Movie Review: Titan Find (1985, Dir. William Malone)

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Here we are, fifteen years from when Digital Video Discs first hit the marketplace and there are still movies that have yet to hit DVD. It goes without saying that this can be very frustrating to die hard collectors, especially those of us who specialize in collecting genre movies. It was long wait indeed when The Boogens (1981) finally came out last year with a commentary. Two things I thought I’d never say in conjunction with that movie. Well, mark you calendars, for on March 16 another much sought after genre flick is poised to take DVD players by storm—William Malone’s Alien inspired Creature (1984).

SPOILER ALERT!!
Stop reading if you do not want to know a damn thing about this movie, otherwise proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Like most movies I saw during childhood, into my teens, and even into my early twenties, Creature has become a memory movie. This is a term I have coined for any film I saw early in life that left a lasting impression on me, generally for the good. I have lots of memory movies, and a lot of them have already been released to DVD and/or blu-ray, I have even reviewed a couple. Creature is one that has always been high on that list and the fond memories of it began in 1985 when I was in high school. It was Fangoria #41 where I first heard about it, (not to mention where I also heard about C.H.U.D. for the first time). Bottom photo on the cover, on the left hand side, you can see a gruesome photo of one of the alien creature’s victims. Under that very photo it says, ‘Alien rampage! TITAN FIND.

Titan Find was its original title and the one I recognized it as until the movie hit the local drive-in that spring under its new name, Creature.

That winter, I made the unfortunate choice to skip school with a friend of mine. The plan was to actually go to school, but to walk out before classes began and hole up at the local library in town until school was over and then walk home. Both my parents worked at the time, so had the plan gone off without a hitch no one would have been the wiser. Thing was, I was missed. People were called. My parents were notified. I was almost home when my mother drove by and saw me. She had been crying, terrified something horrible had happened to me. When my father got home that evening, I was read the riot act and grounded for a month. At least I had issue 41 of Fangoria to keep me company.

My next memory occurs a little while after it debuted at the drive-in. I was reading a book at the time that was titled the same, a horror novel by Drake Douglas, about what really happened to Frankenstein and his modern day onslaught. I was in English class one morning, the book was on my desk, and a classmate by the name of Tom Bradley asks me if that book is based on the movie that’s playing at the drive-in. I told him, no, they were two separate things.

Alas, I never saw Creature at the theater. Maybe because a better experience was being prepared for me.  There was a video rental store a couple of towns over. The day was full of thunderstorms  . .  I remember the storms and the heat vividly, which means this memory was set in summer ’86. I love thunderstorms and they were vicious as my mother drove my best friend, Gerry Lee, and I to this video store. I also remember the lightening being spectacular.

On the shelf I came across Creature. I excitedly took the cover to the front desk. We were in luck; it was available. Plans were made to sleep over Gerry’s house and that evening he, his brother Tony, and I watched the movie. We were all impatient to see what this creature looked like; Gerry and Tony’s mother walked through the living room commenting that we wouldn’t see it till the end.  “That’s what they do,” she said, “they always hold off showing the monster until the very end.” But, it was love at first sight.

Gerry and I were heavily into Dungeons & Dragons back then. I liked being the Dungeon Master, and for one adventure, using the stats for how to create monsters, I incorporated Malone’s creature into the game. I also did that with The Boogens.

At its core, Creature is essentially another ‘Alien rip-off’, but it has enough originality to keep it among the best ever made. I consider it up there with the Corman produced Galaxy of Terror (1981) and its companion film, Forbidden World (1982), both of which tread the same water, but in Creature, the Alien-elements are a little more obvious. However, the film still manages to come off as an entertaining watch without devolving into being a soulless clone.

Before the movie starts, this information pops up on the screen about the general workings of this particular universe:

In the competition for new materials and advanced manufacturing techniques, two multi-national corporations have invested heavily in space. The rival firms RICHTER DYNAMICS (West Germany) and NTI (USA) are locked in a fierce race for commercial supremacy.

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It then cuts to two astronauts from a geographical research team who has just discovered the remnants of an alien laboratory on Saturn’s moon, Titan. What remains of the alien specimens are nothing but carcasses, but there’s one specimen container that’s still intact. Ted (John Stinson, who played the hero in Malone’s directorial debut, Scared To Death) and Howard pull the egg shaped cylinder out, and in the process of shining a flashlight into it to see what’s inside, Ted accidentally cracks it as the “specimen” startles him with unexpected signs of life.

