Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Attack of the Beast Creatures


ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES Directed By Michael Stanley (1985).

Review By Steve Fenton

Ad-line: “Horror… Terror… Death… They’ll Eat You Alive!”
Back in the late ’80s/early ’90s when I initially became somewhat active in the “zine scene”, I remember reading quite a bit here and there about this justifiably notorious monster cheapie; not the least amount of its notoriety stemming from its luridly outrageous title itself, which evokes the schlockiest of 1950s monster schlockers, but really has little else in common with them other than perhaps the base premise. But, while I’ve long been aware of it and knew I wanted to—and would (and did!)—see it eventually, I didn’t actually finally get around to doing so until just recently, specifically for TOG, as a matter of fact. Was it worth the long wait? Hell yeah! It’s definitely a keeper, and I may well even watch it again sometime.

As an introductory title card informs us, “Somewhere in the North Atlantic” (in May 1920, although the period setting is only hinted at by the costumes), an overloaded lifeboat, filled to the point of capsizing with the mixed-gender survivors of a shipwreck, drifts aimlessly on the high seas until it by chance reaches the “safety” of a presumably uncharted isle well outside the main shipping lanes (the film was lensed in rural locations in Fairfield, Connecticut, of all places. Heavy New Yorkese accents predominate in the cast). That said, considering what awaits them on dry land (the title ought to provide you with some sort of subtle clue), perhaps the castaways might have been better off going down with the sinking ship! Which is presumably what the captain must have done, because he isn’t numbered among the survivors.


Directed by one Michael Stanley—whose sole other listed credit at the IMDb is a comedy called DOING AGATHA (2008)—the present film (a.k.a. HELL ISLAND) was brought to us c/o seasoned schloxploitation impresario Joseph Brenner, Stateside distributor of all sorts of prime ’70s trash cinema imports (Brenner had no actual production input into AOTBC, but merely dealt with the distribution of it). Despite the year given at the IMDb (“1985”), that was actually when it was released on domestic home video by World Video Pictures of LA; but the actual onscreen copyright year given in the film’s end credits is 1983.

The beasties worship at the alter of the giant Sour Patch Kid

Establishing a suitably macabre tone early into the narrative, one luckless castaway, his throat parched after spending days adrift on the bobbing briny, finds a woodland pool presumably filled with cool, drinkable freshwater and goes to quench his thirst. However, no sooner does he dip his head under the water for a refreshing guzzle than his flesh starts to sizzle and smoke, his face almost instantaneously being reduced to a hideous scarlet, blobby mass of melting tissue! (And you’d scream as much as he does too if the same thing happened to you.) To accomplish this crudely effective if by no means convincing-looking effect, it pretty much just looks as though all someone did was dump a quart of semi-coagulated fire engine red latex house-paint over the guy’s head. The man—named Pat, played by the production’s soundman Frans Kal—then flops face-first (if that’s the correct term, considering what little face he has left) into the pool—which is apparently filled with a highly corrosive acid rather than H2O—and dissolves steamily right before the eyes of another man who runs up at the sound of his agonized screams (“Keep the women away!” he calls gallantly to his associates as one of the flappers comes for a look-see).

I shouldn't have avoided the warning on that Scream and Scream Again poster



Subsequent to this decidedly ominous occurrence, some of the surviving group get the distinct impression that someone—or something—is watching them from the surrounding bush. While one of the women, Mrs. Gordon (Kay Bailey) is off picking edible berries in the dense underbrush, some unseen creature nips her on the hand. “Well, now at least we know there are animals on the island,” she says afterwards, as-yet not overly disturbed. “Maybe we will have some meat to cook.” However, are the humans the highest life forms and at the top of the food chain on this island, or are they merely meat for a higher—albeit much shorter—and still more voracious form of predator…? A short time later, heroes John Trieste (Robert Nolfi) and Case Quinn (Robert Lengyel) come across a bloodied human skeleton which has apparently had its flesh stripped off its bones by some indeterminate species of animal (“Rats...?”). During the group’s first night on the island, what appear to be—and indeed, are—numerous pairs of shining white eyes peer out at them from the darkness all around their campfire.

The Black Devil Doll is my second cousin!


Before you can say “Jeepers creepers, where’d you get those peepers,” the things behind the eyes make their presence further known by doing more than just peeping out at the human interlopers into their domain. Bright red, with long black hair, blank white eyes and pointy gnashers, the gnarly critters don’t first show themselves until several minutes past the half-hour mark of this 80-minute movie, and their initial attack comes nocturnally, so little is seen of them other than fleeting glimpses. Hissing, screeching, scurrying, leaping and biting, they assail the humans’ makeshift camp en masse, sinking their teeth into whoever comes within range, both men and women alike, with zero seeming preference. Although only comparatively tiny—approximately a tenth our size—they are extremely fast-moving and come in such great numbers that they pose a genuine threat to their much larger victims, simply because there are so damn many of ’em.

PHOTO BOMB!

