Tybout: Tearing through infamous movie monsters

By Andy Tybout

Movies come and movies go, but monsters are eternal.

Throughout the decades, cinema has… Movies come and movies go, but monsters are eternal.

Throughout the decades, cinema has amassed an unbeatable roster of hell-raising, city-leveling, larger-than-life baddies. From King Kong to Alien, Mothra to the Gremlins, Hollywood is reliable in at least one respect: making ridiculous villains.

Unfortunately, I fear even this capacity has waned in recent years. Where is today’s “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954)? Where is today’s “The Thing” (1982)? It seems like the only place you can find lovable camp nowadays is the SyFy channel (see “Mansquito”).

Still, as the 3D beast spectacle “Clash of the Titans” hits theaters Friday, it only seems proper to pay tribute to some of the past 10 years’ greatest monsters. So, in no particular order, I present this decade’s cream of the creature crop.

The River Monster (“The Host”): South Korean director Joon-ho Bong’s little-known gem is a spectacular blend of genre — he sprinkles in elements of mystery, humor, and, of course, terror to craft one of the most emotionally potent monster films of all time. Of course, it would still fall flat without a memorable baddie. Thankfully, the faceless, fish-like creature spawned from the chemical refuse of Seoul’s Han River delivers on the most fundamental promise of the genre: a freakish villain to haunt a generation.

Gollum (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”): “Lord of the Rings” broke ground in several respects, but one of its most overlooked achievements is the complexity of Gollum’s character. Through equal amounts of deft acting and CGI wizardry, the geniuses at New Line Cinema managed to somehow make a morally ambiguous monster. Really, up until halfway through “Return of the King,” I didn’t know whether Gollum was truly evil or just ugly as hell and slightly schizophrenic.

Clover (“Cloverfield”): Many people were disappointed with “Cloverfield” because it didn’t live up to its trailer’s cryptic genius. And though it’s true that, gimmicky hand-held camera aside, “Cloverfield” never strays from monster-movie convention, it has a creature to rival the greats: a sprawling, spider-like monster that periodically poops out little spider monsters. In my opinion, that alone makes this movie worthwhile.

The Smoke Monster (“Lost”): Okay, this is actually from a TV show, but I couldn’t resist giving a shout-out to the infamous smoke monster, perhaps the most inventive villain to grace the small screen. Its freight-train speed, superhuman intelligence and awful mechanical grumble make it, at least in my mind, the aspect of the show most likely to endure if, God forbid, it ends in a convoluted mess.

The Flying Dinosaur Things (“Pitch Black”): Believe it or not, before “The Pacifier” Vin Diesel used to be sort of hardcore. In the midst of that brief golden age was “Pitch Black,” a film made legendary by the nocturnal winged aliens that swarm a team during an eclipse. Don’t worry — in this movie, Vin Diesel can see in the dark. The rest of the crew, however, is not so lucky.

Rasputin (“Hellboy”): I’m a huge fan of any man with the audacity to grow a foot-long beard, so Guillermo del Toro’s choice of Rasputin as a sort of all-powerful cosmic adversary sits well in my book. Rasputin’s terrifying enough, but a Rasputin who doubles as a tentacled overlord? Too evil to resist.

The Balrog (“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”): All three “Rings” films are rife with fantastical creatures, but nothing, in my opinion, can beat the Balrog, a gargantuan, winged, horned lava beast from Hell … or something. I’m still vague on its purpose, or place in the story, but one thing is clear: it’s the epitome of evil. What more could you ask for from a monster?

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