No worry; it’s trapped inside this thing, what could go wrong?

Ted needs a photo for scale so he talks Howard into sitting on it. The crack in the cylinder bleeds, Howard spasms and he dies in a shower of blood that splatters against the inside of his helmet. We don’t see what bursts out of the cylinder but something does and it attacks Ted.

The next time we see what we presume is Ted, he’s piloting a ship towards a space station in orbit around Earth, but Ted doesn’t look like the man he once was. His appearance on the screen when the space station technician tries to tell him he’s on a collision course looks like he’s rotting away. Ted seems to neither hear nor understand what he’s being told, collides with the station and blows it up.

Now we meet the main players. Where Alien had the Nostromo, Creature has the Shenandoah and like Alien, it’s crewed by blue-collar workers, and one white-collar, as they travel to Titan to claim that archaeological dig where Ted and Howard met their ends. There are 7 crew members in all and three of them, as I can tell, went on to further fame. None other than Ferris Bueller’s dad, Lyman Ward, plays our white-collar crewmember, Perkins. He’s joined by his security officer, Melanie Bryce, played by Diane Salinger whom I always equate with this movie and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). She also did a frightening turn as the malevolent spirit in the 2009 frightfest, Dark House. Last but not least, Wendy Shaal, whom was memorable in Inner Space (1987), The ‘Burbs (1989), and currently does the voice of Francine Smith on Seth Mcfarlane’s funny-as-hell cartoon, American Dad, portrays technician/naivigator, Beth Sladen.

The rest of the cast, Klaus Kinski not withstanding, I don’t ever recall seeing anywhere again. Though, a quick look at their IMDB pages indicates some of them did a lot of television before and certainly after Creature. Of note, however, is the actor who played, Jon Fennel, Robert Jaffe, his IMDB page says he contributed to a few noteworthy genre flicks back in the day as a screenwriter, Nightflyers (1987), Motel Hell (1980) and Demon Seed (1977).

Like the Nostromo, the Shenandoah gets damaged upon landing, but in the Shenandoah’s case it’s the air supply that is affected and is now in danger of running out. Their only recourse, it seems, is to go over to Richter Dynamic’s ship, which beat them to the planet, and ask for help. Sounds simple enough. But once they get there it’s obvious something untoward has happened to the West German crew. Two of the Shenandoah’s crew members find a capsule similar to the one Ted and Howard found in the prologue, but this one is shown to be in half, like something had broken out. Crew member, Susan (Marie Laurin), even comments on how it looks like an egg.

Shortly thereafter she finds some of the crew’s bodies, not to mention the very “thing” responsible for making them that way. It’s not clear what connection this particular creature has to the one that murdered the two astronauts in the prologue. It might be the same, or it might be something else. Perhaps, the Germans found another intact capsule and made the mistake of bringing it aboard where it managed to “hatch.” Or is it the same one the two astronauts inadvertently freed in the prologue that was still lurking about? These questions are never answered, or even brought up, but that’s okay, with this movie I didn’t mind theorizing about the unseen events that happened after the Germans arrived on Titan.

Unfortunately, this initial visit to the German ship results in their first causality, and the realization that conventional weapons do not arm this creature, as we plainly see when Security Officer, Melanie takes a few shots at it in the hallway. The creature kills Susan; boyfriend, Jon Fennel, understandably doesn’t take it too well. During their trek back the crew stumbles upon the alien laboratory from the prologue, as well as some more dead bodies of the German crew.

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Back on the Shenandoah, while the crew grieves one lone German, the only survivor, sneaks onto the ship and accosts Melanie in her quarters before she manages to get the upper hand.

Here we are introduced to the ever unstable but easily watchable, Klaus Kinski, playing Hans Rudy Hoffner, who tries to explain that they came upon someone’s version of a “butterfly collection,” except one of the “butterflies” wasn’t quite dead. He also explains this creature they encountered was using some kind of “collective intelligence” to make its kills even easier.

