For better and worse, this is *absolutely* the decade of computer-based effects–what could be made real suddenly expanded to anything and everything, only with the caveat it probably won’t look anywhere near realistic at the time or down the line (sometimes monumentally so!).
Before we continue, previously on Creature Feature Semicentennial…
Now, let’s begin with what’s actually a pretty great year for this category…
Predator 2– Instead of the jungle the Predator goes on a city hunt in the not-too-distant future of 1997. Danny Glover, Bill Paxton, and Gary Busey take us through the violent, sweaty gangs vs cops urban chaos as the predator takes on various street toughs or police–whatever’s handy. The first two thirds is alright, nothing special but not horrible as the Predator traipses around town. The last third, once it simply becomes Glover V Predator through warehouses, rooftops, and more is surprisingly great. You might think Danny Glover fighting a predator *wouldn’t* be worth a good half hour of fun 90’s action–as I did–and it turns out we were both wrong. Worth it!
Box office: 31dom/57ww (meh/dud)
RottenTomatoes: 29%, 44% aud
Arachnophobia – Jeff Daniels stars as a small town doctor (recently a big city doctor) settling in with his family after relocating only to find the relaxed, easy life besieged by unexplained spider attacks. From the score to the direction to the spiders themselves to the supporting cast (John Goodman among them) there isn’t a moment of this that isn’t a proud creature feature for the whole family. I know that might sound like a detractor to some, but I just mean it isn’t full of gratuitous nudity or gore. This is more of a squirming movie where perhaps you’ll feel various hairs stand up with each new spider close up. Lots of fun.
Box office: 53ww (a hit)
RottenTomatoes: 92%, 54% aud
Gremlins 2: The New Batch – Instead of a small town on the receiving end of gremlin-based craziness, we again turn our attention to a city this time to borrow a page from Predator 2. Not a whole city, exactly, but one all-consuming skyscraper owned by a miraculously self-involved rich guy. Where 84’s Gremlins veered into darker territory a little bit even as monstrous creatures had the time of their lives, Gremlins 2 embraces the satire/comedic side of things much more in this gem.
I’ve tried taking off my nostalgia glasses upon re-viewing but no matter how you break it down this is just silly good creature fun that rewards pop-culture awareness with in-jokes while keeping the pace heading forward until the party’s over. That there has been no Gremlins reboot/reimagining/whatever so far and we’re into 2020 surprises me a bit.
Box office: 41ww (meh/dud)
RottenTomatoes: 69%, 57% aud
Tremors – Kevin Bacon and friends combat land shark creatures (aka “graboids”) in a small desert town while dreaming of getting out, getting anywhere, getting all the way to a different city. It’s a charming, low-rent B-movie where everyone seems to be having fun and the effects are certainly good enough–oh, Reba McIntyre is here for you country music loving ladies out there. This little unassuming creature feature spawned an endless franchise which still continues to 2020 so they must have done *something* right.
Box office: 17ww (meh)
RottenTomatoes: 88%, 75% aud
Troll 2 – As far as “creature feature” this is iffy, but the first Troll (which this has nothing in the world to do with) established precedent. First, watch the movie au natural and awe at the failure to grasp how humans speak & interact with one another. Follow that with the Rifftrax version for a hilarious time and then, if you’re up for it, there’s a documentary called “Best Worst Movie” that covers the legacy. It’s fairly amusing and kind of sad. This one movie comes with two bonus viewings!
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: 61%, 44% aud
The Rift aka Endless Rift – Always a good sign when you have multiple titles to choose from ;) Anyway, this is another ocean set sea creature against an underwater crew of people–this time a submarine, so it’s totally different than the several from last year. R. Lee Ermey and Ray Wise are here as people die various bloody deaths until a rather inevitable end. After the 89 batch of these this one adds nothing, I’m sorry to say.
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: 0%, 25% aud
Alien 3 – Oh boy. What a disappointing experience this was to see this for the first time. The survivors of Aliens crash land on a planet, killing everyone except Ripley immediately, but she soons learns something else survived as well. Why people in charge decided to chuck the non-Ripley survivors to the trash heap five minutes into this to leave her stranded on a planet of rapists, murderers, and various other ex-cons will forever be lost on me. Having seen all the behind the scenes, commentary, and producer’s cut (David Fincher’s disowned this so no director’s cut) stuff available I understand *how* it came to be, but not *why* they’d go ahead with razing the franchise to ground.
