The Creature: “Universal’s last iconic monster”

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Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954)

…would symbolise the bridge between Universal’s golden horror era and their move into the sci-fi genre. It also marks the last of the iconic monsters to be born out of the giant film production house.
Directed by Jack Arnold (who also helmed It Came From Outer Space (1953)), The Creature would follow a group of scientists who uncover an amphibious humanoid known as the Gill-man in the heart of the Amazon. 

Released in 3D at the point of its decline in the early 50s, and also in the traditional two-dimensional format, managed to capture over $1m in Box Office takings but was overshadowed by its predecessors. 

Among the scientists are Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson) and Kay Lawrence (Julia Adams), the latter forming the object of affection for Gill-man. The film was reported to been inspired by the tale Beauty and the Beast, which is evident at least in the creatures pursuit for love among humankind, fascinated by the beautiful Kate, leading to a similar conclusion to King Kong, where the monster kidnaps the female lead and ends up riddled with bullets. In this instance, though, the monster doesn’t fall a great height , but instead sinks to the depths of a supposed watery grave. 

The story is a simple one enough, and is entertaining despite treading in familiar territory, carving out the usual horror movie tropes. It’s appeal lies mainly through the underwater sequences and the cinematography captured to instil fear and create atmosphere. The Gill-man would be portrayed by Ricou Browning for these water scenes, who had the gruelling task of holding his breath under for minutes at a time to deliver the strenuous fight scenes. On land, this task of donning the creatures mask fell to Ben Chapman, who had to wear the costume for 14 hour stretches in the heat and with minimal visibility at best.
Considered a success by Universal, a further two instalments would come in the franchise with…

Revenge of the Creature (1955)

Jack Arnold would be charged with directing the creature once again, only this time the Universal monster is far removed from its native Amazon landscape and confined in captivity where it is studied by Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) and his student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson).
The film follows a familiar trajectory though of unrequited love as the creature pursues and captures Helen, only to be shot by police in his escape for freedom. Ricou Browning would once again return for the underwater segments, and Tom Hennesy filling in for the above ground sequences. Revenge though would be something of a forgotten entry other than to be mocked in Mystery Science Theater 3000, and for boasting Clint Eastwood as an uncredited role as a lab technician. This didn’t stop the creature from returning to screens however three years down the track with…

The Creature Walks Among Us (1958)

The creatures final feature length appearance for Universal would see a different director with John Sherwood but would still see Ricou Browning in full Creature make up (Don Megowan would take on the on-land duties), although now the look had altered slightly. This follows its rescue and surgery after being burned in a fire, the creature becomes physically more human looking and loses its gills, developing lungs to breathe.

The villainy and fear factor falls more in human terrain this time with the abusive and mentally unstable Dr. Barton (Jeff Morrow). The creature sided with a tale of what it means to be human or beast? When we go through such psychological stages, can we truly rid our genetic make up, or in the creatures case, would the call of the ocean prove to be too great?

Our last shot of the iconic creature would see it on the beachfront, walking into the great sea.

The Creature’s cultural impact would still hang in the minds and inspirations of film creatives for years to come however, with several attempts at a remake and appearances in films such as The Monster Squad, and the more recent Creepshow series on Shudder. It’s most affection nod tough comes in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, eager to give the creature one last shot at love.

  • Saul Muerte



Movie review: The Retreat (2021)

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The Retreat marks an important entry into the genre scene with its representation of queer scene without subjecting either of its lead characters to being a perpetrator, hellbent on revenge. Instead it flips this archaic notion by having the LGBTQi community the subject of eradication by a group of people who wish to rid them from society by means of gruesome torture. There are times I was guilty of second guessing the film’s direction expecting it to sink to predictability by having a twist in one of our lead characters that would reveal them to be the instrument of torment. Thankfully however, Director Pat Mills along with writer Alyson Richards play it straight down the line with the focus on the couples’ relationship and the test that they must endure in order to survive, united or doomed to failure.

The film however does fall foul of tripping over the usual tropes in its representation of our protagonist couple, where one has commitment issues and the other is hoping for more from her partner to cement their future together. Renee (Tammie-Amber Pirie) has some depth to her character as the more reserved partner, potentially harbouring some old wounds or trauma. As the story pans out there is intrigue to be found in her past with a hardened past that could also be her strength if she is able to overcome her demons. Valerie (Sarah Allen) however is a little two-dimensional at times with her optimistic outlook on life, which is set to be quashed if she is to endure the ordeal.

On a weekend getaway, Renee and Valerie set off for the idyllic retreat, only to find this bnb style hideaway is nothing but a trap to lure non-heterosexual people into a lair of uncertain return. The tormentors then inflict all kinds of pain and punishment on the victims while filming it for their own sadistic means.

