d. Bong Joon-ho / 2006 / Korea / 119 mins
As closely as it might follow the monster movie template laid out by Japanese and American filmmakers, Korean monster-horror mash-up The Host brings something a bit different to this tired old genre. For starters, it injects a fair dose of Korean cinematic tropes into the mix, from the constant fear of conflict with the North to concerns about the excessive influence of America, as well as those quirks of humour which exist in everything from the most mundane to the most extraordinary.
More importantly, however, The Host does something quite extraordinary in its sheer denial of the typical redemptive forces of cinema. After all, Seoul is not saved from the giant, savage beast by the usual forces of government, or by the police, or by the military (or even, as is often the case, by a ‘rogue’ military or scientific hero). No, this time around the city is saved by a very ordinary, highly dysfunctional and, for all intents and purposes, ‘stupid’ family. In fact, even when they do receive assistance from someone outside the family unit, it’s not a policeman or soldier or scientist, but a homeless man whose liquor is used to create molotov cocktails. The ineffectual nature of the authorities is underlined even further during the final confrontation, when their attempt to kill the beast via the deployment of a chemical weapon (despite protests from members of the public) only serves to temporarily disable it, allowing the family to kill the beast and save the city.
As well as bucking the usual generic trends, The Host also presented a pretty gosh darn interesting monster stalking the River Han. I mean, what exactly is Gwoemul? It’s clearly amphibian, but there’s something lizardish about it too – echoing, of course, the one and only Gojira – it seems, in essence, to be a giant tadpole with scales and a ferociously Alien-esque gob.
And with a plethora of movie monster ‘Top Tens’ populating the internet – from the best to the worst, the best-worst, the scariest, the weirdest and the stupidest (and, of course, the highest grossing) – and with so many monsters taking such familiar (if outsized) forms, I thought it was high-time someone created some sort of alternate list. After all King Kong is just a giant ape, Jaws is just a massive shark (as is his progeny, Megashark), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are only anthropomorphized turtles, and the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz are, well, just monkeys with wings. Heck, even the Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters is just a giant advertising creation made of gooey marshmallow. So without further a-goo, here it is:
A LIST OF THE GREATEST INDETERMINATE MUTANT BEASTIES EVER IN THE HISTORY OF 1980s CINEMA! EVER!
5. The entire population of Fantasia in The Never-Ending Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984)
Forget gnomes, a giant turtle and Gmork (the werewolf), they’re perfectly logical, but how about giant humanoids made from rocks? Or Graograman, the weird Lion thing that changes colour? And who could forget Falkor, Atreyu and Bastian’s trusty Luckdragon friend? I mean, what the heck is a Luckdragon anyway? (Apart from some kind of flying doghorse?) Actually, come to think of it, if you shaved a Luckdragon, it’d actually look quite a lot like Gwoemul from The Host. Bam! I just blew your mind!
Meh…they’re all a bunch of deadbeat party animals anyway.
4. The Gremlins from The Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
Okay, so they’re only mildly ambiguous, especially since we constantly get reminded about all the ‘rules’ for handling a cute, harmless little Mogwai, but I defy you to explain exactly what Joe Dante’s devious beastie creations actually are (besides vague references to them being the sort of things that David Icke would have us believe are living inside the leaders of the free world). Plus, those cheeky little green guys had to be on the list because, despite being a rather hefty box office disaster, the film’s sequel – Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Dante, 1990) – is basically one long intertextual laugh riot and features some of my all time favourite intertextual film gags ever. So there.
3. The Blob from The Blob (Chuck Russell, 1988)
Let’s face it, that trailer is pretty self explanatory…I mean, you want indeterminate? How about a giant, viscous, pink people-eater that sucks you down a plug-hole or makes you implode in a phone booth? Determine that, smart guy! That said, even though this menacingly pink, gooey mess scared the be-jesus out of me back in the day, I still think it should have been called Attack of the Killer Bubblegum.
2. The Thing from The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
Basically, you can’t get much more ambiguous than whatever the hell it is that awoke from an icy Antarctic slumber in John Carpenter’s all time classic, The Thing (1982). Ostensibly based on Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World (1951), in which the titular ‘thing’ was a giant humanoid alien, Carpenter ramps up the ambiguity (and the crazy) in his remake with a weird monster that consumes anything with a heart-beat, man or beast, and can then adopt their form. Seemingly unstoppable, the creature works its way through Kurt Russell’s motley crew until our hero detonates a massive charge destroying the facility along with his chances of survival, and those of The Thing itself.
I mean, if you want ambiguous beasties, you can’t really beat a film with the tagline “Man is the warmest place to hide”, can you now?
1. David Bowie’s Crotch from The Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986)
Now I love crotches as much as the next man, but what the heck is going on here? Honestly.
I think you’ve seen enough. Class dismissed.