Later on we learn this “collective intelligence” is actually some kind of parasite that latches onto ones skull, eats it’s way into the brain and reprograms it to do what ever this creature wants it to do, which is mainly to deceive other humans into unwittingly bringing themselves into it’s lair to be eaten. The sole objective of this newly freed abomination seems to be nothing more than to feed, which, in a way, makes a lot sense. It’s postulated earlier in the movie that this thing was in that “egg shaped” capsule for 200,000 years. A being in that kind of suspended animation would have worked up a hell of an appetite and upon being freed would naturally seek out food before even thinking about any other objective.

More ambiguity rears its’ head. It’s also never explained how these parasites figure into this creature’s origin. Are they part of its biological make-up, or just more “butterflies” in that collection that was also found to be still alive and that once freed learned it could make ample use of against the humans?

Food for thought, indeed.

Regardless, Susan’s dead body is the first to be used as a lure, and she manages to then successfully snag her boyfriend and latch one of these critters onto his head as well. Now, his motive is to get onto the German ship, radio back to the Shanendoah that there’s plenty of air and that they can use the ship to escape this hellhole of a moon. All lies of course, and its medical officer, Wendy Oliver, who first learns just how truly fucked she and the others are now once they’re back on board.

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The effects—gore and monster—are pretty spectacular. Unlike Giger’s Alien, this creature does not appear in stages. It has one form and one form only, which is humanoid and more on the reptile side. The head and neck seem to be one and in certain shots can be moved around in a snake-like fashion, but in one shot at the end, where it’s ambling about, it does so with it’s head/neck held low, which momentarily gives it a very Gigeresque look. Designed by Robert Skotak, built by Mike McCracken, like Giger’s creation, this creature’s mouth is its sole noteworthy feature. Granted it’s not intricate, like Giger’s, but it’s memorable for being huge, studded with countless rows of teeth and being able to decapitate a human being with one good chomp, as is the case when Fennel manages to lure Dr. Oliver into the creature’s lair, and at the end when NTI company man, David Perkins (who’s character arc goes from douche to hero), ends up getting ambushed by the creature after setting a trap for it.

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The remaining gore FX in the movie revolves around the “parasites” and the effects they have on their “undead” victims. Not counting Ted from, the prologue, there are only three victims in this department, and it seems they are killed first then resurrected with the parasites. Side effects of having your brain eaten into and manipulated by them is a quick rotting.

Fennel’s resurrected body displays the worst of this as his face his torn off in his struggle with Dr. Oliver and then as he tries to manhandle Shenandoah’s Captain, Mike Davison and Perkins into the same situation, he gets his entire head blown off Scanners (1981) style by one good shot from a handgun. Second best head explosion I’ve ever seen on film.

After the cast is whittled down to three, Beth, Davison and Perkins, and stranded on the German ship after the creature hits them with another display of its cunning by trashing their spacesuits, Beth comes up with an idea to kill it once and for all. Referencing a movie she once saw, which by her description can only be Howard Hawk’s version of John W. Campbell’s novella, “Who Goes There,” The Thing From Another World (1951). She describes to them how the ice station survivors of that movie trapped the alien between these two electrical grids and electrocuted it into ash.

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Beth thinks they can do the same, but has to go down to engineering to make the right hook ups. This is where our final homage to Alien occurs. As Lambert and Parker of that movie frantically braved the ship to restock their air supply with portable air tanks for their escape in the shuttle, Beth and Davison brave the German ship and as Lambert and Parker were ambushed by the alien, so are these two explorers, after Beth makes the necessary adjustments to the system, but they survive and the creature ends up being electrocuted Howard Hawks style.

This is a false ending, however. The creature was not fried long enough due to a glitchy computer system that eventually burns out. I’ve heard the final demise of this alien is reminiscent of how the shark in Jaws (1975) was killed. And, now that I think about it, yeah, it kind of is. Our alien menace here is essentially blown to kingdom by a plan that was put into play by Perkins before the creature made a meal out of him. He managed to get the thing caught in a net with a timed explosive strapped to it.

Also like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in that movie, Security Officer, Bryce, drops out of the film towards the end for a bit after she and Hoffner return to the alien laboratory to retrieve the air tanks of the fallen German crew. While there walking dead, Susan, attacks them. But, when Hoffner shows up later rotting and sporting the latest fashion wear in alien parasites, we naturally assume Bryce has met a similar fate.

