The creature feature is a gloriously varied subgenre, showcasing a fabulous array of imaginative monsters and incorporating elements from basically every other genre, from horror to comedy and everything in-between. If you love a movie with monsters—be it gremlins or graboids, kaiju or King Kong—and want to expand beyond the usual Hollywood offerings, then I’ve got some fantastic suggestions for you. The six films below offer an international assemblage of creatures drawn from various spots around the globe.
Let’s leave behind all the zombies, werewolves, and vampires—those creatures occupy their own subgenres. This list is for monsters that are lesser-known or harder to categorize. Think the shape-shifting extraterrestrial from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) or the horrifying dimension-hopping creatures from Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007). So get ready to turn the subtitles on (unless you’re a polyglot!) and let’s settle down to watch some monsters causing absolute mayhem all over the world…
The Host (Dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2006)
Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning 2019 film Parasite was praised for its skillful genre-blending, but it’s not the first time that the director has performed such a feat. The Host is part family drama, part sci-fi horror, part socio-political satire, and part dark comedy. That might sound like too much for one film to pull off, but Bong effortlessly weaves these different elements together into a thrilling and compelling narrative.
While many creature features, such as Jaws (1975) and Alien (1979), famously hold off on revealing the monster in order to build fear and suspense, The Host goes in the opposite direction, giving us an extended look at its monster, known as the Gwoemul (Korean for “monster”), early in the film. The amphibious creature emerges out of the Han River in Seoul and goes on a rampage, which we see through the eyes of Park Gang-du (Song Kang-ho). At the end of this adrenaline-pumping scene, the Gwoemul takes Gang-du’s daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung), and disappears back into the river.
The film’s blending of genres works so seamlessly because Gang-du and his family serve as the focal point. They’re basically losers thrust into hero roles because of the South Korean and American governments’ lackluster attempts at dealing with the creature. The Park family are hilariously inept, but their repression and treatment by those in charge also serves as pointed criticism towards the government. Everything in the movie—from the comedy to the thrilling action to the political commentary—is anchored to the Parks as we grow more and more invested in their struggle, and it works brilliantly.
Trollhunter (Dir. André Øvredal, Norway, 2010)
Trollhunter takes the found footage horror format and revitalizes it with a mix of Norwegian mythology and a super dry sense of humor. A group of university students set out to make a documentary about some suspicious bear killings. They’re on the track of a bear poacher called Hans (Otto Jespersen), but it turns out that this is a cover for his real job: troll hunting. Hans is becoming increasingly fed up with his job and agrees to let the students film him so that he can expose the secrets of the TSS (Troll Security Service).
We come across a variety of trolls throughout the film, and while the budget used to render them is relatively low, the creative flair apparent in their design them is impressive. As well as showcasing different kinds of troll, we’ve also given a deep dive into the lore of how they work. This may all sound ridiculous, but that’s purposeful, and it’s all presented to the audience with a hilariously straight face. The movie is self-aware, but there’s no Deadpool-style breaking of the fourth wall to wink at the audience. Everything is played with knowing sincerity, to great effect.
This deadpan delivery is further enhanced by combining the sightings of the huge, ancient trolls with the mundane aspects of Hans’s life—apparently there’s no escape from bureaucratic paperwork even when dealing with mythological creatures. Trollhunter manages to balance being both funny and serious, even heartfelt, and its depiction of a world that’s both grounded and fantastical takes Hans’ story to some unexpected places.
Troll (Dir. Roar Uthaug, Norway, 2022)
If you’re only going to watch one Norwegian troll movie then stick with Trollhunter, but if you have an appetite for more, than Roar Uthaug’s Troll is definitely worth a viewing. It takes the well-worn Godzilla and King Kong formula and filters it through the lens of traditional Norwegian troll folklore. It’s essentially a big silly disaster movie that focuses more on spectacle than story. While it may not be particularly deep or innovative, it’s fun entertainment of the popcorn flick variety.
