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In defence of the Creature Feature

17 September 2013, 11:11

I love movies. I love good movies. There’s nothing better than a good script acted by a brilliant cast, helmed by a top-notch director. LA Confidential, Casablanca, Psycho, Schindler’s List,  Lord of the Rings, Inception, Django Unchained, American Beauty.  Great movies but I have my standards. I won’t watch a romantic comedy (Unless it features a half-naked Channing Tatum) and I don’t do an Action movie either (Again….unless it features a half naked Channing Tatum) but I do have a guilty pleasure. The Creature Feature. Corny, B-grade, with terrible actors and directed by no-name directors sometimes with little or no script, terrible special effects and littered with sexism and racism.  Why do I enjoy them? Give me time and I’ll explain.

Yes, they’re bad movies by any standard but unlike the rom-com that offers the lie that there’s someone out there for all of us (when we know that some people are destined to be alone forever!  Sob Sob! ), the action movie that mostly promises a happy ending for even the ugly people (The Creature Feature tells no such lie. According to them only the beautiful survive!), the drama movie that aims to teach us something (C’mon..aren’t movies supposed to be entertaining?) and the Horror movie that just wants to scare the pants off us, the Creature Feature aims only to entertain. They don’t try to teach us anything, they don’t always have a happy ending and they’re always very, very funny. (Sometimes unintentionally so) Critics have lambasted Creature Features for their lack of plot but I disagree. Any movie that has a doctor experimenting to make humans half-size in a bid to reduce world hunger (The Killer Shrews: 1958) or the legendary Sasquatch escaping from captivity into the city (Sasquatch Assault: 2009) definitely do not lack originality.  These movies are also criticized for their largely untalented casts. I can’t fault them there although there is a special joy in watching 80’s icons Tiffany and Debbie Gibson square off against each other in the little known classic Mega Python vs. Gatoroid: 2011.

Creature Features should be watched simply for the fun of it.  The more pedantic of us will find fault with almost everything, the continuity and factual errors are usually screamingly funny and the special effects laughable but the Creature Feature is one of the few genres that has endured.

They go way back to the 1930’s when RKO Studios produced “King Kong”, “Son of Kong” and the original “Mighty Joe Young”. It was carried through to the 50’s and 60’s by now legendary director Roger Corman who gave us such classics as “The Raven” and “The Terror”, as well as the monster movies produced by Toho studios in Japan, who we have to thank (blame?) for  “Godzilla” and “Gamera”.  The best of the Creature Features were produced in the 1950’s, usually based on the idea of giant mutant monsters or aliens from outer space. These seminal wonders included “Attack of the 50 foot woman”, “Them!”, “Tarantula”, “Forbidden Planet” and my personal favourite  of the genre “Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Other gems include “She Creature”, Earth vs the Spider”, “Reptilicus”, “Gorgo”, “Mothra” and (the original) “The Blob”. 

It was revived in the 1970’s with “The Dunwich Horror”, “The Land that Time Forgot”, “Terror of Mechagodzilla”, “Snowbeast” and the now classic “Piranha” directed by Joe Dante. This has spawned (See what I did there!) several sequels. The genre carried on in the 80’s with the remake of “The Blob”,  “The Strangeness”, “Humanoids from the Deep, “The Boogens” and the hilarious “Blood Beach” which starred the gorgeous John Saxon, a man who’s career has spanned over seven decades.

This is one genre that has never gone out of fashion. Recent examples include the hilarious “Frankenfish”,  “Anaconda” (starring J-Lo!) “Deep Blue Sea” (starring LL Cool J!”) and “Black Water” (starring….no-one you’ve ever heard of!).  They often have lots of sequels, the Anaconda franchise is especially fabulous with megastar David Hasselhoff in the third instalment. Great stuff.  Sometimes they feature A-list actors before and after they were famous, “Rogue” of 2007 boasts Sam Worthington (Avatar, Man on a Ledge),  “Q”, a story about a giant flying lizard that terrorises New York City features both David Carradine and Richard Roundtree and “Lake Placid” boasts the talents of Betty White, Bridget Fonda and Oliver Platt!  The best of them have completely unknown actors, “Boa vs Python”,  “The Nest”, “Ticks” and 1980’s “Alligator”.  You’ve never seen the cast in anything before or since.

Sometimes, the Creature Feature is disguised as an A-list blockbuster. “Jaws” is probably the best example. It’s usually billed as a horror movie and, yes, the beginning is pretty horrifying, but as soon as Bruce the plastic shark is glimpsed, it morphs into a fun-ride of a movie that is hilarious and scary by turns. “Jurassic Park” is another great example. Also helmed by Steven Spielberg, it starred Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Sir Richard Attenborough and the fabulous Jeff Goldblum.  Did it scare you? Hell no but it sure was fun!  The remake of “King Kong” attracted the yummy Adrien Brody (who knew he could be an action hero?) and Naomi Watts and was directed by the super-famous Peter Jackson. (If you don’t know who he is, then you have no business even reading this article!)

I’ve usually had to indulge my not-so-secret any more guilty pleasure under cover of darkness, late on a Friday or Saturday night (Isn’t that always the case?) when these movies are screened on tv, so imagine my joy when Studio Universal on DSTV announced September as “Shark Month”. Every Saturday this September at around 9:15pm they’ve screened a Shark themed Creature Feature. The first Saturday I enjoyed the “Jaws” franchise back-to-back from the first one (which I can quote entire scenes from!) to the fantastic “Jaws: the Revenge” in which a great white shark follows the Brody family to the Bahamas! (Sir Michael Caine appears in this one. What was he thinking?)   The Saturday after that was ….a shark. In a swamp. “Swamp Shark!”  Featuring the talents of Robert Davi and Kristy Swanson it follows the adventures of an unfortunate prehistoric shark after it escapes into a local swamp.  This past Saturday my seven year old niece insisted on staying up to watch….it’s a shark! With Two heads! It’s “Two Headed Shark Attack”. Probably one of the best of the genre, it not only has a two-headed shark with 6000 teeth that growls like a tiger, it also has a sinking atoll that ensures the gorgeous cast are offered up as snacklets for the beastie. My seven year old niece was not amused, pulling the duvet over her head with an astute observation that it’s “dog doody” (Clever girl, that!)

This Saturday coming….oh my word! I can’t wait. This is going to be EPIC. It’s a shark! In a Tornado! It’s “Sharknado”!  It promises to be gloriously cheesy with a cast that includes Ian Ziering (Beverly Hills 90210) and Tara Reid and directed by Anthony C Ferrante. (No, I haven’t heard of him either) Do yourself a favour. Watch this, it’s going to be the most fun you’ll have with your clothes on!

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