Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Creature (1985) review


Stan Ivar (Mike Davison), Wendy Schaal (Beth Sladen), Lyman Ward (David Perkins), Robert Jaffe (Jon Fennel), Diane Salinger (Melanie Bryce), Annette McCarthy (Dr. Wendy H. Oliver), Marie Laurin (Susan Delambre), Klaus Kinski (Hans Rudy Hofner), Jeff Solomon (Creature)

Directed by William Malone

The Short Version: Writer and director Bill Malone loves monsters and science fiction, and he lovingly, if derivatively combines them in this underrated SciFi-Horror from 1985. In it, space explorers discover an ancient alien lab on Titan, inadvertently disturbing a snake-like bipedal creature that uses parasites to turn its hosts--living or dead--into mind-controlled zombies. The monster moves awfully slow, but after sleeping for 2,000 centuries, it would likely take anyone or anything a while to get going again. Perpetual horndog Klaus Kinski enlivens things playing himself as an oversexed astronaut. Seen in its preferred directors cut and widescreen, THE TITAN FIND is certainly that.

A geological expedition from NTI, a US corporation, discovers a 200 thousand year old alien laboratory on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. After an accident occurs with that initial interplanetary trek, a seven man crew from NTI is sent to recover the supposedly fossilized specimens of the alien workshop. Meanwhile, a competing corporation, Richter Dynamics of West Germany attempt to procure the archeological discovery for themselves. What neither team realizes is that a particular species of the Titan Find is very much alive, and very hungry.

William Malone's second feature after SCARED TO DEATH (1981) is another monster movie, and a far more ambitious one. With 4.2 million dollars to play with, it's still a relatively low budget affair, but one with many assets to make it one of the more creative SciFi-Horror films to follow in the wake of Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). 

ALIEN really changed the landscape for science fiction and horror by blending the two in a way that hadn't been done before. The timing was just perfect considering how STAR WARS (1977) had changed audience perception of what a movie could deliver. Technically speaking, ALIEN, as good as it is, was a glossier, more expensive clone of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958). THE TITAN FIND, or as it's more well known theatrically and on video as CREATURE, takes additional cues from THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), IT CONQUERED THE WORLD (1956), and Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965); but more on that later.

The story of THE TITAN FIND, much like it's Creature in the movie, had been lying in wait to be produced prior to its filming in June of 1984. According to sources at the time, Malone was approached about doing a similar film to his first excursion into horror, but his initial offering wasn't grisly enough; so he pulled out a two page synopsis he'd written some seven years prior. The financiers at Trans World Entertainment loved the idea and Malone's movie was given the greenlight. 

Curiously enough, Malone was being advertised in a March, 1984 issue of Variety as director of SCARED TO DEATH II -- to have begun shooting in June for Helen Sarlui of Continental Motion Pictures, Inc., the same month THE TITAN FIND started filming. SCARED TO DEATH II never materialized, but a sequel of sorts did rear its ugly head in 1990 with the splattery monster opus, SYNGENOR.

Back to TITAN, with no money to rent out a studio, the filmmakers turned an abandoned warehouse into Saturn's largest moon. During the shoot, sets were consistently being built or torn down. In mimicking the landscape of Titan, the sets were filled with volcanic dust and lava rock, which made for a fairly arduous filming experience, and prompted the use of filter masks.

At the time it was in release, Bill Malone was asked about the similarities to Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979). His response was that his picture was more akin to 50s SciFi features; which is true, but CREATURE is certainly derivative in a few ways. The title, for instance. Presumably it was changed from THE TITAN FIND because moviegoers likely wouldn't know what that was, nor is that title much on promoting a films exploitation value. Some of the music cues of Thomas Chase's and Steve Rucker's otherwise fantastic score ever so slightly recall those of Jerry Goldsmith on a few occasions. Furthermore, the monster of the films title is where a hefty portion of the scrutiny is directed.

You never get a really good look at the Titan Find. Even in the scenes where it's plainly in view, it is shrouded somewhat in shadow. You do get a good look at the monsters elongated, snake-like head, though. Naturally, the Xenomorphic comparisons are unavoidable; particularly in two scenes where the monster rises behind one of the characters, and in another scene where the beast is literally right there in front of a potential victim, but is unnoticed till it's too late. 

