To be honest, I actually kind wound up blowing many of my most cherished favorite movies on the second part of this list, but it's not solely an oversight. For our third part, I've reserved a mix of timeless favorites and more "controversial" picks - a couple of the following films are as widely beloved as anything we've covered so far, but a couple of others were mercilessly hated by half or more of their viewership, and some of what I have to say about them might not go over too well with everybody either.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
There are many different versions of this movie, but I find the 1978 one to be the best made, most exciting and most frightening, especially this damn scene where a body snatcher got mixed up and created a man-faced dog, which is made easily twice as terrifying by that goofy banjo music.
This is also the version with Leonard Nimoy in it, and one where we get a lot of interesting insight into the mentality of these alien replicants. They're not evil. They don't hate us. They simply think the best thing for us and for our planet would be if we stopped existing and let them clean up our mess with their emotionless, but highly intelligent and well organized duplicates, that's all. We see genocidal parasites erasing us without a thought, they see an end to all our hatred, war and cruelty.
Not many people categorize Beetlejuice as a "monster movie," but it is a movie about ghosts, and one particular ghost who, despite the ensuing cartoon-spinoff and other child-friendly marketing, was more or less one of the skeeviest and nastiest supernatural villains of our time. What do you do about a licentious, greedy, egomaniacal phantasm who can take any form, at any moment, and practically bend reality around himself?
As a film, Beetlejuice boasts what are still some of the weirdest scenes and concepts in cinematic history. We learn that, should they step out of their designated haunting zone, ghosts can find themselves in an abstract, alien desert (okay, it's explicitly stated to be Saturn, but that doesn't make sense) where they may be devoured by colorfully striped, two-faced sandworms. We learn that living people can see ghosts, but something about our mind just sort of blocks them out. We discover that the afterlife is clogged up with unnecessary bureaucracy and we get to see Geena Davis regurgitate her own eyeballs into her distorted, crocodilian maw.
I still love this movie every bit as much as the first time I saw it...even if, for me at least, Tim Burton's creative spark seemed to plummet straight downhill from there. The Nightmare Before Christmas was more a Henry Selick than a Burton film, so we're not counting that anyway, but I feel like almost everything from Mars Attacks onward was just...awkward. Even Mars Attacks itself, while a fairly cool little film, still feels like a fever dream in my memory, and not even in the usual, awesome way. Just a weird way. I would even go so far as to say that Beetlejuice is the only movie Burton personally directed that falls anywhere on my list of favorites.
Rubber can be a somewhat confusing movie. Not because it's a movie in which a tire comes to life and makes people's heads explode, that much I can completely understand, but it seeks to get cerebral and "meta" about the whole affair, with a bizarre side-plot in which the events of the film are simultaneously just a movie and really happening within its own canon. Whether you find that distracting and self indulgent or quirky and unique, however, it's still also a movie in which a tire comes to life and makes people's heads explode. It kind of earns automatic points just for thinking outside the box as far as movie monsters go, even if we've all read much weirder in the world of online horror fiction.
I've left Ridley Scott's original Alien off this list only because it's so, so obvious, as one of the most influential and celebrated films of any genre and any era. His more recent Prometheus, however, was widely divisive both in and out of the Xenomorph fandom, and though I can sort of see why, I have to say I vehemently disagree with its nay-sayers. It's most infamously accused of simply "not making sense" or being riddled with "glaring plot holes," but I never found anything about this movie difficult to understand or follow, and for every criticism thrown at its plot, I can think of a pretty simple explanation.
More importantly, Prometheus is a good follow-up to Alien. The only good follow-up. I could write an essay on what I didn't like about Aliens - and I did, actually, which got me an A+ - and the less said about Alien 3, Resurrection or the Alien vs. Predator films, the better. Good for some schlocky fun, I suppose, but the original film was high art. The minute that James Fartface Cameron got hold of the franchise, everything tasteful, romantic and primordially hair-raising about the original was more or less turned into a cheap joke, and the aliens themselves reduced to little more than very scary, very big termites.
Prometheus, as far as I'm concerned, does a bang-up job of fixing all that, presenting the Alien as only a small piece of a much bigger, much stranger puzzle heavily recalling everything actually good about the universe of H.P. Lovecraft. No longer are the aliens mere "bugs" that evolved as predators on some harsh, unknown world, but in fact only one possible expression of a sort of raw, concentrated anti-life-force we can hardly begin to properly grasp; one that can produce nightmare parasites and predators for every environment it comes into contact with.
