Best of 2015

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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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Primeval review

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A team of American journalists go in search of a giant man-eating crocodile in Burundi. However their search for the legendary beast is hampered when a local warlord makes them as his next target. What will get them first – the bloodthirsty warlord or the ravenous Primeval man-eater?!

Whilst not the strongest movie to be based on a real life crocodile, Primeval still delivers where it really counts.

Most films use political unrest as a backdrop to their main story but Primeval often places it front and centre. I have no idea of how accurate the depiction of the Burundi is but it’s very unflattering. I couldn’t help getting the impression that this was Africa seen through a very American lens as we are treated to various African stereotypes such as rampant corruption, voodoo witch doctors, blood-thirsty criminal war lords and the desperate dream of immigration to America.

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Spiders 3D review

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When a Russian space station is over-run and subsequently crashed by a horde of mutated Spider/alien hybrids, the military quickly quarantine the surrounding area in the hopes of using the spiders for their own agenda. However when his daughter is stuck in the spider-infested quarantine, the local subway controller must reconcile with his estranged wife in order to save their daughter, avoid the military and finally defeat the Spiders – in 3D!

Working on a remarkably smaller budget than other 3D creature features, Spiders 3D has a much smaller scope and as a result is a much smaller success. But a success nonetheless.

Spiders 3D contains a necessary degree of effort and professionalism. The Cinematography is atmospheric and the sets are detailed. Takacs’ direction is solid with smooth camera movement that enhance the scenes rather than distract and interesting shots that lazier directors don’t ever think of. The locations are always busy with choreographed extras and convincing stuntmen. This all creates an impressive sense of scale that suggests a budget far greater than the $7 million Spiders 3D claims to have been produced on.

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Grizzly Rage review

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Whilst on a camping trip in a secluded forest, four teenagers find themselves set upon by a toxic waste mutated Grizzly Bear. Will they be able to survive the mutated bear and its Grizzly Rage?!

Grizzly Rage is a scaled-back feature which leans more to being a thriller than being a standard horror movie.

Simple is probably the best way to describe Grizzly Rage. First of all, there are only 5 characters in the entire movie, 4 of whom are human and one is a bear. There are no supporting cast, background extras or any other humans in the movie. To call this movie character focused would be an understatement.

There are also only 3 locations; a forest, a rock quarry and an abandoned cabin in the woods. Unfortunately, a lot of the run time is spent in these simple locations on events that have no real effect on the overall storyline such as Wes climbing the quarry, Sean exploring the cabin, fixing the car engine and Wes getting topless and climbing a tree. However the run time is swift 86 minutes and Grizzly Rage doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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Sharktopus vs Whalewolf review

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When a genetically engineered wolf/whale/human hybrid goes rogue, it’s up to Sharktopus to put it down once and for all. But who will survive the outcome of the greatest battle in history: Sharktopus vs Whalewolf!

Sharktopus returns for his biggest battle yet and it proves the most enjoyable thanks to interesting creatures, a funny script and some gung-ho performances.

Whereas other films foolishly attempt a degree of seriousness that can be detrimental to the finished product, Sharktopus vs Whalewolf maintains a cartoonish sense of humour. Sharktopus is frequently anthropomorphised, Whalewolf behaves like an ill-trained puppy, the dialogue is littered with gags and Casper van Dien’s hammy performance is tonally perfect.

What also differentiates Sharktopus 3 (as it’s known in Germany) is the sheer amount of creature action. Continue reading

Sharktopus review

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After a combat demonstration goes awry, a genetically engineered shark/ octopus hybrid is let loose and it’s not long before it starts a massacre off the coast of Mexico. When it begins to turn its intentions inland, the creature’s creator must work together with his estranged daughter if they are to stand any chance of stopping the dreaded Sharktopus!

The winner of the Syfy Monster Mayhem Tournament manages to breathe new life into Roger Corman’s B-movie operations with a great title, a great creature, a great cartoon poster and an amazing theme song by The Cheetahs Whores.

