At its most basic, a creature feature is a horror movie with a monster — as simple as that. In the earliest incarnation of the term, if someone mentioned creature feature, they’d be thinking of the Universal Monsters — Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon as well as other monster movies like King Kong. But not today. For this entry, I want to get into certain types — specifically, zombies, vampires, clowns, and various other murderous monsters. Of course, some of these monsters could fit within some other categories (witches would be supernatural), but I’m referring to movies that focus on the monster itself. And yes, there are hundreds of great (and not so great) examples of this type of movie, but remember — this isn’t a ‘best of’ list!
Zombies. Just the word still unnerves me a little bit. I love them, sure — I’ve gone to zombie walks, used liquid latex to have it look like I’ve been stabbed in the head with a pencil, and so forth — but, secretly, the idea makes me feel uneasy. Is it the creeping sense of the communist Red Scare that they were originally a stand in for, or something deeper within the lizard brain? The idea of living without actually living (loss of all emotions and mental capacity) is one of my greatest fears. Whatever the reason, I had countless sleepless nights because of them. Some to the point where, as a kid, I needed a knife on my bedside table to ensure that I removed the head or destroyed the brain.
The nice thing about zombie movies is that they cover a wide swath of movie styles, from the earliest White Zombie (1932) with its awesome voodoo-wielding Bela Lugosi to the grandfather of modern zombie films, Night of the Living Dead (1968) to the bloody amazing Dead Snow (2009), featuring Nazi-zombies (did we just circle from communist beginnings to fascism?). As a kid, though, there were definitely a few key zombie movies. The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a well-done creepy spoof where we first have the idea that zombies are eating people’s brains to keep themselves going (Brraaiiinns!), while Phantasm (1979) was almost forgotten during the slasher craze, though The Tall Man and his dwarf zombies still gets me every time. Then there’s Pet Sematary (1989). I still can’t bring myself to watch that movie again, though I like to tell myself it’s only because it won’t live up to my memory of it. A special mention goes out to Lucio Fulci‘s Zombi 2 (1979) for its Zombie vs Shark scene as well as some fairly well-done gore as hinted at by the above minimalist poster. A newer movie I just wanted to mention before I wrap up zombies is Pontypool (2008), a wonderful adaptation of the novel Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess. It’s a virus, as with many modern movies, but this time the virus spreads via language. (I’d simply like to recommend anything written by Burgess, really, as he does creepy really well!)
Moving on (thank goodness), we have vampires. Unlike zombies, vampires have never frightened me. Movies like the classics 80s classics Fright Night (1985) and Lost Boys (1987) were fun teenage romps in becoming one of the children of the night. Unfortunately, I find they don’t stand the time very well. There aren’t many great modern vampire movies, in my opinion, though ones that did it well, did it very well. The gory 30 Days of Night (2007) attempted to restart the concept (though the comics were better!), but Sweden’s beautiful and soulful Let the Right One In (2008) hit all of the right notes.
Then there’s the miscellaneous creatures that do their dirty deeds in horror movies. Everything from murderous furry Gremlins (1984) ripoff in Critters (1986) to gelatinous eyeball monsters that get transferred into our homes from our satellite dishes in TerrorVision (1986) to a disfigured Siamese twin hiding in a wicker basket in the gory Basket Case (1982) to little demon spawns that threaten to pop up from your toilet in Ghoulies (1984), though that only happened in the sequel no matter what the VHS box for the first one told you. Of course, there’s also clowns from the terrific first half of the IT (1990) mini series (the second is awful) to the ridiculous but still creepy Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988). These movies terrified and entertained me, though they aren’t, artistically and objectively speaking, good. On the flip side, classic sci fi horrors like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) can never be recommended enough as they are just that good. There are dozens if not hundreds of these kinds of movies — and they’re steal being made to this day, though mostly in a spoofy self-referential sort of way.
I was single digit in life for most of the above noted movies, and yeah, that might not have been the best idea. But, thankfully, I’m generally okay. I only need a knife near my bed for the occasional zombie or clown nightmare… (kidding!). These kinds of movies died out for a little while, being replaced with more realistic human-based torture porn movies (Saw, etc.), but it looks like they’re thankfully coming back with excellent movies like Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods (2012), the wonderful Bong Joon-ho’s The Host (2006) and Gareth Edwards’ Monsters (2010).