Creature Triple Feature Review

...or struggling actors being terrorised by CG monstrosities. But I know which rolls off the tongue better so I'm not surprised that Anchor Bay went for Creature Triple Feature, which is both accurate and a true reflection of the enjoyably nonsense that awaits the casual purchaser of this three-disc box of deadly bug, fish and weird demon movies. None of which is to say that these are terrible films...well, they aren't great but they're certainly a lot of fun in the way that The Relic, Mimic and Deep Rising are. OK, maybe not as good as Deep Rising - one of the greatest monster movies ever and not only the best thing Stephen Sommers has ever done but likely to be the high point of his career - but certainly hugely enjoyable. And comforting too, in the way that a pair of sneakers might be when you've worn them enough times that they've become adapted to your particular shape, tears in the canvas and all.

It's even a pleasure to watch actors like Bruce Boxleitner and Michael Paré do their very best with material that's so far away from the successes in their past - Bring 'Em Back Alive, The Scarecrow And Mrs King, Streets Of Fire and The Philadelphia Experiment - that it's a maybe a sign of their desperation that they're here at all. There may even be justification for the setting up of a fund for such actors, which would also have to cover Marc Singer, Lee Majors, Dirk Benedict and the admirably dim Casper van Dien. Although, if there was, we might have lost the sight of Singer battling the rubber monster of Beastmaster III: The Eye Of Braxus and speaking of which, Sandra Hess, Singer's co-star in that film, features here in Gargoyles' Revenge. No, Boxleitner, a distant acting cousin of Singer, brings the same troubled look that he wore in Tron to Snakehead Terror, one of the three films that Anchor Bay have included in this set.

Putting them into some kind of order, being that in which I watched them for this review, Snakehead Terror features Boxleitner as Sheriff Patrick James, who lives in a small fishing town that's coming out of two lean years, which begun when snakehead fish were introduced into the local lake, something that brought the indigenous fish population to the brink of extinction. As the mayor says, the only business that's prospered is the liquor store. But with an upcoming festival in the town, there's a chance that it will prosper once more until word comes of a hunter who's gone missing in the woods outside of town. When his body shows up on the beach, having been partially eaten, Sheriff James wants the festival postponed but the mayor disagrees, saying that the sheriff's office lacks proof. But how much more proof does the mayor need? Will the dead bodies that have begun washing up on the shore convince him? And what of the giant snakehead fish that's been caught, which shows trace amounts of growth hormone in its blood?

Following this, we have Deadly Swarm, which opens in the jungles of Central America, where a group of Americans attempt to convince a tribe of natives to disclose the whereabouts of the 'black fire', an aggressive species of wasp. These Americans, led by Schroeder (John Patrick MacCormack), are initially unsuccessful but when they threaten to shoot a young girl dead, one of the tribe steps forward, volunteering to take Schroeder and his men into the jungle. Schroeder's interest is in his being a bio-prospector for a major US pharmaceutical company, who believe that these wasps may hold the secret to a remarkable scientific breakthrough - a cure for cancer. Not troubled by those who didn't make it out of the jungle, Schroeder bribes the owner of a truck to take it over the border and into Mexico but when he crashes and the deadly wasps escape into the surrounding countryside. By chance, though, Daniel Lang (Shane Brolly), an entomologist, is working nearby and decides to help Sheriff Alvarez (Pepe Serna) - who is, incidentally, a dead ringer for George W Bush - investigate the death of a patrol cop, whose body is covered in stings. Worse is to come when - and you may see a pattern emerging - the mayor of a nearby town refuses to listen to Lang and Alvarez in their request to postpone an upcoming festival until they come up with some proof. And then Schroeder reappears, who seems less interested in the wasps than delaying any action against them until after the festival, during which, Lang feels, the deadly swarm will attack.

