repeating the process. Any poor person in the way is crushed or turned into a statue. The town of San Angelo has to safe not only themselves, but the world from what could be the end.