We’ve seen some spine-tingling classics, family-friendly films, ghost stories, horror-comedies, and mockumentaries (all of which can be reviewed in the Spook Series Archives if you happened to miss any), but what would a good Halloween film collection be without some creepy creatures? I’m here to recommend 10 Crawly Creature Features for your enjoyment—and by “enjoyment” I mean you might be double checking locks, looking under your bed, and shining a flashlight in the closet for a while. Here’s Part One.
#10: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
Synopsis: “A young girl sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend discovers creatures in her new home who want to claim her as one of their own.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Creepy and Crawly: Though this horror is probably one of the least scary in the bunch, it features some of the ugliest, eeriest little buggers you’ve ever seen. More than anything, the creatures and their story suggest something of a dark fairy tale. These wicked “fairies” crave the company of children, hoping to lure them down into the darkness and keep them as playmates forever. Oh, and they like to snack on teeth. Weird, no? However, it’s very much director Guillermo del Toro’s brand of weird. After a brief scene involving the creatures many years earlier, we are introduced to unhappy daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) as she is forced to move away from her mother and into her father’s house. Her father, Alex (Guy Pearce), and his girlfriend, Kim (Katie Holmes), are in the middle of restoring a beautiful, creepy Gothic mansion, hoping to sell it for a profit whenever they finish. As soon as she moves in, Sally begins hearing voices whispering to her from the basement, and when she gives in to curiosity and opens a bolted hatch, she invites a horde of creepy, crawly mischief makers into her home. However, she quickly learns they’re not just there to play—they’re out for blood. Darkly atmospheric and somewhat fantastical, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark has an old-fashioned, almost Grimm-like quality to it that’s a fair amount of fun. Sure, the characters and the dialogue are not always wonderful, and don’t even get me going on the silly ending (the last moment makes me roll my eyes a little), but I’d still say that the scary little fellas in this film would be a solid addition to a creature feature line-up.
My Grade: B-
#9: 30 Days of Night (2007)
Synopsis: “After an Alaskan town is plunged into darkness for a month, it is attacked by a bloodthirsty gang of vampires.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Creepy and Crawly: This film may have received a less than enthusiastic response from the critics, but as far as vampire flicks go, I think it’s a pretty interesting idea. What’s the ideal place for a bunch of monsters who get the worst sunburn you’ve ever seen from a few rays of light? How about a region that goes completely dark for a month? Barrow, Alaska is definitely the right place for that. As the people of Barrow prepare for the coming darkness (well over half of the residents simply get out of Dodge), local sheriff Eben (Josh Hartnett) investigates a series of strange, eerie crimes. He finds a burned pile of cell phones in the snow. The town’s only helicopter has been destroyed. Someone has slaughtered the local sled dogs. All this happens following the arrival of the mysterious Stranger (Ben Foster), who is quickly incarcerated for causing trouble at a local diner. But imprisoning the Stranger doesn’t end the town’s troubles. Disturbing incidents escalate until the locals realize they’re being invaded by a horde of creatures that aren’t quite human—creatures that are literally bloodthirsty. Eben, his estranged wife Stella (Melissa George), his younger brother Jake (Mark Rendall), and a small group of survivors band together and struggle to endure the 30-day attack. There are a lot of eerie elements at work—prolonged darkness, total isolation, and severe cold all while under the constant threat of a violent, bloody demise. Unfortunately, the film’s execution is somewhat erratic and the end is downright depressing. Still, 30 Days of Night is a tense horror with some pretty darn scary monsters. If vampires are your thing, give this one a go.
