Nominate Your Favorite Monster Movies

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Zombieland i

In 2009's Zombieland, Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, who has a strict set of rules for surviving the zombies' onslaught. Sony Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Sony Pictures
Zombieland

In 2009's Zombieland, Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, who has a strict set of rules for surviving the zombies' onslaught.

Sony Pictures

Halloween is around the corner, and our much-loved movie buff Murray Horwitz screams about his favorite monster movies.

Horwitz loves King Kong, which he calls, "a perfect movie with a perfect monster." Host Neal Conan prefers Forbidden Planet, "stolen from the best writer ever, Shakespeare."

Which movies — from Frankenstein through Zombieland — make up your horror film fest must-see list?

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

With Halloween only two days away, you probably already carved your pumpkins, stockpiled candy corn and tried on your costume. But have you rented the monster movie yet?

(Soundbite of screaming)

CONAN: No need to panic. Today, we share our favorite monster movies with our favorite film buff, Murray Horwitz, here to help us out. Werewolves, zombies, vampires, aliens, animals gone wild, even some ghosts. What is your favorite monster movie? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Murray Horwitz is here with us in Studio 3A. Always good to have you back in the program.

MURRAY HORWITZ: Good to be back, Neal. But I'm just still wondering how you got somebody with a microphone at my breakfast table.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yeah. Just (unintelligible).

HORWITZ: Morning at the Horwitz's, you know?

CONAN: That's right. Yeah. You run into some definitional problems. What makes a monster movie?

HORWITZ: One person's problem is another's opportunity, Neal.

CONAN: I should...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: I decided, you know, I can be very fascistic and maybe something of a monster myself about setting down ground rules. I mean, we will accept this and we will accept those.

CONAN: As you sometimes do on these types of things.

HORWITZ: That's what I'm saying, I can really be awful about it. I'm - somehow in my dotage - tend to be a little liberal about this one. I mean, beasts are -I mean, there still are some ground rules, no TV. We're not talking about TV at all. These are films. But beasts are - we think of them as things with fangs and, you know, drooling and, you know, scary chimeras of some sort. But really, when you think of monsters, a monster can be anything in a horror film. I mean, it could even be a force that - it can be abstract. It can be a - but it's some thing and it's something other than human. It's something that can't be stopped and it'll come after you, or it might.

CONAN: Or it might.

HORWITZ: Right. And so, we're not - but when - so we're not talking about monsters human beings, there's no Adolf Hitler in �Downfall� or even Aileen Warren(ph) - in the serial killer - in �Monster.� We mean something other or unnatural. You could have been a human.

CONAN: And then you'd be a zombie.

HORWITZ: Yeah. Either - yes. Something supernatural or scientific.

CONAN: But Hannibal Lecter wouldn't count?

HORWITZ: Hannibal Lecter, no. You know, a guy with a knife doesn't count. You could be a guy with the knife.

CONAN: All right. When you're talking about animals - if you're being chased by a black bear, that doesn't count.

HORWITZ: No, because that's a real animal. But if you're being chased�

CONAN: Or big, big sharks.

HORWITZ: Big sharks are monsters. Big anaconda snakes, that's a monster. Something unnatural, something that's other than what's in real - and, you know, if you're being - even something real like a dinosaur. But if you're being chased�

CONAN: But aren't those real?

HORWITZ: �by a dinosaur today�

HORWITZ: Aha.

HORWITZ: �then that's unnatural.

CONAN: Well, if you're ever being chased by dinosaur it's unnatural.

HORWITZ: Well if you - haven't you seen, you know, �One Million Years B.C.?� I mean, it's Raquel Welch. It's perfectly�

CONAN: That was a documentary, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Doc(ph) is on the line from Oklahoma City.

DOC (Caller): Yup. Up until last week - I believe it was �Godzilla� - but the more I thought about it, I think it was �The Thing from Another Planet� - or �Another World,� the one that starred James Arness, the old black and white one.

CONAN: And I think you've extended the title just a bit because it was called �The Thing.�

(Soundbite of movie, �Them�)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as Character) Jerry, listen to me. Stay where you are. We're going to get you out of there but don't move.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as Character) Wait, there's two ants in here. I got a (unintelligible).

HORWITZ: That's �Them.�

CONAN: That's �Them.� I apologize. That's not �The Thing.� That's �Them.� Those are the giant ants.

HORWITZ: Yes. That's right. These are the�

DOC: Is that the one with - was it James Whitmore? Didn't he�

CONAN: James Whitmore.

HORWITZ: James Whitmore, that's right. That's right.

CONAN: And the horrible shot of that one was it first lands on the Washington Monument, there's that little slit and the guard's looking at the little slit. I was watching it in bed one night on the �Late, Late Show Part 2.�

HORWITZ: It's terrifying�

CONAN: And I pulled up the sheets. And there - I refocused my eyes - was a roach right there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: And that explains much, Neal.