The Prognosis:

The Retreat treads lightly in an all-too-familiar terrain, but is bold enough to place a queer couple at the helm of this survival torture horror.
The narrative is enjoyable enough, despite being content with a middle of the road affair.
It would have been interesting to go deeper with the characters and provide a more meaningful journey for them to take on their road of endurance.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Revealer (2022)

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Luke Boyce has steadily been making a name for himself in the film industry behind the camera as a director or producer, namely in making promos for the big sporting teams of Chicago. His latest outing sees him in the Director’s chair for his first feature length movie and with a promising hook.

The premise has a stripper, Angie (Caito Aase) trapped in a peep show booth along with a religious protester, Sally (Shaina Schrooten) when the world is hit by an apocalyptic event. Oh and it has a retro fit of 1980s Chicago as a setting for good measure.

Unfortunately, the film struggles to meet these bold expectations, providing the audience with tired and two-dimensional characters for us to champion their desire for survival.

If you’re going to have a primarily two person feature to keep you captivated for 1hr and 26 mins, then you have to provide a weighty script with characters that have depth to their personalities.

All of this is sadly lacking and we’re left with a lacklustre narrative that is far from apocalyptic.

Our two leads manage to fight their way out of said phone booth when faced with a zombie, only to be tested further when they venture into a labyrinth of snake type nasties in an underground world. This underbelly of Chicago feels like a cheap attempt to replicate the upside down in Stranger Things. The effects are fairly good however, showing that there is promise in Boyce’s vision, and that hope may lay in his next feature, Revival.

For Revealer though, these tests of mental will and endurance seem pale and much like the story itself, on a road to nowhere.

The Prognosis:

There are nuggets of potential in this flick but too often the dialogue is weak and doesn’t offer enough to support a decent premise.

  • Saul Muerte

Revealer is currently streaming on Shudder Australia

Retrospective: Four Sided Triangle (1953)

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Just as Universal were making significant strides away from the horror genre and into the sci-fi realm with It Came From Outer Space another new name would rise to take up the mantel.
This production company would have its roots across the pond on British soil, but the Hammer Horror epithet was yet to come and the name would be generated in familiar territory, science fiction.

Four Sided Triangle is a complex tale, but contains some essential ingredients on Hammer’s path to notoriety. None more so than with its director Terence Fisher who would spearhead the Hammer vision and helm the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing starring film, The Curse of Frankenstein just two years later.
For now though, Fisher’s playing field would follow a couple of scientists, Bill (Stephen Murray – A Tale of Two Cities) and Robin (John Van Eyssen – Quatermass 2, Dracula), who dabble in the duplication of objects. 

The duo find their scientific breakthrough and look on the borders of success, but as with these things a dramatic barrier must stand in the way and serve as the antithesis to their genius. In this case it is through our love triangle as both Bill and Roy have eyes for their longtime friend, Lena (Barbara Payton – Bride of the Gorilla). The only trouble is, Lena only has romantic feelings for Robin.
Heartbroken Bill doesn’t acquiesce but comes with another solution – duplication of Lena.
What he doesn’t account for however is that the replicant Lena, named Helen will also fall for Robin. Not content with this, Bill devises a new way to win Helen’s affections through electro-shock therapy to erdicate any memory she has of Robin. Bill’s pursuit for love will only lead to ruin, but how many will fall in his endeavours to win Helen’s heart is left until the final reel.

There are some marked moments that lift this low budget flick above the grade for its time, tackling some interesting subject matter. Fisher also lends a level-headed approach to story-telling in order to deliver the compound narrative in a simple way for audience to understand. Narrated by a secondary character Dr. Harvey (James Hayton – The Pickwick Papers) who breaks the fourth wall through flashback with his pleasing and harmonious nature only solidifies Fisher’s strong direction further.

The film deserves more recognition, being overshadowed by Hammer’s next turn in The Quatermass Xperiment and of course The Curse of Frankenstein. Both of which would stem the way for Hammer’s future, but neither would be as bright without Four Sided Triangle shining a light for the production company to walk towards success.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: It Came From Outer Space (1953)

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1953 would prove to be a significant point in Universal horror history with the release of Ray Bradbury’s It Came From Outer Space, mainly because of a notable turn towards science fiction. 

Interestingly the fear factor is reduced with the alien invaders actually being stranded on Earth after crash landing their spacecraft and are trying to get home.

The story joins astronomer John (Richard Carlson – The Ghost Breakers) and a school teacher, Ellen (Barbara Rush) as they go in search of a large meteorite that has fallen in their small town. 

They soon discover however that the meteor is in fact the aforementioned spacecraft, but when John tries to tell his tale to the locals, he is met with a series of doubters. Trouble soon arises when some of the locals start to disappear and return with their personalities altered ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This brings the sheriff to suspect foul play and that there might be truth in John’s alien invasion story after all.
Cue miscommunication and preconceptions that could lead to the downfall of humankind, It’s no wonder that this story has been labelled as an anti-communist propaganda film when you look at the underlying subject of alien invasion and the silent threat of destruction that hangs over everyone. 

