Terrifying it is-- with its smooth black hot dog bun head and and body that looks like a hybrid between a decomposed rotweiller and the guts of a stripped down AC unit-- the so-called “Xenomorph” from the Alien franchise is appropriately named: it takes the shape of something foreign, yet nonspecific. This creature is terrifying in the same ambiguous way outer space is. We can never know exactly what is “out there” because the universe is infinite and always expanding. There could be life somewhere, and who knows how peaceful or aggressive or equally xenophobic it is.
The allegory here is pretty loud; in the poster we see the smoking skyline of a violently ravaged New York City. Above it we see the tagline: “They found us.” If that doesn’t scream 9/11, then perhaps does the same kind of anthropomorphic imagery internet conspiracy theorist pulls from the dark clouds and billowing smoke appearing above barely intact sky-scrapers. In this case, the figures were less of the devil, and more of the Cloverfield monster, the symbol of inexplicable and seemingly indestructible terror (or terrorism) that lurks off in the invisible watery depths. While it's been far too long since a definitive monster movie as such has been released, it is a shame it didn’t stack up to the hype and mysticism surrounding the cult appeal of the film.
Bram Stoker's Dracula has seen many cinematic interpretations, some better, some worse, but Francis Ford Coppola's, starring Gary Oldman as the Count, has to be the most evocative. Dracula himself takes on a variety of creepy forms in the film; from Satanic warrior to hoary, old eccentric to sexy Johnny Depp-like English gentleman, to hairy bat-faced thing. But Dracula symbolizes, in whatever form, a subversion to Victorian repression. Sexuality in those days was a private, silent affair, while personal decorum was strictly maintained. Dracula however, with his omnisexuality, and bloody gender-bending sex displays, stood for all that which Victorian England feared, shunned, and flat out didn't understand.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers came out amidst the coldest, Red Scariest moments of the Cold War. During which, the House of Unamerican Activities Committee led the way of seeking out and potential communists (deemed traitors to the American cause). Paranoia was at an all time high, and no one seemed safe from accusation during this veritable Communist witch hunt. Not even Hollywood (several actors were singled out). In response, this movie presents itself as an allegory to such an atmosphere. In film, where anybody could be lulled to betray you in the name of self-preservation, the pod people best (and most frighteningly) depict the empty semblances of self many loved ones could easily turn into overnight. And quite literally these evil clones would sprout out of giant peapods.
The werewolf has been rendered onscreen innumerable times like many other literature and folklore-based harbingers of fear (e.g. vampires, zombies, etc.). Whether you picture the unshaven, mostly man-like title creature from 1941’s The Wolf Man; that scene from 1984’s The Company of Wolves where the werewolf crawls out of that guy’s mouth, snout-first (on which a famous Halloween mask is based; or something from the American Werewolf series; the thematic implications are the same: the werewolf is supposed to symbolize man’s primal, animalistic instincts and urges. The same urges that fleshy epidermal layer keeps wrapped up during the day (while moonlight brings a different story, and a hideous change of character).
The giant ants in the 1954 film Them! aren't real. Yet. At least according to this movie's predictions. The giant ants in the film are a direct product of radio-active nuclear waste run-off, which somehow genetically altered the DNA of ants to become huge, city-toppling giants. And as this film came after the discovery of atomic energy--and as its most horrible uses had already been actualized (i.e. the atom bomb)--nothing but grim (and exaggerated to fictional ends) repercussions were played up. A quote from the film sums up the zeitgeist of the day pretty effectively: "When man entered the atomic age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."
Jaws is the perfect symbol of everything that is terrifying about the ocean. Like space, there is an incredible mysteriousness about the ocean. Since we haven’t the technology to observe or explore its entire expanse, there is a great abundance of gray area (undiscovered species and the like). The iconic and eponymous giant shark from Steven Spielberg’s least forgettable (and least expensive) aquatic thriller franchise brings all the fear that lies in the unknown to a single, image. Anyone who isn’t just a little scared of swimming out too far at the beach as never seen this movie in their formative years.
This giant black gorilla, captured from its uncivilized homeland, breaks free from its shackles and roams freely about New York. What it encounters is a beautiful young women with whom it apparently falls in love. In spite of this, every effort is made to contain and detain this beast. If you don't see the racial implications thusfar, perhaps the social commentary can be better understood by the scene in which a racist (okay, so it was the common belief of the day, but still...) old lady is informed that a giant creature has escaped and has made New York its personal jungle gym, and she says, "Doesn't New York have enough gorillas already?" This line is incredibly shocking to hear nowadays, but in the time of this movie's making (which just so happens to be shot in black and white), the idea of interacial romance was hardly tolerated, as racial equality and civil rights were concepts yet to be discovered.
The film starring Boris Karloff as "?" and based on the original Gothic novel by Mary Shelley, uses the monster as a sort of moral pressure plate. The creature, a true victim of its own disposition (as is true of any zombie cursed with involuntary, and soulless, life after death), is chased by angry pitchfork and torch-wielding townspeople who seek to kill the creature (again) after it was just given life (cue debates surrounding the ethical nature of capital punishment). The creature is in many ways an affront to nature, as death isn't naturally contradicted. Also, the power to give life and take it away is one that should belong only to God, but so too in science we see the role of God played on regular basis. Apparently, in the original cut of the film, Victor Frankenstein uttered the lines, "It's alive! It's alive! In the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!" until it and several other scenes were censored for their offensive content; apparently the truth is offensive. And so society proceeds along its crooked pathway, steering clear of any and all potential mirrors.
Godzilla--literally meaning "Lizard God" and derived from the Japanese gojira, which is a portmanteau of gorira ("gorilla") and kojira ("whale")-- is a famous allegory for the atomic bomb which devestated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Similarly, this creature layed waste on the terrified and helpless residents of Japan as the creature spared nobody, and used its "atomic ray breath" to obliterate everyone in its path. Further comparisons to the horrors of WWII could be elicited from the various opponents Godzilla face in the subsequent movie sequels (mothra, etc.), who could reprisent the various world "superpowers."