Changing gears from monsters played by actors, to monsters played by stop motion creations, it's time to cover the one and only original 'King Kong' - the film that pretty well single-handedly brought the giant monster movie genre into play. Even the great Godzilla wouldn't show up for another twenty-plus years!
New York director, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is working on a film, with the perfect location to shoot, known as Skull Island. However, he still lacks a leading lady to make things complete. Enter Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), who Carl promises her the acting opportunity of a lifetime, which she agrees to.
Carl is unwilling to divulge to the rest of the crew what they might encounter on the island, but soon enough we find out that it is home to a giant ape named Kong, who the islanders pretty much worship. Upon seeing Ann, they eventually kidnap her for a sacrifice to Kong, offering her up as his "bride". Meanwhile, the ship's first mate, John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), having fallen for Ann (very quickly) takes it upon himself to go find Ann, and get her out of Kong's clutches.
Things go haywire, as most know by now, when Kong is captured and brought to Manhattan to be shown off on stage, eventually leading to the ever-iconic scene of Kong climbing the Empire State Building, which at the time of the film's release was a mere almost two years old! I can only imagine what the film did for New York tourism at the time of its release.
Most of us have seen some version of this film, be it this one, the '05 Peter Jackson version, or even the 'Simpsons' Halloween special version. The important and memorable bits are all pretty much there, and may only be found among those titles considering how much it looks like things are taking a different route with this new giant monster universe. It's another case, much like 'Frankenstein' where we question the monster, not seeing it as evil, so much as a creature who doesn't know any better.
With that said, Kong's body count here is so hilariously high, he practically puts Jason Voorhees to shame. I get the impression that at the time, this was probably a pretty damn scary film, considering its amount of violence combined with the unfamiliarity of a stop-motion monster. It had been done before, but I feel like this is where things really took off.
Nowadays, however, that stop motion is the funnest part of the whole film. Some of these deaths combined with some of Kong's reactions are perfect for those of us who appreciate a good falling dummy, followed by a nonsensical scream. It really has gotten to the point where this could be considered so dated that it's a straight up comedy now. That's also dated as in dialogue. It's definitely the kind of film where you can point out things they couldn't get away with nowadays. So that might be a little something to bear in mind, but remember that in 1933 the world was very different as far as acceptance went.
If you're any sort of fan of giant monster movies, and you've never seen this original classic, you need to get on it. At this point, it's a whole lot of fun, and moments that are supposed to be dramatic or scary have become pretty well downright funny now. But don't take my word for it. Grab some popcorn, check it out for yourself with a group of friends, and have a well-deserved laugh at how unexpectedly over the top this movie is.
Here's one that was recommended as an addition to this list, but it's also not so much what you'd call a horror movie. It's a thriller with some pretty horrific ideas, but it's no monster movie. In fact, in its own way, I'd almost deem is a precursor to slasher films, considering the ideas behind it.
Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) ends up finding himself on a remote island after a luxury cruiser crashes on a reef and capsizes. After wandering around for a while, he discovers Count Zaroff's (Leslie Banks) estate, and is welcomed with open arms. A couple others who have ended up there in their own shipwreck as well, Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother, Martin (Robert Armstrong). However, it turns out that other survivors from Eve and Martin's ship have since gone missing, and in the case of a spoiler no longer really being a spoiler, Bob discovers the reason being that Zaroff has been hunting them on his grounds. The "most dangerous game", therefore, is mankind.
As a pro hunter, Zaroff finds that humans provide a better challenge due to their intelligence. He has also established set rules for the hunt, such as a generous head start at dawn, a knife and some previsions. If the hunted survives until 4:00am, they can leave the island freely. Bob and Eve become next on the list when Bob, as a fellow hunter, refuses to hunt humans with Zaroff. The rest of the film is essentially a survival story to see who the better man is, the hunter, or the hunted.
I believe that this was a first of its kind, but since 1932, the idea of humans hunting humans has been done and done again. Often disturbing, like 'Fortress', sometimes funny, like 'The Pest', it has gotten to the point where if one is made, it's a 'Most Dangerous Game' ripoff of some sort. The movie itself has undergone several remakes, with another one due for 2020, and the last one dated only a few years ago, under the name of 'Never Leave Alive'.
This was one that I particularly enjoyed, and had fun with. For '32, it's actually quite beautifully shot, and the acting here goes from deadpan serious to humorous, providing a pretty good combo of dialogue. But when it gets intense, you can still feel that tension, and I very much enjoyed Banks' performance as the out-of-his-mind hunter who sill acts completely casual throughout the ordeal. He made for a great villain.
I've also always kinda been into the whole idea here of one man playing the determined hunter, and another playing the prey, but a prey that has enough intelligence to fight back by setting traps and the like. I further like the idea of putting a hunter in an animal's shoes so blatantly, and up until this movie, I'm not sure it was ever done. This is one of the first films I can think of that has a sort of environmental protection undertone to it, but it doesn't milk it for all its worth, either.
Though by today's standards, things might come across as a bit hokey, it's still a very fun yet mildly disturbing movie that has withstood the test of time pretty well. Though one might sooner gravitate towards any sort of remade version of this film, I'd still highly recommend watching this version as the one that sort of paved the way for so many new titles it provided inspiration for.