During our interview with Splice director Vincenzo Natali, the Canadian filmmaker drew a bit of a blank when trying to think of the last creature feature that he truly enjoyed. In retrospect, I think that's probably one of the main reasons Splice is such a unique film (much more so than the marketing makes it out to be). Natali made the film he wanted to see, not the same kind of film he'd been seeing for years. That said, I do think there are a handful of great creature features to have come out in the last ten years that are certainly worth recommending. Conveniently enough for this column, there are seven of them:
1. Teeth, directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2007
The only thing better than watching Teeth is showing Teeth to a group of people who have never seen it before. And if they happen to be clueless as to what it's about, that's even the better. But since this is a list of impressive creature features of the '00s, I should clarify for the uninitiated that Teeth is a film about a high school girl who is learning to deal with her vagina dentata as she enters womanhood. Some would argue that Mitchell Lichtenstein's film is more of a dark comedy than a creature feature, and to that I say A) Why can't it be both? and B) how is a film about a girl who grows up in front of the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant and then develops teeth in her vagina not a creature feature? Sure, it's not as blatant as the rest of the films on this list given how nearly normal its featured creature is, but it definitely belongs amongst the batch.
2. Slither, directed by James Gunn, 2006
The typical creature feature only involves a sole abomination, but let's not dismiss James Gunn's Slither just because it has thousands and thousands of squirming little creatures in it; they are, after all, each connected to the same alien organism. And what an organism that wonderful brew of nasty is! Slither may not be a particularly serious movie, but that's just another reason why it's such a riot to watch. It also boasts the highest stakes of any film on this list, because even though it takes place in a small town, if they fail to stop Grant Grant, he'll take over the entire planet.
3. Abominable, directed by Ryan Schifrin, 2006
Abominable is just flat out solid B-movie fun. It's Rear Window with Bigfoot instead of a murderer to spy on and I for one think that's awesome. Even beyond the delightful premise, Schifrin pulls off memorable kills left and right, making this not only one of the best Bigfoot horror movies ever made, but also one of the goriest. I never get tired of seeing the big guy chomp someone's head in half. Vertically.
4. The Host, directed by Joon-ho Bong, 2006
I hadn't realized until putting together this list how good of a year 2006 was for creature features. I love every title on this list like they're my cinematic children, but if I had to play favorites, The Host is probably the one I'd give all the easy chores to. Joon-ho Bong straddles the fence between creature feature and giant monster movie to deliver a film with an awesome sense of scope and yet such an intimate story. Plus, as another feather in its cap, I think The Host also has the best creature special effects of the last decade.
5. The Burrowers, directed by J.T. Petty, 2008
In early 2009 I fell into a horror rut. It seemed like everything I watched stunk and everything on the horizon was either a remake or a sequel. And then along came J.T. Petty's The Burrowers, a creature feature set during the late 1800s. It's not only the kind of film that can dig you out of a rut, but it's the kind that actually makes you angry you fell into one in the first place. Movies that end up going straight-to-video should not be exponentially better than most of what ends up in theaters, yet sadly that's the case with The Burrowers. It may have been destined for the home market, but that doesn't mean it belongs there. This movie is gorgeous to look at, it's full of heartfelt performances, its titular creatures have the creepiest design of anything on this list (I love that for the majority of the movie all you can ever see are their knees), and the ending is absolutely brutal. I couldn't recommend this movie more.
6. Mimic 3: Sentinel, directed by J.T. Petty, 2003
It's completely understandable to expect Mimic 3: Sentinel, a direct-to-video sequel to a film that, though good, didn't exactly demand revisiting twice yet alone a third time, to be a bad film, but it's actually thoroughly entertaining-- then again pretty much anything with Lance Henriksen is entertaining. It's got crisp production values (between this and The Burrowers, J.T. Petty really knows how to stretch a budget), an enjoyable cast, and a welcome new setting for the Judas Breed insects from the first two films to rampage around.
7. The Ruins, directed by Carter Smith, 2008
The thing I admire most about The Ruins is how defiantly it ignores the fact that it's a movie about killer plants (though I wish Scott Smith's script would have also included the theory from his own book that they may not actually be plants). There's nothing inherently terrifying about plants, after all, so to make a movie about vines that kill is just begging for people to not take your film seriously. Great thing is The Ruins just doesn't care about those people. There are a number of scenes in this movie that will make even a hardened horror fan's skin crawl. This is one of my favorite horror movies of the '00s, and while I know there are plenty of people who dig it as much as I do, I still think it's too often contritely dismissed as "that killer plant movie".