She Creature

Splitting the difference between the high-octane nostalgia of Showtime's Rebel Highway series and the haunted-house mischief of HBO's Tales From The Crypt, Earth vs. The Spider and She Creature mark the first two home-video releases from the Creature Feature series. Like Rebel Highway, the series dramatically reworks titles from the Eisenhower-era heyday of B-movie powerhouse AIP, but where Rebel Highway fetishizes the greaser cool of the youth-run-amok genre, Creature Feature derives inspiration from AIP monster movies. Produced, like all Creature Features, by Rebel Highway producer Lou Arkoff, actress Colleen Camp, and special-effects legend Stan Winston, among others, Earth vs. The Spider casts Devon Gummersall as a sad sack in the mold of the schlemiels played by Dick Miller in Bucket Of Blood and Little Shop Of Horrors. A hapless dreamer with all the accessories–comic-book fixation, loser job as a security guard, a crush on the seemingly unattainable girl down the hall–Gummersall is looking for "something special," but that desire backfires when he injects himself with a super-spider serum. At first, he's elated by his super-strength, and uses it to try and fight crime like his hero, The Arachnid Avenger. But gradually, his spider-senses turn malevolent and deadly. Dan Aykroyd co-stars as a melancholy detective whose impotent rage at the rampant infidelities of his boozy wife (Theresa Russell) mirrors Gummersall's own anger and frustration at his inability to control crime. About as somber as a film called Earth vs. The Spider can be, Spider takes place in a nightmarish big city where danger and uncertainty lurk around every corner. Director Scott Ziehl (Broken Vessels) takes forever to get the film going, but the attention and time he devotes to establishing Gummersall and Aykroyd's desperation pays off in Spider's last half-hour, when Gummersall spirals out of control with surprisingly powerful results. Heavily inspired by David Cronenberg's The Fly, Spider has the good sense to ration out its low-budget but impressive special affects for maximum impact. Few people will rent a film called Earth vs. The Spider looking for a despairing, touching look at loneliness and isolation in the big city, but that's exactly what it provides. Set at the turn of the 20th century, She Creature offers a similarly Cronenbergian look at the horrors of the human body, through the tale of a telepathic killer mermaid with the unique ability to impregnate human women. Carla Gugino and Rufus Sewell star as low-rent carnies who find a real-life mermaid living with an eccentric old man prone to spinning elaborate yarns about mermaid mythology. Spying a potential gold mine, Sewell and his ragtag circus folk kidnap the mermaid and attempt to take her to America, a process complicated by both the mermaid's ravenous hunger and her telekinetic link with Gugino. A marvel of low-budget ingenuity, She Creature delivers on the promise of the Creature Features title. Like Spider, it boasts a vividly imagined beastie that belies the series' low budget, and, like the best cerebral horror, the film is more concerned with ideas and atmosphere than guts and gore. Writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez's elegant, restrained direction suits the surprisingly smart material, and he's aided by a terrific cast, particularly Rya Kihlstedt as the alluring, feral, otherworldly mermaid. It remains to be seen where the Creature Feature series will go from here, but it's off to an enormously promising start.

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