Thursday, June 4, 2009

Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985)

It is 1920, somewhere in the North Atlantic. Some passengers and crewmembers whose names won't matter much escape from a sinking ship in what seems to be the only lifeboat and soon end up on a deserted island.

Leaving one wounded man alone behind at the beach, the group spreads out through the woods that seem to cover every part of their new home in search for food and water.

While a part of the stranded finds nourishment in the form of a bush full of berries, one of the men stumbles upon water. Unfortunately, the brook he at once jumps into has the first of a few peculiar features which make this a very special island (alas, a very special island without ice bears) - what looks like water is in fact acid. One gore effect and a little screaming and trying to look concerned by the rest of the cast later, the group decides to make camp in the woods for the night (leaving their wounded companion uncared for and unmentioned back at the beach). Alas, their campfire is soon surrounded by flashlights, ahem, glowing eyes. Eyes that belong to the most adorable red-bodied black-haired little killer dolls that ever suddenly jumped on a bunch of shipwreck survivors to take some tasty bites. A mighty (funny) battle rages between the people and the bite-loving dolls, ending in something of an impasse - one of the women is killed and one of the men hamstrung, but the rest only has minor scratches, while some of the dolls are destroyed and the others take flight.

Our heroes decide to stay put for the rest of the night and get back onto the ocean the next morning. They obviously don't expect the incredible cunning of the mutant muppets. When the group arrives at the beach the next morning, they find their unconcious friend gnawed to his skeleton and their boat gone. For some reason, they decide to get back into the woods.

While make a repeat performance of their wood-stumbling show, the little monsters attack them again and again, slowly wearing them down with the sort of guerilla tactics you learn as a member of the Muppetcong.

In theory, Attack of the Beast Creatures has not much to recommend it. It's one of the "the director's friends and family stumble through the woods" type regional horror films (made in Connecticut), full of unspectacularly mumbly acting and not really much of a plot. One also can't help but think it's not thought through at all. Why, for example make the film a period piece when you can't afford even half believable period costumes, when not one of the characters acts like someone from the 1920s and when soon the only thing that reminds the viewer of the period the film is supposed to take place in is the sudden appearance of an old-fashioned phrase in the usually bad but thoroughly modern dialogue?

Technically, it's also more than a little problematic. The sound is at times dreadful with the dialogue drowned out by background noises like the crackling of a campfire. The photography is not as bad as it could be, at least the camera stays in focus. From time to time, there's even a framing idea that borders on the professional and that holy grail of backyard films - camera movement. The acting is bad in a rather unexciting and drab way, although I have to say that there is some lively screaming to be heard during the muppet attacks.

Having said this, I still had a very fun time watching this mess. The special effects might not be so very special, but the monsters look incredibly charming, especially when they are thrown into screaming and "struggling" people's faces, or when they are running after our heroes, complete with long distance runner puppet arm movements and a soundeffect that wouldn't be out of place in a Roadrunner cartoon. It's very much like I'd imagine Jim Henson's less talented but drunk kid brother would go about re-imagining the classic zuni doll design from Trilogy of Terror, just a lot redder and more primitive.

Adding to the monsters' considerable charm is the tone of wide-eyed earnestness the film thrives on. The plot may be non-existant, the monsters riduculous, nobody all that talented and the budget much like my bank account, yet still everyone is giving her or his all, putting the same conviction (if not more) into their work as the Royal Shakespeare Company puts into Hamlet. This spirit puts Attack of the Beast Creatures into the royal company of films like Eegah!, Robot Monster or Plan 9 From Outer Space, and while it never reaches the heights of lovable ridiculousness those films achieve, it really does enough to deserve applause and the sort of laughter that is not based on the viewer's superiority over a film, but on sympathy and a shared love for taking even the most absurd thing much too seriously.


Attack of the Beast Creatures has unfortunately never had an official (or inofficial, it seems) DVD release, but you can find it preserved for download on Tachyon City.


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Keith said...

I've watched the creature attack at around the 50 minute mark like twenty times today. It astounds and delights me.

houseinrlyeh said...


rockinlumpy said...

Help! Help! My arms are getting tired from holding these dolls against my chest.