Last August, I saw on the Tears of Envy blog a link to a post in The Guardian's Film Blog called "Where's the thrill in today's cookie-cutter monster movies?" by Phelim O'Neill. In the post, O'Neill bemoans the lack of creativity in recent movie monster designs. As his post states, "The big movies this year have been full of monsters, aliens, robots – all sorts of creatures and creations. On the surface, there's never been a better time for lovers of monster movies. But when you look closer at the beasties themselves, you see how similar they are to one another; how they look like they were clumsily Frankensteined together from existing ogres. In truth, there's never been a worse time for movie monsters."
Personally, I think that O'Neill has it all wrong--not so much about movie monster designs, but about monster movies in general. The overwhelming majority of creature features are usually cheap rip-offs of superior films, both in terms of plot and monster design. This was true during the early days of Hollywood and it is no different now. O'Neill waxes nostalgic that "we're not seeing anything like the iconic creatures of old", but for every classic example he cites--Frankenstein (1933), Alien (1979), Basket Case (1982), and so on--he ignores the countless movie monsters that were inspired by the classics but fell far short of being effective and original. Not every monster designer can be the next Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker or Stan Winston, and even those who are don't always get the recognition they deserve.
To emphasize my point, consider Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). It's one of the classic examples that O'Neill cites, and rightfully so. Even though the titular Creature is really just a guy in a suit, it's easy to forget that when watching it on the silver screen because the suit was so well designed. Even more impressive was that the suit could be used to shoot lengthy underwater scenes where the Creature swims gracefully among fish, seaweed and other denizens of the deep, thus further convincing the audience that what they were seeing wasn't human. Such an impressive feat inspired many imitators, all of which bear some similarities to the original Creature but come nowhere close to being successful on their own due to lack of creativity, sloppy design and poor funding. This photo gallery is devoted to these bargain-basement beasts, both how they were depicted in their movies' posters and what they actually looked like. Click below to see the gallery.
The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955)
The She-Creature (1956)
The Alligator People (1959)
The Monster of Piedras Blancas (1959)
Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)
The Horror of Party Beach (1964)
Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)
Destination Inner Space (1966)
Zaat (a.k.a. The Blood Island of Dr. Z, 1971)
Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake (1975)
Island of the Fishmen (a.k.a. Screamers, 1979)
Humanoids from the Deep (a.k.a. Monster, 1980)
Demon of Paradise (1987)