Let’s be honest here: everybody loves a good, old-fashioned practical effects monster. Films like John Carpenter’s The Thing feature effects so detailed, so tactile, so gooey and strange that they look infinitely more real than their expensive, CGI reboots. And even cheesier films like the majority of the original Godzilla flicks have a homemade quality that makes them, arguably, more inviting than their big budget Hollywood counterparts.
But CGI technology has evolved over the years. The remake of The Lion King is pushing photo-realism to new heights (even if it’s not doing the actual story any favors), and the trailer for Tom Hooper’s Cats is, frankly, the scariest thing on the internet in a long time. There are, by now, quite a lot of damn good, very scary CGI monsters in movies.
So, although we’ll always have a special place in our hearts for practical effects, it’s time to give credit where credit is due, and hail the following films for scaring the crap out of us with a series of ones and zeros!
(Note: We’ve focused on films that feature scary monsters, biological in origin. Monsters are eligible whether or not the films are firmly in the horror genre, and although many of these monsters are created using a combination of practical and CG effects we are only highlighting the creatures which use a significant amount of CG throughout their presence on-screen.)
Alex Garland’s acclaimed sci-fi/horror thriller, about a team of scientists who venture into an extraterrestrial singularity where evolution has gone haywire, is chock full of nightmare imagery, and picking only one monster is a fool’s errand. The doppelgänger at the end of the film is an eerie creation, unlike just about anything else we’ve seen, and the bear with a skull face that screams like a person is an absolute terror.
Robert Zemeckis spent years trying to perfect motion-capture animation technology, and the results were decidedly mixed. One of the better films he directed in the medium, Beowulf, was a mature fantasy epic based on the classic tale, and features one of the scariest CG-creatures around. Grendel, played by Crispin Glover and brought to mutated and grotesque life by the animation team, is a tragic but violent creature who just wants his neighbors to shut up and will absolutely destroy them to get some peace and quiet.
Look, we haven’t seen Tom Hooper’s Cats yet, but the trailer is one of the most off-putting previews we’ve seen in years. Famous actors, covered in only 50% convincing CG, transformed into weird cat monsters, with physiology that makes no sense and a scale that makes them look even tinier than real cats. If you saw these things running around your house you would lose your damn mind, and no one could blame you.
Harry Potter (2001-Present)
The Harry Potter movies have featured a lot of CGI creatures, including giant spiders and centaurs and dragons and cat leviathans, and some have been more convincing than others. But although your mileage might vary across the whole series, certainly the Dementors are iconically creepy creations. These floating reaper monsters, which violently suck away your capacity to feel anything but misery, are one of the biggest “big bads” of the whole franchise, and every time they show up it’s a spooky thrill.
The Host (2006)
We’re not sure how, exactly, dumping formaldehyde into a river led to a giant fish monster, but that’s science for you. Anyway, Bong Joon-ho’s The Host tells the story of just such a creature, about the size of a van, which terrorizes Korea and looks damned scary doing it. Although not the most convincing CGI ever, Bong Joon-ho has confidence in the creature, and lets the audience get nice long looks at it in the daylight, which makes its existence all the more surreal.
Jurassic Park (1993-Present)
It’s easy to overlook the fact that, although the Jurassic Park movies are mega blockbusters for the whole family, they’re also obviously monster movies. Mad scientists on a remote island play God, create man-eating monstrosities which – what a shock! – run amok and eat man. The special effects in the original film, which also incorporated some practical effects, are still extraordinarily convincing, and the sequels have always tried to top the original with more killer dinos to make audiences shriek.
The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s dream of a beautiful Middle Earth was always undercut, at least a little, by how many terrifying monsters there were in it. Orcs, trolls, dragons, wargs, wraiths, you name it, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies had it, and they were all intimidating creations. And yet none of those towering creatures were quite as scary as Gollum, a Hobbit mutated into a monster by exposure to the One Ring, played with troubled inhumanity and insidious menace by Andy Serkis; and, of course, a team of talented CG animators.
Mortal Engines (2018)
Audiences slept on Christian Rivers’ Mortal Engines, and that’s their loss. Christian Rivers’ sci-fi epic may have had a formulaic plot but it was rife with visual wonders, including thrilling car chases where entire cities were the cars, chase scenes through metropolises getting demolished by giant buzzsaws, and of course Shrike, one of the most unsettling movie villains in recent memory. A cybernetic corpse, Shrike pursues the movie’s hero to prove his love for her by turning her into an undead monster just like himself. Shrike is played by Stephen Lang, and a team of animators, who infuse the character with disturbingly unnatural movements and a grim, frightening glare.
The Mist (2007)
Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s harrowing story only made The Mist more frightening. A group of people get trapped in a grocery store as a mysterious mist fills their small town, and inside there are all kinds of unbelievable monsters, ranging from killer insects to Lovecraftian behemoths that stagger the imagination. It’s their world now. We only live in it… while we can.
A Quiet Place (2018)
The acclaimed monster movie A Quiet Place features novel beasts that attack and brutally slay anyone who makes any kind of sound, forcing our heroes to live in absolute silence for fear of instant death. It’s such a scary concept that director John Krasinski probably could have gotten away with not showing them at all, but when they do appear they are unusually freaky creatures with segmented heads and razor-sharp teeth, and they absolutely live up to the movie’s hype.
The Ritual (2017)
We don’t want to go into too much detail about this one, since it’s a relatively recent film and the monster isn’t in a lot of it, but David Bruckner’s excellent horror film The Ritual – about a group of hikers who get trapped in the woods with a cult – features a grotesque image of a monster that comes back into play later on, in a most unexpected and surprising reveal that’s hard to describe and way creepier to discover on your own. It’s one of the most disturbing CGI monsters of its kind.
Shin Godzilla (2016)
The classic version of Godzilla, walking around and punching monsters like an old-fashioned bouncer, is so familiar now that he’s more beloved than scary. But the impressively smart reboot Shin Godzilla made him horrifying again. Godzilla emerges from the water half-formed, a giant fish-eyed writhing monstrosity that doesn’t move like any Godzilla you’ve ever seen before, and as it rapidly evolves into something a little more familiar, that shocking introduction sticks in your head, making him more unnatural than ever before.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Paul Verhoeven’s epic sci-fi/blockbuster satire, which uses fascist propaganda storytelling tropes to subvert our whole understanding of the action genre, features some of the most monstrous creatures imaginable: giant, killer bugs. The film’s outlandish violence makes these alien insects seem huge and dangerous, so much so that you have to look closely at the film’s subtext to realize that they’re not the oppressors, they’re the noble resistance fighters who are being dehumanized by filmmakers with an agenda. They’re scary, but only because we’re buying into the film’s disturbing meta-narrative. Impeccable VFX, in one of the most daring big budget films in history.
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Author : William Bibbiani
Publish date : 2019-07-30 20:39:42