Review Date: July 3, 2004
Released by: Razor Digital
Release date: 6/29/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
It’s like The Big Chill
meets Creature From the Black Lagoon
. How many times have you heard that when classifying a horror film? Looking to elevate the monster movie genre with dash of ensemble drama, writer-producer Scott Zakarin acquired the special effects wizard Michael Burnett to direct Creature Unknown
. Shot on DV and clocking in at a slim 79 minutes, is this little direct-to-video cheapie really the breath of fresh air the genre needs?
The film begins with a couple of campers who find themselves in the woods to help increase the film’s body count. After the two nameless victims are slain, the film jumps into its main story of a group of friends who unite to remember the death of a friend. A few years ago, during a prom night celebration (slasher fans know this date always ends in turmoil), Wes (Matt Hoffman) was mysteriously killed when he drunkenly got lost in the deep woods. Unable to come to terms with the death, his twin brother Steve (Chris Hoffman) asks many of Wes’s closest friends to gather together again to pay tribute once and for all to Wes’s death. Heading back to the woods where Wes was killed, the group quickly realizes that they are not alone.
Incredibly attractive scientists also lurk within the woods, as Kat (Chase Masterson) works on a special genetic serum. Extracted from the blood of lizards, this concoction has the ability to turn the injected into vicious man lizards (Mizards?). Years ago, Kat injected the potion into a sickly person in hopes of restoring his health, but she ended up creating a monster.
This monster now lurks within the woods, and he is praying on the bodies of those rebellious youth who made the mistake of returning to the place of Wes’s death. One by one, as the party members slowly begin to dwindle, secrets are revealed about the monster and about Wes’s death. What really happened that night…and who will live to tell the tale?
was made by one of the most active effects workers in the business, Michael Burnett, and it shows. The effects work done on the monster is impressive. Despite being just a man in a suit, the latex suit is full of spikes, scales and other reptilious qualities. The gore work is also at times very well done, particularly in the bedroom attack scene, where the blondie with the nice set of lungs gets gutted after seeing her boyfriend slashed bloodily across the chest. While the effects work may be solid, it seems largely incomplete, as Burnett cuts away before the effects really sink in. Scenes with the monster seem oddly sped up as well, which makes it much more distracting than it is effective. For a man with obvious talent for effects work, why he would chose to cut away from the creations for the film is puzzling.
It is also obvious the film was directed by someone primarily trained in special effects, since nothing else in the film is really of interest. The main culprit is a shallow and derivative script. Despite one of the writers’ claims that the film a new step for the genre, it is really just a regression. The other of the film’s writers claims that he attempted to translate a hallucination he once had with a bunch of vicious lizards, and that is more representative of the thought process behind Creature Unknown
. Although attempts were made to make this a character piece in the same vein as The Big Chill
, the scant 79-minute run time removes all chances at emotional depth that a character-driven film needs. The film runs just long enough to string together a simple story; its characters are left in the dust.
A lack of character development may be just as well however, since none of the actors are really all that interesting. Save for John Keyser, who plays the prototypical burnout, none of the actors generate any sort of charisma. Keyser expresses a love for horror films in the supplemental portion of the disc, and his knowledge of horror conventions is evident. He understands the cliché limitations of his character archetype, and he milks the conventions for all they are worth. He has fun goofing off while all the rest of the characters put on their serious faces, and his decadence throughout, particularly in that endless van ride, is a welcome breath of fresh air into a tired script.
