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Good Creature Features (2000-05): Movies that Bite

The beginning of the new millennium saw Hollywood revisit some old creature feature favorites, with reboots of ‘Willard’ in 2003 and ‘Predator’ in 2004. But the real money was in horror. ~ Hope Madden

Meat is Meat

Whether aliens, werewolves, sub-humans or genetic mutations, there was one thing you could count on from the creatures in this era. They were hungry.

They were also the furry, scaly and/or slimy vehicle for some new talent. These five films ushered in either popular cult series or introduced us to filmmakers who would go on to impact the genre – sometimes twice in one list!


Toothful Creature Feature Recommendations

‘Ginger Snaps’ (John Fawcett, 2000)

Sisters Ginger and Bridget, outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school generally returns).

On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. This turn of events proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches.

Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with the metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore.

‘Dog Soldiers’ (Neil Marshall, 2002)

Wait – another werewolf movie?

Wry humor, impenetrable accents, a true sense of isolation, and blood by the gallon help separate Neil Marshall’s ’Dog Soldiers’ from legions of other wolfmen tales.

Marshall creates a familiarly tense feeling, brilliantly straddling monster movie and war movie. A platoon is dropped into an enormous forest for a military exercise. There’s a surprise attack. The remaining soldiers hunker down in an isolated cabin to mend, figure out WTF, and strategize for survival.

This is like any good genre pic where a battalion is trapped behind enemy lines – just as vivid, bloody and intense. Who’s gone soft? Who will risk what to save a buddy? How to outsmart the enemy? But the enemies this time are giant, hairy, hungry monsters. Woo hoo!

Though the rubber suits – shown fairly minimally and with some flair – do lessen the film’s horrific impact, solid writing, dark humor and a good deal of ripping and tearing energize this blast of a lycanthropic Alamo.

‘The Descent’ (Neil Marshall, 2005)

If this decade taught us anything, it’s that Neil Marshall knows his creature features.

A bunch of buddies get together for a spelunking adventure. One is still grieving a loss – actually, maybe more than one – but everybody’s ready for one of their outdoorsy group trip. Marshall begins his film with an emotionally jolting shock, quickly followed by some awfully unsettling cave crawling and squeezing and generally hyperventilating, before turning dizzyingly panicky and then snapping a bone right in two.

And then we find out there are monsters.

Long before the first drop of blood is drawn by the monsters – which are surprisingly well conceived and tremendously creepy – the audience has already been wrung out emotionally.
The grislier the film gets, the more primal the tone becomes, eventually taking on a tenor as much like a war movie as a horror film. This is not surprising from the director that unleashed ‘Dog Soldiers.’ But Marshall’s second attempt is far scarier.

This is one hell of a monster movie.

‘Feast’ (John Gulager, 2005)

What started out as an Affleck/Damon Project Greenlight turned into a successful little monster movie.

Director John Gulager – son of character actor and horror regular Clu Gulager, who co-stars – brought a fun and bloody screenplay by Marcus Dunston and Patrick Melton to claustrophobic reality. A handful of losers in a dive bar have their drunken isolation burst by “Hero” – a blood-covered man. He speaks of danger and he’s bound to take charge of the situation.

Drunkies ignore him to their detriment – and his. He’s immediately pulled through a window and devoured.

‘Feast’ uses tongue-in-cheek gimmicks (title cards with ironic character names, for instance) and a macabre sense of humor to keep the proceedings upbeat. Gulager doesn’t shy away from carnage, either.

This is a fast paced, mean little number with darkly funny performances, including a highlight against-type turn from Henry Rollins. Who doesn’t love him?!

‘Isolation’ (Billy O’Brien, 2005)

In 2016, writer/director/Irishman Billy O’Brien made an effective and lovely – yes, lovely – creature feature called ‘I Am Not a Serial Killer.’ But about a decade earlier, he started down that path along a muddy, ruddy Irish roadside that wound ‘round to an out-of-the-way farm.

It’s the kind of a depressing, run-down spot that would catch nobody’s eye – which is exactly why it drew the attention of runaway lovers Jamie (Sean Harris) and Mary (a young Ruth Negga – wonderful as always). The solitude and remoteness also got noticed by a bio-genetics firm.

Down-on-his-luck Farmer Dan (John Lynch, melancholy perfection) has little choice but to allow some experimentation on his cows. He doesn’t really mind the required visits by veterinarian Orla (Essie Davis – hooray!).

But when one cow needs help delivering – genetic mutations, fetuses inside fetuses and teeth where no teeth belong. Nasty.

O’Brien and his truly outstanding cast create an oppressive, creepy, squeamish nightmare worth seeking out.


It’s Alive!

‘Isolation’ was at the beginning of a trend. By the end of the decade, science became the monster-maker. But whether nature, the supernatural, aliens or science, toothy beasts are never far away.

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