Attack of the Beast Creatures (1985) aka Beast Creatures aka Hell Island is another classic of good-bad low-budget filmmaking, and also filmmaking which has done with a high degree of sincerity.
It is an accidental poor man’s epic which begins with a Titanic-like sinking of a cruise ship and ends with the lost civilisation of the Beast Creatures and their mass reverence of a large stone or wooden deity. All done with a minimum of fuss with cheap matte paintings!
In between, the survivors of the sinking have ended up on the island of the Beast Creatures and they are picked off one by one in the wilderness.
What a glorious movie this is! As the Beast Creatures appear to be darkly coloured dolls which have been imbued with life!! They are quick on their feet and they have very pointy teeth!! The film is set in May 1920 somewhere in the North Atlantic… Who will survive the Attack of the Beast Creatures?
Unfortunately, not many film careers survived or prospered as a result of this ingeniously crafted low-budgeter filmed in 1983 although copyrighted 1985. The first release of the film was reportedly in 1988. There was a website dedicated to this movie but it disappeared before I could get a look at it. But I ordered my copy of the film over a decade ago on Ebay, not knowing the site existed. I have loved this film since my first viewing.
Director and producer Michael Stanley (no info) was apparently told of an effect for a scene which would be of a man’s face being eaten away by acid by another producer named Bill Szlinsky (no info). Stanley was apparently impressed enough by the possibilities of this scene to frame it into the tale of castaways and doll-like creatures.
Stanley, who also edited the film, had to suffer the humiliation of not being able to find a distributor for his movie for a couple of years, possibly because it was deemed so bad.
The script is officially credited to Robert A. Hutton (no info) and he also designed the doll puppets which were manipulated to life by Stanley and one of the cast Robert T. Firgelewski (no info). Hutton was also behind the camera as cinematographer.
“I was reaching for a berry and something bit me,” says one lady as the survivors pick them as a source of sustenance on an island where the water is acidic enough to kill and turn you into a skeleton.
Later, in front of the campfire, one of the Alpha males says: “I’ve never seen an animal that’ll leave a bite mark like that.”
Oh, the tension is mounting. Well, sort of, as little do the cast know of the horrors that await them on that island.
The acting in Attack of the Beast Creatures is not bad and ranges from the competent to the very amateurish. It appears that some sort of theatre group has gotten together from somewhere in the vicinity of Stanford, Connecticut where the film was shot. I could be way off geographically there, but what I do know is these guys went for it and took it all quite seriously, which adds something special to the finished product. In fact, all the filmmakers have given it their best shot under the circumstances. The budget appears non-existent.
That director Stanley moved into the theatre after this film shows that the acting possibly had theatre as its basis.
But what strikes me best of all about this movie is John P. Mozzi’s (no info) music as it is a moody and atmospheric synth score. Probably a bit repetitive but a winner all the same. It would be his only credited score which is a shame as his work held such promise. For all I know it was just from someone’s film library!
Director Stanley never did another motion picture. Robert A. Hutton did not prosper as a writer or a cinematographer in a film again either. In fact, only one cast member seems to have gone onto any other projects deemed worthy of mention in the IMDb. That was Frank Murgalo, who played himself in the documentary Abel Raises Cain (2005) about American hoaxer Alan Abel (1924-2018).
Abel was the man who in the 1990s, during Jack Kevorkian’s euthanasia debate, set up a bogus Florida company Euthanasia Cruises Ltd which would offer cruises to those who wanted to end their lives by letting them jump in the ocean after three days of partying.
Abel died in the state of Connecticut where Attack of the Beast Creatures was filmed.
To me, this is real and the woods of Stanford make for a believable deserted isle.
It’s just these brown plastic dolls with their long black hair and their painted on white eyes that have no pupils are just so unbelievable as living creatures that it’s amazing that anyone apart from me can suspend their disbelief long enough to sit through the entire affair except to laugh in relief between moments which are beyond belief.