My Grade: B
#8: Jeepers Creepers (2001)
Synopsis: “A brother and sister driving home for spring break encounter a flesh-eating creature in the isolated countryside that is on the last day of its ritualistic eating spree.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Creepy and Crawly: I think Jeepers Creepers is a vastly underrated horror flick. Perfect, no, but a solid creature feature that I’m always eager to watch this time of year. It’s got one of the creepiest freaking monsters you’ve ever seen and an ending that’ll leave you severely unsettled—in a good way, mostly. Siblings Trish (Gina Philips) and Darry (Justin Long) are minding their own business on the 10-hour ride home for spring break when a maniac in a big, scary truck comes along honking and tailgating them. They eventually lose him, but they’ve barely recovered from their shock when they see the same truck parked by a large drain pipe. An eerie figure in a broad-brimmed hat and trench coat drops a suspicious load down the pipe, and that’s when the siblings get worried. Rather than calling the cops like sane and rational people, Trish and Darry actively involve themselves in the investigation, risking their lives and learning a lot of terrifying things they never wanted to know. I appreciate the fact that this film focuses on the sibling unit because Philips and Long have great rapport. You find yourself rooting for them, especially poor, petrified Darry whose terror Long portrays so wonderfully. And the monster is something you won’t ever forget. Seemingly human at first glance, it gradually reveals itself to be something very different and very horrifying. Sometimes the effects are cheesy, the ending is fairly disappointing (though, as I said, unsettling), and there’s a psychic involved in the plot in a very ridiculous way, but Jeepers Creepers is still a worthy candidate for your creature feature fix.
My Grade: B
#7: Gremlins (1984)
Synopsis: “A boy inadvertently breaks three important rules concerning his new pet and unleashes a horde of malevolently mischievous monsters on a small town.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Creepy and Crawly: Gremlins is one of those films where you can tell the cast and crew must have had so much fun while they were making it. Because it’s just as fun to watch. When Randall (Hoyt Axton) goes to Chinatown to hunt down unique Christmas gifts, he finds a strange, adorable little thing that he wants to give to his son, Billy (Zach Galligan), as a pet. However, the fluffy creature comes with a strict set of rules—all of which Billy accidentally breaks. Through a series of unfortunate mishaps, a horde of nasty, mischievous monsters takes to the streets. The havoc is both horrifying and hilarious. I almost categorized this as a Side Splitter (horror comedy) because there’s some pretty funny stuff. The gremlins wear hats. They smoke. They play cards. They throw wicked parties. Director Joe Dante must have had an absolute ball piecing together all the fine details because these monsters are bursting with personality. Yet in the midst of all the silliness there’s a gruesome streak that is very surprising given the film’s PG rating. Some of the gremlins (and people for that matter) die in brutal ways. Plus, the story is set during the Christmas season, and right in the middle of the film, a character tells a morbid Christmas story that’ll suck the yuletide cheer right out of you. Since it’s a film primarily starring puppets, you’re just kind of stunned when the generally playful tone abruptly shifts. Still, Gremlins is a fun, classic film that should not be left off a respectable creature feature list. Maybe just don’t watch it during the holidays. Or after midnight.
My Grade: B
#6: Splice (2009)
Synopsis: “Genetic engineers Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast hope to achieve fame by successfully splicing together the DNA of different animals to create new hybrid animals for medical use.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Creepy and Crawly: What’s the creepiest thing about human hybrid Dren? There are moments when she looks downright human…right before she looks like she wants to tear someone’s face off, usually. Genetic engineers Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) are the talk of the scientific community. From their work splicing together the DNA of various animals, the brilliant pair has created a couple of fluffy hybrid animals that could provide a significant medical breakthrough. But that’s not enough for Elsa. Drunk on power, the overly ambitious scientist drags her partner into a new experiment: creating a human hybrid. Reluctantly, Clive agrees to help, and after much trial and tribulation, the two geniuses create Dren, the first human hybrid. Growing a little too attached to the peculiar humanoid, Elsa raises Dren much like she’d raise a child, and it all goes well for a while. But as Dren grows and the trials of “motherhood” wear on Elsa, tensions rise, and the sweet little human hybrid becomes something much more menacing. Though very bizarre (especially toward the end) and by no means perfect, I find Splice to be an interesting, entertaining film. It’s about the hazards and horrors of interspecies gene-splicing, which is a unique concept all by itself, but it’s then paired with an examination of parenthood. As I said, it’s not perfect, but Splice is such a different film that I found myself enjoying it. The characters are solid, Dren is creepy, and the ending—that’s something you’ll probably never forget (for better or worse). Gene splicing is a scientific technique of the future. Maybe the creature in this feature will be a reality one day…
My Grade: B+
That’s all for today! Come back tomorrow to see what creature features I dubbed the best of the best. That is, if you’re not too scared…