Robert A. Hutton
If you're old enough to remember the mid-1980s, you may recall the curious and short-lived cinematic fad for mini-monster movies - you know, films about foot-tall furry/leathery/plastic things with teeth leaping out at inopportune moments and biting/stabbing/eating people. Even if you weren't there, you will almost certainly know some of the films that arose from the trend - Gremlins (the movie that kicked it all off), Child's Play, Critters and it's sequels, the Ghoulies franchise, and all the way down to the very bottom of the barrel with the eye-gougingly awful Munchies and Hobgoblins.
Running along in the dirt behind this overcrowded bandwagon, desperately trying to gain a foothold, comes Attack of the Beast Creatures, a "film" so incredibly amateurish, so frighteningly obscure, and yet so oddly compelling that it almost totally evades categorisation.
The plot, such as it is, involves a group of castaways, having escaped from a sinking cruise liner (represented in the opening shot by what looks like the only optical effect in the film: a black shape silhouetted against a muddy day-for-night sky) finding themselves washed ashore on a mysterious island in the North Atlantic which, as it turns out, is dotted with flesh-burning acid pools and, of course, inhabited by the little beasties of the title. The acting ranges from okay to excruciatingly bad; the cinematography is non-existent, with lots of featureless shots and obscured camera angles; and the script (which I doubt was ever actually written down on paper) contains probably some of the most hilariously banal dialogue I have ever heard in a commercially released film. Here's an example:
(upon finding their sick crewmate has been skeletonized)John: But what could have done this to him?
Sailor: I dunno, rats?
John: But that fast?
Most of the running time seems to be devoted to following the survivors as they trek endlessly across the island, through the most ordinary and boring-looking woods ever captured on camera, picking berries and talking nonsense while the same whooshing synth track that plays throughout the film tries its best to lend some sense of mystery to the monotonous proceedings.
Fear not, though - from time to time, the director remembers he's supposed to be making a scary movie and (lo and behold) something happens. And when it does, the film is actually a lot more entertaining than it has any right to be. First of all, one of the passengers mistakes a bubbling pool of acid for some tasty fresh water, and for some reason sticks his whole head in, face first, reducing his fissog to a foaming mass of latex and ketchup. Then a wounded passenger is turned into a rubber skeleton by forces unknown while no one's looking. Then, about half an hour into the movie, we get our first look at the Beast Creatures.
In probably the films most effective scene (only effective scene?), dozens of pairs of eerily glowing eyes appear in the darkness around the survivors' camp. Could it be that this spine-tingling build-up will lead some genuinely frightening scenes? Nope! Instead, a bunch of wooden dolls swing out of the trees and start nibbling at people's shins. The gang send the little bastards packing by stomping on them and picking them up and chucking them back into the night. I shit you not.
You know, if you were actually there, you probably couldn't help but laugh - these teeny, tiny little monsters showing up trying to pick a fight, it's kind of cute like a kitten trying to stalk a bear or something, and the beasties of course get their asses handed to them - but the humans seem to be really, genuinely disturbed by the encounter. It's really funny how seriously the actors seem to take it, they may be bad at acting happy, sad, thoughtful, angry... but Jesus Christ they can do SCARED! Fair enough, we're supposed to believe that these beast creatures are a threat, but honestly - these little things seem no more dangerous than a flock of geese or an angry cat.
In the dark of night, they are pretty amusing little critters, but wait until you see them in the broad light of day... because from this point on, every five minutes or so, we're treated to scenes of beast creatures dropping onto characters from trees, running through grass like track and field athletes and people thrashing around while holding silly dolls to their throats and screaming (lots of this).
On the subject of the creatures themselves: I initially assumed that these things were supposed to be some kind of supernaturally-animated puppet creatures - they are clearly made of wood, have no articulated joints except their arms, and have lever-like jaws. Although it didn't seem to make a great deal of sense (no explanation is ever given for their existence or their presence on the island), this idea at least fit with what I was seeing on the screen in front of me. But then someone smashes one of the beast creatures with a stick, and we get a close up of its bloodied "corpse", and I realised that these things are actually meant to be miniature flesh-and-blood island natives!! When the truth hit me, I almost fractured a rib laughing.
So the survivors move on and on through the forest of monotony, with no real plan or purpose, and gradually, through sheer force of numbers and sustained (and incredibly entertaining) attacks, the beast creatures begin to pick them off one by one. At some point, one of the characters goes nuts, starts foaming at the mouth (Alka-Seltzer style), and runs into another acid pond (return of the rubber skeleton). Around the same time, someone else dangles over the edge of a six-foot mud embankment for no apparent reason. Then they find a bunch of the little sods worshipping a strange miniature totem pole, which has no bearing on the plot whatsoever other than being something vaguely different to break up the formula of hike-attack-hike-attack-hike-attack. Finally, millions of them show up and polish off most of the remaining humans. Two of the survivors decide to just run back to the beach where they started, in time for the laziest deus ex-machina ending since Lord of the Flies.
This movie is poorly-made, badly-acted, with no discernable plot, long boring scenes of no consequence, and ridiculous monsters... and yet it remains oddly entertaining. Perhaps it's the endearing sincerity with which the wacky subject matter is handled or perhaps its just the sense of fun in watching grown adults wrestle on the ground with foot-tall inanimate objects, but there is an energy and an innocent merriness to the film that makes it worth a watch for any cult aficionado.
Attack of the Beast Creatures was made by a little two-bit studio called Obelisk Motion Pictures. The plural "Pictures" is misleading, as it seems they never made another film, before or since. Despite having a very minor cult following, the movie is so little-known that information on its production or the people involved is hard to come by, but judging by these investment certificates being offered for sale online, it would seem that the film was financed in much the same fashion as Sam Raimi's early pictures - by wealthy small-town locals badgered into handing over cash with the promise of huge profits on the film's release. Given the extremely low budget, I wouldn't be surprised if the investors did make a profit from it. The movie was also re-released as Hell Island.
Unfortunately, Attack of the Beast Creatures has not been available to buy since the late 1980s. As far as I can tell, it has never been legitimately released on DVD, and the VHS tape sometimes sells second hand on Amazon marketplace for over $50. This is a genuinely obscure little film, but it's not impossible to find online - Google is your friend. :)