Despite being a pretty mediocre film, lacking substance ICFOS became an iconic feature for its time, it managed to reach the pop culture zeitgeist and has oft been referenced since.
For me though is a fortunate set of circumstances that led to the creation of the Metaluna Mutant, once considered for the alien design but dropped in favour of the shape-shifting, single-eyed, jellyfish mutants on display. This decision would pave way for the Metaluna Mutant to have a more credible platform to launch its iconic look in This Island Earth… but that’s for another time.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie Review: Mad God

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Described as the world’s pre-eminent stop motion animator, Phil Tippett has been harnessing his craft through such fine works as the original Star Wars trilogy; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; Robocop; and Dragonslayer. 

Such is the talent that he brings to his craft, a long dormant vision, 30 years in the making, has finally come to fruition, thanks in part to a kickstarter campaign to aid in the funding.

Mad God is a beautifully bleak dystopian tale filled with a blend of industry, machine-like creatures, in tune with the organic infestations that embody the landscape.

This outlook is something straight out of the insane mind of Dr. Frankenstein, with some of these creatures born out of assembled body parts, adding to its appeal.

Whilst I do love the artform of stop animation, it can deter in places and feel fragmented as a result. Mad God can feel like this at times when viewing which can be due to the production time frame. 

Weaving together these surreal images is The Assassin, shrouded in a jacket and a gas mark, who is charged with a mission to destroy the world as we know it. His journey of descent into an inferno of lust, power, greed, and the destruction of life is a cyclical and hellish one. It bears a light on the shadowy side of humanity, forcing the viewer to face its brutality.

The Prognosis:

Through all its fragments and destruction, is beauty and evolution at its core.
Director Phil Tippet is a master of his craft and his labour of love is a must see for all fans of stop animation. 

The dystopian landscape is a visually striking and harrowing masterpiece that captures the dark heart of humanity in a way that this style of art form and an auteur of his field can truly supply.

  • Saul Muerte

Movie review: Offseason

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Having launched into the film industry as an intern through hit or miss horror production studio, Blumhouse, Mickey Keating has now directed six feature films including Darling, Carnage Park, and Pod.

HIs latest outing, Offseason, now streaming on Shudder, much like his other movies is drenched in inspirational nods to the films of yester-year. Most notable here is 1973’s Messiah of Evil, a supernatural horror that follows the pursuit of a young woman’s lost father.

Similarly here, we journey alongside Marie (Jocelin Donahue) who receives a letter to attend to her mother’s grave, which has been vandalised on a remote island. Accompanying her is George, played by a criminally underused Joe Swanberg (You’re Next), known for his involvement with the mumblegore movement.
It’s important to stress this link because much like those movies a similar style is at play with a guerilla style improvisation in the dialogue that never quite hits the mark on this occasion. 

Once the couple brave the storm and cross the only bridge from the mainland, they encounter a strange and isolated town that strikes as if it was pulled straight out of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
There are legends of a demonic creature from the sea, a cult that are ensnared by his command, and all this ties to a pact that involves Marie’s deceased mother.
Are these all figments of a deranged collective?
Or is there truth to it all, and Marie is part of a trap, lulled to fulfil a prophecy?

It is clear that Keating has a vision in mind with some stylistic set pieces that weave together Marie’s plight into a strange world.  There are moments of promise, but in his execution Keating fails to string together these moments of confusion to form any sense of clarity. We, like Marie, end up lost in the exposition, struggling to navigate our way towards the films conclusion with any sense of satisfaction.

The Prognosis:

Despite having a great calibre of actors to fill his cast, Director Mickey Keating struggles to harness any weight to this Lovecraftian inspired horror.

There are some promising set pieces but it fails to produce any cohesiveness and instead wallows in its narrative mire.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Anaconda (1997)

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Nominated for six Razzie Awards with a lot of scathing reviews of the animatronics involved and Jon Voight bagging two Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, just how tragic was this Action Adventure Horror film called Anaconda

With a fairly decent cast in Voight, J-Lo, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Owen Wilson, and Danny Trejo, Columbia Pictures were clearly hoping for big things. Anaconda would even go on to generate four more sequels including a cross-over with the croc feature franchise, Lake Placid. In some circles, Anaconda has grown to cult status so what exactly went wrong? And do these negative reviews still hold weight over time?

25 years on, I look back at this creature feature to see if it is still as messy as my first recollection of the movie when it was initially released.

Set in the Amazonian rainforest, a National Geographic film crew set off down the river in search of the Shirishamas tribe, with hopes of documenting them. Along the way, the crew encounter stranded snake hunter Paul Serone (Voight) who convinces them that he can assist them in their quest, but holding ulterior motives. Eventually Serone leads them into the anaconda’s lair and as with these movies, our characters get knocked off one by one. 

