Creature features, monster movies, whatever name you attribute to them, they’ve become something of a lost art within the horror genre. They don’t get made anymore, simply because the budgets are too high and films like these require too much money to make—or at least to make right. By nature, they’re more effects-heavy. Most people who fall in love with this type of film gravitate toward the appearance of the monster. The design can be everything. If it doesn’t work, then the movie doesn’t work. While most of these sorts of pictures are known for being campy, they’re very hard to pull off correctly.
Luckily, even when they don’t turn out quite as good as their filmmakers intended, they can still be a lot of fun. Both great and terrible creature features can become cult classics in their own right. They still need many of the same elements in order to work. A good setup and a great monster. I think Pumpkinhead is among the absolute best monster movies around, because it has not only one of the best demons ever committed to film but a wholly engrossing and powerful story at the same time.
For every Pumpkinhead though, there’s another rubber-suited monster or giant attacking animal flick that never quite found its audience. Too much of the time it’s a huge victory just getting them onto DVD and Blu-Ray and even some of the titles we’ll be looking at have yet to make that leap.
For better or worse, whether they’re cheesy or dangerously cheesy, here are some creature features that were completely forgotten—but should be rediscovered.
Written by Clive Barker and based on his own excellent short story, Rawhead Rex isn’t entirely what the author had in mind, I don’t think. The monster in the story was supposed to look as phallic as the Alien and the Deadly Spawn, but the beast in the movie more closely resembles what would happen if Pumpkinhead hit the gym and became the frontrunner of a death metal band. Still, I think there’s something very endearing in its extreme goofiness. Unlike the story, this really is just a monster movie, but it’s a fun one and actually gets away with some surprisingly extreme stuff for a feature of its type.Leviathan
From Rambo: First Blood Part II and Tombstone director George P. Cosmatos, Leviathan is a fun, deep ocean horror—which on its own is an area of horror we simply don’t see explored enough. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten it mixed up with Deepstar Six in my day, simply because they were so similar and made so closely together. But Leviathan stands on its own for its unique creature and its claustrophobic nature. And the fact that it begins with the team finding a log detailing what had happened to the ghost ship’s crew makes its influence clear on just about every horror video game that’s come out in the last ten years.
Shrieker is not a good movie, but it is a movie I’m nostalgic for, I admit that. There’s a certain charm to it. Like a lot of Full Moon films in the late 1990’s, I discovered this one through its action figure. The characters are all weirdly specific in their gimmicks—there’s one girl who’s a radical communist, one guy who has multiple girlfriends but feels the need to insist he’s not gay—so I have to give it credit for that. More than that, it has a great monster design and it doesn’t overuse it because it can’t afford to. So maybe that’s a happy accident.
Again, Komodo doesn’t hold up quite as well as when I was a child, but it’s damn impressive compared to all the Asylum fare that followed it. Most people forget that this one actually did have a limited theatrical release in 1999. There’s some awful CGI, but extremely appreciated practical FX in there as well and those are really great. The Komodo carnage is obviously the biggest selling point and on that level it doesn’t disappoint.
Cellar Dweller might appear to be low-budget schlock—because it is—but it also has a lot going for it. It’s written by Don Mancini, who basically wrote the entire Child’s Play franchise. And Jeffrey Combs even makes a brief appearance. The feature is directed by Troll and Friday the 13th Part VII director and FX guru John Carl Buechler and because of that it also has a solid monster design, for the most part. It also has a great concept: anything this comic artist drew was brought to life and now he’s dead and his greatest monster haunts the art school he inhabited. Because of these elements, it’s easy to overlook the bad pacing and the very limited action.
Razorback is what made me realize there aren’t enough evil wild boar movies. But at the same time, if this is the only one we ever get, it only makes it that much more special. It’s a weird concept, but actually a really good movie. The tone, style, effects (especially the effects) of Razorback are all great so I really wish this one got more attention, not to mention a proper Blu-Ray release.
Going back to the late ‘70’s, Sssssssss is a pretty straightforward, yet bizarre, tale of a roadside reptile show owner who is trying to turn his new assistant into a giant snake. If you’re scared of snakes, this one should work for you. If you like snakes, it should be intriguing on that level. It even has some pretty impressive FX work for its day. There’s also a bleakness to the tone that I wasn’t expecting out of a film like this, but that I kind of admire for that reason.
This one holds a special place in my heart because all the killer mutant animals in it are New England animals, Maine animals in particular. From porcupines to raccoons to beavers to the film’s big threat: an evil mutated bear named Katahdin. It’s hokey, but actually remembered by the few who have seen it as something of a cult classic. Still, I think its lack of widespread notoriety makes it eligible for this list.