October is a special time of year to watch movies. Other than watching Christmas movies around the holidays, I can’t think of any moment in the year as synonymous with one genre as scary movies around Halloween. But there’s one type of horror movie that hits even harder around All Hallows’ Eve: monster movies.
And since there won’t be much trick-or-treating this year, here’s my own treat of the 10 best monster movies of all time for Halloween. These include monsters of all shapes and sizes while highlighting the best that the genre has to offer.
“Alien” (1979 – streaming on HBOMax and Prime Video) – The terror of Ridley Scott’s “Alien” plays into many primal and visceral factors that come with its now legendary monster, later known as the Xenomorph. The monster personifies fears of birth, and the film amplifies this further with its use of darkness, mostly casting the monster in shadowy places
so that the only visible aspect is its terrifying mouth.
“An American Werewolf in London” (1981 – streaming on HBOMax and Prime Video) – The best werewolf movie ever made, it is authentic and heartbreaking. It’s difficult to say the exact genre of John Landis’ masterpiece, but it lies somewhere between comedy and tragedy. Because we get to know how funny and lively our soon-to-be werewolf is, that only makes his transformation more horrific.
“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935 – streaming on Peacock and Prime Video) – As great as the original “Frankenstein” is, James Whale’s sequel improves every aspect of the first film by making its monster a sympathetic one and giving us a despicable yet charismatic mad scientist. It has one of the greatest scenes in any monster movie when the monster encounters a blind hermit who treats him as an honored guest.
“The Fly” (1986 – streaming on Prime Video and YouTube) – This is still one of the most difficult movies to watch but one from which you can’t look away. The perfect blending of body horror and monster movie, David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” is a modern tragedy of hubris and ego turned into an ugly, inhuman monstrosity. The slow but grotesque transformation of Jeff Goldblum is haunting, mesmerizing and irresistible.
“Godzilla” (1954 – streaming on HBOMax and Prime Video) – Of all the giant monsters, none hits quite as hard as Godzilla in this Japanese classic from Ishiro Honda, which encapsulates the terror of the atomic bomb that plagued Japan for decades. Godzilla might be the greatest monster of all time – iconic design, unstoppable, indestructible and leaves nothing but destruction and flames. A walking nuclear weapon.
“Gremlins” (1984 – streaming on YouTube) – On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the Gremlins – part cute fuzzballs, part demonic imps, all mayhem. These things are the living embodiment of chaos and that makes their takeover of a small town hilarious and horrific. Chris Columbus’ film perfectly blends slapstick comedy with horror, like a Looney Tunes episode that goes just a little too far.
“The Host” (2006 – streaming on Hulu and Prime Video) – Before he directed “Parasite,” Bong Joon-ho made his own monster film about a broken family’s attempt to get their little girl back after a monster snatches her up. The film is an articulate look at how the world would react to a large monster showing up complete with cover-ups and bringing out the best (and worst) in everyone.
“Jaws” (1975 – streaming on HBOMax and Prime Video) – Steven Spielberg’s ultimate thriller takes a “less is more” approach with its monster by using the vast emptiness of the ocean and John Williams’ heart-pounding music to make us fear that a giant killer shark could pop up at any moment. Add in some of the most likable and quirky characters you’ll ever see, and you have a classic monster thriller.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006 – streaming on Netflix and YouTube) – One of the more unique monster movies, with only one monster, the Pale Man, who still haunts my nightmares. But because of Guillermo del Toro’s masterful balancing of fantasy and war, we get another monster in Capt. Vidal, unhinged from reality to the point of showing no humanity. This one feels like a classic Grimm fairy tale with a modern horror to it.
“The Thing” (1982 – streaming on Prime Video and YouTube) – If you watch only one of these on Halloween, it should be John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for one of the most unsettling experiences. It is the ultimate tale of paranoia and the fear of the unknown as arctic researchers are trapped with a shape-shifting monster, and they piece together who is human and who’s one of them.
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