You may or may not have heard about it, but CREATURE set a box office record this September. According to Entertainment Weekly, CREATURE, a hard-R, no-budget monster movie, was released in 1,507 theaters, and made only $331,000. That’s an even bigger flop than the previous record-holder DELGO, an animated shit-barge which is only ever remembered for being a historic flop. However, some people did manage to see CREATURE in theaters, although Entertainment Weekly estimates that there were only two of them per screening.
One of them was me.
Actually, in my theater, there were a whopping five people, four men and a woman. Then the young couple left, having obviously mistaken CREATURE for CONTAGION, and only I remained, with two other lone weirdos.
How did I get there? Well, the main reason is that I am a man of principle. A few months back, I made a snarky comment about CREATURE — basically, its poster included the words “In Theaters Soon”, and I called that false advertising. Because movies like this just plain don’t make it into multiplexes; their natural home is late-night cable television. I may never know how CREATURE beat the odds and got a theatrical release – it could have something to do with the fact that legendary film executive and Spielberg mentor Sid Sheinberg has a producer’s credit. But somehow it did happen, and I thought it only fair that I eat my words, along with ten bucks and a fistful of popcorn.
The other reason is that I am an optimist who loves monster movies, which means I hope every time that a movie about a man-eating animal-man will be good, and it also means that I am constantly disappointed by the world we live in. I went into CREATURE with an open mind, hoping that against all odds it could be the low-budget CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON update that it seemed at first it could have wanted to be.
In fact, the film begins relatively promisingly: In a daylight homage to the opening scene of JAWS, a young woman strips down in front of a not-particularly-idyllic stretch of marsh and dives in, only to be consumed by something unseen and carnivorous underwater. The story then cuts to a carful of pretty young things, driving through the rural South, driving like assholes actually, tailgating a local and leaning on the horn until the guy gives them the finger and drives away. In 2011, there aren’t a lot of movies with the balls to make their lead characters so obviously unlikable from the start. Unfortunately, this particular movie lets up on the gas almost immediately, as it introduces us to the group of six reasonably attractive twenty-somethings – three guys and three girls – which includes Serinda Swan (TRON: LEGACY), Mehcad Brooks (TRUE BLOOD), and Dillon Casey (NIKITA).
The movie’s most recognizable face arrives soon afterwards, as the six kids pull over in the pre-requisite creepy Southern general store. He’s Sid Haig, the legendary grindhouse actor who was a favorite of director Jack Hill, having been teamed with Pam Grier so many times (in COFFY, FOXY BROWN, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, and more). More recently, Haig has been adopted by Rob Zombie, so seeing this guy in a movie like this one raises hopes that CREATURE soon proves it won’t meet.
Sid Haig plays the too-much-smiling paterfamilias of a strange collection of toothless and ranting Southern stereotypes (which very briefly includes the talented and recognizable character actor Pruitt Taylor Vince – he must have had to catch an early flight back to L.A. because he vanishes right quick). He tells the kids about the legend of Lockjaw, who was once a man who lost his wife (also his sister, yeah it’s that kind of movie) to an attack by an albino alligator, and then, throughout his gradual descent into insanity, actually became some half-man/half-alligator/all-immortal being who roams the swamps endlessly. In a total swipe from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, the locals allow the tourists to head out towards territory they know is infested by Lockjaw. And nothing went well for anyone ever again.
The main problem with CREATURE is that it stops making sense long before this Lockjaw guy ever starts getting down to the business eating people. Too much happens in this so-called monster movie that has not much to do with the actual monster in it. That general store scene, for instance, feels like it goes on for at least fifteen minutes. There are major pacing, editing, and continuity problems in this movie, and not the funny kind either. The movie also lacks the kind of insane innovation which is needed to make a movie of this type memorable. We’ve seen it all before, aside from the climactic mud fight, which is almost interesting but seems to go on forever. It’s like the alley brawl over the sunglasses in THEY LIVE, only nowhere near as epic and entertaining.
Can I be generous about anything in CREATURE? I’ll try. The actual design of the Lockjaw monster isn’t bad at all, but it’s the kind of design which would look much more convincing as a comic book character. On screen, it looks eminently fake, with never a moment’s doubt as to the fact that it’s a stuntman in a suit. And once you notice that, you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy, wearing a plastic monster suit in the sweltering Louisiana swampland.
But I guess I don’t regret watching CREATURE – if it’s a massive let-down at least it’s not yet another vampire movie. A were-alligator is a decent idea; maybe one day soon a more inventive movie will lift it. And in the meantime, at least I helped make some history.
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