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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Kevin O’Neill interview

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Creature Feature Interviews

Kevin O’Neill
(Sharktopus vs Whalewolf, Sharktopus vs Pteracuda, Dinocroc, Dinoshark & Dracano)

ONEILL_01Over the years, I have profiled writers, directors, actors, producers and composers but today, I’m adding a new profession to that list.

I spoke with Kevin O’Neill, one of the best VFX Supervisor in the industry, about his career and the big transition that he went through in becoming a top tier creature feature director for Roger Corman. With directing credits include Dinocroc and the two Sharktopus sequels and VFX credits include Piranha 3D and Crocodile, Kevin has amassed a wealth of experience which he generously took time from his busy schedule to talk to me about.

Read on to discover the day-to-day business of a VFX Supervisor, what it’s really like to work for Roger Corman, what really happened to Sharktopus vs Mermantula and an exclusive scoop on his next project, Intergalactic Shark Attack…

[JS] How did you get started in Visual Effects/ the film industry?

[KO] Well, I grew up on the East End of Long Island during the 60’s/70’s, when the local TV stations and Cinema would run everything from King Kong (1933) to Godzilla to of course, Ray Harryhausen films. I developed and early fascination with Ray H. and Willis O’Brien’s work, and soon found myself immersed in all things related to the process and equipment necessary to produce short experimental films. I was lucky to have taken up this interest at the same time a small but very informative collection of books and magazines dedicated to the technical and art of visual effects films, both professional and amateur were starting to publish on a regular basis.

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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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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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Sharknado 2: The Second One review

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The Sharknado is back but this time in New York, can Fin and April save the day again so far from home?

Sharknado 2: The Second One ramps up the action of the first film but so too the campiness and cheesiness.

Once again, Ian Ziering is the best thing on-screen. Zaniness can only get you so far and with a weaker lead star, the Sharknado films would undoubtedly be not nearly as successful as they are. Ziering is a great actor who whilst able to wink at the audience every now and again, is still the serious emotional centre of the film.

There are a few new additions worth noting as well. The new cast led by the Kari Wuhrer and Sugar Ray are entertaining enough whilst the increased threat of having one Sharknado collide with another to make a super Sharknado is a great way to up the ante from the first film’s finale. The celebrity cameos are unnecessary but fun (Oh hey, it’s Kurt Angle and Biz Markie!) and the degree of shark related insanity reaches a whole new level of fun.

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Deep Blue Sea review

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Believing that sharks hold the key to curing Alzheimer’s, a team of scientists chemically increase the brain matter of three sharks for their research. Unfortunately this also make the sharks super intelligent and they soon begin a deadly siege of the scientist’s underwater lab…

With its huge budget and great cast, Deep Blue Sea is a fantastically fun adventure but the real stars of the shows are the outstanding animatronic sharks.

Despite being made back in 1999, I am going to stick my neck out and say that Deep Blue Sea has some of the best creature animatronics in any movie – ever. Having these giant robotic sharks that can swim and interact with actors makes a huge difference and creates some staggering sequences and especially memorable death scenes. CGI is still used for the more outrageous shots but the degree of physicality in the shots with the animatronic is, in my opinion, unmatched by any other creature feature past, present and future.

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Annabel Wright interview

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Creature Feature Interviews

Annabel Wright (Lake Placid vs Anaconda, Blood in the Water)

Annabel Wright by Roger EatonWhen film franchises make the transition from the cinematic gloss of big budget theatrical releases to the discounted but arguably more creative free world of the direct-to-TV release, it’s often seen as the final nail in the franchise coffin. However there are two series that have defied the odds and not only survived the transition but have thrived.

The Anaconda and Lake Placid franchises both transitioned to the Syfy Channel and now, 16 years after their first installments they have both reached the fifth film in their respective franchises with a crossover dual that pitches the Crocodiles of Black Lake against the Blood Orchid enthused Anacondas from the Amazon.

When Murdoch’s daughter and Jim Bickerman unwittingly unleash Blood Orchid enhanced Anacondas and the Crocodiles of Black Lake on the neighboring Clear Lake, it’s up to Sheriff Reba and Fish & Game warden Tully to save a group of vacationing Sorority Girls and put an end to this madness once and for all. But how many human lives will be lost in the climatic battle of the Crocodiles of Lake Placid vs Anaconda!

I had a chance to ask the wonderful actress Annabel Wright a few questions about her role as the lead villainess Sarah Murdoch in Lake Placid vs Anaconda. Read on for a fun little interview in which we discuss working with Robert Englund, conquering her fear of snakes, boat building and her in-development cookery show….

[JS] How did you get into acting? And why?

[AW] I had my first experience of being on stage aged 3. My parents had taken me to a variety entertainment show, I was pretty small and had to sit on a load of folded coats to see the stage, but I was utterly engrossed in the performances. At one point a man with a variety of musical instruments asked if there were any children who would like to come up on stage and help him with his act, before my parents had blinked I had jumped up and was standing on the seat, arms waving. I was invited up on stage and I got to play the trombone in front of a large audience and curtsy, I received a big round of applause, I couldn’t stop smiling – I’m sure in part because I managed to get a sound out of the trombone and it was nearly as big as I was! Continue reading