Director William Malone (Parasomnia, House on Haunted Hill remake) introduced two different creatures that brought us through the 80s in three different movies. So let’s take a look at Creature, Scared to Death, and its sequel, Syngenor.
I’ll begin with the one from smack-dab in the middle of the decade. Creature is often accused of being an alien clone (the monster does look like a cross between Alien and a 2-legged alligator), but it’s actually more my horror style than the famous franchise.
Sure there’s a crew in a spaceship that encounters an alien life form while trying to explore an uncharted planet. But forget facehuggers. This alien uses victims as a host, turning them into gnarly, bloody-faced zombie things. Reminds me of several survival horror video games of the last two decades.
Be warned…it takes a while to get to that. For a painstaking amount of time, some familiar faces do what makes all alien movies boring—they roam around spaceship halls that all look the same, accomplishing nothing. The main girl is Wendy Schaal, who appeared in Munchies and The ‘Burbs, but who I’ll always remember as one of the waitresses on the first season of It’s a Living from 1980. Right behind her is long time horror queen Diane Salinger (Slay Belles, Dark House, Rest Stop, Carnivale). We get Ron Grady’s dad from Elm Street 2. And just for the hell of it, Klaus Kinski appears briefly to give us some of his usual weird shtick.
Monster POV and some great body reveals make it clear this sci-fi alien film knew it would be smart to cash in on the slasher style that was all the rage at the time. That helped me overlook all the boring science fiction spaceship crap, which is so not my thing.
Once people begin turning bloody faced, things get gory good, and there is even a sort of Lifeforce scene in which one alien-infiltrated woman (with perfect 80s music video hair) gets naked to seduce a man.
The final battle with the cool monster is about as generic as a sci-fi creature feature gets (by that I mean all of them).
SCARED TO DEATH (1980)
William Malone’s horror career began five years before Creature with the film Scared to Death, which was kind of the same monster deal. But making it better is that it takes place in a typical suburban neighborhood, to which I can totally relate. The opening shot panning over a house and street in 1980 makes me want to go back and live there again. Forever.
Scare to Death is all about the monster attacks. The monster lives in the sewers. It targets random people at night, even breaking into houses! Its appearance is never a surprise because we get pretty good glimpses of it during every kill.
Meanwhile, an ex-cop turned writer gets mixed up in investigating all the deaths in town. He also has a pointless romance with a woman after a minor fender bender. Their first date quickly turns into a ridiculous sensual sex scene. This movie seriously knew it was the beginning of the 80s horror era.
Everything that happens between the kills is kind of boring, but the monster attacks are an 80s treat. And it’s not just kills. Beginning with a young woman roller skating in a parking garage (ah…the days when we sought out any smooth pavement we could to roller skate on), we learn the monster pulls a not uncommon monster move of the 80s…it tongues its victims with a slimy appendage and leaves traces of goo at the scene of every attack.
And those it doesn’t kill but just stores up in its lair end up looking like…zombies. So that’s where Malone got the idea for Creature…
Eventually the ex-cop teams up with a young scientist woman who has uncovered the truth about this creature, known as a Syngenor. The pair is pursued by the monster through a warehouse in a long and suspenseful chase scene that’s very satisfying in an 80s way…as is the final scare dream sequence.
It seriously took ten years to make a sequel to a film nobody ever heard of…and the producers didn’t even want anyone to know it was a sequel! William Malone was unable to return to direct, but he did contribute to the monster design (which is only slightly different than the original monster).
While Syngenor is more polished than the original and clearly has a bigger budget, it’s the usual case of an 80s movie transitioning into 90s crap that is watchable now if you just appreciate how campy it is.
Rather than being about the terror of innocent people being attacked by the monster, the focus here is on those who created the thing. Ugh. But at least one of the creators is David Gale of Re-Animator. Not surprisingly, he steals the show as a mad man with an evil plot. Essentially it’s the same role he played in Re-Animator, but he does it so well it’s always entertaining.
The creature is a lot less gooey this time. It lives in a nice polished chamber. Instead of its tongue, it uses a laser beam to deep throat victims. And as cheesy as the film is, some of the chase scenes are more vicious and suspenseful than in the original.
Sticking with tradition, there’s also a pointless sex scene in the middle of this sequel, right during the height of the monster madness. And it is madness. There are multiple monsters this time. There’s a crazy ray gun that vanquishes monsters like a bug zapper. And the final battle is a hilarious mess. Plus, David Gale suddenly dons a bunny mask.
Yeah, it’s definitely 1990.