There is no doubt that monster movies as a genre include some of the dumbest movies ever created. But who hasn’t seen the iconic image of King Kong, hanging on to the Empire State Building, fighting off helicopters? Or heard people (badly) imitating Dracula’s Hungarian accent? They may be corny, but they tap into something primal.
Although King Kong was made in the 1930’s, and examples of the genre were to be found in older books, the big Monster Movie Bang began in the fifties. As time went on, a formula developed. The theme is usually something along the lines that Nature is something that shouldn’t be messed with. “You never should have taken Kong off the island!” “You never should have bred Raptors!” “You never should have tested bombs near Godzilla’s island!” The monster almost always ends up dying.
Anyway, this article is in two sections: Giant Monsters and Humanoid Monsters.
GIANT MONSTER MOVIES
Made in 1933, King Kong is still iconic, and the Gift Shop at the Empire State Building is filled with his likeness. He is the last of his species, living his lonely life high atop Skull Mountain. His daily routine includes fighting dinosaurs, hunting for prey, and trying to break through the wall protecting the human village. He met a tragic death when he got loose in New York and was killed by the Air Force.
The first ‘Atomic’ Monster Movie (a monster movie where the monster is created or empowered by Atomic Radiation and also embodies that force) it almost certainly was the primary inspiration for Godzilla, which came out sixteen months later. The Rhedosaurus is brought out of hibernation by Atomic Bomb tests in the Arctic Circle. It makes it’s way south to the Rhedosaurus spawning ground, which just so happens to be New York City. He ends up being, you won’t believe it! Killed. By flames, this time.
Godzilla (originally called Gojira) is a huge Dinosaur-like creature with firey breath. He was monster-fied by Atomic Radiation. After he destroyed Tokyo he was seemingly killed by an ‘oxygen-destroyer’. However, he has returned many times to appear in 36 Toho and Hollywood films, three American adaptions of Japanese films, and practically infinite comics, video games, and novels. In crossovers he has fought the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Frankenstein’s Monster, and others.
Ymir was the pre-release name for the Venusian Monster that terrorizes Italy (primarily Rome) in the film 20 Million Miles to Earth, probably named for the Jotunn Ymir from Norse Mythology. It was changed during production though. The creature is semi-aquatic, eats Sulfur, and throughout the film’s plot he gets bigger and bigger, finally being a giant green titan who kills an elephant in the Rome Zoo. He is killed when he falls off the Colosseum to his death during a battle with the Italian Army.
THE GIANT GILA MONSTER
The title character in The Giant Gila Monster is a Giant Gila Monster. And that’s all the back story he gets. He attacks a small town, terrorizing the inhabitants until local teen Chase Winstead packs his car with nitroglycerin and sends it speeding into the monster. The monster dies in flames.
Godzilla has a couple of monsters that make recurring appearances in his films. Mothra is a giant moth that, unlike most monsters on this list, is a beneficent character. He is the protector of the Earth.
The Archenemy of Godzilla, three headed dragon King Ghidora first appeared as an extraterrestrial planet-destroyer. He was responsible for the extinction of the Venusians five thousand years before he turned his attention to Earth. He was stopped by Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan.
It was later revealed that King Ghidora worked for the extraterrestrial Garoga race, but in later films his backstory remained fluid. For instance, he has been featured as one of the Three Guardians of Yamato, as a creation of the ‘Earth Unionists’, and as the cause for the extinction of dinosaurs. He came back many times to fight Godzilla, including once as Mecha-King Gjhidora and once as Keizer Ghidora. He is based on the dragon Orochi from Japanese mythology.
Not all monsters are giant, city smashing terrors. Some operate on a much smaller scale but still include the same themes.
Dracula lives in a castle in Transylvania. He was created by the writer Bram Stoker, first as a character in a short story and then the title character of the iconic novel. In contrast to many folklore vampires, which are depicted as undead zombie-like creatures, Dracula is a sophisticated, high class vampire, very proud of his aristocratic heritage.
In life, he was a ‘soldier, statesman, and alchemist’. After his death, he returned as a vampire and began to plot world-domination. He boards a Russian ship to London and kills all the crew members. When the ship is searched, the Captain’s log tells of strange events during the voyage. Dracula leaves the ship and strolls into London as a dog.
Dracula in the novel was a combination of werewolf and vampire legends, but only the vampire part carried over into the play and the subsequent movies. Although Dracula has gypsy bodygaurds, he is finally defeated by having his head chopped off.
Although some call the monster Frankenstein, IT IS ACTUALLY THE SCIENTIST!!!!!! AARRRGGGHHH! PEOPLE ALWAYS MESS THIS UP!!!! Sorry. That’s my pet peeve. Anyway, Frankenstein the scientist, along with his hunchback assistant Fritz, create the monster from dead bodies and then zap him to life with electricity.
When Frankenstein opens the roof, the monster reaches up towards the sky. Fritz enters with a torch scaring the creature. Frankenstein mistakes his fright for an attack, and chains the creature up. But, after strangling Fritz and being locked inside the room, then sedated with a drug, the monster just gets more and more scared. When Doctor Waldman is about to destroy him, the monster gets loose and strangles him. The film ends with him being trapped inside a burning windmill and dying.
In the 1932 film The Mummy, archaeologists find a cursed mummy who was buried alive. For some reason, the archeologist’s assistant thinks it would be be a good idea to read the “Scroll of Life” while they stand near the mummy. Of course, the mummy rises and flees. Like a lot of movies, it starts to get weird near the end. The mummy thinks that somebody is his lost love reincarnated, so he tries to kill her and then raise her back to life (??). Luckily, she remembers her past life and prays to Isis for help. A statue of Isis raises its arm and shoots a laser at the Scroll of Life, breaking the spell and making the Mummy crumble to dust.
Like Dracula and King Ghidora, the Wolf Man was influenced by folklore. He is a werewolf. Unlike every film since then, it does not include the idea that werewolves transform at the full moon (which was not in the traditional folklore either, by the way). In The Wolf Man, werewolves transform in autumn when the wolfsbane blooms.
A swamp monster living in the mysterious Black Lagoon. He was shot to death.