Creature Unknown (2003) Movie Review

“Creature Unknown” is about a group of friends who decide to get together in the woods on the 4th anniversary of another friend’s death. The reunion is being organized by Steve (Chris Hoffman), whose twin brother West died on prom night. The friends have split up since then, but Steve gets them together, including the girl he’s always loved Amanda (Maggie Grace), to pay a final tribute. Out in the woods, which we’re told repeated is “in the middle of nowhere”, something monstrous is waiting to snack on them.

As it turns out the “something” is a lizard/human hybrid created by an experiment gone awry. Of course we don’t learn this until much later on, but since the movie is pretty much a waste of time I thought I’d save you the trouble in case you were waiting with bated breath for the how’s and why’s. And where there’s an experiment gone awry, there’s a Mad Scientist trying to recapture or destroy it. In this case it’s Chase Masterson as Kat, although for a scientist Masterson doesn’t look very scientific-y. Wearing black leather and riding around on a motorcycle (in the woods!), Kat, like her experiment gone awry, spends most of the movie circling the grieving friends while trying way too hard to look “bad ass”.

Here’s a thing about that cabin; you know, the one in the “middle of nowhere” and the one that no one has been to “in a year”? If it’s so isolated and vacant, who took the time to water those plants or clean the place? That cabin looks mighty livable even though people keep talking about it as if it was some throwaway shack. Of course that’s one of the glaring problems with “Creature Unknown” — specifically, its locations don’t jive with its dialogue. How hard would it have been to alter the script a bit? All it would have taken is excising a line of dialogue here or there. These guys didn’t even bother to match the realities of their location scouting to their script. How lazy is that?

For genre fans that really hate it when their low-budget teen horror films try to be “deep”, here’s a secret: When you hear the sappy piano start up (and we all know what that “sappy piano” sounds like, don’t we?), take the opportunity to tune onto ESPN to catch the latest scores. Be rest assured that you haven’t missed any of the action you came for, because that sappy piano signals the start of yet another character moment. Apparently having gotten it into their heads that genre fans clamor for this sort of stuff, the writers have filled “Creature Unknown” with a ton of faux emotional baggage. Don’t you just hate it when your cheapie schlock film ambushes you? I know I do.

I’ve said it once and I’ll probably have to say it another million times: Know Your Audience. No one who buys or rents a movie about a killer human/lizard wants to see characters spend 70 minutes of a movie’s 80 minutes engaging in “character moments”. And all of it accompanied by that blasted sappy piano music! And no, throwing a bone to the audience with a throwaway off-screen killing in the first few minutes does not make up for what amounts to an Afterschool Special in the guise of a low-budget horror film.

The thing about “Creature Unknown” is that I think it had potential to be okay. Oh sure, it’s Grade-Z schlock, that much is never in doubt. But there are some capable actors, in particular Maggie Grace as our Fair Hair Lead, and Michael Burnett’s direction is not completely incompetent. But of course the script is simply unserviceable. Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” (which “Creature” cribs liberally from) never entertained ideas that it was anything other than a spam film. This freed it up to be good; if only the makers of “Creature Unknown” had done likewise.

There is something to be said about realizing the limitations of your product. “Creature Unknown” thinks it’s starring Meryl Streep, when its biggest name is an actress who once played a semi-supporting role on a now-cancelled “Star Trek” TV series. Although the movie is barely 80 minutes, its seemingly endless “piano music character moments” make it feel more like 4 hours. And really, folks, no one needs a 4-hour low-budget B-movie about a killer lizard. At least no one without an ax buried in his or her head.

Here’s another thing: when there’s more sappy piano music in your horror movie than loud screeching “shock” sounds, you know you’re in trouble. Big, big trouble.

Michael Burnett (director) / Eric Mittleman, Scott Zakarin (screenplay)
CAST: Chase Masterson …. Kat
Chris Hoffman …. Steve
Maggie Grace …. Amanda
Cory Hardrict …. Lance

Buy Creature Unknown on DVD