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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Piranhaconda review

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piranhaconda

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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Kazuo Umezu’s Horror Theatre: Snake Girl review

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horrortheatre

Based on the manga by Kazuo Umezu. Traumatized after witnessing a violent murder, depressed teenager Yumiko finds herself re-appreciating life after being sent to stay with her cousins in their remote mountain village. However after she gets bitten by an evil snake demon, Yumiko finds that the superstitious villagers are less than understanding…

First context: Snake Girl is the third chapter of a six part anthology titled Kazuo Umezu’s Horror Theatre. Each chapter is an adaptation of one of Umezu’s famous horror manga stories, independent and unrelated to one another.

Second context: I haven’t read the source material for Snake Girl nor have I read anything else by Kazuo Umezu. In fact, I don’t read manga at all.

Snake Girl is an entertaining way to spend 54 minutes but it feels like a lot of build up to a very unsatisfying climax.

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Boa vs Python review

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boavspython

After a giant Python escapes from its convoy, eccentric billionaire and extreme hunting enthusiast Broddick assembles a hunting party to track the snake down. At the same time however, the FBI enlist a genetically enhanced Scarlet Boa to seek out and kill the giant Python…

Boa vs Python is one of the earliest creature feature crossovers and I still believe that it holds up as being one of the best.

Not only does the film deliver on the promise of the premise but we’re even given a fairly interesting set of human characters to follow. David Hewlett and Jaime Bergman are our serious scientist protagonist and the formation of their relationship is believable and well-paced.

The designs for the snakes are beautiful with the bright blue colouring for the Python and the beautiful scarlet red for the Boa and although the majority of their scenes take place underground or at night, it is nice to see the creatures get such a screen presence. The choice to have the two bright primary colours really helps to differentiate between them especially when they become coiled together mid-battle.

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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

Mike MacLean interview

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Creature Feature Interviews

Mike MacLean (Dinocroc vs Supergator, Sharktopus, Piranhaconda)

Sharktopus 3Screenwriting is a very difficult field to get into and a common statistic thrown around is that 95% of writers never get to see their work on the big screen. But what are the chances of having 5 of your screenplays produced by the Syfy Channel and be the go-to guy for the legendary producer Roger Corman?

The odds of that happening are minuscule yet there is a man who can flaunt these credentials and his name is Mike MacLean. Over the past 5 years, Mr MacLean has had a tremendous impact on the Creature Feature world after writing such Syfy hits as Dinocroc vs Supergator, Sharktopus & Piranhaconda.

The remarkably down-to-Earth and hilarious Mr MacLean was even kind enough to answer a few questions for me about his movies, his writing habits and what he has coming up in the future. Anyone planning on penning the next Creature Feature goldmine will definitely want to read below:

How did you get into screenwriting? And why?

I could blather on about my love of movies and how I dabbled in screenwriting during college, but ultimately I fell ass backwards into the film industry. I wrote a story called “McHenry’s Gift” which ended up being published in The Best American Mystery Stories (alongside Elmore Leonard, James Lee Burke, and Walter Mosley). Someone at Roger Corman’s office read it and shot me an email asking if I’d like to try screenwriting.
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The Snake King’s Child

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Cambodia’s Creature Features

Part II: The Snake King’s Child

The Snake King's Child

The Snake King’s Child

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge and when the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic took control, cinemas were re-opened showing foreign films from Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Hindi films from India and action movies from Hong Kong. However the steady diet of pro-Soviet films focused on class struggles and socialist realism grew tiresome and Cambodian audiences demanded something with a more Cambodian flare.

Many sources wrongly state that The Snake King’s Child was the first feature film produced after the Khmer Rouge, whereas in actuality, Cambodian cinema actually resumed production of feature films in 1980 – 1 year after the end of the Khmer Regime and 21 years before TSKC’s release. The distinction of being the very first post-Regime Cambodian film belongs to My Mother is Arb (Kon Aeuy Madhi Ahp or Krasue Mom).

MMiA follows a young man who discovers that his mother is secretly an Arb/ Arp (a ghost with a woman’s head connected only to her viscera) and whilst pretending to her that he doesn’t know, living in the fear that his is in danger, his future is in jeopardy and that his mother’s secret may be discovered by others. MMiA was heavily based on Khmer folklore and after the attempted cultural erasure of the Khmer Regime, was very popular. Continue reading

The Snake King’s Wife

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Cambodia’s Creature Features

Part I: The Snake King’s Wife

snakekingswifeCambodia is a small country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. During the 50’s and 60’s, Cambodian film production and cinema was a booming industry with millions of patrons flooding to the big cities to watch the latest Cambodian hits.

One of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed movies of this period was the creature feature The Snake King’s Wife (Puos Keng Kang)). Produced in 1971 and based around the popular Cambodian myth of a Snake Goddess, TSKW was unlike anything that Cambodia had ever seen and the plot goes a little something like this:

A young villager has an affair with the Snake King (a shape shifting python) which results in her getting pregnant. When her husband finds out, he murders her which caused her to give birth to hundreds of baby snakes. The husband attempts to kill all the snakes but one escapes and is transformed into a human baby by a local hermit. The child, Veasna, grows up to be a very handsome man and falls in love with a wealthy man’s daughter, Soriya. Despite being turned back into a snake by a witch hired by the daughter’s stepmother (jealous as she is also madly in love with Vaesna), they get married and have a child, Cantra. Cursed by the witch to have snakes instead of hair (a gorgon, by Greek standards), Cantra seeks revenge on the witch when her father is turned to stone and her mother succumbs to psychosis. After burning the witch alive, all of the curses are lifted with Vaesna and Soriya returning to normal and Cantra’s snakes becoming long, beautiful hair. Continue reading

Thunder of Gigantic Serpent

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CREATURE FEATURE HISTORY

Thunder of Gigantic Serpent

There are plenty of articles online reviewing Thunder of Gigantic Serpent and analysing its bizarre Frankenstein existence. Whilst they’re not wrong to marvel at the alien editing and laugh at the appalling English dubbing, few actually try to explain the complex history of how something this bizarre comes into being. But I’m a glutton for punishment and Thunder of Gigantic Serpent has inspired me to start a new column: Creature Feature History.

In each CFH article, I’m going to find the most bizarre and interesting stories from the creature feature world and present them to you in the simplest fashion possible. Today’s article will focus on the history of TOGS and its equally grammatically-challenged ancestor King of Snake.

kingofsnakeKing of Snake is a Taiwanese monster movie released in 1984 under the Taiwanese title Daai Se Wong. The only notable cast and crew members are Danny Lee as Dr Li who started as Ultraman in the titular series and Tarcy Su as Ting Ting who would go on to have a successful pop career. My copy of KOS in Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese with no subtitles and I have been unable to find any other versions.

To say nothing else, KOS is impressively unique and despite my complete lack of knowledge of Taiwanese Mandarin Chinese, here’s what I could figure is going on: Continue reading