There are absolutely effective sequences, I enjoyed Charles Dance as Weaver’s scene partner until that was done, and I think I get what Fincher was going for but obviously it didn’t land. After the extreme highs of Alien & Aliens we all get to come crashing down with this one :/
Box office: 55dom/160ww (meh)
RottenTomatoes: 43%, 47% aud
Sleepwalkers – Stephen King’s take on a small town mother and son pair of ancient, demonic, cat people. This was a favorite of my older sister so I’ve seen this a good many times in my youth, but just this once in the last X years. It’s completely ridiculous and over-the-top but I wasn’t bored (there’s also the nostalgia factor, which I don’t doubt is strong). Their powers seem an odd array drawn from a grab bag, or like King went with a mad-libs aspect to things, and I spot flaws that flew over 10 year old myself’s head but perhaps if you watch this through a 10 year old’s eyes you’ll be swept up by the oddness.
Box office: 30ww (meh/dud)
RottenTomatoes: 25%, 31% aud
Jurassic Park– Dinosaurs come alive! What else is there to say about this one aside from it’s awesome and beloved for good reason? The highest grossing movie in the world for a while as well as establishing a complete stranglehold on the dinosaur franchise. Aside from an occasional T-Rex in a King Kong movie, dinosaurs have been the stomping grounds of Jurassic Park rather exclusively for the last 30 years.
Bursting out of the gate with all dinos blazing and already looking like the best version of those creatures possible left any competition nowhere to go unless they wanted to shell out hundreds of millions to be second fiddle. The film’s obviously a classic, though I’ve heard dissenting opinions in regards to shallow characters, predictable storyline, etc. While I don’t think I’d necessarily disagree a lot with those opinions, they aren’t anywhere near deal-breakers for me and any character shallowness is filled to the brim by the aces cast who make them all feel like real people. The dinosaurs are a sight to behold and I can still recall seeing them as a young person in total awe.
Box office: 403dom/1bil+ww (or 357dom/918ww originally, if you care)
RottenTomatoes: 91%, 91% aud
Army of Darkness – Ash winds up in medieval times to continue the Evil Dead series shenanigans. I think my indifference to this franchise has perhaps become obvious by now, I would hope. If you found enjoyment in the first couple, this should bring more.
Box office: 11ww (solid)
RottenTomatoes: 73%, 87% aud
Ticks – Seth Green, Alfonso Ribero, and other “troubled” youths go camping for self-improvement but huge killer ticks make that difficult to achieve. Predictable, campy, and amusing. Plus, if you’ve ever wanted to see Alfonso Ribero explode into a giant tick creature well I don’t know what you’re waiting for.
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: 67%, 32% aud
Wolf – Mike Nichols (Working Girl, The Birdcage) directs Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer plus many others you’ll recognize down to a rando cop or business lady in this werewolf business romance that’s an interesting take on the genre. I mean, if you sit down for a Mike Nichols werewolf movie I doubt you’re expecting a gore-fest but more of the “intellectual” (that sounds so pretentious, sorry) variety.
Box office: 65dom/131ww (meh)
RottenTomatoes: 60%, 42% aud
Congo – A highly intelligent gorilla trained in sign language is brought home to Africa with the hopes of reconnecting only for the travel party to encounter all manner of obstacles along the way–killer gorillas among them. From Tim Curry’s horribly memorable accent to Ernie Hudson having fun as Mr. Cool Jungle Guide and Laura Linney giving her take on Ripley-lite this is creature fun jungle good fun throughout. Amy, the talking gorilla, is pure mid 90’s special effects in all its glory and the supporting cast (Grant Heslov, Joe Pantoliano, & Delroy Lindo for example) fill in this world nicely with lived-in kind of characters. I think this movie was expected to be something else (perhaps better?) so it doesn’t get enough credit for being what it is so perfectly.
