Thursday, September 15, 2011

Creature (2011) review


Mehcad Brooks (Niles), Serinda Swan (Emily), Sid Haig (Chopper), Dillon Casey (Oscar), Aaron Hill (Randy), Lauren Schneider (Karen), Amanda Fuller (Beth), Rebekah Kennedy (Caroline), Daniel Bernhardt (Grimley)

Directed by Fred Andrews

The Short Version: Not to be confused with William Malone's 1985 film of the same name, this bayou set monster flick is of the recent spate of Throwback Horror patterned after slasher flicks, backwoods horror and Swamp/Wilderness Monster movies such as CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976) and NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980). The first 30 minutes are impressive, but the film takes a wrong turn somewhere and sense, logic and plausibility never return. On a par with HATCHET (2006) which may be enough for horror fans to make a decision as to whether they want to take the misguided tour on this quickly crippled monster mash.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

Six friends bound for New Orleans take a detour deep within the Louisiana bayou where they learn of an ancient legend about a tortured family lineage and its relation to a mysterious Alligator Man called Lockjaw.

Back in 2002, Eli Roth was hailed for his peculiar foray into Throwback Horror with the release of CABIN FEVER, a film that met with modest success and divisive response among fans. Then in 2006, Adam Green's HATCHET was trumpeted as the "return to Oldschool Horror". Again the results split fans and in this viewers opinion, failed Oldschool 101 despite being a decent enough experience although the same thing can't be said of the excruciatingly bad sequel. Now, it's 2011 and Fred Andrews debut feature, CREATURE manages to do something most indy horror wishes they could pull off and that's a wide release. Emerging from a little over 1,500 screens, audience and critical response has been largely negative with the film pretty much being thrown back into the swamp. Highly touted (and sort of misreported) as the worst opening ever for a US picture, it's actually #2 worst opening per theater average with PROUD AMERICAN (2008) taking the #1 spot. It also currently sits at the #5 spot for worst wide release. But if you go by the number of theaters showing it, then it would be #1 in that range of screens it's being shown on.

Star Serinda Swan above and insert

Watching this film a number of others immediately sprang to mind including elements of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE (1959), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), JAWS (1975), MONSTER MAN (2003), HATCHET (2006) and other vintage low budget fare such as BOG (1978/1983), MADMAN (1981) and NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980). While it's refreshing to see a movie like this entrench itself on the territory dominated by multi-million dollar Hollywood product, it's also funny how quickly websites pounce on a movies dismal showing at the box office when very little advertising and promotion was involved. Granted, the film itself isn't very good. It's saddled with a poster that's video store bound and the picture would seem more at home on cable television than on a big screen. But something like this is about as close as you're going to get to experiencing similar low budget fare from the 1970s and 1980s in a theatrical setting.

Andrews' interpretation of Throwback Horror appears to be influenced by the numerous 'Monster In the Lake/Swamp' movies like LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK (1972) as well as the 'Deranged Hillbilly' flicks personified by the likes of JUST BEFORE DAWN (1980). The first twenty minutes or so are relatively strong and follow the slasher/monster template perfectly. But once our six frequently obnoxious young folk reach their destination the movie feverishly gets stuck in the mud and never comes out. The plot makes very little sense and certain massive moments of credibility and logic lapses will surely tax the patience of the most forgiving of souls. Case in point--one of the main characters takes a bullet in the leg and moments later he's trying out for the decathlon and jumping down holes showing no signs of pain whatsoever. Also, same character goes mano-a-mano with the monster PREDATOR style and takes a literal pounding that should have turned him into a bloody, muddy pulp.

Certain plot details are also glossed over whether due to post production editing or just the result of the bad script. What is the connection between the bizarre redneck cult and the monster? How does this cult coincide with the tale of the Boteen family? What exactly is the necklace being worn by some of the victims supposed to represent? Apart from a lot of confusing instances, there's some good things on display here even if the bulk of them are all in the first 20 to 30 minutes.