CONAN: It does.

HORWITZ: But I want to congratulate Doc and thank him because he started with a film that we really have to get to. �The Thing� with James Arness was a Howard Hawks movie - one of the great directors - in '51, even though he wasn't credited for it. But there's a remake of it that is one of the great horror directors of our time. John Carpenter's best film. This is 1982, �The Thing,� and it's scary and it's just, you know - I recommend it if you really want to get terrified.

CONAN: And James Arness in the original plays a carrot.

HORWITZ: Right.

CONAN: Doc, thanks very much for the phone call.

DOC: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Steve, Steve with us from Wichita.

STEVE (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

STEVE: Well, I'm in my 60-ish right now. And when I was in my 30s, I think the scariest thing I ever saw was �Alien.� To this day, that's still the scariest thing I've ever seen.

CONAN: �Alien.� Now, this�

HORWITZ: Yes, yes.

CONAN: They're creatures from outer space. They're monsters.

HORWITZ: Yes, yes, yes. If - they are monsters. If you think of the phrase creature feature, I mean, that's a - that features a really big creature. And I'm 100 percent with you. That was so upsetting a movie. I don't think movies have ever given me really bad dreams except for one, and that was Ridley Scott's �Alien� in 1979. That is a terrifying movie and a terrifying monster.

But as you go on to James Cameron's �Aliens,� and then David Fincher, �Alien 3,� which has a bad rep, but it's really an underrated movie, those - the monsters kind of get more humanized. And that's one of the things about monsters. They always have a little bit of humanity to them. They're sympathetic on some level. For example, they can have humor, as they do in some of the later alien movies.

CONAN: All right. Well, Steve, thanks very much.

STEVE: You betcha.

CONAN: Here's an email from Herb in - Herb Chester - Herb in Chester, South Carolina. He maybe named Chester too, for all I know. He nominates �Halloween.� What a classic. No real gory, just implied horror, the way they would build to a heart-stopping crescendo, then ease off like nothing would happen, then wham, awesome. John Carpenter really knew his game.

(Soundbite of movie, �Halloween�)

Mr. DONALD PLEASENCE (Actor): (as Dr. Sam Loomis) I spent eight years trying to reach him and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply evil.

CONAN: Ah, Donald Pleasence.

HORWITZ: Donald Pleasence in an unpleasant situation. And that's a really good point, because there are some of the slasher movies like �Halloween� and �The Nightmare on Elm Street� series and the �Friday the 13th� series, and these people really are monsters, even though they were human beings.

They were human beings but then something changed them, as Donald Pleasence just told us, into something supernatural, because it's really important to remember, you can't kill these guys.

CONAN: You can't�

HORWITZ: They keep coming back.

CONAN: They keep coming back.

HORWITZ: Yeah.

CONAN: We've all seen that. We've all seen that in the film. But then do you get to �The Terminator�? It's a robot.

HORWITZ: Well, but now�

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: I love this category, because there are categories within the categories. And these are mechanical or otherwise inanimate monsters. So the Terminator is absolutely a monster. You know, in �2001: A Space Odyssey,� HAL is a monster, after all.

CONAN: Is a monster, yeah. Absolutely.

HORWITZ: You know, and there are even houses. They were talking about haunted houses on NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED yesterday. And you know, in �The Shining,� the Overlook Hotel is�

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That is a monster. Of a sort, I guess. All right. Let's go next to Josh, and Josh with us from Grand Junction in Colorado.

JOSH (Caller): Hi. I was just going to mention that probably one of the bigger monster movies that I thought was interesting was probably �The Fly.�

CONAN: Which version, the Vincent Price version or the Jeff Goldblum version?

JOSH: I guess you'd start with Vincent Price, but I think they did a decent job in the Jeff Goldblum one.

CONAN: Here's a clip from the Jeff Goldblum version.

(Soundbite of movie, �The Fly�)

Mr. JEFF GOLDBLUM (Actor): (as Seth Brundle) Changes. Every time I look in the mirror, there's someone different, someone hideous, repulsive.

Ms. GEENA DAVIS (Actor): (as Veronica Quaife): What happened?

Mr. GOLDBLUM: (as Brundle) I know an old lady who swallowed a fly, perhaps she'll die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Jeff Goldblum.

HORWITZ: I know a relief picture who looked just like him. Anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: How'd he do? You know, he looked like the fly or like�

CONAN: Like Jeff Goldblum, yeah.

HORWITZ: Well�

CONAN: He didn't have as good a career, I'll tell you that.

HORWITZ: Full disclosure. I am a member of the Directors Guild of America, and I have to say that is David Cronenberg's version of �The Fly,� with Jeff Goldblum. And there's that great, great scene there in the diner, where he just keeps consuming piles and piles and piles of sugar. It's a great monster movie. I'm also very fond of the original and all those sort of �50s black and white films. You know, there's almost a subgenre in this category of Roger Corman movies.