Box office: 81dom/152ww (okay/meh)
RottenTomatoes: 22%, 29% aud
Species – Scientists create alien life in a lab (with an assist from space) in the form of Natasha Henstridge which escapes with a desperate need to procreate, leaving our team of characters to seek & destroy. Lots of familiar faces appear in this erotic sci-fi thriller, but I’m not sure I’d really associate these names (Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Forrest Whitaker, Michael Madsen) with “erotic.” After Cat People & Species I’m wondering how long until the next erotic movie starring one supermodel and a whole bunch of, uh, guys who supermodels would walk past (that seems like a nice way to say they’re not in the same league at all, right?). Plenty of supposedly smart characters doing moronic things for plot’s sake and the inclusion of the psychic on the team because he’s obviously 100% legit is hilarious.
Box office: 60dom/113ww (a hit)
RottenTomatoes: 43%, 31% aud
Piranha – Yep, another one (and not the last!). Standard issue government-made killer fish loosed upon the public fare. It goes to the Jaws playbook of “But we need the tourist dollars to live–the lakes stay open!” but it’s *very* different because no ocean. The fish make amusing sounds and a young Mila Kunis appears as a camper.
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: /, 20% aud
Demon Knight – This Tales From the Crypt feature stars Jada Pinkett and several others you’ll likely recognize have to fight for their lives in a New Mexico boarding house when a demon (Billy Zane) comes calling. There *are* monsters aside from Billy Zane to fulfill the “creature” side of things, fyi. This was a favorite of mine as a child and is still reasonably entertaining as an adult, so there you go.
Box office: 21ww
RottenTomatoes: 38%, 64% aud
Castle Freak – The “creature” in this is more like a Wrong Turn hillbilly so I question its inclusion, but I won’t have watched it for nothing! Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Compton move to an Italian castle with their blind daughter, but turns out it comes with a castle freak–who knew! This gets fairly unpleasant at times in regards to people’s private parts, fyi, so maybe know what you’re getting to start. Lovely Italian scenery to counterbalance all that, though!
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: 63%, 45% aud
The Island of Dr Moreau – Hm. This an interesting one as the movie itself is such a bizarre clusterfuck failure and then you watch the “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau” documentary–which explains so much of the weird, disconnected but still distinct and not quickly forgotten content of the film. Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer chew through scene after scene in this science run amok journey into species alteration & creation with David Thewlis just looking confused about everything happening at any given moment. The documentary actually makes watching the movie a more enjoyable experience, so kudos Richard Stanley.
Box office: 28dom/50ww
RottenTomatoes: 24%, 20% aud
Bad Moon – This is a rather run-of-the-mill werewolf movie in most ways except the family dog, Thor, is our lead. He doesn’t talk or have any supernatural element to him, just a normal dog who gets to be our access point and main character throughout. If like me your least favorite part is when the dog dies (usually as some foreboding sign or extra bit of gore before the violence properly gets going) then having this version of events is a treat. We get plenty of Thor being a good boy and at 80 minutes there is no overstayed welcome here–things get started, get going, then begin wrapping up before too long and you’re done. Surprisingly solid werewolf effects and gore help things along, also, but I think it would have been fin sans boobs/gore. Either way, thumbs up.
Box office: 1ww
RottenTomatoes: 38%, 45% aud
Tremors 2: Aftershocks – Graboid attacks continue with no Kevin Bacon this time, but Michael Gross returns as Burt Gummer–a fellow you’ll see quite a lot more of should you continue with this franchise which is still in existence as of 2020. Tremors 2 isn’t that far off the first one, really, so fans of the first go simply check any expectations at the couch and you’ll be entertained.
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: 63%, 46% aud
The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcolm for continued dinosaur island hijinks, only everything’s increased this time out. More T-Rexes! More velociraptors! A bunch more red shirts! Must have MORE!! Perhaps somebody was aware the only thing they really had going for them over their predecessor was quantity, but know that going in and you’re fine. Entertaining dino action and Jeff Goldblum keep things moving along until it’s over.