We all remember how Roy Scheider killed the shark, and we all remember how Dreyfuss shows up later showing us all he was not killed by the shark after all. In Creature we have Bryce doing both, showing up at the last minute to tell us she’s fine and untouched by any kind of mind controlling organism and to detonate the explosive that failed to go off.

Davison asks, “Did it go off?” as he lays on the moon’s surface, gasping for air, and without a space suit on.

Bryce replies, “Oh, yes, it did,” coming out of nowhere and setting off the explosion with one blast of her high tech rifle. Her explanation later on as to what happened to her is a fairly simple and plausible one—she got lost.

There’s a book seen a couple of times in the movie that Beth brought along to read. You get a good shot of it at the end. It’s called, ‘Scared To Death,’ and I can only assume it’s the novelization of Malone’s first movie. (Note: On the commentary track, William Malone states there is no such novelization; the book seen in the movie is just a bit of self promotion).

For all of its home video life, at least, here in the U.S., the movie has been available in a pan & scan/full frame format, and we all know what a 2.35:1 movie looks like in that condition, like the entire thing was filmed in close-up. I have a very vivid memory of seeing John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (1981) and The Thing (1982) for the first time in panavision when they were both remastered on VHS in the late 90s. It was startling to see how much the environment played a large part in the movie now and how small humans appeared in it. But I liked that. It was also startling to see all the stuff the full frame format had cut out, especially with The Thing. I remember one scene where I had always heard Palmer’s voice, well, in it’s correct aspect ratio, Palmer was actually in that scene. Bottom line—seeing a 2.35:1 movie for the first time in it’s correct aspect ratio, when you’ve been accustomed to seeing it full frame, is a totally new experience.

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Viewing Creature for the first time in it’s original panavision ratio is no different. As Malone states on his commentary the original negatives no longer exist, but, lucky for us all, he had the presence of mind to create an Answer Print of his cut, which he bought, and had it stored away for all these decades. The Creature title the film was saddled with is now back to its original—Titan Findname, which is exactly how it appears on screen. And that cramped feeling the full frame version we’ve all been weaned on had is now replaced with grandeur. The interiors of the ships, the exterior landscapes of Titan, can now breath, giving us full, detailed views of each we had no idea existed.

We can now see what the alien laboratory, the actual Find On Titan, looks like. There’s one revealing shot where all these transparent upright cylinders are visible that I didn’t know were there. Also some of the actors get more screen time. I’m thinking specifically of Robert Jaffe who made it into more of the film than I ever knew. Even parts of the actors have more screen time now (aka Marie Laurin’s ass). And the creature itself even gets in an added shot of itself; at the end when Davison stumbles upon it eating Perkin’s in the cargo hold. It’s a long shot and right there on the right you can see it’s weird snake-like head looming over his body.

This Answer Print of Malone’s also reinstates 3-4 minutes of deleted footage, which are mostly nice bits of dialogue, and character scenes, and you don’t have to wait long for the new footage to appear, it starts right off in the movie’s prologue with Howard and Ted. The proceeding scenes on the space station are roomier and have an extra beat of added footage before the technician discovers the colliding ship on his screen. What was really unexpected, however, was towards the end of the movie a line of dialogue and a later scene (20-30 seconds) we’ve all been familiar with are now missing.

The missing line of dialogue occurs after Perkins, Davison and Oliver have decided to return to the German ship, and after Fennel tells them he’s got some more repairs to make in engineering. Dr. Oliver goes with him so she can have a chance to check his “head wound.” After they both leave, Perkin’s asks Davison, “What?” Davison replies, “I don’t know, it’s like he’s completely forgotten about Susan.” The “…it’s like he’s completely forgotten about Susan,” is no longer in the movie.

The missing scene happens right after Fennel offers Oliver to the creature in engineering and she lets loose with an ear-piercing scream. What follows in the Creature-titled cut is a scene of Perkins and Davison in one of the ship’s corridors. Davison suddenly stops and says, “Think about it we’re sweating like champs, and Fennel wasn’t sweating at all.” They then race off. It’s no longer in this version.