CONAN: Yes.

HORWITZ: You know, �The Attack of the Crab Monsters� and �Not of This Earth.�

CONAN: Almost any movie made by Roger Corman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Even the Westerns.

CONAN: Even the Westerns. Thanks very much for the call, Josh.

JOSH: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Andrea, Andrea in Wichita.

ANDREA (Caller): Hi. Hi. I was going to nominate �Frankenstein,� the original James Whale version.

CONAN: With Colin Clive playing the mad scientist?

JOSH: Yes�

HORWITZ: I think - there it is, there it is.

(Soundbite of movie, �Frankenstein�)

Mr. COLIN CLIVE (Actor): (as Dr. Henry Frankenstein): He's alive. He's alive. He's alive. He's alive. He's alive. In the name of God (unintelligible)�

CONAN: It's overacting! It's overacting!

HORWITZ: Yes, it's one of my favorite over-actors in life, it's Colin Clive.

ANDREA: I was going to say about the character, about the monsters - you almost feel sorry for him. You sympathized with him.

HORWITZ: Yeah.

CONAN: Well, until he kills the little girl.

HORWITZ: Well, you know, but that was cut in many - when it was originally released. And Andrea, I'm very thankful to you, because - yeah, one of my points is that you do feel some sympathy. And it's one of reasons we love these movies, I think, even though I never want to see �Alien� again in my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It tells you something about yourself. It tells us something about ourselves as humans or humans in different cultures. You know, what scares us? What really is monsters? And thank you, Andrea, for mentioning those Universal pictures of the early �30s�

ANDREA: Thank you. Yeah�

HORWITZ: ��cause all of those, �Frankenstein,� �The Wolfman� - which is actually �40 or '41 - �Dracula,� you know, �The Mummy,� those are all - and�

CONAN: �The Invisible Man.�

HORWITZ: �The Invisible Man,� who's a monster that's not visible.

ANDREA: James Whale also, right?

HORWITZ: Also James Whale. And then there's �The Bride of Frankenstein� with Elsa Lanchester as the bride.

ANDREA: Yes, yes.

CONAN: As long as we're in that territory, would you count �Freaks,� Tod Browning's �Freaks� as a monster movie?

HORWITZ: No, because�

CONAN: Well, she turns into a monster.

HORWITZ: She does, and she - but it's not - I mean, those are human beings. Those are - and one might say unfortunate human beings. But there's nothing�

ANDREA: They're monstrous human beings.

HORWITZ: You're right. They're monstrous, but not monsters.

CONAN: Okay. All right.

HORWITZ: Thank you, Andrea.

CONAN: Andrea�

ANDREA: Thank you.

CONAN: �thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is Terry. Terry with us from Fresno.

TERRY (Caller): Yes. My favorite one is �The Blob� from - with Steve McQueen from the �50s, not the one from the '80s with the Dylan guy.

CONAN: Here's Steve McQueen trying to rally his friends to the cause.

(Soundbite of movie, �Blob�)

Mr. STEVE McQUEEN (Actor): (as Steve Andrews) Would you believe me if I told you there was something inside of that rock we found tonight? Something that could wipe out this whole town?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as character) Oh, come on�

Mr. ROBERT FIELDS (Actor): (as Tony Gressette) Hey, knock it off. Go ahead, Steve.

Mr. McQUEEN: (as Steve Andrews) I saw this thing kill Dr. Hallen tonight.

Unidentified Man #1: (as character) Come on�

CONAN: No, not Dr. Hallen.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's�

TERRY: It's amazing you guys have a clip for that. The thing was, my - after I watched it, I wouldn't - my mom would make Jell-O, you know, right afterwards and it would be kind of like - eerie kind of feeling. But (unintelligible)�

(Soundbite of laughter)

TERRY: It's so weird that these people were terrified of something that could only move a few inches at a�

HORWITZ: Right, right.

TERRY: �could just leisurely walk out of its way to avoid it.

HORWITZ: Terry, you didn't take the Jell-O and sort of like force it through the HVAC ducts, did you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TERRY: No. No. Nothing like that.

HORWITZ: This is 1958. It was the first horror movie that my parents let me watch. Jackie Brennan(ph) for his birthday took everybody to see �The Blob.� And it was terrifying.

CONAN: And then shortly thereafter, there's �The Tingler,� where they had a little battery-operated thing on the seat. Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

HORWITZ: It's an important genre because it's kind of not - it's sort of a vegetable monster, you know? Like �Day of the Triffids.�

CONAN: Like �The Thing.�

HORWITZ: Yeah, that's right�

CONAN: Terry, thanks very much for the call.

TERRY: Thank you guys very much. Talk to you later.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about our favorite monster movies with Murray Horwitz. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's go next to Jay. Jay with in from Ann Arbor.

