I don’t necessarily consider myself a horror-junkie; I’m generally more partial towards sci-fi & fantasy as those who read this blog might gather. However I have had a rooted fascination with the genre since I was young. Just as I grew up on Star Trek with my Dad, I was also raised watching horror films with my Mom. From the classic Universal monster pictures such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man (as a kid, I was partial to the 1956 release, The Mole People, for reasons I can’t quite explain as an adult), to some of the more modern entries such as Scream, The Faculty, and Candyman – we would watch as many as we could find from the nearby Blockbuster and Hollywood video stores.
As we watched a variety of horror films, I began to discover the particular niche of the genre that I enjoyed the most. It began with an obsession with An American Werewolf in London, and yes, even its ill-conceived sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, and quickly grew into a general excitement for monster movies. Weather they be otherworldly creatures or simply beasts of the unexplained variety, I had a fascination with monsters and an appreciation for unique and creative creature design.
Some of the greatest creature design came from the legendary special-effects wizard, Stan Winston. Through him, we were given the various designs from John Carpenter’s The Thing, the biometric skeleton of The Terminator, the hunter alien of Predator, the creature from Pumpkinhead, the Kothoga from The Relic, and countless others.
Aside from Winston, H.R. Giger gave us the classic Xenomorph design from Alien, and who could forget the Graboids from the seemingly never-ending Tremors franchise?
For a time there were plenty of great creature-features and interesting monster designs, however it seemed like in the mid 90s this golden age diminished. The monster movies lessened, and the horror genre swung more towards ghost-stories, masked killers, zombies and vampires. Within each of these, there are undoubtedly a lot of good stories to tell and I have enjoyed several of these types of films. However I did find myself waiting and wondering when we’d see a new monster emerge as a modern-day classic like the ones listed above. I had little interest in monster movies that featured enlarged versions of animals that exist in our natural world (sorry, Deep Blue Sea, Lake Placid, and Anaconda), but I was looking for a new, imaginative creature raising hell for the unfortunate humans tasked with dealing with it.
That itch was first scratched with Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 environmental thriller, The Host, featuring the Gwoemul. The Gwoemul emerged from South Korea’s Han River as a result of various pollutants that had been dumped in the river over time. The design for the Gwoemul was based off of actual mutated fish found in the Han River.
From there, monster movie fans saw a slight uptick in big budget monster films. In the vein of classic Godzilla films, there came a resurgence of kaiju through 2008’s Cloverfield with the Clover monster and 2013’s Pacific Rim giving us several giant creatures attacking cities across the world.
Both films were successful enough to inspire sequels as well as reigniting interest in the original Godzilla, inspiring Gareth Edwards’ 2014 American remake, Godzilla, and the updated Japanese reboot, Shin Godzilla.
While many of these films were indeed a lot of fun, I believe the most iconic resurgence of the monster has come through the small screen. For me (and I believe for a lot of fans), the most exciting monster-related storytelling and design has come from Netflix & The Duffer Brothers’ unexpected hit, Stranger Things, and to a lesser extent, SyFy’s Channel Zero: Candle Cove. Stranger Things and its monster (often referred to as the Demogorgon) hits a lot of the right notes for many people. Not only does it evoke a sense of familiarity through countless homages and imagery reminiscent of monster movies many of us already love, but it also tells a fresh and original story intermixed within the nostalgia. In Channel Zero: Candle Cove, 80s nostalgia is similarly present, however we are presented with a different sort of monster in the form of the Tooth Child.
Where Stranger Things gives us a tale of adventure, conspiracy, and mystery made almost whimsical at times through the eyes of children, Channel Zero gives us a much darker and grotesque story of murder, mental instability, and unsettling puppets. Throughout the show, viewers often question weather or not the Tooth Child (or any of the story) is a true manifestation of the evil surrounding the central characters, or simply a projection from the protagonist’s fragile mind.
While Stranger Things and Channel Zero share similarities in storytelling and tone to a certain extent, they also represent their own new paths for monster-centric stories to traverse. These shows, almost more than the recent monster movies, are poised to inspire the next generation of creature features, and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to what’s to come.