"First you die... then the terror begins."
Two competing Earth corporations have sent spaceships to explore the moon of Titan. A German vessel arrives there first but contact is lost. When the rival American expedition attempts to set down, it crashes on the surface, stranding them on the moon. Here, they discover that the Germans had accidentally freed an alien creature which had been kept on the moon as part of another species’ ‘intergalactic pet collection.’ The creature wiped out the German team and now it has made its way on board the downed American ship to continue its carnage.
Fresh off trying his own monster movie with a Giger-like creature in 1981's Scared to Death, director William Malone took to the stars for a second blast at aping Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi horror Alien in Creature, arguably the most blatant of the numerous rip-offs that were produced in the 80s home video boom. Not only is there a tall, dark and deadly alien lurking around a spaceship stalking an expendable crew but this one introduces the shady corporate element too. It all amounts to what is essentially the reason people like me watch these cash-in films: we love the films that they’re ripping off, we know that these knock-offs are going to be rubbish but we need our fix of whatever made us love the originals so much in the first place and watch these in the futile hope that they deliver temporary satisfaction. Creature delivers about as much as you’d expect it to, which is a lot of not very little.
Creature had suffered pretty badly over the years and whilst it’s always been in print in the UK, the quality of the transfers had been atrocious. Grainy VHS copies with dark pictures and crackling sounds never really helped a film which needed little assistance to look cheap and nasty. A lot of the scenes are badly lit and whilst the film attempts to convey the sense of darkness on the moon, it doesn’t make for a great watch when you need to squint to see what is going in on some scenes. The cinematography is fairly incompetent here - either William Malone had no idea what to put in the frame or director of photography Henry Matthias knew nothing about lighting. The end result is a low budget film which looks even lower budgeted than it was (about $4m which wasn't too bad for 1985). However, I write this extra addition in 2022 having viewed a recently remastered blu-ray version and I must say that Creature looks the best it's ever done - really sharp, clear, bright and you can finally see a lot more of the set design, the gore and the creature itself. Does it make it a better film? No. But at least you can actually see what is happening now!
Special effects are not Creature’s strongest selling point either. Whilst the ship sets look as believable as they are entitled to make them look and the moon’s weather is given the constant wind machine/strobe lighting stage effects, it’s the quality of the monster that is the film’s biggest flaw. As the film poster is at great liberties to put across, the alien looks like, well, THE alien (black-skinned, long-narrow head, lots of sharp teeth, though without the acid blood). It’s something that has bugged me for years as I watch numerous alien-themed films and see the same type of creature designs being wheeled out time and time again, all built around Giger’s legendary and beautiful creation. Why can’t designers come up with something slightly unique? Our perceptions of hostile aliens should not be limited to tall, black and phallic-shaped. Ironically, the special effects team here (Robert and Dennis Skotak) would go on to become visual effects supervisors for, you guessed it, Aliens a year later! Talk about a turn of play.
In the grand traditions of old, the alien is kept off screen for as long as possible, with only brief glimpses of it for the most part until more of it is revealed in the finale where it, unsurprisingly, disappoints. Even here, as it throttles one of the male characters, you can see that it’s just a guy in a suit. In other scenes it's just a poorly animated puppet. Stare at the poster for a few seconds and you'll see more of it than in the entire film. As a consequence of not showing the alien, the finale is such a let-down given that there had been a few moments of enjoyable cheese in the build-up. Creature resorts to a tired trope of having the alien 'possess' the bodies of recently-killed characters, bringing them back to life to its dirty work as the normal characters are unaware of what is going on. Thankfully the gore quota is decent and there are enough people hanging around Titan to provide a good body count. Heads are exploded, faces chewed off, bodies are seen decomposing – it’s never going to compensate for the lack of characters, plot or any form of budget but it’s enough to momentarily lighten the load for the veteran horror fan.
Notoriously hard-to-work-with German actor Klaus Kinksi gets top billing on the film poster and he’s probably the best thing in Creature, albeit with a role that needed a lot more screen time. Kinski brings his trademark eccentricity, eeriness and uncontrollable rage to the role of the survivor of the German expedition, literally chewing up his scenes in rabid fashion as he spends most of his screen time eating his lunch. Talk about an easy day’s work. Kinksi provides a much-needed injection of paranoia and intensity to the story in his short time on screen, adding a sinister third element into the hostile situation and comes off as more threatening that the titular alien. Wendy Schaal does her best Ripley impression as the tough female who survives until the end, though she is infinitely better looking than Sigourney Weaver. Schaal was a regular face in 80s films with appearances in The ‘Burbs and Innerspace, usually playing a blonde bimbo so its nice to see a different turn from her.
Creature is a cheesy riff on the classic 'alien kills people in a confined ship in outer space' formula which has been pulverised so much in the years since Alien. Thankfully, 80s efforts like this make up for their throwaway approach to the material and cost-cutting budgets by tossing in a load of gratuitous nudity and gore to keep things ticking over. Creature is not great but, as a derivative mild diversion, you could do a lot worse. Just make sure you grab the remastered HD version, not an older VHS/DVD copy. The difference is remarkable.
Also Known As: The Titan Find
Director(s): William Malone
Writer(s): William Malone, Alan Reed
Actor(s): Stan Ivar, Wendy Schaal, Lyman Ward, Klaus Kinski, Annette McCarthy, Marie Laurin, Robert Jaffe, Diane Salinger
Duration: 95 mins