Creature (1985)

In a universe where Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) meets Peter Hyman’s Outland (1981), two rival corporations, the American-led multinational NTI, and the German-led global amalgamate Richter Dynamics, compete for the solar system’s mining rights (yes, we’re in orbit around Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44). When a geological research vessel on return from the Saturn system crashes into the space station Concorde in orbit around Earth’s Moon, both companies launch missions to discover what lurks on Titan, Saturn largest moon: what creeps is the rebirth of 200,000-year-old archaeological find in the form of an alien with the ability to control the minds of other creatures via parasitic organisms from its own body.

(If it all seems similar to the alien in 1980’s Without Warning, which 1987’s Predator ripped off, it probably is.)

Connoisseurs of science fiction’s video fringes consider this second feature film from writer-director William Malone as “the best” of the ‘80s Alien rip-offs. Ironically, that distinction comes courtesy of the 12th Annual Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film’s Saturn Award-nominated special effects brothers-team of Robert and Dennis Skotak—who would go on to design the effects for 1986’s Aliens. If you’re keeping track: Alien‘s sequel was directed by James Cameron, who designed the effects for Roger Corman’s earlier Alien knockoff, Galaxy of Terror. (Also nominated for Best Picture, Creature lost both nods to Joe Dante’s Gremlins.)

Keep in mind that Creature was produced for $750,000 and, unlike its gooey antecedent, wasn’t backed by 20th Century Fox Studios. So the Shenandoah, the low-budget spaceship of these proceedings, is no Nostromo: it’s more like SpaceCore 1 from the second-best of the Alien knockoffs, Dark Side of the Moon (1989). (Okay, some would argue Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror was second; these rankings aren’t “official.”) And be on the lookout William Malone having fun with his purposeful homage-plot twist to the 1951 Alien-precursor classic, The Thing from Another World.

As with The Dark Side of the Moon, the familiar selling-it-against-the-budget cast is pretty good in their clone-roles. Joe Dante stock player Wendy Schall (1987’s Innerspace, 1989’s The ‘Burbs, 1998’s Small Soldiers) holds her own as the resident Ripley. The same goes for familiar TV actors Stan Ivar (NBC’s Little House on the Prairie) as the inhabitant Dallas, and Lyman Ward (but we remember him as the dad in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as the clone of Paul Riser’s weasely corporate executive from Aliens (which wasn’t even made yet!). Melanie Bryce, in her acting debut, is good as the leather-clad, taciturn Ash-like ship’s security officer. (Since 2009 Wendy Schall served as the voice of Francine Smith on the Fox animated-sitcom American Dad!. Melanie Bryce, who voiced Queen Bansheera in the series Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue, will be back in theatres alongside Eric Roberts in 2020’s Dante’s Hell—which has nothing to do with Joe.)

Shortly after attending UCLA’s iconic film school (also attended by Star Wars’ George Lucas and Dark Star’s John Carpenter), William Malone made a dry-run on the concepts in Creature with his spine-fluid sucking Syngenor monster in the popular Alien-esque video renter and his writing-directing debut, Scared to Death (1980). Moving up to the big leagues, he made the more expensive—but quickly forgotten—films House on Haunted Hill (1999; a remake of the 1959 film), Feardotcom (2002; with Stephen Dorff), and Parasomnia (2008), and he wrote the screenplay Universal Soldier: The Return (1999; sequel to the original).

Amid his major studio dealings with MGM, he revisited the concepts from Creature once again with his 1990 screenplay Dead Star, a modest $5 million picture (the cost of Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars, which was partly recycled into Galaxy of Terror). Envisioned as a “Dead Calm” (1989, a thriller about a psycho loose on yacht in the ocean) in space, the script was about a space expedition that discovers alien artifacts and brings them back to Earth; one artifact unleashes an evil force. Purchased by MGM and sent into development hell and jettisoning Malone along the way, the film was eventually released as 2000’s Supernova, a muddled mess of a story concerning black holes and supernatural forces—which ripped off the plot from the previously mentioned Alien clone, The Dark Side of the Moon.

Shortly after its release, Creature—known by its original title, Titan Find, in the overseas markets in its dual theatrical-home video-television run—fell into the public domain. In those lawless celluloid lands, it appeared on numerous VHS and DVD reissues through a wide variety of imprints and cheap-jack public domain box sets—along with shoddy artwork-encased grey market DVD-rs.

