The killer creature sub-genre has covered pretty much ever animal known to man (and a few they made up, or combined together, or made up and then combined together…). Some of these make sense (killer sharks, crocs, bears – you know, things that could actually harm you if they felt like it), and some, well, less so (witness the murderous earthworms of “Squirm”, the evil bunnies in “Night of the Lepus” or those totally evil crickets/locusts in “The Beginning of the End”). As far as quality goes, on the whole there are more misses than hits. All that being said, I’ll just come right out and say it: I love the rampaging killer animal subgenre. Especially if it is a giant-sized rampaging animal. It doesn’t really matter how terrible they are (and trust me, most of them are truly awful), I watch them and love the idea, even if the film’s execution is….less than excellent.
So I started 2011 by watching a serious run of animals-run-amok flick (this post will mostly deal with “normal” animals on the rampage), and now you, lucky readers, get to hear about them!
Creature #1 – Sharktopus – I actually watched this before 2011, but it seemed appropriate to include it in this group. SyFy’s “Sharktopus”. Now, it’s from SyFy, so I knew what I was getting into before I began. My expectations were sufficiently low, so I thought I’d be okay. Before I actually say anything about the movie, let me show you exactly what you’re in for…
Look at this thing. Really. This photo is, without doubt, one of the best photos ever. The movie, however, is not all I had hoped it to be. Not to say I didn’t laugh during this film, it’s just that I didn’t laugh enough.
Brief plot summary (because really, who’s watching this for the plot?): Sharktopus follows a research scientist (Eric Roberts) and his daughter who create a hybrid shark/octopus as a secret Navy weapon. It is supposedly safe because it is controlled by electrical implants. The monster becomes impossible to contain when the controls break and it goes on a killing spree throughout Mexico. Sharktopus (I really don’t get tired of writing that) was produced by legendary cult filmmaker Roger Corman and directed by Declan O’Brien.
One thing I will say about SyFy, they don’t make you wait for the money shots. They know what their audience wants and they give you a Sharktopus almost immediately. The continue to give you regular creature doses throughout the film. But when a Sharktopus is all you have, you better make sure it at least looks decent. And that, my friends, is where SyFy failed me. This thing looks cheap, even for them. Think Microsoft Paint and you’re getting close.
Creature #2 – Wasps, as seen in “Black Swarm”. I hate wasps. A lot. They are total jerks that invade my home with a frequency that borders on an evil plot. But Robert Englund was in this, so I gave it a go. And our Freddy tries hard, but he can’t come close to saving this mess. Basically, Englund’s character has created genetically modified wasps for the Army, and now he wants to reverse the process with the help of some cardboard cutouts with names…I mean characters. To induce fear, the director plays wasp buzzing sounds, and then there are some CG wasps. Some very unscary CG wasps. Even I was unafraid. Skip this one, folks.
Creature #3 – Vipers, as seen in the aptly named “Vipers”. This film stars Tara Reid, which should tell you something about how low the bar is set already. And let me assure you, that bar stays nice and low throughout the film. Basic plot – A set of vipers has been taken by scientists, and they’ve mutated them to make a cure for cancer (This is the new thing in animal movies. It used to be radiation, now they are modifying them to cure things. That makes it okay!) Unsurprisingly, their experiment goes awry, and the vipers escape into the woods and a nearby town, where they proceed not just to bite people once but to BITE THEM TO DEATH!!! They pretty much just eat them like zombies. Hmm…Zombie Vipers….I’m sensing a new SyFy movie!
Creature #4 – Mutant alligator, as seen in “Alligator”. Basic plot: Ramon the alligator is flushed down the toilet as a baby and grows into a gargantuan monster by eating the corpses of dogs who have undergone hormone experiments. This film was made in 1980, and while sometimes those decades show, in this case I think it was a positive. While you don’t get a real gator, you do get a real fake gator, which I feel is a boon in movies like these. Having something on the screen gnawing on victims just makes it better, even if the effect isn’t fabulous. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ll take cheap practical effects over cheap CGI any day. So I laughed a lot, wasn’t scared a bit, but it’s a campy film, so it’s all good. Or good enough.
Creature #5 – Ostensibly, spiders, seen in “In the Spider’s Web”. Let me put this out there before I discuss this movie: Lance Henrickson is in it. I love him. He makes any movie better, even if the movie itself is total trash. And in this movie, he lives in the jungle with the natives, has an evil brother who wears webbing over his head and says lines like “Patience like Job”! I love it! But the rest of the movie, oh man, it’s tough to get through. Okay, ready for this? The spiders are either really bad CG (and I mean lower than SyFy), occasionally a real tarantula (but the editing makes it clear that Lance never touches a spider, even though he plays a doctor/spider handler or whatever), or spiders from the Halloween store lowered towards their prey on strings. Hilarious the first time or two, progressively less funny after the 20th use. When people are wrapped up in “webbing”, it’s painfully clear that it’s just gauze from CVS. I mean, they don’t even tr to hide it. Perhaps the funniest part of the film was the sound design, where the designer decides to use the same 1 or 2 scream sound effects for every lady who screams, every time they scream. Which, trust me, is a lot. Now all this could have made for some campy fun, but it was the “fun” part that this movie missed.
Creature #6 – Killer croc, as seen in “Croc”. Basic plot – A large man-eating crocodile terrorizes tourists and locals near Krabi, in Thailand. And if you’ve seen “Jaws”, you basically understand the plot. Michael Madsen steps into the Robert Shaw role of the wacky hunter, which would be nice if he ever got to do anything cool. Again, I didn’t have high expectations, but crap CGI and wooden acting kept me from even having a laugh. And I really like killer croc/gator movies! But I was in luck, because after this one I found…
Creature #7 – Killer croc, as seen in “Black Water”. I saved the best for last. This movie, while not perfect, is a taut little 90 minute ride along the lines of “Rogue” (another unsung gem of the killer animal variety). Basic plot – While on vacation on Northern Australia, Gracie, her husband Adam and her younger sister Lee decide to take the Blackwater Barry tour in the swamp for fishing. They go deep into the mangrove swamps, are attacked by a crocodile and must spend the rest of the movie trying to get their boat and escape the swamps alive. I was so pleasantly surprised when I watched this flick – the acting’s good, the scenery is gorgeous (Australia typically is), and the tension stays pretty solid throughout. The appearances of the croc aren’t always expected, which is a nice change, and your final girl is never certain. This one even passes the Bedchel test! Compared to the others in this post, it’s a damn Oscar winner, but it stands just fine on its own. This is the one to check out.
So there you have it, my new year of rampaging animals. My recommendation from this list – Black Water, without a doubt.
Next time on Creature Feature overload: Part 2: The Revenge – Giant rampaging mutant animals!!! Stay tuned!