Box office: 229dom/619ww (a hit)
RottenTomatoes: 54%, 51% aud
Alien: Resurrection – 200 years after Alien 3 a successful clone of Ellen Ripley also yields a xenomorph creature from within, which no doubt results in lots of dead folks in space. Sigourney Weaver appears to be enjoying herself as a super-powered lab creation version of Ripley who’s got a few screws loose, as far as other humans are concerned, and barring poorly aged CGI the xenomorph action is bountiful. Weaver makes this worth it for me with some great weirdness and layers but overall there’s something missing to the film when she’s not around. It’s at the very least a more fun time than Alien 3, which is an easy task.
Box office: 48dom/161ww (meh)
RottenTomatoes: 56%, 39% aud
Anaconda – Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Jon Voight and several other familiar faces battle a giant snake in the Amazon rainforest. Ridiculous 90’s B-movie perfection, honestly. Cheesy effects, Voight giving a performance to remember, a fun cast of various archetypes, and all-around a great lazy Sunday movie. This is another fine case of if you know what you’re getting going in, you should find entertainment here.
Box office: 66dom/137ww (a hit)
RottenTomatoes: 40%, 20% aud
The Ghost and the Darkness – Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas go lion hunting in this fictionalized account of two lions killing their way through the construction of a Kenyan railway in 1898. While I’ve always found this a perfectly middle-of-the-road edition in the genre with high C’s & low B’s as far as direction, tone, performances, etc I heard some vocal thoughts both ways in pursuing this so maybe you’ll feel stronger than I did.
Box office: 39ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 51%, 75% aud
The Relic– The staff of a Chicago Natural History Museum (Penelope Ann Miller & Linda Hunt, for starters) and a detective played by Tom Sizemore try to stop sudden bizarre killings in time for a benefit while realizing the “he” they’re looking for might be an “it.” This is another example of a sick day movie for me, so I may not be fully objective. In discussions I heard that Sizemore was no good, it was too dark, it’s a bit slow, and other stuff that I guess wouldn’t dispute at all but those aren’t deal-breakers for me. The creature featured is memorable and different enough, at least, so that earns some points.
Box office: 34ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 34%, 34% aud
An American Werewolf in Paris– This spiritual sequel to 81’s Werewolf in London has nothing in common, really, except an American overseas getting into werewolf mischief. A fun 90’s time capsule that’s honestly not that bad once you get past a couple things with a lively energy to everything. It also has one thing over the London tale that’s a huge help: Julie Delpy. If you ask me she elevates the whole thing whenever she’s on screen and even when she isn’t you at least know there’ll be more soon. If this whole movie had somehow been re-worked with her as the lead I believe the consensus would be a higher regard.
Box office: 27ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 63%, 46% aud
Mimic – Mira Sorvino stars as an entomologist who creates a new breed of insect in an effort to destroy cockroaches carrying a child-killing disease that’s devastating Manhattan, in a nutshell. Guillermo Del Toro directed this goin’ buggy story set on dark, rainy nights and abandoned subway lines that’s really given a nice grounding by Sorvino (Romy’s come a long way!) and the rest of the cast–Jeremy Northam, Charles Dutton, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini, F. Murray Abraham–pull their weight as well. Go with the Director’s Cut, if at all possible–it’s not a different movie, or anything, but it’s definitely better and I’m sure Del Toro would prefer you go with that version over the Theatrical also ;) This is the first of a brief franchise and while the two sequels are hardly the worst things you’ll ever see, it’s downhill from here so keep that in mind as you proceed.
Box office: 26ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 62%, 37% aud
Godzilla – Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and the rest must save the city from a giant lizard monster that’s Godzilla in name only. If you take away so many of the things that *are* Godzilla and all that remains is he’s a big lizard…well, I think you’ve made a big lizard creature feature and nothing else–not to be a bitch about it ;) Anyway, the big lizard invades a city and several rainy night set actions sequences ensue then we get a bunch of baby lizards running around Madison Square Garden to check off the velociraptor box. Be on the lookout for Simpsons cast members for no particular reason.
Box office: 136dom/379ww (meh)
RottenTomatoes: 16%, 28% aud
Species 2 – Scientists make another Natasha Henstridge creature because of the overwhelming success the first was as astronauts bring something else from space back with them–uh oh! This is probably what the first one was expected to be, both critically and financially, so I guess this is just the timeline correcting that error. It’s boring, actually.
