In 1965, The Kinks released a song called "I'm On An Island." The lyrics went like this:
"I'm on an island. And I've got nowhere to swim. Oh, what a mood I am in. I'm on an island."
Ray Davies's lyrics were a simple ode to loneliness. The lyrics were not an ode to someone's skin melting off because they jumped in a lake that was filled with acid while running from shark-toothed demonoids on a tropical island.
That's where ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES comes in.
Island settings have always been money in the bank for trash-horror filmmakers. Because islands have bugs, beaches, coconuts and sunlight -- everything you need to not have a good time. From THE FLESH EATERS to PORNO HOLOCAUST, horror movies have proven that the concept of "island-as-a-harbinger-of-doom" is real and prescient. For instance, I visited Marco Island in Florida when I was nine years old. My dad bought me an ice cream cone. After eating it, I spent the next twenty-four hours wrapped in a blanket on the bathroom floor of our hotel room. Some people might think that the ice cream made me sick. But I've seen ANTHROPOPHOGUS. I know the truth.
Still, there's a common problem that runs through every island-set horror movie. And that's one of familiarity. Each one of these movies feels like it takes place on our planet. We recognize the surroundings and know that salvation is possible. No matter what. In FRANKENSTEIN ISLAND, four adult men in a hot air balloon land on an island and fight the Frankenstein monster. But they still eat Sloppy Joes and drive cars. The movie has a foothold in our stratosphere. ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES does not. It could take place in any galaxy, but that galaxy is obviously not ours. And that's how a movie that was shot in Stratford, Connecticut, over a few weekends for the price of a decent used lawn mower trumps all -- there is no salvation.
It's 1920. Somewhere off the coast of Dimension X, six humans crash a boat on an island. At first, all is well. The survivors pick berries, tend their wounds and talk about things that you talk about when you're stuck on an island with people you don't know very well ("I think there’s enough deadwood in this vicinity to get a fire going."). After the group visits the wrecked ship and explores the woods, a man takes a swim. He is instantly transformed into a steaming pile of goop. That's the first indication of trouble in paradise. Frantic and spooked, the rest of the survivors jury-rig a camp.
Eyes appear in the darkness.
THE FACE-EATING BEGINS.
Audacity can take you a long way. For director Michael Stanley and his tiny film crew, it took them all the way. ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES is a movie about monsters that attack a small group of people on an island. Normally, this concept would call for a monster that was visually disturbing or physically menacing, just like the one in BRIDES OF BLOOD. But this movie goes in another direction. Like THE KILLER SHREWS, which featured monsters that were actually dogs with bath mats glued to their backs, ATTACK dares its audience to believe that lil' bloodthirsty buddies with DayGlo eyes, Halloween wigs from CVS and a height of no more than ten inches are enough to terrorize full grown adults. And it works. Stanley believed it. He didn't back down. Because of this, the movie's hypnotic and surreal leanings become even more pointed. Actors thrash violently as modified Ken dolls with piranha teeth are thrown at them from out of frame. They step on the beast creatures, throw them back and pretend to be in excruciating pain as the creatures nibble on their ankles. It happens over and over. It never gets old.
ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES is no-budget ecstasy. It's a minimal backyard horror movie with cheap gore, fat synths and a taste for nihilistic, anti-human destruction. If a twelve-year-old who was obsessed with 1950s monster movies was given a Super 8 camera and cart blanche on his imagination, it might have turned out something like this. ATTACK is innocent, but dark. It's hilarious, but scary. It's a triumph of enthusiastic ambition and amateur aesthetics. This is proven when the thumping bass synths on the soundtrack continue for two minutes after the end credits stop. As a whole, ATTACK could also be considered repetitive. But so could eating.
By the way, this movie is way better than LOST.
ATTACK OF THE BEAST CREATURES screens at the Alamo Drafthouse this month as part of the Video Vortex series. Go to drafthouse.com for showtimes.