Finally, Gargoyles' Revenge opens in Romania 1532, where a young peasant girl rides through the night pursued by a terrifying gargoyle. As she rides into a clearing, she's met by a band of local farmers who fight the creature before it's struck down by a priest, who's armed only with a crossbow. As the gargoyle falls, it is cast down into a deep catacomb, which is then sealed with a huge boulder and a powerful spell. As the action shifts to 2004, a CIA anti-terrorist group led by Ty 'Griff' Griffin (Michael Paré) and Jennifer Wells (Sandra Hess) rescue the son of a diplomat during an earthquake. As Griffin follows his suspect, the trail goes dead on a balcony where he recovers the now blood-soaked ransom money. Soon, though, there are further disappearances around Bucharest and an archeological study finds that the boulder placed above an ancient catacomb was dislodged in the earthquake. As Griffin and Wells investigate, they find an ancient story of evil and of the holy men of the Catholic Church who have fought to contain it over the centuries but which is now loose. Ummmm...no festival, hmmm.

So, three films and a decent price - are they awful? No...no, not really. Kind of like how Paul WS Anderson films are described as being bad, terrible or, in the case of Alien Vs. Predator, something akin to finding out under hypnosis that you'd been sexually abused during childhood, which, of course, they're not. Given his geekish enthusiasm, Anderson would have been more likely to be found playing with your Star Wars figures and scale model of the Millenium Falcon than ruffling up your nightshirt but that still hasn't stopped an astonishing amount of Internet chatter around his supposed inability to make a good movie. No, Anderson and, say, Uwe Boll, though you might think them only average, don't really make bad films. After all, there's never a boom mike in shot in their movies, as frequently happens in Dolemite, although that blaxploitation classic does have Rudy Ray Moore and such inventive insults as, "Rat-soup-eatin' honky muthafucka!" Similarly, dead characters don't inexplicably come back to life as they do in Space Pirates (famously lampooned in MST3K), the stories in these films make some sort of sense, which is more than can be said for Highlander II: The Quickening, and there's never any glaringly obvious repeat use of footage (Battlestar Galactica) nor basic continuity errors, such as day turning to night and back again (The A-Team and various other Glen A Larson or Stephen J Cannell productions).

No, if you want bad, you have to work harder than simply waiting on the latest Anderson or Boll movie. Even such famously bad films as Battlefield Earth or Supernova have a certain charm when viewed alongside such abominations as the two Ghost Rig movies. For example, Anderson could probably videotape a cast rehearsal with higher production values than even the very highest-budgeted adult movies whilst nothing that you've ever seen in a multiplex can prepare you for any one of Troma's three Class of Nuke 'Em High movies, which reach a low point with the none-more-shit third entry, The Good, The Bad And The Subhuman. Similarly, Tromeo And Juliet is the kind of mess that, were it on the pavement, you'd cross the road to avoid whilst Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid! and the thrillingly-titled-but-really-bloody-awful Surf Nazis Must Die! are the kind of things that if they smelled as bad as they play, would be amongst the most noxious odours in existence.

Cold Justice - not Troma but starring Roger Daltrey and Dennis Waterman, any one of which would be a mistake - should have you running away in blind terror. I would have much more respect for Warwick Davies had he not starred in the Leprechaun movies, which should still be seen to be believed, and the same goes for Leslie Nielsen in Repossessed. Never mind cigarettes and alcohol, I firmly believe that every viewing of Santa Claus: The Movie has shortened my life, whilst sitting in my 'to watch' pile is Now Voyager, a full length feature based on an album by Bee Gee Barry Gibb, which not only stars Gibb but was directed by noted album sleeve-designer Storm Thorgerson (Pink Floyd) and threatens to be dreadful in such a way that only musical concept films are (see also David Bowie's blessedly short Jazzin' For Blue Jean). Finally, you have a film like Ultra Warrior that appears to have been constructed from various other films - Roger Corman looks to have been behind some of it - with Plan 9-style body doubles that bear absolutely no relation to those they're doubling for. Only one or two of these can fall out of the schedules on occasion, the rest you have to work hard to see, which suggests that any film that gets a retail release from a major DVD production house, like Anchor Bay, mustn't be all that bad.