It depends how picayune you are about logic that’ll determine whether these omissions will sit well with you. Since I could still come up with plausible ideas as to how they knew Oliver might be in danger, the piercing scream for one, or that given Perkin’s line of wanting to do their own search, suspicion may have prompted them both to follow them, either of these missing pieces bothered me at all.

I’d like to briefly address the music. There are some beats in this version that I’ve never heard before. Either the score was trimmed as well or it was beefed up in the Answer Print. Either way the “restoration” of some of these unrecognizable beats was nice to hear, for some of them were creepy.

Now, for you gorehounds, I shall address any missing gore that may have been restored. Some has, but the restored scenes literally amount to only seconds. Remember the scene where Fennel has just finished trying to persuade Davison and the others to come over to the German ship? When it transitions to his hand on the keyboard, a drop of blood from the parasite eating into his skull drips onto his finger. Well, in Malone’s cut there are a few more drips, and more build up of blood on his finger.

The next gory addition is during the scene where Perkins blows Fennel’s head off. The shot lingers a bit longer now on the exploded remains moving slow motion in the air, and then it cuts to Davison and Perkins in the doorway, but then there’s another new cut back to the same scene again of his exploded head, which is not in the Creature titled version.

Before that, though, there’s some added seconds of bloody mayhem added to Oliver’s death, where the creature reaches around to the other side of her neck and takes a big bite, next scene her heard plops down on the floor, in this new version, after her head hits the floor, it cuts back to a few added seconds of the creature’s mouth drawing away from a bloody neck stump. However, there was nothing new added to the scene at the end where the creature was feasting on Perkins, which I kind of thought there might be.

This transfer is a little dark, (Malone has recently told me it was intended to be a dark film, but well lit in shadowed areas, which it is. I’ll admit the darkness also helps immensely in making the integration of the starship models into the film look a lot more polished) which prompted me to crank up the brightness a bit, there’s also some minor print damage in a few scenes and the audio (stereo) pops and crackles in a few spots, but having said that this version is still a hundred percent better than any VHS or bootleg DVD you’ll ever come across. The lighted scenes are very well lit and full of detail, and overall color is pretty damn good. In that scene I previously mentioned where Fennel was trying to persuade the crew to come over to the German ship, there’s a slash of violet on his cheek that I never saw before. It reminded me exactly of the kind of violet Stuart Gordon used to great effect in his film, From Beyond (1986).

This whole review was written at different times. The first half was penned weeks before, and then when the review copy arrived I was finally able to talk about the transfer and extras, and this paragraph is being written at yet another time, since I have now just gotten done listening to the commentary director, William Malone made for the DVD. I have to say, for some reason, the dark levels don’t bother me anymore. Ever since he told me it was created with that in mind, to make it dark and creepy, I guess, I must have subconsciously accepted that fact, and can now view the movie without feeling like I’m seeing a dark levels that don’t feel right, or something.

Weird.

Anyhow, a couple of highlights of his very informative talk was that John Stinson, who plays Ted in the prologue, is playing the same character he played in Malone’s first film. His last name, which can now be seen with utter clarity on his space suit, is Lonergan. A quick trip to IMDB, and I’ll be damned, right there in the cast credits of Scared To Death (1981), John Stinson … Ted Lonergan. Another interesting bit of information, which I kind of knew of, as it pertained to the props, was that most of the alien laboratory is made up of props from the Krell laboratory from Forbidden World (1956). What I didn’t know was that there were so many that Malone kind of views Titan Find as an unofficial prequel to World. Implying that the Krell, at one point in time, set up camp on Titan and collected and studied alien life forms. Very cool.

Extras include a Production Gallery (3:41) of behind-the-scene photos. There are a couple of never-seen-before shots of the creature being sculpted, which I liked a lot; a featurette titled, Interviews Cast And Crew (14:02) where Stan Ivar (Davison), Diane Salinger (Melanie Bryce) and director William Malone regale us with stories of working with the infamous Klaus Kinski and about the general making of the movie. Some fine stuff here about Kinski being a general pain in the ass, while still being able to deliver a hell of a performance, the best of which didn’t make it into the movie due to his propensity to want to keep his back to the camera; and finally Production Art From Robert Skotak (3:09) that has some fine sketches of another look the alien creature might have had along with its parasitic tools it used in the film.

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