This article was originally published in the Den of Geek SDCC special edition magazine in July 2017. Click here to view the full issue.
It was a simple enough request. Write a little something about my four or five favorite horror films. My answer? Yes! But no.
What if I wrote about my four or five favorite monster movies? I like monsters. Some supernatural thing that’s not supposed to be here but is killin’ and/or stompin’ on stuff? I’m in! And so, with that caveat in mind, here is a little something something on my four or five favorite monster movies.
Wait! Can it be my favorite four or five hundred? My God, it’s like picking your favorite child. If I pick War of the Gargantuas, will The Creature from the Black Lagoon never speak to me again?
Like many of you, monster movies are baked into my DNA since childhood. As Matt Weinhold, the host of the excellent podcast Monster Party likes to say, “Horror movies were my football.”
And so, with profuse apologies to the movies left out, here are five of my favorites. No, these are not the five unequivocally greatest monster movies of all time. These are my favorites, plain and simple. And if you’re not on the list—I’m talking to you, Gill-man—it doesn’t mean I don’t love you just as much as everyone else.
1. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
This one has it all. As a child, my favorite monster was the Wolf Man, and this movie’s favorite monster movie is also The Wolf Man. With copious references to the Lon Chaney Jr. original and the Oliver Reed Hammer version, American Werewolf is a monster movie that is also a fan of monster movies. Scary, funny, smart as a whip—with the best transformation scene on film and Griffin Dunne’s hilarious performance as poor, undead Jack—this little beauty is good enough to watch every full moon.
2. JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING
Oof! The King Kong of monster movies (next to, well… you get it). Carpenter remakes the Howard Hawks original with a healthier dollop of John W. Campbell’s novella, Who Goes There?, and a heapin’ helpin’ of Rob Bottin taking practical effects into another dimension entirely. Carpenter’s The Thing also gives us the, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” of monster movies when David Clennon’s Palmer watches Norris’ head scuttle off like a spider and says, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding.”
Nope. Deadly serious.
3. THE NIGHT STALKER
In 1972, ABC aired a nifty little made-for-TV movie about a newspaper reporter named Kolchak chasing what only he believed was a real, living vampire running rampant through the streets of modern-day Las Vegas. The obvious joke about a bloodsucker in Las Vegas was lost on no one, but what was a surprise was that it exploded in the ratings and became the most watched TV movie of all time, up until Roots in 1977.
The film was written by Twilight Zone and I Am Legend legend, Richard Matheson, who was working from a book by Jeff Rice and starred Darren McGavin as the intrepid reporter, Carl Kolchak. The Night Stalker may not be the greatest vampire film of all time, but it moves like a freight train, is scary as the dickens, and spawned a sequel and a short-lived TV series beloved by a generation. Mine.
4. FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN
Can’t have a list of monster movies without a Universal classic, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, though not the greatest of the series, is my favorite. The film boasts a cauldron of charms and oddities, from Lon Chaney Jr.’s best Wolf Man transformation on film to Bela Lugosi’s doomed, miscast turn as the Frankenstein monster, plus a bitchin’, if too-short, fight at the end.
Also, for a film aimed largely at kids, it boasts a hero (Chaney) whose main drive in the story is to find a way to successfully kill himself (!!). I also love that the title doesn’t presume the two horror titans would fight. It could have been called “Frankenstein vs. The Wolf Man,” but they must have thought, “Let’s just have them meet and see what happens.”
5. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE
To steal a line from Ketty Lester, every frame of this film is a love letter straight to my heart. Ed Wood’s magnum opus has the reputation of the worst film ever made, but if the biggest crime a film can commit is to be boring, then Plan 9 is actually one of the greats. Vigorously bonkers in every conceivable way, it gets everything wrong that it possibly can in the most profoundly lunatic way. It’s awkwardly acted, incompetently edited, and makes less sense than a letter you’d find in the dumpster behind an abandoned mental hospital.
But every incompetent frame groans with affection for all the things I love. Graveyards, zombies, Tor Johnson, Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Criswell, flying saucers… I could go on and on.
Are there better movies that I could have included in this list? Yes. Will I write that list one day? Maybe one day. In the future. And we are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I will spend the rest of our lives!
– Dana Gould
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