Best of 2015

What a year 2015 has turned out to be!

From Star Wars to Furious 7 to Avengers: Age of Ultron to Mad Max: Fury Road, it has been one tremendously fun year for movie-goers and just like every year, there were plenty of fantastic creature features. We were lucky enough to see the return of not only the greatest creature feature franchise of all (something about dinosaurs?) but also Syfy’s Sharknado Week, which is a fantastic opportunity to highlight some of the more obscure and low-budget offerings.

Rather than do an outright Film of the Year award or any kind of formal ranking, I have handpicked 6 of my favourite creature features that were released (in the UK) this year to highlight as noteworthy additions to the sub-genre. Now a lot of them, I have already reviewed and you’ll find links to those reviews in the article as well as links to the Creature Catalogue!

Let’s start off with the most seasonally appropriate film…

KRAMPUS

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Oft described as the love child of Gremlins and Rare Exports, Krampus was definitely one of the biggest and most welcome surprises of the year. Many viewers were left disappointed after the trailers promised a much darker and more serious horror film but I appreciated the creativity and humour that the comedy focus brought. Michael Dougherty does a great job as writer/ director and successfully manages to craft a horror comedy that is both scary and funny.

Although Krampus fails to balance such a large cast, with the young Emjay Anthony who is clearly the main character being pushed to the background for the majority of act 2, the acting is great, most notably the hilarious Adam Scott, Toni Collette and Krista Stadler as the father, mother and grandmother of the Engel family whilst David Koechner is reliably good. The ‘rooftop chase’ sequence with Krampus is phenomenal and despite a minor loss of momentum in the middle, the film is highly energetic and very fun to watch.

I was a little disappointed by the design of Krampus, with the film leaning more in a ‘Dark Santa’ style rather than the more traditional black goat monster, but I loved every second that he was on-screen. The deliciously dark ending also leaves the film on the perfect note and considering the tiny budget (by feature film standards, not creature feature standards) the movie looks stunning. I highly recommend Krampus to everyone who wants to see some subversive Christmas fun and the film has been added to my Christmas playlist.

JURASSIC WORLD
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I was a staunch defender of Jurassic World when I reviewed it back in June and I will still happily defend it today.

The premise of Jurassic World is such a natural fit for the franchise and the concept of the attendees being bored with just the standard dinosaur is a wonderfully reflexive analysis of the cinema audience today. Just like how the park is more exciting and glossy and high tech than the original with more extreme dinosaurs, Jurassic World is more exciting, glossy and high tech than the original… with more extreme dinosaurs. Jurassic World is not like Jurassic Park because audiences would not accept that, we already have 3 Jurassic Park movies in the old style, we want something new and exciting.

I also loved the acknowledgement of how different the dinosaurs in popular media are to the actual dinosaurs in the BD Wong line “…if the genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different. But you didn’t ask for reality, you asked for more teeth…” It’s the little things like these that allow me to overlook the weaker parts of the film such as the rubbish depiction of woman, Katie McGrath’s totally unjustified death and the confusing logic surrounding the Indominus Rex (why give something you want the audience to see the ability to turn invisible?).

But there’s a bit where Chris Pratt rides a motorbike alongside a pack of clicker trained Velociraptors! Hey look, it’s Judy Greer for no reason! There’s an epic finale brawl between Blue the Velociraptor, the Indominus Rex and the scarred T-Rex from Jurassic Park!

Jurassic World is silly and fun and cool. I don’t see any reason to complain about that. If I wanted a movie like Jurassic Park, I would just watch Jurassic Park. Instead I wanted a movie that was more exciting and glossy and high tech than the original with more extreme dinosaurs. And that is what I got.

INTO THE GRIZZLY MAZE
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To be honest, killer bears are not my favourite creatures. A lot of the films have oddly repetitive plotlines and feature many similar scenes (can bears really flip cars?) but there was one released this year that was a breath of fresh air. After waiting years for it to finally be released, Into the Grizzly Maze (formerly known as Grizzly, The Red Machine, Endangered etc.) was worth every second of the wait. The plot was original and complex and it was great to see so many storylines intertwine, with Thomas Jane looking for his deaf wife, James Marsden looking for his buddy and Billy Bob Thornton looking to kill the ferocious bear.

So many different aspects of the film work so well together. David Hackl’s direction is great. The writing is both funny and touching. The cast do a wonderful job. The characters are actually well-rounded developed people. The practical effects look gorgeous. The bear scenes are intense and energetic. The finale is satisfying and conclusive.