The opening of the film lets you know you're in for an exploitation picture as the camera gets up close and personal on a beautiful girls naked frame just prior to entering the swamp for a swim. The camera ogles her body from various angles about as gratuitously as the 'R' rating will allow. She's quickly dealt with (by either the title monster or a stalking alligator) and upon struggling to exit the mire, we see her legs have been bitten off cue the opening title card. We then meet our six walking, talking cuts of lunch meat who all look like they've just finished modeling somebody's clothing line. They stop over at this out of the way establishment that doubles as a convenience store and roadside attraction. This is also where we see the first appearance of Sid Haig in a scene that recollects a similar sequence from the atrocious HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2001).

Andrews and crew capture a great feel for the squalor and grim nastiness of the penetratingly popular stereotypes in these movies where deep Southern Fried local yokels are concerned. They're all un-edu-ma-cated, they have bad teeth, bad hygiene, missing parts of their bodies as well as brain cells. During this literal tourist trap sequence, we get a fine clash of two different worlds, which, in compliance with modern horror today, the scriptwriters fail to garner any sympathy for our arrogant main characters. This scene is also where we're introduced to the folk tale of Lockjaw, a beast NOT destined for its own franchise. We not only get one ancient bayou legend for our money, but two ancient bayou legends. One involving the Boteen family partaking in incestuous frivolity to save their dying lineage and another concerning some sort of feared albino alligator god.

From here it's where things go dangerously astray. The film throws a bizarre and befuddling twist into the mix that defies and questions the circle of friends we've been introduced to. Plus, just about everybody succumbs to the slasher/sex syndrome taking their clothes off left and right whether in a tent or out in the middle of the dank woods where all the snakes, assorted creepy crawlies and our resident Alligator Man reside. For added exploitation value there's lesbianism, handjobs and voyeurism and even more incest!

And then there's the monster. Foregoing the use of CGI, CREATURE goes the nearly extinct route of a full on latex suit the likes of which hasn't been seen on the big screen since JEEPERS CREEPERS back in 2003. The suit is a nice design and the commendable cinematography allows us to see just enough of the creature to maintain the illusion of something ominous lurking in the dark. The title beast also veers vicariously into bandwagon country when it chortles and roars like a Velociraptor and the moment it suddenly shows off an ALIENesque second set of jaws!

The acting is also good across the board even if we never connect with any of these people. It's also a nice change of pace for Andrews to embrace Romero's NOTLD plot device of making the black man the main hero instead of the stereotypical 'fraidy cat' that does little but spew a lot of one liners and end up dead halfway through. While the casting of Duane Jones in that film was an ingenious choice that was topical and socially relevant of the time period, in CREATURE it's something you just don't see often in horror movies.

In the end, it's difficult to recommend CREATURE since it derails so quickly. If you're a fan of monster movies particularly those of the old fashioned Drive In variety like the similar CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976), 80s junk like THE BEING (1983), or the sort of thing that shows up on the SyFy Channel, then you may get a kick out of this flick. It seems good intentions went into this production even if it rarely shows beyond the opening reel. Even so, it's admirable somebody was able to get their independently produced movie into a wide release during the summer season. It's just a shame it isn't a better movie.


The Sign of Rome (1959) review


Georges Marchal (Marco Valerio), Anita Ekberg (Queen Zenobia), Mimmo Palmara (Lator), Jacques Sernas (Juliano), Chelo Alonso (Erica), Folco Lulli (Semantio), Lorella De Luca (Betsabea), Alberto Farnese (Marcello), Arturo Dominici

Directed by Guido Brignone

The Short Version: Nicely produced and lavishly decorated peplum picture is light on action, but heavy on intrigue. Anita Ekberg's mountainous mammaries and Chelo Alonso's erotic bump and grind dance moves will distract those demanding blood, swords and musclebound heroics. The ending provides a violent assault between two armies replete with some wincingly brutal horse falls including horses trampling other horses and soldiers set on fire. Lots of big names in front of and behind the camera make this of interest to Torch & Toga fans.

The arrogant Queen Zenobia of Palmira ascends the throne after the death of her husband, king Odenathus. With the help of the Assyrians, she breaks the treaty with Rome by attacking their troops at the border. A Roman council must decide what action to take when Marco Valerio--one of their military commanders--is captured at the border after a battle with the Syrian traitors. Brought before Zenobia, she decides to enslave Marco instead of killing him. Rescued by his friend Juliano and a sympathetic member of Zenobia's army, Valerio plans to return to Palmira in an attempt to stop a war between the two states.

