Obviously some of the oldest and most iconic monsters of horror and Halloween are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies. And whilst they all rise and fall in terms of popularity they have all left their mark on pop culture. So for this part of my Halloween celebration I’m going to be looking at some of the highlights of each monster’s film history. Bear in mind I’m not a horror expert, and this will be a essentially me going through my favourite films for each monster, I certainly haven’t seen everything and I would love to here some suggestions of great movies I’ve missed.
Obviously the granddaddy of Zombie films is George A. Romero. His living dead series, starting with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, really laid the platform for everything to follow and build from. He’s directed six films in this series but the two most well know and best are certain the first installment and it’s sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead was actually remade in 2004 by Zack Snyder in one of his best films. It blended the story and social themes of Romero’s original with the faster more rampant undead introduced in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. This remake of Dawn of the Dead was actually one of my first introductions to Zombie films so I remember it just as fondly as any of Romero’s classics.
But my very first experience of Zombie films is also my favourite. Edgar Wright’s 2004 horror/comedy masterpiece Shaun of the Dead. As well as being hilarious it also has some real horror moments and a message about society that has only grown in relevance since then. I’m actually going to talk more about Shaun of the Dead later so for now I’m going to talk about another great zombie comedy, Zombieland. This is one that definitely leans more to the comedy side, Zombieland has a fantastic cast, some brilliant laugh out loud moments, not to mention the greatest cameo ever from Bill Murray who dresses in zombie make up to stay alive.
In more recent years we’ve seen people try and do something different with zombie films, most notably a romantic drama starring Nicholas Hoult as a zombie in the charming Warm Bodies. This was a film that proved that there were still interesting directions that zombies could be taken in films. Despite some fatigue for some zombies continue to be hugely popular, The Walking Dead and its astronomical ratings proves that there is still a huge appetite for them out there.
My absolute favourite monster, has anything changed more than on screen vampires? Looking back as far as Nosferatu in 1922. We saw this develop into portrayals of the most famous vampire of all time. Dracula. The most iconic portrayal of Dracula for me is Christopher Lee who portrayed the character multiple times in Hammer productions. Whilst these older films just aren’t as scary these days, they still helped make Dracula one of the most recognisable pop culture figures around, as well as propelling Lee himself to stardom.
Vampires started to take on a more faceless hoard type of threat with more focus being put on the hunters in many films. This has lead to many different kinds of vampires and stories being told. There are brilliant films as varied as Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, the Marvel property Blade and it’s even better sequel Blade 2, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which I wanted to give a shout out because it led to my favourite TV show of all time).
There are also films that have gone a completely different direction, with vampires becoming protagonists or fully rounded characters. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, two huge A-Listers, star as vampires as they tell their story in 1994’s Interview With The Vampire. My two absolute favourite vampire films of all time is 2008’s Swedish film Let The Right One In and the 2014 Mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (this one is hilarious). A brilliant look at the relationship between a 12-year-old boy and an eternally young vampire Let The Right One In is a brilliant, horrifying, and beautiful. There was an English language remake, but the Swedish original will always be the best. Finally I want to mention the underrated 2011 remake of Fright Night where Colin Farrell plays one of the most deliciously evil vampires I’ve seen. Whilst the genre has suffered from a little fatigue in recent years (probably caused by that abomination to the genre Twilight), it will be interesting to see where Vampires can be taken in the future.
Werewolves are the certainly the creature that I’ve seen the least of on film, and with the least that I really like. Whilst the character of the Wolfman appeared back in the Hammer productions, I’ve only actually seen the 2010 remake, which really wasn’t great. Similarly a Werewolf was placed into the Red Riding Hood story in the 2011 thriller Red Riding Hood, but that was a stinker as well.
There are a few examples of really great or enjoyable Werewolf films, first and foremost John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London. It stands as one of the absolute greatest horror comedies ever created (more of that later today). It’s probably the one truly great Werewolf film that I’ve seen. With my other favourites being more enjoyable fun watches rather than brilliantly crafted ones.
There is the 80s comedy Teen Wolf. Throwing in sport film elements with high school basketball creates a film so fun and different. Whilst it created a TV show (that is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine despite being pretty terrible) it’s the original film that has gained a big cult following. Is Teen Wolf a great film? Probably. But it is an incredibly fun one. I do also enjoy their role in the Underworld films, in which they are the antagonists in a war against vampires. Whilst there have been less great films dedicated to Werewolves, they have been given more of a chance to shine on TV, in programs like Being Human, or in Oz’s appearance on Buffy.
Ghost stories have been around for longer than any other type of monster story; stretching back even to Ancient Greek times with ghost appearing in Homer’s Odyssey and also appeared in the stories of William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. As such they have take on the most diverse range of stories from any of the classic horror monster that we find. From kids films like Casper the Friendly Ghost, to romance like Ghost, and straight out comedies such as Beetlejuice, or Ghostbusters. With a stellar cast of comedians the original Ghostbusters is absolutely hilarious, but still has touch with its horror roots, even if it would only scare the youngest of viewers. It is common to see filmmakers try and do interesting things with ghosts, because so many of the horror films are very similar.
A majority of the horror based ghost films see a malevolent presence haunting and tormenting a specific person or place. They tend to be filled with an enormous amount of jump scares, and most just are not that interesting to me. These films are numerous including The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Woman In Black, The Conjuring, The Ring, Poltergeist, and the best of them all The Shining. Whilst Steven King may not have been happy with the adaptation of his novel it is an utterly brilliant horror work from Stanley Kubrick and is spearheaded by a brilliant performance from Jack Nicholson.
Some of my personal favourites have come from director Guillermo Del Toro. His 2001 film The Devil’s Backbone brings his gothic and creepy sensibilities to the genre. And whilst it cannot be considered on the same level, Del Toro brought the atmosphere to the underrated Crimson Peak in 2015. I think that the ghost genre is the perfect place for Del Toro’s style. Ghost films tend to be a little too formulaic, whilst some I’ve listed are great such as The Shining or Poltergeist; you also get a lot of the same tropes over and over in the bulk of them. That’s why a director like Del Toro’s work really appeals to me, as his style is so different, and creates an overall feeling of dread, rather than simply having those jump moments.