Monster movies are something of a cinematic institution. About as long as there have been any movies there have been monster films. Stories about horrible creatures and supernatural beings have attracted audiences to theaters for ages, and they continue to do so today. Whether you're moved by the cold, seductive stare of Bela Lugosi as Dracula or the campy mayhem wrought again and again against Tokyo by Godzilla, you can be sure to find a monster movie for you on video or in the theater.
The films that perhaps best captured the thrill of the creature movie were the original Universal Pictures films of the 1930's. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and other such films proved to Hollywood early on that scares can draw crowds. The tradition established by these movies has lasted through cinematic history.
Fun Film Fare
Part of the attraction of monster flicks is the fact that, for the most part, they're meant to be fun. Monster fans are often very forgiving of thin plots, unbelievable concepts, and sub-par acting. They like to see the Attractive Blonde in Peril and the Quirky Character Who Ends Up as Monster Fodder as well as the Dashing Yong Hero Who Saves the Day. These characters are as archetypal as the monsters themselves and, though many of the films are very formulaic, there is a definitive audience for them.
Monster Movies as Political Commentary
Just because monster films are largely intended to be fun, that doesn't mean they have to be completely devoid of a message or theme. The arrival of the nuclear age influenced the filmmakers of the 1950's to give us a slew of "big bug" movies in which insects, mutated by radiation stemming from atomic tests, grow to enormous sizes and feast upon hapless humans. The advent of the McCarthy communist "witch hunts" brought about films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. And, of course, the incredibly popular Japanese import, Godzilla, would never have happened if the atomic bombs had never fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Monster Movies as Art
No one thinks of a typical monster film as worthy of an Academy Award nomination - and certainly not of a statuette, but it has happened. What is the character of Hannibal Lecter if not a modernized and real-world version of Count Dracula? What is Alien (which led to its James Cameron-directed sequel, Aliens which resulted in an Oscar nomination for Sigourney Weaver) if not a textbook monster flick in an outer space setting? What is Tom Berrenger's brief appearance at the end of Looking for Mr. Goodbar if not one of the most horrifying monsters of all - man?
Hollywood has a long history of spoofing monster movies in the comedy genre as well. Classic comic monster films include titles like Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolf Man and The Canterbury Ghost, but today comedy and horror have been fused together seamlessly in monster movies that are as apt to make you laugh as they are to make you scream. Stanley Kubrick made great use of uncomfortable comic moments fused with underlying terror in The Shining and Simon Peg penned an instant classic for fans of the work of George Romero with the brilliant comic/horror outing known as Shaun of the Dead.