JAY (Caller): Hey. You forgot one of the best Universal monsters, and that is �Creature from the Black Lagoon.�

HORWITZ: Right.

JAY: One of my favorites. And not many people really know about him, but he's really cool.

CONAN: This - one of the favorite lines in all of cinema: How did I get involved in all of this science, ichthyology, fish?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: It's great. �Creature from the Black Lagoon,� You're absolutely right, Jay. And leave us not forget �The Creature Walks Among Us� and �The Revenge of the Creature.� I mean�

JAY: Yeah. (Unintelligible) sequels. You got the classic monster comes to town and then the exploring this humanity of the monster.

HORWITZ: Also, probably, you'll forgive me, the cheapest monster costume anybody had. You know�

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAY: Or one of the greatest.

HORWITZ: Yeah, but one of the greatest. This side of an Ed Wood film. It was, you know, slippers and a black mask.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Jay.

JAY: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can reach some of these emails. How about �Cars�? Stephen King's amuck automobile.

HORWITZ: Yup.

CONAN: All right. And�

HORWITZ: That's an inanimate monster.

CONAN: That from Betty Bishop in Chester, California. �Eraserhead,� says Hunter Kirkland in Washington. It's not your usual jump-out-and-grab-you monster, but the baby in David Lynch's �Eraserhead� always leaves me with the deepest sense of unease. It's an interesting departure from the usual movie monster because it's not even directly menacing, yet something about it takes pathos to the level (unintelligible)�

HORWITZ: Yeah, I can't remember - I don't remember if there's anything supernatural about�

CONAN: I don't think so.

HORWITZ: I don't think so. But it's an important point, which is that there are some - if you think about the names of, like, Jason and Freddie and those -these are, you know, sort of regular guys, you know? There's something disarming about a baby. There's something disarming. One that is demonic possession and supernatural is �The Exorcist,� which is this�

CONAN: Sure.

HORWITZ: �beautiful, cute little girl. But the voice is not so cute.

CONAN: The voice is (unintelligible) Mercedes McCambridge�

HORWITZ: You bet. With a couple of quarts of bourbon in her.

CONAN: Now, I have to say - I get to make a nomination here.

HORWITZ: Okay.

CONAN: And I'm going to pick one stolen from the best writer ever, William Shakespeare. And of course that is �Forbidden Planet.�

(Soundbite of movie, �Forbidden Planet�)

Mr. EARL HOLLIMAN (Actor): (as Earl Holliman) Well, you low-living contraption. I ought to take a can opener to you.

Mr. MARVIN MILLER (Actor): (as Robby the Robot): Quiet, please. I am analyzing.

(Soundbite of burp)

Mr. MILLER: (as Robby the Robot) Yes, relatively simple alcohol molecules with traces of fusel oil. Would 60 gallons be sufficient?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Earl Holliman there interacting with Robby the Robot.

HORWITZ: Robby the Robot, who's not a monster, but Walter Pidgeon's id is a real monster.

CONAN: Creatures from the id.

HORWITZ: Yup. Created by human - you know, one of the things we haven't talked about, speaking of benign monsters, right now there's a film called �Where the Wild Things Are.� And there are these kind of fantastical creatures in the �Star Wars� series that are almost incidental, in Disney films and in �Neverending Story.� I mean, these are monsters who, you know, could be capable of doing you harm, but they're benign.

CONAN: There's also - we have to ask Murray - your favorite one.

HORWITZ: Well, we talked about humanity, didn't we? And people who've been listening to this show for a long time know that I love �King Kong.� It is a perfect movie, and he is a perfect monster.

CONAN: And here is the original �King Kong� from 1933, just been introduced as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and the press is snapping pictures.

(Soundbite of movie, �King Kong�)

Mr. ROBERT ARMSTRONG (Actor): (as Denham) Now, wait a minute, wait a minute. Hold on. He thinks we're attacking the girl.

(Soundbite of roar)

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as character) Aw, let him roar. It's a swell picture.

(Soundbite of music and screaming)

CONAN: And as you might be able to tell, those chains were not quite strong enough.

HORWITZ: I get chills just listening. Isn't it awful? I get sentimental about the worst things. But it is a perfect movie, and in many ways it's the archetype for a monster. And for a monster for whom you ultimately feel sorry. It's not his fault.

CONAN: Murray Horwitz, TALK OF THE NATION's favorite film buff, with us here in Studio 3A. And here's an email from - this is from Jill in Baltimore. I got some good home cred from my middle-schoolers and husband for Netflixing �The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.�

(Soundbite of movie, �The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes�)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) �tomatoes hiding in his tree. Now he's just a memory. I know I'm going to miss her. A tomato ate my sister. Sacramento fell today. They're marching into San Jose. Tomatoes are on their way.

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