Monday, February 27, 2017

"The Only Way to Survive is with Food" - Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985)

(This post is for The Shortening, The Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense's annual celebration of deadly little things...)


Attack of the Beast Creatures! The name is legendary as one of the finest of the 1980s films about small creatures causing chaos. It is legendary in my universe, anyway. In your universe, there is less unanimous acclaim. For example, Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka at Something Awful writes, "'Attack of the Beast Creatures' is just a bad movie...you will end up depressed and unfulfilled." Captain Obscurity calls it incredibly amateurish and frighteningly obscure, but the captain adds sensibly that the film is also oddly compelling. Reviewer gpeltz at IMDB writes, "The film constantly challenges common sense, and in that it is consistent." On IMDB, reviewer s_gerald writes, "This is one of the most horrid movies I have ever seen....stay far far away from this film."

The willful blindness of these highly respected reviewers is extensive and can only be countered by a more perceptive analysis of the masterwork that is Attack of the Beast Creatures.


The film begins with a title card: “Somewhere in the North Atlantic - May 1920.” The silhouette of an ocean liner is sinking. Amid desperate screams, a half dozen passengers cling to a large canoe, representing a lifeboat. "We're drifting away from the other lifeboats," one of the survivors says, though we do not see any other lifeboats.

After approximately six minutes, the boat bumps into a rocky beach, startling the passengers, who did not notice they were approaching an island.

Shadowy figures move onshore as the boat is dragged onto the beach.



One passenger suggests they have reached Greenland, but this is met with skepticism from the others who, incidentally, are attired in suits and fancy dresses.

The survivors are made up of four young men, three young women, an injured and bleeding man who cannot walk, and an elderly man who only looks out for himself in the mode of Harry Cooper.

Abandoning the injured man on the rocky beach, all the others trek into the jungle. 

The elderly man, Mr. Morgan, immediately tells his story to one of the others. He was on the ship for medical reasons: His wife cannot walk, and there was a surgeon in London. We never find out if his wife survived or not, and Mr. Morgan appears relatively unconcerned.

One of the survivors--in fact, the largest of the men--quickly finds some berries in the jungle and begins eating them by the handful. "Not bad," he says. 


Another man loosens his tie, having apparently not thought to do so during the shipwreck or the lifeboat voyage.


It soon becomes clear that something--perhaps even beast creatures--is watching the party.

But they have no time for beast creatures yet. The tie-loosener finds a pond and thrusts his face into the water, only to have it bubble and melt his skin off, as North Atlantic island water is likely to do.

   

The others find the man's suit by the edge of the pond. The suit is empty and smoking.

"Keep the women away!" cries one of the men.

"We got to be a lot more careful about what we eat and drink now," says another.

The large man takes the women into the jungle to gather more berries. "The only way to survive is with food," he says, wisely.

The group's method of gathering berries consists mainly of picking berries and eating all of them. As they perform this service, one of the women, Mrs. Gordon, receives a sudden animal bite, but nobody considers it serious.

Returning to the lifeboat, two of the men discover that their injured companion has been rendered quite skeletal.


They suspect rats.

They also decide not to mention the man's demise to the others, but this pact is immediately broken when the others ask why they are acting so distressed.

"I'm frightened," says one of the women. "This place makes my skin crawl." 

John, the most virile of the survivors, makes time with one of the young women, Diane. "I spent most of my childhood on a farm in Iowa," she says in her thick New York accent.

In a suspenseful sequence in the dark, the woman on watch looks out toward the jungle and sees a dozen or so bright eyes staring back at her.


This is followed by a harrowing attack sequence in which the heretofore unseen beast creatures--which in some shots look startlingly like hot dogs with glowing eyes and teeth--lay waste to the survivors, biting them and getting tangled in their hair.


Eventually, the survivors fight off the beast creatures with the campfire and a stick. 

Kathy, reacting to the attack in a near-catatonic manner similar to that of Barbara in the original Night of the Living Dead, says, "I could see those eyes. They were everywhere!"

"Did you see how they came from every direction?" says the sailor Mr. Quinn. "There must be millions of them out here."

