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Good Creature Features (2010-15): Scary Monsters, Super Freaks
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Good Creature Features (2010-15): Scary Monsters, Super Freaks

For the most part, this segment in history saw some retreads – either outright reimaginings of existing material, or a new spin on some old monster movie favorites. But wry wit set all of these films apart from what came before or what littered cinemas at the same period. ~ Hope Madden

Old Monsters, New Tricks

Some combination of technological advancement and nostalgia made this part of the decade ripe for creature features. JJ Abrams announced his fondness for Spielberg and the intergalactic blockbusters of the Eighties with ‘Super 8,’ but even the indiest of the indies was getting into things. Absurdist auteur Quentin Dupieux’s ‘Rubber’ (2010) took the creature feature down a very new path.

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Humorous Creature Features

‘Trollhunter’ (André Øvredal, 2010)

All ancient cultures generated fairy tales. They passed on stories that wrapped the virtues most respected at the time inside common dangers to tell tales of heroism and humor. Norway’s fairy tales all involve trolls. Indeed, their entire national culture seems weirdly identified with trolls. Why is that? Well, writer/director Andre Ovredal’s ‘Trollhunter’ suggests that maybe it’s because trolls are a real problem up there.

Ovredal’s approach is wry and silly – adjectives that rarely hang out together, but maybe we haven’t seen enough of Norway’s cinematic output. The FX are sometimes wonderful, and especially effective given the otherwise verite, documentary style. Ovredal makes droll use of both approaches.

‘Trollhunter’ is definitely more comedy than horror, as at no time does the film actually seek to scare you. It’s a wild ride into a foreign culture, though, and it makes you think twice about the Norway section of Epcot, I’ll tell you what.

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‘Grabbers’ (Jon Wright, 2012)

This joyously Irish horror comedy contends with an alien invasion in the most logical way to deal with any problem: Maybe if we drink enough, it’ll just go away.

Director Jon Wright takes Kevin Lehane’s tight and fun script, populating it with wryly hilarious performances and truly inventive and impressive creatures. The FX in this film far exceeds the budgetary expectations, and between the brightly comedic tale and the genuinely fascinating monsters, the film holds your attention and keeps you entertained throughout.

Drunken fisherman Paddy (Lalor Roddy) finds something more than lobsters in his trap. Indeed, not-lobsters are making a quick horror show of the island where Paddy lives, but somehow Paddy has gone unscathed. What’s his secret? It’s his truly heroic blood alcohol content, which is poisonous to the monsters. So, all the islanders have to do is hole up in the local pub, drink ‘til they’re blind, and wait for the sun to dry up the island so the sea creatures are immobilized.

It amounts to a surprisingly tender, sweet and endlessly funny creature feature that pairs well with a hearty stout or a shot of Jamo.

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‘Evil Dead’ (Fede Álvarez, 2013)

Here is a bloody good remake. Emphasis on bloody…

What Sam Raimi accomplished in 1981 on the budget of a shoestring can’t be understated, but Three Stooges-style splatter is not what filmmaker Fede Alvarez is after. His reboot lovingly reworks Raimi’s tale, eliminating nearly all the humor but absolutely none of the bloodletting.

The film throws a bit more story and character development at us. Still, we find two couples and one sister holed up in an old cabin, but this time David (Shiloh Fernandez, cute but disappointing), his girlfriend and his buddies are there to help his sister Mia (Jane Levy, exceptional) quit her drug habit.

Solid writing and Alvarez’s gleefully indulgent direction allow the film – not only a remake, but a remake of a film that tread the over-worn ground of “cabin in the woods horror” – to remain shockingly fresh. This is thanks in part to a handful of inspired tweaks, another handful of very solid performances, and a fearless but never contemptuous eye for carnage.

From the super-creepy opening sequence, Alverez’s update announces its fondness for the source material and his joyous aspiration to stretch that tale to its fullest, nastiest potential. He also shows a real skill for putting nail guns, machetes, hammers, electric meat slicers, hypodermics, even your standard bathroom mirror to fascinating new uses.

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‘Cabin in the Woods’ (Drew Goddard, 2012)

You know the drill: 5 college kids head into the woods for a wild weekend of doobage, cocktails and hookups but find, instead, dismemberment, terror and pain. You can probably already picture the kids, too: a couple of hottie Alphas, the nice girl, the guy she may or may not be into, and the comic relief tag along. In fact, if you tried, you could almost predict who gets picked off and when.

But that’s just the point, of course. Making his directorial debut, Drew Goddard, along with his co-scribe Joss Whedon, uses that preexisting knowledge to entertain holy hell out of you.

Goddard and Whedon’s nimble screenplay offers a spot-on deconstruction of horror tropes as well as a joyous celebration of the genre. Aided by exquisite casting – particularly the gloriously deadpan Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – the filmmakers create something truly special.

‘Cabin’ is not a spoof. It’s not a satire. It’s sort of a celebratory homage, but not entirely. What you get with this film is a very different kind of horror comedy.

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‘Attack the Block’ (Joe Cornish, 2011)

Look out! Monsters! The cinema’s lousy with them, and when it’s the small-scale invasion of ‘Attack the Block,’ there are teeth aplenty.

First time director Joe Cornish uses a sci-fi approach to examine gang violence in a London ‘hood. When something drops from the sky just in time to interrupt a group of teens’ first mugging, the kids turn their pack mentality against the interstellar invaders.

Cornish’s perceptive, funny screenplay strikes the right balance between exploring the tensions of urban decay and exploiting the thrills of an alien invasion. His efforts are bolstered by a spot-on cast effortlessly wielding the exuberance, loyalty and dumb-assedness of youth.

An impressive John Boyega (pre-‘Star Wars’ fame) anchors the young ensemble, expertly animating his character’s bumpy voyage toward manhood. He brings bravado, stoicism and tenderness to an insightful film rife with clever humor and quick-paced thrills.

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To Infinity and Beyond

As technology makes the creation of the monster more and more manageable for filmmakers, expect the creature to free itself from the constraints of the big budget Kongs and Alien franchises, creeping and slithering hungrily into indie flicks…neighborhood art houses… your basement…

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