Box office: 19ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 9%, 18% aud
Deep Rising – This could be the pictured example next to the definition of “creature feature” in a dictionary. Treat Williams transports a bunch of mercenaries to a massive cruise liner in the middle of nowhere only to find a disaster scene with no passengers left alive and a hungry sea beast loose on the ship. The cast, creatures, settings, pace, monster/gore effects, humor and whatever else you’re looking for all serve the main thrust of creature feature fun nonsense to a tee. Stephen Sommers seems to love the genre and I think it shows. Don’t let all the low numbers that follow make your mind up, give it a go!
Box office: 11ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 29%, 43% aud
Phantoms – Ben Affleck, Liev Schreiber, and Rose McGowan star in this Weinstein Bros (*cough* awkward) story of a small town in Colorado being wiped out by an unknown force and the resistance to that. The cast gives the impression this may be better than it winds up and the mysterious mood they’re going for turns to boredom at some point. Another case of not the worst, but nothing at all to write home about.
Box office: 6ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 13%, 27% aud
Deep Blue Sea– It’s taken 12 years since Jaws 4 sunk that franchise to finally get another take on killer sharks and it doesn’t disappoint, I say. Scientists use genetically altered sharks’ brains to find a cure for Alzheimer’s in an undersea lab–guess what happens? A modern classic with plenty of bloody shark kills, good surprises I won’t ruin even though I’m sure you know already, a game cast, and a solid forward energy. Don’t watch something like this for the scientific theories tested–it’s a killer shark movie. Also LL Cool J sings “Deepest Bluest (My Hat is Like a Shark’s Fin)” over the credits.
Box office: 74dom/165ww (okay/meh)
RottenTomatoes: 60%, 38% aud
Lake Placid – This black comedy creature feature loves sarcasm as much as the main monster. Bridget Fonda, Bill Pullman, Brendan Gleeson, Oliver Platt, and Betty White spend the runtime slinging bitchy sass, sardonic comments, and silly zingers while trying to stop a giant alligator from killing more people. Some good gator kills keep things afloat when the actors aren’t bouncing off each other–the casting director earned that paycheck here, I must say. A prime example of a team effort elevating the experience. Many horrible sequels followed, but what can you do? Mariska Hargitay shows up here also, SVU fans.
Box office: 32dom/57ww (meh/dud)
RottenTomatoes: 46%, 36% aud
Virus – Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Sutherland, William Baldwin, Cliff Curtis, and others star in this ocean set story of a small fishing boat stumbling across a massive, seemingly abandoned Russion freighter and quickly discovering it’s actually teeming with life–just not the human kind. This gorey, soaking wet take of alien life trying to make a species for itself out of spare parts is laughable in its crappiness so at least it succeeds in providing joy (even though it was going for horror).
Box office: 14dom/31ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 10%, 21% aud
Bats – Genetically engineered bats have their way with a small Texas town and it’s up to Lou Diamonds Phillips (oh no…) and Dina Meyer to stop them! The bats look exactly like you’d think cheap creature feature movie bats in 99 would plus a few other minorly recognizable faces fill a few frames before the big boom climax. Pure B-movie idiocy in every way about killer bats, but I think it’s–say it with me now–good lazy Sunday background ;)
Box office: 10ww (dud)
RottenTomatoes: 17%, 15% aud
Komodo – A teenager witnesses his parents and dog eaten by huge komodo dragons and gets amnesia (!) so his therapist returns him to the scene where komodo dragons attack a bunch of people again. This kid will be a messed up adult, for sure. Kevin Zeggers, Jill Henesey, and Billy Burke star so now you have an idea what they were all up to for the new millenium. It’s mildly funny, but overall forgettably dull.
Box office: /
RottenTomatoes: /, 20% aud
And that’s the 90s!
While 99 was hardly the best year of the decade, there are still a couple classics and some highly entertaining duds as the CG revolution appears to wind down a bit going into the aughts. See you in the year 2000 on Creature Feature Semicentennial!
Adem lives with his husband, dog(s), & cat(s) in an Arizonian city where any time not spent with/on the previously mentioned creatures is filled with writing, rowing, baking, and whatever else the day brings.