When a gigantic troll that looks like it’s walked straight off the pages of an illustrated fairy tale awakens and begins stomping through the Norwegian countryside en route to Oslo, the government looks to paleontologist Nora Tidemann (Ine Marie Wilmann) for help. Nora leads a ragtag team as they try to figure out exactly what this monstrous creature is (only Nora’s eccentric father is willing to admit that it’s a troll) and how they can stop it. The characters are paper thin but Troll knows that isn’t why you’re watching—you’re here to see a mountain-sized troll crush buildings under his huge feet, and the movie certainly delivers that.
Shin Godzilla (Dir. Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, Japan, 2016)
Godzilla, being the iconic film monster, has to make an appearance on this list, but no one needs to be told about the original 1954 movie or the 2014 American reboot. Instead, I’d point everyone toward Shin Godzilla, which takes the original film’s conception of Godzilla-as-metaphor relating to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and makes it its own. Specifically, it references the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami which then led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown.
Most Godzilla movies focus mainly on choreographing cool battles between giant kaijus, but Shin Godzilla examines what the human response to such a catastrophe would actually look like. This Godzilla isn’t cast in the role of hero or villain; rather he feels like a force of nature (albeit one with googly fish eyes). Created by radioactive waste being dumped into the ocean, he goes through a series of mutations throughout the film. The scenes of his (mostly) inadvertent destruction are frightening on a human level, but they are also harrowing when viewed from Godzilla’s confused and pained perspective.
The character work doesn’t always succeed, but the focus on the absolute mess created by the politicians, army, and scientists trying to tackle the problem makes for a scathing critique of the ineffectiveness of Japanese bureaucracy in the face of a disaster. You’ll finish this film and pray to Godzilla that we’d do better in real life—both for humanity’s sake and for Godzilla’s.
Sputnik (Dir. Egor Abramenko, Russia, 2020)
So far all of the monsters on this list have originated on Earth, so it’s time to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix! Director Egor Abramenko’s feature-length debut Sputnik is set during the Cold War in 1983. The film begins with two Russian cosmonauts encountering something unseen outside their spacecraft. A crash landing kills one of the men, while the other, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), is taken to a heavily guarded military facility because he can’t remember what happened and doesn’t seem quite right.
It’s pretty clear that something from space has hitched a ride back to Earth with Konstantin and psychiatrist Tatyana (Oksana Akinshina) is brought in to unlock his memory. This creature feature is a slow burn to begin with, but that just makes the later scenes of bloodshed and carnage all the more intense. It’s best to go into this one not knowing too much about the creature, but on a sliding scale of Xenomorph to E.T., Sputnik’s alien is definitely closer to H. R. Giger’s nightmarish creation than to young Elliott’s friendly companion.
The presence of this alien and how it’s handled also raises ethical questions throughout the film. The military is clearly up to something nefarious, while Tatyana struggles to navigate the moral ambiguities of such an unprecedented situation. While some of the slower moments can drag a bit, the creature more than makes up for it whenever it’s unleashed.
A Monster in Paris (Dir. Bibo Bergeron, France, 2011)
If you need a change of pace from terrifying aliens and massive kaiju, then I recommend the charming family-friendly animation A Monster in Paris. Loosely inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, the titular monster is accidentally created by a chemical explosion which supersizes a flea and gives him the ability to sing. Like Frankenstein’s monster, he is instantly rejected, with the people of Paris fleeing in terror. But then he’s found by singer Lucille (voiced by Vanessa Paradis in both the French and English versions), who sees past his appearance. Lucille calls him Francœur and dresses him up in a fancy suit and mask to make him less threatening so that the duo can perform together.
While the plot could be a little tighter, the songs are a real highlight. Francœur’s singing voice is provided by Matthieu Chedid (stage name -M-) in the French version and Sean Lennon (yes, the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono) in the English version. Both singers do a fantastic job of embodying this character with an eerie but unexpectedly beautiful voice. All of this is set against the background of Paris in 1910, delivering an animated portrayal of the City of Light that feels nostalgic and whimsical in all the right ways.
Of course, these are only six possibilities—I’m sure you have your own favorite creature features from different countries, starring all sorts of amazing monsters! Please share any recommendations in the comments below…
Originally published December 2022
Lorna Wallace has a PhD in English Literature and is a lover of all things science fiction and horror. She lives in Scotland with her aforementioned rescue greyhound, Misty.