But ordinary, yes, though not bad and for releasing them under a snappy title and in an equally snappy three-disc set, I have to congratulate Anchor Bay for getting these films into stores. Indeed, part of me wants to think of Anchor Bay as a rather philanthropic organisation in which its Mr Big looks at Deadly Swarm, Snakehead Terror and Gargoyles' Revenge and says, "Bay-ites...here we have three hugely underrated movies that deserve to be seen by a wider audience, let's give them the release that they firmly deserve!" I suspect, though, that the reality is more Mr Big looking forlornly at the three films, bought in something of a buy-one-get-five-free deal with a small German production company and saying, "These pieces of shit, any chance of a snappy title and a way to shift them onto an public too dumb to realise the pointlessness of a DTS track on them? Creature Triple Feature, you say? Doubles all round!" And yet, I don't really care if this is how they made it out of the Anchor Bay archives, that they're here at all is quite remarkable.

Frankly, I had a terrific time watching these three films, two of which (Snakehead Terror and Deadly Swarm) owe far too much to Jaws, whilst Gargoyles' Revenge is the kind of thing that Hammer used to do so well. None of them stray over the ninety-minute mark, meaning that none of them outstay their welcome and if the actual creature effects could be better, I had to remind myself that they were CG and were probably rather smart a few years ago. Each one is such an easygoing horror/thriller and so content to not innovate that watching them is like welcoming back an old friend. If you've time in your life for Anaconda, Slugs, Alligator II: The Mutation or any of the Jaws sequels, even the fourth one, you won't be disappointed by these. Of course, they don't compare to the quality of Alligator, Jaws or Lake Placid but there's plenty of time in the world to fill the gaps between such movies with more B-list charms such as these. That said, for anyone sniffy enough about such films as to want to hold their nose during a viewing of the superbly entertaining Deep Rising, it's probably best that you pass.

But most of all, I like it that Bruce Boxleitner, Michael Paré and Sandra Hess are not only finding work but that they're still getting the lead in things. I'm happy that they're still acting and getting decent parts in, admittedly, less than decent movies but at least they're working in the movies and on the right side of the camera, too. I worry about people like this and others like Lee Majors and Mr T, hoping that they're not reduced to pawning, for example, signed photographs of Kate Jackson, the dungarees from Streets Of Fire, the jacket worn by Colt Seavers in The Fall Guy or some of the gold chains from The A-Team. So if Gargoyles' Revenge means that Michael Paré can hold on to those dungarees for a few years yet, I'm happy to watch it. But, that said, if Sandra Hess ever wanted to part with the red leather bikini that she wore in Beastmaster III: The Eye Of Braxus, I'm sure we could reach terms...



Transfer

Each disc comes up to the usual Anchor Bay standard - anamorphically presented with a choice of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS soundtracks - but the quality is variable. Clearly, none of these films had much of a budget and this does show in their appearance here but that's not the fault of Anchor Bay who look to have done the best with what they've got. There are obvious faults, including a lot of background noise in the picture when handling smoke and fog, which is particularly evident in Deadly Swarm, but night scenes in all of them do tend to look decidedly less-than-impressive. Granted, these are problem areas for DVD and better films than these have suffered, which suggests that it's more the original production that is at fault and not Anchor Bay's work.

As for the soundtracks, there's really nothing to choose between any of them - there might be a touch more ambient noise in the rear channels on the surround tracks but, then again, that might just be wishful thinking. As with the quality of the picture, none of these films were, I'm sure, produced with an original surround track and whilst I can't fault Anchor Bay for doing what they've done with them, they really needn't have bothered for all the difference that it's made. All three films are subtitled in English.



Extras

There are no extras on any of the three discs included in this set.



Overall

Three days, three afternoons and in the ninety-minutes between dropping off and collecting various children to and from school, these movies have fallen into my own personal schedule a treat. That they offer enough blood, beasts and, in the case of Snakehead Terror, Boxleitner leaves them as sweet little horrors that, had we a drive-in culture, would be described as such. Anchor Bay have done a fine job pulling them together in a box and although the lack of extras is odd for them, I can't imagine anyone involved in producing these films ever imagined them appearing on DVD so there not being a commentary, a making-of nor a gag reel is hardly surprising. Good fun, then, but probably a better release for those for whom not every disc in their collection must count as a classic. Better, even, if you're the kind of person who audibly cheers on hearing Five announce a forthcoming Steven Seagal season, who can't help but check out the kind of films that sell through Poundstretcher or who watches MST3K as much for the movies as for the gags as this may be the box set you've been waiting on.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
7 out of 10
Extras
0 out of 10
Overall

5

out of 10

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