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John Landis's Favourite Monsters In the Movies

John Landis, world-renowned director of some of the most popular films of all time including Trading Places,  Coming To America and Three Amigos!, was so impressed with the 1958 film, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and it's dragons, cyclops and enormous birds of prey, that it seems to have inspired a lifelong love of monsters and an amazing career bringing horror to both the big screen and the small screen.  His Academy Award winning film An American Werewolf in London, which he wrote and directed, is considered one of the all-time horror film classics, while his Thriller video with Michael Jackson is nothing short of a cultural touchstone. Though he's gone on to many other projects such as Innocent Blood, The Blues Brothers, Animal House and Burke & Hare, John Landis' love of a good monster remains strong as ever! We asked him to select a handful of his all-time favourite monsters from his book Monsters In the Movies along with his thoughts on each. Read below to discover his top picks!

The Frankenstein Monster

The Frankenstein Monster as portrayed by Boris Karloff in Universal Pictures' Frankenstein (1931, directed by James Whale) is probably the most well-known monster in the world. The brilliant make-up design and application by Jack Pierce is perfection on Karloff’s gaunt face. Boris Karloff’s extraordinary mime performance as the Monster is both sympathetic and frightening. When Karloff again played the Monster in the wonderful Bride of Frankenstein (1935, also directed by James Whale), the Monster was given the ability to speak, and again Karloff was superb. In later Universal “monster rally” movies, the Frankenstein Monster became just a lumbering hulk, but Karloff’s Monster remains definitive and the reason that the cinematic image of the Frankenstein Monster remains an international icon. 

King Kong

King Kong (1933, produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack) from RKO burst onto the public with such force the giant ape truly became “the 8th Wonder of the World!” When it was first released, it was such a sensation that it played on Broadway in New York in two theaters across the street from one another 24 hours a day! Kong was brought to life by the genius of stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, and his work remains unsurpassed. O’Brien was able to make Kong a true character displaying a wide range of emotions and gaining tremendous audience sympathy. I still tear up when those biplanes machine gun Kong and he falls from the top of the Empire State Building. King Kong is a revolutionary picture with influential work from sound designer Murray Spivack and composer Max Steiner—and most of all, “Kong, the 8th Wonder of the World!” 

The Creature

The last monster to join the club of what is now referred to as "Universal Classic Monsters" is The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954, directed by Jack Arnold). This movie showcases one of the greatest creature designs in history. Although Universal make-up department head Bud Westmore took the credit, the Creature was actually designed by studio artist Milicent Patrick. Filmed in black-and-white 3-D, the underwater sequences with the Creature (especially its erotic swim under Julie Adams, luscious in her one-piece white bathing suit) have been copied by every single underwater monster movie since. Wonderful filmmaker Guillermo del Toro was desperate to remake The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but the current management of Universal turned him down. So del Toro made his own version and called it The Shape of Water (2017, directed by Guillermo del Toro for Fox Searchlight), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year! 

The Thing

John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing from Another World (1951, directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks) is titled John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982, directed by John Carpenter). From a terrific screenplay by Bill Lancaster based on the John W. Campbell novella Who Goes There?, Carpenter’s version had the good fortune of having make-up effects artist Rob Bottin design and create the many forms of the constantly shape-shifting Thing. It is hard to describe a constantly evolving organism that literally becomes you, or that dog over there, or your best friend. An exciting “Who done it?” becomes a “What done it?” in the Arctic Circle! My favorite Thing moment is the human head that sprouts enormous spider legs from its throat and goes skittering off across the floor before it’s burnt by a handy flame thrower.

About John Landis

Filmmaker John Landis has directed some of the most popular movies of all time, including National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), Trading Places (1983), Spies Like Us (1985), Three Amigos! (1986) and Coming to America (1988). He wrote and directed the classic An American Werewolf in London (1988), and the groundbreaking Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983). He has made numerous documentaries, including the Emmy-winning documentary Mr. Warmth, the Don Rickles Project (2007), and Slasher (2004).