Paul Kane’s Top Ten Monster Books and Movies

So, here we go with my favourite Monster books and movies… And I should mention that I’m consciously not including vampire, zombie or werewolf offerings, as they’re categories in their own right; I could easily come up with ten books and films for each of those. Plus it allows room for me to include other entries.

 

1) The Thing (directed by John Carpenter, 1982).

This is a movie that had a massive effect on me in my formative years – when I crept down to watch it late at night on ITV one Saturday and totally freaked myself out (I used to do that a lot, as we all probably did). I remember not being able to face my Sunday dinner the next day after seeing that autopsy scene, but couldn’t tell my parents why. It was probably my first exposure to the sub-genre known as ‘Body Horror’ – which would become so important to my work. My better half Marie O’Regan and I even edited The Mammoth Book of Body Horror years later, and included ‘Who Goes There?’, the original John W. Campbell tale which The Thing is based on. It’s also a perfect example of how flexible horror and monster movies can be, in this instance an SF-Horror (other examples of this in my all-time favourites list would definitely have to include Alien and Event Horizon). Everything about this film is just perfect, from Bill Lancaster’s script to Carpenter’s direction, from the desolate setting to the inventive effects, not to mention the memorable characters – this is Kurt Russell’s finest hour as reluctant hero MacReady (“Those damned Swedes!”). I could watch it a million times and that still wouldn’t be enough.

82) The Hound of the Baskervilles (written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902)

I’m a huge fan, as most people will have read when I did the publicity for Servants of Hell, of Sherlock Holmes in all his incarnations…though for me the definitive screen Holmes will always be Jeremy Brett. I came across the original Conan Doyle stories at around the same time as I did Clive’s work, which is probably why the two were forever linked in my mind, but my very favourite tale from the original canon is The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s the definitive ‘horror’ Holmes really, with a huge supernatural dog running around killing people… even if it did have a more earthly explanation at the end. I would still regard it as a monster, even in that form! It certainly fired my imagination and I was delighted to be able to bring the hound in question back to roam the corridors of Hell in my own Holmes novel. It was probably also in part responsible for RED (published with the sequel Blood RED by SST), as well as the obvious fairy tale influence. There would also be no Crimson Mystery without this one.

3) Jaws (directed by Steven Spielberg, 1975)

This movie is simply an exercise in cinematic suspense, executed perfectly. We can forgive the rubber shark, ‘Bruce’, that makes its grand entrance towards the end, because the way the tension is built up before that is a masterclass in how to have an audience on the edge of its seat; not least the use of the camera POV as the monster in question for most of the film. The shock of the fisherman’s head appearing in the bottom of the sunken boat still makes me jump all these years later, almost as much as it does Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper. And, of course, we wouldn’t care at all if it weren’t for the portrayal of the characters by him, Roy Scheider – as ‘fish out of water’ New Yorker Chief Brody, transplanted to Amity Island at the worst possible time – and Robert Shaw’s Quint, one of my favourite characters in anything ever. When he tells the story of the Indianapolis, a true monster tale, not only do all the hairs stand up on end on the back of your neck, you totally understand where this Ahab-esque man is coming from. Not many films deserve the classic status they’re given more than this one. Also, crucially, without Jaws, there would be no blockbuster.

4) The Rats (written by James Herbert, 1974)

Hhmm, I’ve just realised that the last couple of choices are all about revenge of nature or animals on the rampage, but that’s no bad thing in a list of monsters – and here’s another! I’ve long been an admirer of James Herbert and his work, and feel very privileged that I got to know him before his untimely death; my last abiding memory of him was the signing he did for us at FantasyCon in 2012, where he took time to chat to everybody and was telling tall tales – what else would you expect? What Jim did here with his first chiller (a term he coined himself) The Rats was take a tired horror genre and create something fresh within it that was copied again and again. The Rats was probably the first full-on horror book I ever read, certainly the first ‘monster’ one, and I loved it! The terrifying notion of these giant killer rats plaguing London sent shivers down my spine and had me checking under my bed and in the wardrobe. It still does, frankly. When it was reported a while ago that giant rats the size of dogs had actually been found, I said to myself: Jim was right all along! There was also the sense that when you were reading The Rats you were doing something forbidden. To be fair, I probably was – reading gore and sex scenes at such a tender age – but boy was it a ride! I can’t mention The Rats, though, without including Lair and Domain, which raised the bar even higher. I’ll never forget the clever and emotionally draining way Jim handled wiping out an entire population at the beginning of the latter.