Personally, we could all use more movies like ALIEN. If there's one disappointing aspect to this particular one, it's that the monster is overly lethargic. Either suit actor Jeff Solomon was having major difficulties maneuvering in that suit, or you could make the excuse that the monster--which is incredibly intelligent, by the way--prefers his secondary method of attack which only complements its cunning...

On the bright side, the monster of Malone's movie has a slight edge on the iconic Giger fiend. Aside from its unusual intelligence, it uses clawed parasitic organisms to control victims to lure additional human meals into its clutches. These smaller creatures replace the brain of a living, or even a dead host, literally eating away the individual till it decomposes. A similar biological device was used by the giant cucumber from space seen in Roger Corman's IT CONQUERED THE WORLD in 1956. Fans of vintage science fiction will spot quite a few homages and a noticeably high level of fan love that shows Malone and company were trying to deliver an entertaining and fun film.

The directors reverence for the classic FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) is on display in this picture. Malone owns some of the original props, a handful of which are seen in the alien laboratory. Some of the space suits are modeled on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Elsewhere, Wendy Schaal recalls the finale of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD when the last few survivors must find a way to kill the carnivorous creature -- "I saw a movie once where a group of people were trapped on an ice station by a carrot from another planet...". Harry Mathias's cinematography recalls the atmosphere of Bava's SciFi-Horror favorite, PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965) with the blue-tinted lighting, the fog, and impenetrable darkness lit only by perpetual lightning bolts. One particularly moody sequence wherein a zombiefied astronaut beckons one of the other crew members to come outside is reminiscent of Bava's 'Wurdulack' segment in BLACK SABBATH (1963).

Malone even indulges in some self-publicity of his earlier monster movie by featuring that films lead, John Stinson, as one of the two ill-fated astronauts seen at the beginning. If you're familiar with SCARED TO DEATH (1981), you'll notice Stinson is playing his character from that movie, Ted Lonergan! Early in the movie Wendy Schaal, the Shenandoah's spunky computer specialist, shows she's a SCARED fan, spotted reading the novelization--which was created specifically as an in-joke for this movie.

Robert Skotak (along with his brother Dennis), late of Roger Corman New World productions like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), GALAXY OF TERROR (1981), and FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982) handled the SPX work along with the L.A. Effects Group, Inc. Skotak was also the production designer, handling storyboard duties, designing the miniatures, and the toothy critter hibernating on Titan. Michael McCracken worked on the monster from Skotak's design while Doug Beswick revised the suit at short notice. He reportedly rebuilt the neck and jaw, made the clawed appendages more menacing, and built a miniature of the final monster.

CREATURE has another asset that makes it worth watching, and that's the participation of Klaus Kinski as Hofner, the horny (not a stretch for the actor), and only surviving member of the German space crew. The acting is a little on the weak side at times, so Klaus raises the bar. Reportedly he was his usual unpredictable self, but his presence was welcome and helpful, and the film is better because of his participation. 

Originally, there were no parts written for any of the Richter Dynamics exploratory team. Around the time Malone was getting started writing the script, the backers alerted him they had obtained Klaus's services. 

To further throw a Kinski in the chain, the production could only afford him for a week. The most important sequence involving his character (highlighted by a Qint-styled horror story) was in the bag, but a scene where the "undead" Hofner confronts the remaining survivors is clearly a different actor (two different doubles subbed for Kinski). The makeup appliance tries to conceal this fact, but the facial features give away the illusion (see photo above).

In 2013, the director himself issued the picture on DVD in his preferred directors cut under its original title and in widescreen with a plethora of extras. This version contained approximately 6 minutes of additional footage (the theatrical ran 94 minutes; directors version runs 100 minutes) consisting mostly of exposition and some extended gore shots. A couple lines of dialog were omitted and the opening narration is also silenced. The disc was purchasable only through a single online store. However, a DVD company stepped in and made Malone an offer to obtain rights to the movie to give it a bigger release. Unfortunately, this never happened for reasons not officially specified. Whatever the case, this sole widescreen release was quickly canceled and goes for big bucks on ebay if you can find one.

With more positives than negatives, CREATURE has quite a bit going for it. It's sadly under-appreciated, but does have its share of fans. Malone has directed sporadically since, but has yet to make three times the charm in monster cinema. He's best known to mainstream audiences for helming the HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL remake in 1999. Hopefully his CREATURE will surface again and not take 200,000 years for people to FIND it.

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