Where the script falters most is its inability to connect plot threads into a single story. After the big plot reveal regarding the monster, one would expect the film would explore the background surrounding the creature or at least how to destroy it. Instead, the film leapfrogs from that underdeveloped twist into another even more preposterous plot point. The two big twists stick out like a sore thumb, since neither are really developed in any detail; the simple twist itself is all the filmmakers feel is necessary and that is the problem. Movies that rely on twist endings like The Sixth Sense
work well not because of the twist alone, but because the filmmakers take the time to piece together their plot to not only make the twists surprising, but also seem to fit logically within the rest of the story. In Creature Unknown
the filmmakers do neither. Both endings are lifted right out of bad 50s science-experimentation-gone-awry monster movies (“Mant” from Matinee
is about accurate) and 80s slashers (The Initiation
or Happy Birthday to Me
), making them so easy to predict within minutes of the film. Despite their obviousness, they never seem realistic, since they are never developed. The second reveal is particularly unbelievable, even if the characters were written so shallow and aloof there is still no reason why they wouldn’t be able to recognize such a huge masquerade. The twists come but are completely uninvolving, since they are underdeveloped, illogical and right out of better movies.
The visuals too are often lifted out of more successful films from Unknown
’s genre, particularly Pitch Black
. The monster’s sight has the same motion blur and disorienting effect as the visuals used in the Vin Diseal flick. Everything in this film, from the story to the visuals, have been done so much better in previous films, there is really no reason to watch this film. It is a product of budding filmmakers attempting to take what they know and manufacture a movie out of the clichés. They have succeeded at that, but now the next step is to take that filmmaking competency and make something new and exciting. Hopefully Burnett’s next film will achieve just that.
Despite saying “Full Screen” on the back of the box, the transfer used for the film is a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot on digital video, this transfer has all the goods and bads inherent in digital cinematography. Day scenes look extremely sharp and full of depth, while night scenes look muddy and drab. The film takes place about equal portions in the day and night, so the transfer tends to jump around quality wise. Some of the night scenes, the bedroom attack in particular, have very poor black levels, as they come off more as a muted grey. Another bother is that the frame rate seems to be sped up during the monster attack scenes, which gets very annoying. Day scenes look very solid though, with the sunny green forest locales looking very appealing. Quality wise, the transfer is inconsistent, but for a low budget digital film, it is more than acceptable.
is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, and sounds very good. While the surrounds may not be as active as they could have been, the sound is very sharp. While the score is full of generic and dull stock music that at times does not fit at all, the sound effects are well captured and come through with a good depth. The monster’s growls register with some good bass and the cracks and rustles of walking through the woods are brought out accurately. Razor Digital has done a fine job on this track.
There are three little short featurettes on this disc, and for the most part they are full of empty praises and PR fluff. The most interesting aspect of the film, the special effects, are just glazed over in the “Inside the Special Effects” featurette. Running a scant four minutes, it basically just features the entire principal cast saying what a great job they did with the effects, which is something the audience can already assess for themselves. There are a few short clips of the filmmakers applying the molds and getting into suits, but otherwise this is talking head fluff. The “Behind the Scenes” featurette is a little more in depth, showcasing the actors, writers and director as they discuss their motivations for the film and how it came together. Plenty of it is still a bunch of hot air, particularly Chase Masterson saying that Creature Unknown
is a “fabulous story” or Michael Burnett saying that “the cast is amazing…I couldn’t be luckier”, and there is some overlap with the special effects featurette. The cast and crew seems to have had a lot of fun, but unfortunately it is not brought out all that well in this eight minute making-of.
The disc is rounded off with a bloopers reel and a few trailers for other Razor Digital films. The bloopers often seem like an inside joke for the filmmakers, as there are plenty of moments where text actually has to describe what is so funny about each outtake. The trailers are for SuperGuy
, Hungry Bachelor’s Club
, and Would I Lie To You
? Although lacking in insight and mostly promotional in execution, this is a decent mix of fairly vapid supplements to top off a fairly vapid film.
is a generic monster movie that never rises above the movies it lifts from. It has a few good special effects, but otherwise it is strictly amateur way for the filmmakers to work on their first project. Some of the cast and crew may go on to bigger things, but Unknown
they will remain if they continue to do films like this. The audio, video and supplements on this disc all hover around average, but at a $24.99 list price, buyers may want to spend their monster movie dollars elsewhere.
Movie – C-
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B
Supplements – B-
- Running Time - 1 hour, 19 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- Inside the Special Effects
- Behind the Scenes