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.
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.
***ALL IMAGES: GOOGLE IMAGES***