William Malone decided to rectify the situation in response to fan requests for a proper digital restoration of his most-popular film. In 2013 Malone announced he was going to release a copy of the film’s answer print in his possession (the first version of a motion picture printed to film after color correction on an interpositive and sound properly synced to the picture) in an uncut and widescreen format for the first time on DVD and Blu.

From his Facebook page (posted with the artwork, seen below):

“This is a completely NEW high resolution transfer from the Camera Original Answer Print done in Widescreen Scope format (2:35 aspect ratio). This also [is] the original longer cut under its shooting title (and UK release title) TITAN FIND with never before seen footage and loaded with extras. It features [a] Director’s Commentary, [and] Art Gallery with original pre-production art and on screen interviews with [the] director and cast members. The initial release (March 16) with be the SD version with Blu-ray to follow at a yet undetermined date. This is the first authorized DVD of this title and the only WIDESCREEN version ever available.”

Then MGM, the current right holders over the film, who let it fall into the public domain in the first place, and remained silent as it was released on numerous public domain and grey-market imprints, filed an injunction.

And here’s where the real horror—of legal red tape—begins.

The film’s video distributor, Charles Band’s Media Home Entertainment, began selling off its assets in 1990, ceased operations in 1993, and was rolled into 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. However, the film’s production company, Trans World Entertainment (not the retail company of the same name that operates mall-based entertainment chains), was defunct by 1989. Its intellectual properties, in turn, came under MGM’s tutelage after the Great Lion purchase Orion Pictures, which purchased Epic’s film libraries from Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

The short of the story, to paraphrase Pvt. Hudson from Alien: “Restored DVD and Blu over, man. Movie over! What are we gonna do, now?”

Caveat emptor when you see these DVDs in the marketplace. They are not “official” DVDs promoted as William Malone’s “wide screen” answer print/director’s cut of the film. Malone’s release was stopped by rights holder MGM Studios. To date, Creature, aka Titan Find in the overseas markets, is still in the public domain on a variety of labels with varying degrees of quality in both artwork and film-image quality.

As of this writing, Malone’s version was never official released through any legitimate seller sites. However, that didn’t stop the grey market: they stole Malone’s DVD artwork and started manufacturing their own copies. Caveat emptors are afoot on those releases: the grey market sellers don’t have Malone’s answer print—and don’t possess the 1” video masters—and are simply ripping the 1985 VHS into DVD-rs. And when that “Malone version” appears on shadow seller sites, it’s marketed as “rare” and carries an exorbitant price.

Or, did Malone dupe us all? Is this another Rocktober Blood 2: Billy’s Revenge, which promoted its production with a promoted a DVD and Blu reissue of Rocktober Blood? That release also tossed around the phases “authorized,” “full restoration,” “high resolution transfer,” and “aspect ratio”—then stuck everyone with DVD-rs ripped from a VHS tape source.

Nope.

I believe Malone was sincere in his efforts and he simply got screwed by the major studio, public domain, and grey market system—again. So, come on, MGM! Work with Malone and give the fans what they want: a full DVD and Blu-ray restoration of the best of the ‘80s Alien clones. And it’ll make a hell of a lot more money that Supernova did—you can bank that.

So, for now, save you pennies and watch a very clean copy of Creature uploaded by the responsible folks at the web’s premiere free streaming service (with limited commercial interruptions): TubiTv. Or you can go commercial free on YouTube.

Be sure to catch up on all of the Alien knockoffs and rip-offs with our explorations “Ten Movies that Rip-off Alien” and “A Whole Bunch of Alien Rip-offs all at Once.” And there’s more celluloid déjà vu of the Supernova variety afoot with 2020’s Underwater. And, finally, since there’s always a pinch of Star Wars in all post-1977 sci-fi films, you can catch up with all of the George Lucas-inspired rip-offs with our “Star Wars Droppings” week.

And while it doesn’t have any gooey aliens, I’d love to suggest a very well done, commendable ultra-low budget effort also influenced, in part, by Alien: Space Trucker Bruce. It’s a film loaded with heart and soul and deserves a watch. Double for the recently reviewed Ares 11.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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