Theatrical Trip: CREATURE (2011)

Just when I thought it was safe to go back to the theater…

Earlier this year I regaled you with the tale of how DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (2010) bombed in 18th place its opening weekend.  I was immediately drawn to it like a chick to a bad boy.  “Nothing can top that abysmal opening,” I said confidently.  And then came along CREATURE.  I only found out about this swamp monster flick a week or so before it came out thanks to some annoying flash ads on horror news sites.  “Okay,” I thought, “they are probably getting this in a few hundreds theaters.” Nope, The Bubble Factory managed to get this bad boy into over 1,500 theaters.  It still didn’t interest me though as the trailer made it look like every other bad modern horror movie.

But then something magical happened: the weekend box office figures came out.  CREATURE had broken box office records…well, the bad kind of box office records.  The film came in 29th place this past weekend.  It bombed so bad that Yahoo.com had it up as the lead news story for a bit on Monday, September 12.  How bad were the numbers?  The film raked in a measly $327,000 over the weekend with a per screen average of $217.  As the Yahoo article imaginatively put it, that amount “is about what one row of moviegoers spent on popcorn for the last HARRY POTTER movie.”  It was officially the worst wide opening for a movie EVER!  Once again my bad movie junkie craving kicked in and soon I was off to see if CREATURE really does have teeth.  Like I’ve always said, it will make a good story for the grandkids. Whose grandkids?  I still haven’t figured out.

CREATURE opens with a bang with a scene of a woman stripping down and going skinny dipping in the swamp.  An unseen monster then takes a bite out of her while she splashes around in the water.  Well, at least I know debuting director Fred Andrews has seen JAWS (1975).  Actually he one ups Spielberg by having the victim crawl out of the water and the camera cranes up to reveal she has no legs.  BAM! CREATURE does have teeth and this is fixing to be good. What I didn’t know that Andrews was working opposite of the idea of saving the best for last.  Like many films before it, the film proper gets rolling with a six twentysomethings out to have a good time.  We have siblings Oscar (Dillon Casey) and Karen (Lauren Schneider), Randy the Marine (Aaron Hill) and his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Fuller), and Randy’s sister Emily (Serinda Swan) and her new boyfriend Niles (Mehcad Brooks), an ex-Navy Seal.  Traveling through the back roads of Louisiana on their way to the Big Easy, the group stops at a gas station (“We ain’t got no gas”) run by Chopper (Sid Haig).  Oscar is immediately entranced by a cheapjack display on the local monster legend Lock-Jaw and the creepy locals tell him of the nearby house belonging to the man-monster.

With some quick convincing, he gets the group to agree to check out the old house associated with the legend (“You know I love this kind of shit,” opines Karen).  On the way, Oscar fills them in on the story of Lock-Jaw and let’s just say it ain’t the trismus kind (thank you, Wikipedia).  Seems back in the 19th century swamp living Grimley (Daniel Bernhardt…yes, the guy from the BLOODSPORT sequels) was the last of his line and all set to bear a child with his kid sister.  Ewww.  But the incestuous “I do” got postponed when the bride was eaten by an albino alligator.  So, as the legend has it, Grimley tracked this beast to its underground cave and killed it.  Distraught, he remained in this grotto and gorged himself on the human flesh lying about.  Somehow this transformed into a half-man, half-alligator.

Anyway, the kids make it to Grimley’s old house and, well, they don’t do anything there.  They get scared off by some birds and no one actually goes into the house.  Along the way Oscar is bitten by some spiders but no one seems to care (despite the huge welts on his arms).  The group decides to camp there for the night and you know what that means – campfire drinking, pot smoking and, hey look, Niles the Navy Seal brought his guitar (in one of the film’s major disappointments, he never plays a tune). However, things aren’t as serene as they seem. First off, there is this hulking monster out there in the swamp.  Second, is that – ah, screw it, I’m going to ruin a big plot twist here so skip the next line if you don’t want to know – Oscar and Karen are actually Chopper’s kids and have led the other folks out here to be sacrifices in a ritual for Mr. Monster Grimely.

To steal a line from my DYLAN DOG review, there isn’t really a lot to say about this film.  So let’s start off with the good.  There is that opening scene and…hmmm…I think that is about it.  Okay, I take that back as I also thought the acting was good by pretty much the entire cast.  Dillon Casey and Lauren Schneider actually did their turns well and the incestuous relationship is actually pretty disturbing thanks to an onscreen handjob scene.  Amanda Fuller, previous seen giving an excellent performance in the ultra-grim RED, WHITE & BLUE (2010), is also good in her supporting role.  And Mehcad Brooks is fine in his role as the hero who has to go mano-a-clawo with the monster, even if the script does him no favors.  It was also refreshing that the filmmakers avoided all talk of cell phones, got some nudity in there (I’m easy) and didn’t work in some lame movie reference dialogue (aka the Tarantino Effect). Also on the plus side, at least the filmmakers didn’t jump on the lame post-conversion 3-D horror craze.  I’m forever thankful as the last thing I need to see is Sid Haig’s big belly swinging at me off the screen.

Of course, for every step forward there are two steps back.  The set up is so generic that I had to make sure I wasn’t watching VENOM (2005) or HATCHET (2006) again.  Gee, another “kids in the swamps of Louisiana” movie.  Director and co-writer Andrews seems to have cataloged what he thinks every modern horror movie needs (monster, teens, inbred rednecks, torture scene, pot) and checked them off one by one. While the image of Sid Haig in a wifebeater might still give Rob Zombie a boner, it has been done to death.  Even worse are the braindead moments littered throughout the script.  My favorite was Niles being shot in the leg with a shotgun and then bolting like his name was Usain in the very same scene.  And he just keeps on running like nothing happened to him.  Also equally unspectacular is the titular star.  A horror movie can live or die by its monster and if you’re going to name your film CREATURE, you better deliver on that promise.  The creature here is pretty lame, looking like the bastard lovechild of comedian Rondell Sheridan and the monster from THE TERROR WITHIN (1989) if it had hit they gym.

The design is doubly disappointing when you know that Andrews spent most of his film career as a production designer. I’m also sad to report that the creature goes down pretty easily and, worst of all, it happens off screen!  Seriously, Andrews has survivors Niles and Emily get swallowed into a sinkhole with my boy Creature and then Niles emerges with its jaw in his hand.  I guess if the Navy Seals got Osama Bin Laden then Grimley was no sweat.  In a final funny bit, the duo throw the jawbone, literally their only evidence the creature existed, onto the roadside for an armadillo to eat.

My shame!
So is CREATURE really deserving of the dubious distinction of being the worst wide release box office bomb of all-time?  Not really.  It certainly isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen in the theaters.  But it also doesn’t deserve to be released in 1,500 theaters.  With horror distribution getting choked to death a little bit more each day, it is sad to see something so utterly mundane get out to the public (even if they didn’t watch it).  Really good horror films have struggled to hit screens so watching this unspooling on screens is downright painful.  Chances are the $30 bucks the producers culled from the 6 people in our theater (although I don’t think one guy paid) aren’t paving the way for CREATURE II: BAYOU BLOODBATH.

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