Essays · Movies

My Pet Monster: 5 Films That Made Allies From Beasts

A fistful of monster mashes in the wake of Nacho Vigalondo’s ‘Colossal.’
Gremlins Holiday Horror
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on April 5th, 2017

This weekend Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal stomps into New York and Los Angeles to establish itself as the new King of the Monsters. While I am ready to hear your hyperbolic rants on how this kaiju fairs against the granddaddy of them all, I think it’s best if we avoid those comparisons, and simply appreciate how Nacho’s movie captures the somber drone of A Monster Calls while elevating to the heights of an epic genre party film. Like most horror geeks, I’ve always sided with the beasts. Part of that attraction certainly stemmed from my only-child status; the symbiotic relationship between Jack Kirby’s Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy was painfully appealing to this basement-bound TV brat. The other aspect was simply that lugging around a My Pet Monster could act as a talisman for the strength I feared was absent from my own persona. Who doesn’t love a friend who can and will stick up for you?

Watching Anne Hathaway’s discovery of her…special connection with that kaiju across the sea rekindled my deep-seated love affair with monstrous friendships. I’m not talking Howard the Duck and Lea Thompson here (although that fowl coupling holds a special place in my heart as well), but those unnatural, rather horrifying companions that occur in the weirdest of flicks (hmmmm…maybe I am talking Howard the Duck). King Kong is a safe bet. Picking Godzilla is easy, obvious, and not fun. The movies I selected below are buried deep in my being. By necessity, they are not the warmest of associations, but they’re all pairs that I’ve related to or desired at some point in my maturation. That sounds kinkier than I’d like, but I yam what I yam.

5. Gremlins (1984)

Owning any pet comes with a lot of responsibilities. Whether dog, cat, or snake, that creature’s life is in your hands. You feed it, you walk it, you vaccinate it, you monitor its breeding. You even scour the backyard for a safe place for it to take a squat. Plus, parents delight in leveraging your love for something cuddly with the threat of the pound or…gulp…greener pastures. You may fool yourself into the role of master, but your new best friend truly reigns over your daily chores. The nostalgic idealism of the Boy & His Dog BFF relationship is stretched into goofy and gooey glee in Joe Dante’s family friendly horror romp, Gremlins.

Not only does young Billy Peltzer have to worry about feeding and exercising his young Mogwai, he has to adhere to the 3 rules: no bright lights, don’t get him wet, and never, never, never feed him after midnight. And like the smartest of dumb kids, he fails all three resulting in a reptilian infestation that nearly consumes his absurdly quaint small town. While the brood of Gizmo run caca through the streets, Billy and his BFF unite through a sharp need for each other, and combat the Gremlins with the cinematic power of Snow White. As far as monster mashes go, Gremlins may not quite reach the titanic tag team levels of Mothra and Godzilla, but it’s a sweet bond that successfully mops up the unwanted progeny.

4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

Tom Waits is a little less cuddly than Gizmo. Sure. But his Renfield in Francis Ford Coppola’s (not Bram Stoker’s despite the byline) Dracula is a limp sycophant desperate to please his master. Their team-up pretty much goes unnoticed by the bat-man, but I can’t help but sympathize with his fanboy preening. Gizmo gets to pack around with Billy like Yoda on Luke, but Renfield is dumped in the nastiest, slitheriest, buggiest of self-satisfied insane asylums. While he’s snacking on cockroaches, his buddy Dracula is too busy macking on his dead wife’s doppelganger.

Acting insane can result in some treacherously embarrassing over-the-top outings, but Tom Waits has never understood subtlety. While Gary Oldman relishes the latex and costumes, Waits owns Francis Ford Coppola’s movie for the few minutes he occupies. The Renfield/Dracula pact is barely a side note in the screenplay, and it scarcely moves the plot forward, but you can’t deny the unfaithful honesty one-sided romance.

3. The Monster Squad (1987)

Reaching back into the same toy box that attracted Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad frolics with the Universal Monsters with a degree of comic book abandon that simply was not prevalent in the 1980s. Oh, you bet it’s eager to replicate the Spielbergian success of The Goonies, but The Monster Squad (like Renfield) is mostly concerned with paying homage to the beasts. Six kids square of against a Dracula more likely to toss a stick of dynamite under your car than suck your blood. Since none of them can drive, they’ll need a little help to take down the army of the undead. You’ve got the scary German guy, the hot (maybe) virgin sister, and that shutterbug traitor called Frank a.k.a. Frankenstein’s Monster.

Tom Noonan is more tower than man, and I’m pretty sure no actor has gone more method than when he slapped on that Frankenstein skin. Commentary tales from the set confess of child actors quaking in their trailers as Noonan refused to break character on set. More power to him. Whatever had to happen to emotionally commit young Ashley Beck as Phoebe the Feeb to this giant monstrosity was a wondrous decision. Noonan’s stuttering whimper of a “Bogus” to Beck as he pulls Dracula into the time vortex during the climax will put a lump in your cynical throat.

2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

To escape the horrors of the Spanish Civil War you too would pretty much believe any fairy tale a goat-man told you in the forest. A terrifying fantasy is infinitely more appealing than a stepfather who opens his beer bottles on the faces of his subordinates. The faun forces his way into Ofelia’s life by constructing a series of hoops to jump through. He demands a magical key from the belly of an engorged toad, and a dagger ripped from the table of the child-eating Pale Man. It’s Alice through Pinhead’s looking glass. Why question such absurdities as a hallucination when your reality is exploding in body parts?

By the time Ofelia finds herself at the center of the labyrinth, the faun’s demand for virgin blood actually amounts to tremendous relief. Or at least you will feel that way after you’ve wiped away all the tears. Guillermo Del Toro is the true beast in this story.

1. Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973)

I totally understand that at the top of this article I stated, “picking Godzilla is easy, obvious, and not fun.” So what? I gotta speak the truth, and the truth is that the single greatest monster movie team-up occurs in Godzilla vs. Megalon. It’s a battle royal of kaiju insanity. By the thirteenth film in the franchise, Godzilla could not simply stomp around Tokyo. The all-out rumble became the rule of thumb, and in siding with the humanoid robot Jet Jaguar against the beetle-god Megalon, Godzilla found his wackiest and his most impossibly cool compatriot. Godzilla is usually a good, clean fighter, but Jet Jaguar has no qualms when a cheap trick will get the job done. Taking on both Megalon and Gigan, Jet Jaguar uses his floodlight vision to blind his opponents. This dirt-in-the-eye gag buys him time while he awaits Godzilla’s backup. Eventually vanquishing the two villains to their corners, like the best of friends, Godzilla and Jet Jaguar embrace in a manly forearm clasp. Victory!

Are these the greatest monster movie team-ups? Obviously, yes. But if you disagree please select your preferred combatants in the comments below.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)