Sharktopus has quite a complex storyline for a creature feature with numerous story threads running side-by-side but it still fits in comfortably with the Syfy movie formula. The body count is crazily high. Literally 5 minutes does not go past without somebody getting eaten, and some of the kills are particularly terrific with the bungee jump kill being my personal highlight of the entire film. Not to mention that at a mere 89 minutes, Sharktopus doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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Piranhaconda review

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Whilst in Hawaii, Professor Lovegrove discovers a remarkably rare Piranhaconda egg and steals it from its nest but on his journey to escape, he must overcome a film crew, a kidnap plot and two very angry Piranhaconda parents…

Piranhaconda turns the standard Syfy formula into an entertaining romp with interesting characters, a clear plot, realistic character motivations, witty dialogue, surprisingly ‘meta’ jokes and an interesting hybrid creature.

Despite its meagre budget, Piranhaconda is actually quite adventurous and varied compared to the average Syfy fare. The film has a huge cast, plenty of guns and props, reasonable special effects and vehicle-wise contains cars, vans, boats, quad bikes and a helicopter. Also a rocket launcher.

Gone are many of the cheap production issues that plagued Sharktopus, instead we have nicely framed shots, good editing, no extraneous rubbish or filler material and everything has a nice professional edge. Sometimes the cinematography is a little cheap and the weather changes per-shot occasionally but the entertaining performances, swift pace and clear plot keep the action engaging.

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Dark Tide review

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After a fatal shark attack kills a diver under her command, the famed ‘Shark Whisperer’ vows never to enter shark-infested waters again. One year later, a thrill-seeking millionaire offers her a lucrative deal to take him to Shark Alley, the world’s deadliest feeding ground. To save her business, Kate must face her demons and accept his proposal

Dark Tide is a beautifully shot film with a respectable shark conservancy moral at its heart but it suffers from a dull narrative and saggy pacing.

Halle Berry gives one of the best performances that I’ve seen from her in years and her character is well-written and allows her to show some real range. Shark whisperer Kate Mathieson is the perfect hero for a creature feature as she’s a highly skilled, super competent, very moral and strong willed woman with a tragic backstory and enough agency to drive the narrative who is pushed to her breaking point. The rest of the cast put in fine performance whilst Mark Elderkin is hilarious and underused as ship hand Tommy.

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Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! review

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First it was California, then it was New York, now Florida and Washington D.C. are the next targets of a deadly Sharknado. Fortunately, this time April and Finn have some back up from their relatives!

Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! faces the difficult task of being bigger, better and more insane than its predecessors and for the most part, it succeeds.

As per usual, Ian Ziering is great. His straight-faced unrepentant heroism and reckless martyrism make him a fantastic hero and the perfect lead for the shark-based campiness. Cassie Scerbo makes a welcome return as Nova whilst Tara Reid gives her strongest performance yet as (the now pregnant) April.

The opening is a lot of fun with Washington DC being struck by a sharknado whilst Fin receives a medal (and a golden chainsaw) from the President. It’s super entertaining to watch famous landmarks being destroyed by flying sharks and it felt fresh as the film-makers had (probably wisely) not attempted it with New York.

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Sharknado review

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When a freak monsoon floods California, beach bar owner Fin Shepherd must work together with his friends to travel inland and rescue his ex-wife and children before a deadly shark swirling tornado wipes LA off the map. Will he be able to outrun the Sharknado?

The Asylum historically focus on making cheap and crappy knock-offs but their recent run of successful creature features continues as although Sharknado is low-budget and poorly executed, it manages to be what it is better than most of its peers.

Ian Ziering leads the cast and easily gives the best performance. He makes the shift from easy-going beach bar owner to stern and responsible protector of his family believable and both he and Cassie Scerbo are able to carry some of the weaker members of the cast.

However the bane of nearly all cheap creature features is shooting outside and Sharknado suffers greatly. The inconsistent cinematography bounces from exposing to the bright sky, causing the actors to become blurry silhouettes to exposing to the actor’s faces, causing the sky to become a detail-less glowing white explosion.

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