Yet the actors suck us in throughout as they suffer the torture and silliness of jiggling about as dolls hang from their hair or attach themselves to their arms and legs during bloody mass attacks by these creatures. And the Beast Creatures also make shrieking sounds as they attack… something that makes them more real and terrifying to me, despite the dolls appearing to be thrown at the actors!
In other moments during the movie, the dolls have apparently been fixed to rods as they seem to run across screen with their arms moving in time like some sort of insane joggers. But don’t let me put you off this some kind of masterpiece!
Whether the dolls were inspired by the voodoo doll in the last segment of the tv movie anthology horror Trilogy of Terror (1975) which was well directed by Dan Curtis (1927-2006 brain tumours) is more than possible. I don’t know, but the doll in that film looks awfully similar to the dolls in Attack of the Beast Creatures.
The success of Trilogy of Terror probably helped Curtis make the semi-classic feature Burnt Offerings (1976) the following year – his career was assured anyway. Trilogy of Terror was named by one magazine as one of the top five best television movies ever made. It was good enough to inspire a sequel Trilogy of Terror II (1996) which followed the same formula of the first one and had one female star in all three stories. The doll also features in the final segment of that film too. It has a name and it is the Zuni fetish doll which is activated when a gold chain is removed from its neck. At the end of the second movie, it was more about possession.
Someone described the end segment of the first Trilogy of Terror as containing “one of the scariest dolls in movie history” and it made a cult star of actress Karen Black (1939-2013 ampullary cancer). Annabelle just isn’t in the race it seems! That tv movie also inspired the low budget Ooga Booga (2013) which featured one of Black’s last appearances. That film isn’t very good but at least it tries.
And so it is with Attack of the Beast Creatures, as it tries, although it is ultimately let down by the poor special effects of the dolls. That’s if we look too deeply which we really mustn’t in terms of these movies. Just enjoy them as they are and not on an almost sub-atomic level… I guess it’s just that a woman who is clutching a doll to her chest in horror while the rest of the cast screams above the shrieks of the dolls may seem a tad bizarre when compared to more accomplished films.
Yet get all the strange elements of Attack of the Beast Creatures together with the linking music and the claustrophobic cinematography by Hutton and the bizarre, this time, makes for a one-off unusual experience. There is nothing quite like Attack of the Beast Creatures.
The scene which inspired it all with the acid melting away the face of an apparent cast member upon falling into the acidic water in the film could have come from The Incredible Melting Man (1977) which had the luck of Rick Baker at the make-up helm. That film is similarly reviled but not so much as Attack of the Beast Creatures. There was a melting face in Robocop (1987) too. There’s been plenty of melting faces over the years – but has the thought of one ever really inspired such a movie?! Perhaps it already had!
It is later on in the film as the remaining castaways hear the beating of native drums that they approach a clearing atop a plateau. It is there that the slightly epic ‘pay-off’ scene in the movie occurs as they spy on the Beast Creatures as they gather around worshipping their idol all the while shrieking!
“There must be hundreds of them,” says one of the cast – I count a few dozen! – “What do we do?,” asks the woman and they climb down the rocky hill once again until they are aware they are being chased.. and then run for their lives!
Who will survive? Will anybody? And what do the Beast Creatures eat when there are no humans about? Berries don’t seem as though they’d cut it! Are they just plain plastic dolls, or are they of the plastic wet and soil themselves poopy nappy variety? But that’s being too silly and not reverential of Attack of the Beast Creatures!
I love this movie, as it has gathered together enough elements for it to be termed cult art. The value of this art may be questionable… but any true believer in the concept of positive criticism of films that are other-worldly or of the netherworld variety will not be disappointed as the original filmmakers probably were by the end result of this film.
Yes, it was a train wreck for their budding movie careers… but somebody cared, as the production assistant and the catering for the film all appear to have come from director Stanley’s family… Yes, if you’re a believer in killer dollies prepare yourself not to be disappointed by Attack of the Beast Creatures! Instead, try to be amazed!!
P.S. It was the very handy Hutton who also created the matte paintings.
For an interview with actor Frank Murgalo on the movie PRESS HERE.