“Those eyes!” exclaims Cathy (Julia Rust), having been reduced to a quivering state of shock following the first attack, shortly before going into all-out hysterics. “I could see those eyes. They were everywhere!” Cue hysterical bawling. Having been alerted to their presence, as the people attempt to wend their way through the woods back to their beached boat, the creatures observe them from the trees, occasionally launching sorties against them by rushing out of the bushes, biting someone seemingly at random, then rushing away again. And the little fuckers even lay booby-traps, too! As in one scene when a fat dude gets speared clear through the guts after tripping and falling onto a wooden stake sticking up out of the ground. Another guy falls into a pit which has been dug by the things for that very purpose, whereupon they leap in on him. When hero Trieste asks, “Where’s Diane?” (Lisa Pak), we shortly see her corpse crawling with critters, still chawin’ away on her like momma’s chitterlings. One by one, the “survivors” are gradually whittled down to nothing by their incessant attackers. Can you guess who lives long enough to make it onto the rescue boat in the last act…?

We kicked those Keebler Elves out and hijacked their cookie trees


As has been commonly remarked by others over the years, in both their size and other physical characteristics as well their viciousness, the titular so-called “Beast Creatures” essentially strongly resemble the famous and ferocious living Zuni fetish doll seen relentlessly attacking Karen Black in Dan Curtis’ classic made-for-TV horror anthology TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975). Clearly little more than simplistic glove or rod puppets in some shots – which was precisely what they were! – these patently phony and decidedly dollish critters are nonetheless bizarre enough in their looks and habits to be mildly unsettling; an unsteady combination of humorously foolish and grotesquely disconcerting in roughly equal degree. These seemingly contradictory if by no means mutually exclusive qualities can sometimes work rather well in regards to supposedly horrific creatures, as here. Several crazed, speed-edited sequences depict the creatures swarming the humans. Sprinting through the bush nipping at knees and ankles like demonic pygmies, for all their unconvincing appearance, the title terrors are presented exuberantly enough to register favorably, their sheer oddness merely adding to their effectiveness.

I'm so humiliated, I was ambushed by a horde of pocket sized evil holly hobby dolls


Due to the ever-increasing frequency and relentlessness of the attacks, stress levels and in-fighting predictably increase among the castaways, much of the friction directly caused by an abrasive a-hole of a middle-aged business tycoon named Mr. Morgan (John Vichiola, the hammiest over-actor in the bunch…and there are a lot of hams to be had here). Right from frame one of his appearance, we just know this loudmouthed yahoo is gonna get his in a bad way before the narrative runs its full course. Sure enough, having been nursing a leg-wound caused by a bite from one of the creatures for much of the action, in the final third he suddenly turns “rabid”—actually foaming at the mouth, evidently due to gangrene having set in—before dashing off into the “jungle” and taking a revengeful bite out of one of the beast creatures, only to shortly thereafter stumble and fall into the aforementioned acid pool and dissolve into a smoking skeleton.

I won the tomato eating contest Hurray!


Robert A. Hutton not only functioned as AOTBC’s writer, but was also its DP, in addition to playing an unnamed sailor in the film (although he is evidently no relation to the Hollywood performer named Robert Hutton who had starred in a number of cheapjack monster flicks which look like comparative epics next to the present next-to-zilch-budgeter under discussion. Hell, even Hutton’s THE SLIME PEOPLE [1963] looks like QUO VADIS? next to this decidedly downscale production). SFX creator/soundman Robert T. Firgelewski also served triple duty in an acting role (namely, the critically wounded Mr. Bruin character, who barely even makes it out of the lifeboat after it washes ashore before croaking). John P. Mozzi’s electronic score mostly sticks to typically drony or just plain airy-fairy ’80s-style motifs in the wannabe Tangerine Dream vein (for wont of a handier description). While it’s effective enough for what it is, since I’ve never been that much of a fan of synth music (other than for the more outrageous forms from the avant-garde/underground, that is; such as Suicide or Throbbing Gristle, say), it typically leaves me cold when utilized for movie soundtracks; although I must admit that some of the minimalistic jittery compositions heard here do complement the ominous mood rather well, all things considered.

This koi pond is doing wonders for my pores



In closing, I had long suspected that I was going to enjoy ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES, and, sure enough, that’s how things panned-out, I’m glad to say. Not only is there more than just a germ of a good idea at work herein, but the film emerges as quite an original – virtually unique, in fact – concoction, whose accomplishments are all the more impressive for the simple reason that it comes from such humble origins, and it knows it, which is why it has the common sense not to overstep its limitations and stays well within the boundaries. I’ve never been one to trumpet a movie’s virtues solely because it was made on the cheap and had the deck stacked against it from the start, so it should automatically be given love, no questions asked (Jerry Warren, fuck off!). But I am totally an admirer of films which are made super-cheaply – and it doesn’t come much cheaper than this! – yet still manage to exhibit a modicum of style and energy, even if you do have to squint a little to spot its finer points while overlooking its virtually innumerable faults. Which is why a no-frills (and then some) effort like this gets major props from me. It’s assuredly not to everybody’s tastes – far from it – but for those of us (are you one of the lucky ones?) who can derive entertainment value virtually without production values, this nifty little monsterpiece was custom-made just for you.

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