Nature always wins. Don’t believe us? Check out these creature features and know your place, puny human.
Based (extremely loosely) on the H.G. Wells novel, The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, this is one horror movie that we wouldn’t mind seeing remade — imagine what today’s filmmaking technology could do with this story of a mysterious substance that turns rats, wasps and worms into super-aggressive giant vermin after they chow down on it. However, despite its (severely) limited resources, this 1976 flick isn’t without its charms (and cheapo shocks), as a group of people on a remote island (including a dog food tycoon who wants to market the food-stuff) must deal with the nasty animals, leading to a final showdown that gives new dimensions to the term “drowned rat.” And remember, kids — don’t drink your milk! Followed by a 1989 sequel that’s barely worth mentioning.
A compelling contemporary fable based on a novel by Whitley Strieber (written before he claimed he was abducted by aliens), Wolfen stars Albert Finney (terrific as always) as a detective investigating a series of bizarre deaths that seem to have come from animal attacks. The jaded New Yorker soon uncovers a Native American legend about “the wolfen,” an advanced species of wolf that sits above man on the food chain… and these creatures have apparently had enough of all this “industrial revolution” nonsense. Wolfen is a smart, classy film with a smart, classy star backed up by an impressive supporting cast that includes Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos (who would later perfect his knack for creeping around the following year in Blade Runner). This is also one of the earliest films to use a stylized in-camera effect to portray the subjective POV of the animals; the technique was later adapted and expanded for Predator.
“Not the bees, not the bees!” screams Nicolas Cage at the end of Neil LaBute’s unfortunate remake of The Wicker Man. Nic would’ve screamed even louder if he had seen the likes of the buzzing terrors in this flick! Killer bees invade a Texas town in this all-star silliness that plays more like a disaster film than a creature feature… probably because it was directed by Irwin Allen, the “master of disaster” known for producing The Towering Inferno and schlocky (but extremely enjoyable) sci-fi television series such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel. Allen was also a notorious cheapskate, and his low-budget aesthetic ultimately swats The Swarm, but you still get that weird and wonderful Jerry Goldsmith score and Michael Caine not looking nearly as embarrassed as he would nine years later in Jaws the Revenge.
Nothing good ever comes of experiments on animals — particularly experiments on Ella, a cute little monkey that’s been injected with human brain tissue, making her smarter and unfortunately more susceptible to less desirable human emotions such as jealousy and rage. Ella is assigned to be the companion of a depressed athlete who’s recently been rendered quadriplegic due to an accident with a truck (the truck won); they hit it off immediately and bond over a love of music, but soon Ella is acting out her master’s darkest impulses, doing away with little annoyances like his overbearing mother and former girlfriend. A tense and creepy flick directed by George Romero with the same sense of claustrophobia and entrapment that he brought to the original Night of the Living Dead; kudos especially for that super-hot sex scene that shows how a paralyzed guy can still work wonders in bed.
Beware the mutant cows! Sci-fi horror meets the guilt-ridden Irish melodrama in this odd tale of a farmer (John Lynch) who’s propositioned by a bio-genetics firm to assist in experimenting with faster-growing cattle; the resulting monstrosity is a fanged calf with six wombs that contain fetuses with exoskeletons. One of the fetuses — which is made up of a deadly bacteria — manages to escape, threatening cows and humans alike. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s all delivered with such stone-faced conviction by the cast — and directed so expertly by Billy O’Brien — that you’re with it every step of the way, even when it sometimes seems like it’s about to blow its constant tightrope act and descend into the abyss of absurdity. Isolation, despite its generic title (though it’s probably better than Mutant Cows), is a strange and twisted gem of a creature feature, one that you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy.
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