They develop a plan--wait until dawn, find a safer place on the island. Atypically for a survival film, there is no disagreement or conflict; all the survivors happily agree to the plan.

Fortunately for the survivors, the creatures do not attack again in the dark, or in the morning. The survivors take their time repairing their clothing and bandaging their wounds. Grumpy Mr. Morgan's injured leg is the only point of concern as they move uphill to find safer ground. Otherwise, they seem to be doing fine with no food or water, though they are aware that the beast creatures continue to watch them from the trees.

   

As the women frolic in some water that turns out not to be hydrochloric acid, the men discuss Mr. Morgan's injured leg and the imminent possibility of amputation.

The survivors are not out of the woods yet, either literally or figuratively. Mrs. Gordon is attacked by a tribe of beast creatures, who then descend from the trees upon the entire group.


The survivors attempt heroically to drive off the monsters, but there are too many of the little creatures. 


 Despite the beast creatures' vulnerability to being tossed into trees like tiny rag dolls (over and over), the survivors suffer a heartbreaking casualty. Mrs. Gordon is found dead in the stream, her hand around a beast creature's throat.

"Let's get the...hell out of here," says Diane, and the group continues its long journey through the deadly but still picturesque jungle.

The next victim of the island is Mr. Gordon, who babbles about selling stock and firing butlers, and then begins hallucinating that the survivors are beast creatures. Finally, he starts foaming at the mouth and runs off into the jungle. The old gentleman meets his ultimate fate when he stumbles into the acid pond.


The group has dwindled down to the traditional set of three young men and two young women. As they trek through the forest, they come upon the base of a hill and hear a loud noise emanating from the top, "like a swarm of bees." They all climb the hill to find--

--a veritable city full of beast creatures, the hilltop dominated by a giant beast creature statue!


Fortunately for the survivors, they simply walk away from the masses of beast creatures without being noticed.

However, when they reach the bottom of the hill, they hear the creatures behind them. Chased by the little monsters, they run through the forest.

Bill, the chubbiest of the survivors, dies not at the hands of the beast creatures, but by tripping and impaling himself a sharp stick.

The others separate and head for the beach. Mr. Quinn falls into a pit and is surrounded by beast creatures, who drag him to his death. Diane is killed and partially eaten by the monsters.


One of the men makes it to the beach, only to find that their lifeboat has disappeared. A few minutes later, Cathy and John reach the beach, but there is no sign of their compatriot.

"A ship!" John exclaims. "They're sending a lifeboat! Get in the water!"

It must be noted that we never see the ship, but we do see the lifeboat, manned by two sailors. The lifeboat looks very similar to the lifeboat the survivors previously lost.

The couple wades into the waves and the lifeboat picks them up. One of the sailors asks, "What were those things?"

There is no reply.



Like all deep philosophical films, Attack of the Beast Creatures piles mystery upon mystery. Who are these characters that survived an offscreen shipwreck? Are they real people or perhaps ghosts? (Spoiler: They are real people.) What is the island? Is it real or a metaphor? (Spoiler: It is real, though one of the characters does say, "We're supposed to be in the North Atlantic but this island seems tropical.") These questions do not have objective answers. The audience can only sit back and try to survive the assault of the beast creatures.

Directed by Michael Stanley and written by Robert A. Hutton, Attack of the Beast Creatures is not just another 1980s film about small creatures causing havoc. It is the definitive 1980s film about small creatures causing havoc. Its brilliance lies in its ability to transport us to a faraway place and a faraway time, to make us truly feel the fear of trekking through the harsh wilderness to return to a distant beach, and to allow us brief, hellish glimpses of the killer dolls that inhabit mysterious islands (I assume).

As audience members, we can only give our profuse thanks to the tireless band of creative professionals who ventured into the deep Connecticut forests to show us what would happen if a group of shipwreck survivors in 1920 discovered a North Atlantic island with acid rivers and aggressive dolls that worshipped larger dolls made of stone. And, last but not least, we should thank D J's Hair Inn for providing the presumably accurate 1920s hair styles. A fine, fine job indeed.

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