The 90s was quite possibly the absolute worst decade for horror in cinematic history. Summed up best by the word bland. So very bland. One ray of light amongst all this blandness was the good old creature feature, which actually produced a couple of modern-day monster greats. So before I launch into a self-assured Top 5 of the best monsters of the bland years, let’s set some house rules: 1) The creature has to be a new film from the decade and not a sequel to a movie from previous decades (so that’s goodbye to Aliens and Predators). 2) ‘Monsters’ refers to proper monsters, beast type creatures that offer up something a little different from the normal humanoid-type beings we’re all so used to (so that’s goodbye boogeymen, zombies, vampires, and werewolves). 3) I’ll try and avoid animals, both current and extinct (so that’s goodbye giant snakes, crocodiles, and dinosaurs). 4) Get on with it.
5: Machine man-parts ensamble, in Virus (1999): Because I’ve ruled myself out just about every other contender (Jurassic park, Anaconda, Alien’s 3 & 4, Predator 2, Terminator 2, et al), I’ve kind of been left with this less than perfect adition. However the film and creature do have a certain watchability and morbid curiosity. The mixture of flesh and machine is effective, and does bring about decent levels of repulsion. Plus for a film made as late as it is in the decade it relies almost entirely on animatronics and puppetry which is great to see. Plus it pits monster against Jamie Lee Curtis which is no bad thing.
4: The Judas Breed, in Mimic (1997). You’re always guaranteed interesting creatures when they come from the brain of Guillermo del Toro. Giant bugs are a staple diet in the beloved tradition of American monster cinema, but these man-sized cockroaches offered up something new; the ability to disguise themselves as people with clever skull-type masks. As expected with a del Toro film, It’s also a triumph of style.
3: The Kothoga, in The Relic (1997): A great throwback to creatures and creature features of the 50s. You could imagine this warthog/lion/rhino/elephant creature lumbering around a black and white movie operated by Ray Harryhausen. The creature is technically a mutated man, not that you’d really know it by the time It’s fully formed and is galloping around the Chicago Museum of Natural History killing dogs, cops, special ops, and even kids. Great stuff.
2: Graboids, in Tremors (1990): Brilliant, just brilliant. Giant worms with tusks and snake-like tentacles for tongues, terrorising the small Nevada town of Perfection. There’s a joyous simplicity about the Graboids that makes them ever endearing. Realised by wonderful animatronics and miniatures this is perhaps the single closest thing you can get to an actual 50s b-movie monster flick in the 90s (and beyond).
1: Giant octopus/squid type thing, in Deep Rising (1998): The thing that makes Deep Rising so wonderful is it’s embracing of everything it is. It’s a monster movie and proud of it. It conjures up memories of virtually every genre favourite from It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955) to King Kong (1933), from Jaws (1975) to Alien (1979). The creature, realised almost entirely with CGI, may be looking a little ropey today, but the clever idea to make all tentacled killers part of a single monstrous whole keeps the viewer guessing and allows the film to check off just about every single expectation monster fans have. As satisfying as it is underrated.