5) Nightbreed (directed by Clive Barker, 1990)

You were wondering when Mr Barker would appear, weren’t you? And what better example of a monster movie than this one, which is all about them. However, while reading the short novel it’s based on, Cabal, is still a wholly satisfying experience, watching the second movie Clive directed (after Hellraiser) is always a bitter-sweet experience for me; even if I’m watching the director’s cut. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my favourite movies of all time – and definitely one of my Barker favourites – and I love the way the ’breed were brought to glorious life by Bob Keen and his crew at Image Animation. But there’s always going to be a bad taste in the mouth at the way this movie was mishandled by the studio system, and the way it was marketed. Trailers that pitched it as some kind of stalk ‘n’ slash with monsters totally missed the whole point that the monsters here are the good guys, showing up the bigoted and – especially in psychiatrist Decker’s case, played to perfection by an eerily calm David Cronenberg – psychotic humans for the true monsters they are. It’s since gained the classic status it deserves, with actors like Craig Sheffer (as Boone), Anne Bobby (as Lori), Hugh Ross (as Narcisse) and Oli Parker (as everyone’s favourite ’breed member, Peloquin), getting the recognition they so richly deserve. It was also nice to see the original male Cenobites back in roles: Doug Bradley, as the ’breed’s wiseman Lylesberg, Simon Bamford – with much less make-up than he needed for Butterball – as Ohnaka, and Nick Vince as the moon-faced Kinski.

6) Frankenstein (Written by Mary Shelley, 1818)

The granddaddy of all mad scientist monster books and films, I first read Frankenstein when I was going through my period of reading everything genre-related back in my teens…what I call my real education. Which included the classics, such as Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and, of course, Frankenstein. Actually, I first read all of them in one volume which had a lurid red and black cover and an introduction by none other than Stephen King – more on him later. Without this one, we wouldn’t have had so many of my favourite tales and movies, like The Fly, Re-Animator, Splice and too many more to mention. What I absolutely love about this is the way Dr Frankenstein is so sure what he’s doing is right and it comes from a place of wanting to make the world a better place, only for things to go spectacularly wrong. The road to Hell and all that. On the flip side we have the monster who didn’t ask to be created, is this kind of outsider figure who doesn’t fit in, and never will. They make up this tragic Yin and Yang which fuels the story and makes it so interesting. A truly ground-breaking tale, variations of which are still appearing today – you only have to look at the recent episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ to see that. It’s also a perfect example of the story behind the story being as fascinating as the book itself.

7) The Cabin in the Woods (directed by Drew Goddard, 2011)

A bit of a cheat, this one, as it contains pretty much every monster you could ever dream of all in one place, especially when they run riot at the end. I’ve been a fan of Drew Goddard’s work for a long time, from his Buffy days through to writing Cloverfield (the quintessential found footage monster romp), right up to the excellent Daredevil and Bad Times at the El Royale. His collaboration here with the creator of that show about a certain vampire slayer is nothing short of perfection, in my humble opinion. Simultaneously a satire and commentary on tired horror tropes, and a movie that elevates itself above them, it’s a surprise monster fest that manages to cram in everything from the Cenobites (good old ‘Sawhead’) to creepy ballerinas, snake creatures and, yes, even mermen! If you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you correct that oversight immediately. There’s also an excellent novelisation from Titan, written by my good friend Tim Lebbon.

