Creature (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Dec 14, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Creature (Blu-ray Review)

Director

William Malone

Release Date(s)

1985 (November 26, 2021)

Studio(s)

Trans World Entertainment (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: C
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A-

Creature (Blu-ray Disc)

Review

Creature was the second theatrical feature from writer/director William Malone, one of many low-budget sci-fi/horror films that followed in the wake of the success of Ridley Scott’s Alien in 1979. Creature may appear to acknowledge its predecessor right in the title, but that was a last-minute change at the behest of the producers, as Malone always preferred his original title: Titan Find. Still, while Malone’s first treatment predated Alien, the narrative in the shooting script that he co-wrote with Alan Reed follows many of the familiar beats from Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s story: the crew of a spaceship lands on a planet where there’s already another ship which has encountered an alien species, and they are slowly picked off one-by-one as they try to figure out how to kill it.

That kind of story was hardly original to Alien, of course, but Scott’s film still provided the most recent antecedent, and clearly the producers were capitalizing on the sci-fi/horror resurgence that followed in its wake. On the other hand, Creature also freely borrows from other classic science fiction films like Planet of the Vampires, and even cheekily acknowledges its influences when crew members discuss the ending of The Thing from Another World before trying the same strategy to stop their own alien invader. Malone actually beat O’Bannon to the punch in that regard when O’Bannon did something similar in The Return of the Living Dead a few months later.

Despite having little money to work with, Malone actually managed to make Creature look better than the budget would imply. The sets are simple but effective, and there’s a surprising quantity of them in the film. The visual effects from the L.A. Effects Group are frequently quite good, which isn’t surprising considering that Bob and Dennis Skotak worked on them (prior to starting their own company with 4-Ward Productions). Malone wisely borrowed from Ridley Scott’s playbook by keeping his own beast under wraps until later in the film, and while no one will ever confuse it with the work done by H.R. Giger and Carlo Rambaldi, it’s adequate. The same thing can be said about the acting, with only Klaus Kinski standing out, because he’s basically playing Klaus Kinski.

Cinematographer Harry Mathias shot Creature in 35 mm Panavision using anamorphic lenses, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. The transfer for Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release is taken from a 4K scan of the original negative, and it’s an enormous upgrade over any and all previous home video versions. Everything is nicely detailed, with well-resolved textures on the faces, hair, clothing, and environments. The grain is prominent but generally even, though a few of the effects shots have coarser grain (and not just on composite shots either, so it’s not clear why). The color balance looks accurate, with good contrast and black levels; the old washed-out transfers are a thing of the past. There’s some fleeting and very minor speckling, with optically printed shots showing a bit more damage, but on the whole the image is amazingly clear for a low-budget film of this vintage.

Audio is available in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Creature was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, so it’s a four-channel mix matrixed into two. The surround channels are generally limited to ambience like thunder, with few directionalized effects, but they help the mood. The sound effects in the front channels tend to be anchored to the center, with the score by Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker providing most of the stereo spread. (They get dangerously close to copying Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score at a few points, especially during the landing sequence.) The nature of this mix was obviously limited by the lack of funds, but it’s a serviceable one.

Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release for Creature includes a limited edition slipcover with new artwork, as well as a reversible insert that features the primary theatrical artwork on one side, and alternate theatrical artwork on the other. The following extras are included, all in HD:

  • Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues!
  • Titan Find: Alternate Director's Cut (100:53)
  • Finding Titan: The Making of Creature (21:21)
  • Space on a Budget (16:28)

The commentary features members of The Hysteria Continues! podcast collective, including Justin Kerswell, Erik Threlfall, and Joseph Henson. They admit up front that it’s a bit out of their wheelhouse since they normally focus on slasher films, but they’re still clearly fans of Creature. They cover a lot of production details about the film, as well as its theatrical and home video releases. They describe the film as being tongue-in-cheek, but played straight—with the exception of Klaus Kinski, of course. They dole out information somewhat randomly, but it's still an interesting listen. There are a few gaps in the commentary, not because they ran out of things to say, but rather because it appears that some small parts may have been removed by a nervous studio.

Finding Titan features interviews with actors Diane Salinger, Stan Ivar, Lyman Ward, and Marie Laurin, as well as makeup effects artist Doug Beswick. (Most of the interviews were conducted on camera, but Ivar and Ward appear via Zoom.) The actors all describe how they were hired for the project, the experience of shooting the film, and the good times they had working together. Inevitably, they have stories to tell about Klaus Kinski. Beswick discusses having to take over creature fabrication after Michael McCracken left the project—the molds were already done, so he had to cast them, paint the creature, and design mechanisms to control the elongated neck. Everyone talks about how much they enjoyed working for Malone, whom they describe as a gentle, sweet man. They all know what kind of film they made, but give Malone credit for what it accomplished on such a limited budget. Space on a Budget features Malone discussing the development process, including how he sold the idea to the producers by creating a poster design for the film. He already had a treatment that he had written previously based on the 1958 film It! The Terror from Beyond Space—the same film that influenced Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett when they wrote their script for Alien, but at least Malone openly admits that fact. He explains that the initial budget was $350,000, though that was later doubled during shooting. He covers working with the cast, Beswick, and the Skotak brothers. He also discusses post-production and release, noting that he was never happy with the title change since it made him think of Creature from the Black Lagoon. Interestingly, he points out that color timing has always been one of his favorite parts of the filmmaking process. Malone is always engaging, so this is an enjoyable conversation.

The biggest extra on the disc is the Director’s Cut version of Creature under the original title Titan Find. It’s about six minutes longer than the theatrical cut, but there’s also at least one shot and two lines of dialogue that have been removed, so there’s more than six minutes worth of differences between the two. (The redundant narration reading the opening title card is also gone.) The extra footage consists mostly of exposition, but there’s also a bit more gore. The best available source for this version was a 35 mm print, so the image quality is a major step down from the theatrical cut. A new title card explains that “while extensive color correction was performed to ensure the best possible presentation, some inherent flaws in the element, such as color based flicker and light image damage, still remain.” That’s definitely true, and it’s also significantly darker than the theatrical cut, with severe black crush as well. Its unfortunate that no better elements exist, but it’s still watchable, and it’s nice to have the alternative.

Creature never made much of a dent during its theatrical release, but it was a video store staple during the VHS era. Between that and frequent cable television airings, it eventually found its own audience. It’s not necessarily original, and the seams from the limited budget are obvious, but it’s still good clean fun for fans of gory outer space horror.

- Stephen Bjork

(You can follow Stephen on Facebook at this link)

 

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