In the process, the two fall in love with one another. Zenobia proclaims her true and noble intentions to Valerio and he in turn secretly tries to negotiate peace between her people and that of Rome but Zenobia's treacherous minister, Semantio, covertly plots against her by forming an alliance with King Shapur of Persia. With Rome on one side and Persia waiting in the wings, Valerio tries to halt the destruction of Palmira and the possible execution of Queen Zenobia.

The years between 1959 and 1961 yielded some of the best examples of the Sword & Sandal genre and 1959 alone had several big productions including THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS, THE GIANT OF MARATHON and HERCULES UNCHAINED. This rare, yet sumptuously mounted action drama belongs among them aside from one or two faults. It wouldn't be long before these convoluted, bigger budgeted tales of court intrigue and empire usurpers would be overthrown by a flood of Saturday matinee fashioned superhero pictures populated by larger than life characters such as Hercules, Maciste and Samson. Behind the scenes of SIGN OF ROME was some up and coming as well as established talent. Among the credits you'll spy Sergio Leone as one of the scriptwriters, Michele Lupo and Riccardo Freda as assistant directors. The score by noted composer Angelo Francesco Lavagnino is exceptional and contains a few memorable cues.

SIGN OF ROME, unlike most films in this genre, is more about romance and subterfuge than lots of sword battles and derring do. It's basically a soap opera in third century Rome with its near constant onslaught of treachery and deception. There's also two subplots--one involving the vestal virgin, Betsabea and her secret lover, Juliano and the other to do with the sympathetic Syrian soldier, Lator (played by genre mainstay Palmara), who has converted to Christianity. Virtually everyone in the cast carries with them some form of a secret agenda, or has an ulterior motive whether noble or guileful. This increase in intrigue and lack of action may bore viewers more accustomed to seeing clashing blades and musclebound heroes tossing trees and boulders around the screen.

It does have beautiful women, pageantry and some torture including a great bit near the beginning when Marco Valerio is crucified while slaves are whipped around him. Character actor and villain extraordinaire (and unbilled) Arturo Dominici quenches his thirst with water and makes out like he's going to give Valerio a drink but just as the bowl nears his lips, the callous centurion casually pours the water at his feet. Strangely, Dominici disappears from the film after this point.

The action doesn't make its presence known till the final 15 minutes in the form of a large scale battle replete with catapults armed with various weaponry including fireballs and spears. This big showdown comes with some of the most brutal horse falls ever seen onscreen and an unusual amount of stuntmen set on fire which surely must have been a first. The end of the battle features one of the best scenes of the movie when Zenobia, her army defeated, is brought before the Roman commander Marcello and sees to her surprise Marco Valerio at his side. Feeling betrayed, she hurls a spear at him penetrating his chest leaving a wound that would have "killed any other man".

As with a large number of these movies, there's a strong aura of sexuality throughout and it's not all emanating from Ekberg's enormous chest. Chelo Alonso, the Cuban sensation, made her name in these movies putting her sensual dance moves to good use. SIGN OF ROME is no different and is one of her earliest peplum roles, if not her debut performance in the genre. In nearly all of her movies, she stops the proceedings owning the screen for a few minutes while she mesmerizes the male viewing audience with her varied dancing styles. Arguably her most erotic showcase was as the duplicitous usurper in MACISTE IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS (1960). Her sizable role in GOLIATH & THE BARBARIANS (1959) allowed her to shake, rattle and roll on two different occasions.

This Italian-French-German co-production is of a high caliber and quite well made although it likely won't win over peplum fans expecting the typical thrills the genre is known for. However, it has a lot of scenes of Anita Ekberg in low cut outfits (actually, her huge bosom should have gotten a billing of their own) and an eye-opening appearance and dance number by Chelo Alonso. Those two reasons alone along with high production values will be enough for die hard fans of the genre curious enough to seek this one out.

This review is representative of the Medusa Entertainment Italian PAL R2 DVD. There are no English options.
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