Perhaps the most interesting element in the film was to make Piper Perabo’s character deaf. What a brilliant way to increase the tension of the bear stalking scenes by having the victim be unable to use one of their primary scenes. The scenes playout fantastically and I was gripped on the edge of my seat bolstered by the beautiful cinematography and the perfect suited music.

It’s rare to have such a complete package but Into the Grizzly Maze was everything I wanted it to be and more. But perhaps the best praise I can give it is that it has actually made me more excited for upcoming killer bear movies.

LAKE PLACID VS ANACONDA
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I am a huge fan of both the Lake Placid and the Anaconda franchises so I was unbelievably excited when the crossover was announced… in November 2013! After 16 months of complete silence, it was finally confirmed that Lake Placid vs Anaconda would be premiering in April. And the film is kinda disappointing but definitely worth watching.

First of all let’s make this clear, Lake Placid vs Anaconda is pretty much just Lake Placid 5: This Time With Snakes and certainly not a balanced crossover. The film is set at Clear Lake, the only returning cast are from Lake Placid 4, the crocs get a greater percentage of the screen time and subsequently many more kills. The titular anacondas (of which there are only two) look nothing like their previous incarnations and the only connection to their franchise is Annabel Wright’s devilish lead villain Sarah Murdoch, the daughter of the John Rhys-Davies character from Anaconda 3 & 4.

Strangely enough, this is actually the first LP sequel to try and emulate the original film’s comedic edge, only replacing the witty dialogue and snappy back-and-forth between Gleeson and Platt with oddball slapstick and over-the-top absurdity. The new character Deputy Ferguson borders on being unbearable and second tier antagonist Tiffani is perhaps the most obnoxious character the franchise has ever produced.

That being said, there is still a lot to enjoy in Lake Placid vs Anaconda. The main villains, comprising of the aforementioned Sarah Murdoch and her henchmen Beach, work really well together and tagging Robert Englund, making a surprise return as Jim Bickerman, is a fantastic idea. Creature Feature veteran and newcomer to the franchise Corin Nemec is reliably fun as the new fish and wildlife character Tully with Sky Lourie and Ali Eagle, equally impressing as Beth and Margo.

However the real star of the show and of the entire franchise is still Yancy Butler as Reba. Arguably a more neutered incarnation than we’ve seen before (perhaps the character is developing), Reba is now the Sheriff of Aroostook County and the second you see Butler onscreen with those eyebrows and that voice, you know that you’re in safe hands. She’s both funny and badass with the unstoppable attitude and dry wit that really make her stand apart from the rest. Partnering her with the buffoon Ferguson feels like it should have been successful and funny but she works great with Nemec’s Tully.

Ultimately I would love for both franchises to continue, albeit separately in the future. I feel like there is more gold to be mined from the ever-growing Bickerman dynasty and watching Reba’s slow career progression to the top. I mean, she’s gone from Poacher to Fish & Wildlife Warden to County Sheriff, where will she go next?

SHARKNADO 3: OH HELL NO!
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I reviewed Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No after watching the UK Premiere and my opinion hasn’t really changed. The film is over-the-top and self-indulgent but it’s fun and the film-makers push the zaniness so far that I can’t help but enjoy it. Going into space was a genius idea and the laser chainsaw is so gloriously stupid that I honestly don’t know how they are going to top it in Sharknado 4. It was great to see the Hoff return to the genre again and Ian Ziering continues to be the standout star of this series.

Congratulations Asylum, your third Sharknado film was the best one yet.

SHARKTOPUS VS WHALEWOLF
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I also reviewed Sharktopus vs Whalewolf, the third film in the Sharktopus series, earlier this year and once again, my opinion has not really changed. Sharktopus vs Whalewolf is still tonally on the ball, features some of the best creature action in years, definitely features some of the most creative creature designs of all time and delivers the buckets of fun with solid direction and funny dialogue. Not only is Sharktopus 3 the best in its series, it was without a doubt my highlight of Sharknado Week 2015.

I have no idea what’s going on with the Sharktopus series but if there are more then I really hope director Kevin O’Neill gets to make them.

So there you have it, 6 of the best creature features from 2015 in a year that was full to the brim with terrific examples of killer animal madness. I’m going to be taking a break next year to focus on other projects but I’ll be continuing my progress with the Creature Catalogue. If they keep making them, I’ll keep loving them.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Creature Feature Corner!

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