Creature features have always been a draw card and ever since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was released, the fear of the water and what lurks beneath has been constantly amplified. In this instance Anaconda had tried to leverage a blend of animatronics and cgi to catapult the horror element into new directions. Unfortunately it wasn’t able to leap into the realms of believability throwing the audience out of the picture along the way.
In addition, the screenplay is incredibly formulaic with weak writing in the fold, proving difficult for the cast to manipulate or add any depth too despite their abilities to do so before the camera. 

It doesn’t help that most of the characters are two-dimensional and therefore unable to provide any depth to them for the actors to dive into and explore.
Anaconda is a cheese on toast horror that looks pleasing and will be pleasing to some, but it won’t develop your taste palate, happy to live in the realms of popcorn territory. And with talks of a reboot on the horizon, it sounds like there could be more quests into the anaconda dominion yet to come. Is there life still in this franchise? Time will tell.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Sleepwalkers (1992)

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Sleepwalkers was one of those movies that has immersed itself in my mind and I’m pretty sure formed part of my horror film makeup. It’s probably not surprising really if I divulge a little of my personal journey through horror films. I would have been around 14 years old at the time of its release and already had sunk my impressionable mind into the works of Stephen King and knowing his name was attached to the writing credits for what would have been his first not to be based on any  of his pre-existing works (Not that I knew this at the time). It also starred Madchen Amick, hot off the David Lynch hit tv series Twin Peaks. Lynch was also integral to forming my cinephilia and with Amick’s involvement, I was already hooked. It would also be directed by Mick Garris who has since carved a name for himself in the name of horror on-screen and often using King’s work as source material.
Later, I would understand the importance that Aice Krige would play in movies having already carved a name through Chariots of Fire, Ghost Story, and Barfly. This would be my first encounter with Krige however and it’s fair to say that her role of the matriarchal shapeshifter Mary, a shapeshifting energy vampire, sets the tone for the whole movie.

Along with her son Charles Brady (Brian Krause) feeds off the lifeforce of virgin women and can transform into werecats to feed on their prey, whilst also using their powers of telekinesis and illusion to manipulate those with whom they encounter. Their only weakness are domestic cats, who are resistant to the sleepwalkers magic and can cause fatal wounds.

Madchen Amick takes on the role of Charles’ virginal interest Tanya, who is lured in by his  magnanimous charm. Before long, Tanya realises that there is more to Charles than meets the eye and must fight tooth and nail to survive.

Looking back at the film now, it still holds some allure despite some clearly aged creature effects, and the moment when Charles transforms for the first time is a great counterweight to our first impressions of his character. Throw into the mix a blink and you’ll miss Ron Perlman as Captain Soames and horror maestros Clive Barker, Joe Dante, John Landis, Tobe Hooper and even King himself cropping up at notable points, and you’ve got a lot to get your teeth into. Oh and Mark Hamill also makes an uncredited appearance which brings a smile to this cinema lover’s face. 

It is Krige however as mentioned who really comes to life as Mary and the lead antagonist of the film, with her incestous needs and devilish desires lights up every scene that she is in.
For this, Sleepwalkers is well worth a revisit.

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Basket Case (1982)

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Looking back at this 80s cult horror forty years after its release, I am initially struck by its oddity. It is precisely the strangeness of the film that developed a cult following and makes it stand out from other slasher genre films of its time.

Basket Case blends itself right into the centre of the exploitation scene in which Director Frank Henenlotter would proudly own the label and go on to direct another two further instalments in the franchise.

Shot on 16mm and with a tight budget, part of the films appeal comes from its raw approach to filmmaking from which is inspired by the seedier side of Manhattan, combined with the special effects from the antagonist, Belial, a deformed conjoined twin with sexual and deviant manifestations. The puppet is displayed mostly through stop-animation which adds to the disjointed final product.

The premise of the movie would add to the struggle to connect, following Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck), a man out of his element in New York for the first time, having travelled there with a wicker basket containing his twin who can communicate with him telepathically. Dwayne checks into a cheap motel and from here on in, a killing spree begins.
Dwayne is provoked into assisting Belial in his murderous activities, escorting him in a journey of revenge, but when he meets and falls for Sharon (Terri Susan Smith) a love triangle ensues with fatal consequences,

The result has Basket Case hosting a unique position at a time when experimental horror filmmaking was at its highest. These low-budget movies would find pride of place in the home entertainment circuit and along with the slogan “This is the sickest movie ever made!”, its status in the genre would morph into success and be welcomed to wallow in all its sick and warped glory. 

While it may not be appealing to many, there are a select few that would lap up the grotesque and stylised generated from the boldness of the creativity involved that would appreciate Basket Case for this alone. 

  • Saul Muerte