8) The Mist (written by Stephen King, 1980)

Told you we’d get back to this talented chap, the person who coincidentally The Storm is dedicated to (you’ll find out why when you read it). I’ve loved this book – technically a novella that first appeared in Dark Forces, then the collection Skeleton Crew – since I first read it, and my enjoyment hasn’t waned in all that time. I love the setting, which is by turns claustrophobic and also global in scale, the premise – that we’ve torn a hole in reality and let through all kinds of creatures from another dimension – and the characters. A father battling to keep his son safe in the midst of all this chaos? There’s no greater motivation than that. I was equally delighted when Frank Darabont (who did such an excellent job of adapting Shawshank and The Green Mile) turned this into a movie, and if anything made it even bleaker, especially at the end. I love a bit of bleakness, me, as anyone who’s read books like The Rot will testify.

9) King Kong (directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

As much as I adore his contemporary, Godzilla – and believe me, I do – he probably wouldn’t exist without Kong. I’ve chosen the original and the best here, although later movies like the Jackson adaptation and Skull Island do give it a run for its money. But it’s the introduction of the character of Kong himself that makes this movie so special. Created by stop motion surpremo Willis O’Brien, or Obie to his friends, when Kong appeared on screen for the first time nobody had ever seen anything quite like it before. I mean, sure, there had been dinosaurs – most notably in 1925’s The Lost World – but Kong, literally, wiped the floor with those. Who could ever forget his memorable scrap with the T-Rex while Fay Wray looks on and screams her lungs out? Stuff like that sticks with a little kid watching creature features on rainy Sundays and bank holidays (and Ray Harryhausen, I’m also looking at you when I say that). I’m so looking forward to seeing Kong and Godzilla in the same film knocking lumps out of each other, it’s going to be epic.

10) The Day of the Triffids (written by John Wyndham, 1951)

I came to this novel in a kind of roundabout way, via the BBC adaptation in the 80s starring John Duttine. That scared the living daylights out of me when I was a kid (the tender age of 8 to be precise), but it also made me want to hunt out and read the book. Like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, Triffids is a great example of SF commenting on the present day and possible nightmare futures. In this instance it’s where we might end up if we continue to experiment with cross-breeding plants and genetically engineering them. Okay, so the triffids are useful and valuable when everyone can see – their oil in particular – but what about when a comet in the night sky takes away most of the population’s eyesight and the little buggers escape? Then you’re definitely in trouble. I love this one not only because of the unique monsters, seared into my mind as those walking rubber creations from 1981 with ‘tongues’ that lash out and sting you, but also because it’s a great example of a post-apocalyptic scenario where people soon forget how to be civilised and society crumbles into mayhem. While I’m on, I can wholeheartedly recommend the official sequel by my old friend Simon Clark, The Night of the Triffids, which takes both the action and the horror to yet another level.

 

Well, there you have it. Not a comprehensive list by any means – I doubt I’d have been able to fit all my favourites into a top million – but should give you some idea of where I’m coming from and the kinds of monsters that inspired The Storm especially.

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over ninety books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts, The Mammoth Book of Body Horror and Pain Cages (an Amazon #1 bestseller). His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and 2018, HorrorCon, HorrorFest and Grimm Up North in 2015, The Dublin Ghost Story Festival and Sledge-Lit in 2016, IMATS Olympia and Celluloid Screams in 2017, plus Black Library Live and the UK Ghost Story Festival in 2019, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention, and a fiction judge at the Sci-Fi London festival. A former British Fantasy Society Special Publications Editor, he is currently serving as co-chair for the UK chapter of The Horror Writers Association. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network primetime television, and his novelette ‘Men of the Cloth’ has just been turned into a feature by Loose Canon/Hydra Films, starring Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, You’re Next). His audio work includes the full cast drama adaptation of The Hellbound Heart for Bafflegab, starring Tom Meeten (The Ghoul), Neve McIntosh (Doctor Who) and Alice Lowe (Prevenge), and the Robin of Sherwood adventure The Red Lord for Spiteful Puppet/ITV narrated by Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint). Paul’s latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequels to REDBlood RED & Deep RED – the award-winning hit Sherlock Holmes & the Servants of Hell, Before (an Amazon Top 5 dark fantasy bestseller) and Arcana. He also writes thrillers for HQ Digital/HarperCollins as PL Kane, the first of which, Her Last Secret, came out in January. Paul lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan and his family. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robert Kirkman, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

 

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