Maybe not as straight-up "horror" as Coraline, but Paranorman has its share of intense and unnerving moments, a grisly storyline and some amazingly designed monsters, not to mention the gorgeous Laika studios animation and a script that basically tears apart all the cliches of the zombie genre and the terrible, awful nature of human beings. It might make you tear up more than it'll creep you out, but it's a must-see for anyone who would be reading a list like this in the first place.
This came out only recently, and I know I keep saying things like this, but you really need to see it for yourself and ignore the way most reviewers try to describe it. I first heard it summarized as a movie about a "demon," but there's never any indication what kind of entity we're dealing with. All we know is that it slowly, relentlessly walks straight towards its victim, kills them brutally, then moves on to target the last person they ever slept with.
You might think a movie about a "sexually transmitted" monster to be a whole lot shlockier, but if you're looking for another slasher villain carving its way through drunk, promiscuous 20-somethings like they're supposed to deserve it, you'll be quickly disappointed. The kill count in this movie is very, very small, pure dread is its focus, and its characters are treated with dignity and humanity, both by the script and by one another.
I have to provide a warning, however, that there is one moment, mid-way through the film, deliberately evocative of sexual assault for the sake of horror. That can completely make or break whether a movie is watchable for some people, for completely understandable reasons.
Oculus was panned by many critics, and many user reviews, as with Prometheus, have called the movie "convoluted" or "confusing," but I feel as though maybe they simply went in expecting a more conventional "ghost movie" about some sort of haunted mirror, and might not have been familiar enough with the less conventional brands of supernatural horror out there. The mirror itself is the monster here, an anomalous object possessed of a brutal, sadistic hatred and an ability to warp the perception of its victims. If you're a fan of the SCP Foundation, you might especially enjoy the film's lead heroine, who lost her parents to the mirror in her early childhood and has dedicated her life to scientific vengeance. Her ingenious, multi-layered security system, containment measures and safeguards are fascinating to watch as she sets out to test, document and hopefully neutralize the anomaly once and for all.
Since its 2014 debut, The Babadook has been lauded as one of the all-time scariest monster movies ever produced, and I for one completely agree. My first time watching this one was harrowing. At the time, I hadn't been that affected by a work of horror in almost a decade, but watching this single mother haunted by her own son's bogeyman - and unraveling what it really represented - was both grippingly dreadful and emotionally touching. First-time director Jennifer Kent's understanding of what actually makes something frightening feels almost unparalleled by even the most legendary names in the genre, and the film even homages several scenes from Nosferatu.
There's not a lot I can say about The Thing that hasn't been said many times before. The special effects are as convincing today as they were decades ago, the pacing is an intense boil and the writing communicates dread and paranoia better than almost any attempt since. Able to take any shape, at any moment, and assimilate any organism it comes into contact with, the titular monstrosity truly defies any other description but a thing, and may be the single most terrifying monster ever put to film, from its grisly transformations to the haunting, surreal sounds it makes.
Almost the only thing that can make this movie scarier is the short story, The Things, written from the monster's perspective. John Carpenter himself loved the story so much, he supposedly considers it more or less canon with the film, though you might need a tough stomach for either the film or the creator-approved fanfic.
I said at the beginning of all this that I wouldn't be including those "so bad they're good" B-movies, and even that I tend to get really bored with those. I make a special exception for Robot Monster, one of the few "bad movies" of legend actually hilarious enough to keep me watching from beginning to end. Even the commentary by Mystery Science Theater serves only to distract from the masterful goofiness of this one, so over the top that it feels more like a skillful parody of its era than a genuine effort...but a genuine effort it was.
Even beneath its hilarity, however, Robot Monster offers a pretty interesting antagonist. He may look like a gorilla with a TV on his head, and he may have some of the corniest dialog in the entire dark, twisted history of corn as we know it, but there's something truly intriguing about this cold-hearted race of machine-headed conquerers, their warped logic and the bleak alien culture we're given a few brief glimpses into. I daresay it may be high time someone revisted the Ro-Men in more than just a mocking, parodic context. I am fully ready and willing to take Ro-Man seriously. He just needs to be given a chance.
.....And the very last favorite monster movie I want to share with you is....
YOU TELL ME.
Sorry for the cop-out, but how can I fill just a single, remaining empty slot in a category so vast, so varied, so meaningful to me? What do I dare put here? Something with giant leeches in it? One of the many takes on The Fly? Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster? Gremlins II?! Hocus Pocus!?!? How far can I stretch what a "monster movie" entails, and how many different ways can something appeal to me?
Besides discussing the thirty movies I've shared here, I'd really like to hear about some of your favorites, and exactly why they are your favorites. Chances are you might know one I would have put here all along, if I'd only ever heard how great it really is.