Creature of Destruction (1967) 1/2
Director: Larry Buchanan
Runtime: 1h 20m
At this point, it’s almost cliché to despise remakes. The reason for such widespread hate is obvious: Most remakes are soulless cash grabs, sure bets meant to line the filmmakers and studio coffers and (hopefully) pay for better films somewhere down the road. Sure, there are some genuinely great remakes The Thing (1982), The Fly (1986), The Maltese Falcone (1941) (the last film being so beloved an iconic that few people even realize it’s a remake), but a cursory glance at a complete list of remakes will prove that they are exceptions to the rule. More often than not you get totally unremarkable films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) or A Nightmare on elm Street (2010) and on occasion you get downright lousy one following the model of Straw Dogs (2011). Most remakes though are at least based off of a genuinely compelling film; today’s film does not even have that advantage. The She-Creature (1956) was already an unremarkable assembly-line film, whose director was chosen more for his ability to bring a project in on time and under budget than for his artistic abilities. Indeed, the only redeeming feature was the impossibly goofy costume worn by the titular monster. Ten years later, for reasons I cannot even begin to fathom, AIP decided to remake The She-Creature (1956) with an even smaller budget, and a filmmaker of even more dubious talents: Our old friend Larry Buchanan. As I said in my last review, I have nothing but respect for Mr. Buchanan’s zeal and determination in the face of adversity. I can’t think of any filmmaker whose had the odds stacked so thoroughly against him. Nonetheless, his movies are crap, and this one more than most.
We begin the film with a small mercy: we get to see the monster. Buchanan has evidently learned something from the debacle that was The Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966), so instead of leaving the monster until the last five minutes he springs it one us right from the start. Buchanan abandons the original’s lobster woman design, which while unfortunate is also to be expected, there was simply no way he could expect to pull off such a ludicrous design on the paltry budget AIP had allotted him. The monster Buchanan used looks like The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) had it been produced by a high school drama club instead of Universal Pictures. The ludicrous ping-pong ball eyes from The Curse of the Swamp Creature (1966) make their return, but are less noticeable when used on a full latex mask instead of on a stunt man wearing make-up. The body is obviously just a green wet suit. Actually showing the monster occasionally in his monster movie is probably the only improvement Buchanan has shown over his earlier film, and the fact that such a shoddy monster can be deemed an improvement already gives you a strong indication of what’s to come.
I may have made a tactical error by watching The She-Creature (1956) first, as Creature of Destruction follows the earlier film’s plotline point for point. Sitting through a bad movie once can be fun; sitting through it twice is usually torture even for cinematic masochists like myself. The names have been changed, but the characters are still plainly the same as they were in the original. Once again the plot centers around a sinister carnival performer and amateur psychiatrist (Dr. Basso) who forces his beautiful assistant (Doreena) to regress back to her past lives and somehow conjure the physic ghost of her earliest life: That of a gill-woman. Basso has the gill-woman kill random tourists for reasons that are never satisfactorily explained. Before each murder, Basso makes a predication that someone will die horribly, though it’s not much of a predication when you’re the one killing people. Sam Crane, a wealthy businessman hears about Basso’s predications and decides he can cash in on the quack and goes into business with him. Crane’s future son-in-law and psychic researcher in his own right, Ted Dell finds the whole thing thoroughly unpleasant. Initially Ted just wants to prove that Basso is a fraud, but when he realizes that the mad doctor is keeping Doreena as a psychic thrall, he switches gears and decides to help the girl fight off her mental captor. It’s basically the same story as The She-Creature (1956), with a couple superfluous characters and plot-points shore away. Creature of Destruction is not without some small mercies: at least there are no obnoxious Swedish stereotypes offering “comic” relief.
In terms of plot, the film suffers from the same issues as its predecessor: namely Dr. Basso’s evil plan doesn’t make a goddamn lick of sense. Seriously, what does he have to gain by transforming the spirit of the woman he loves (albeit in his own peculiar way) into a gill-woman and have her carve-up random tourists with her claws? He doesn’t seem particularly interested in the money that Mr. Crane is tossing his way, and even if he were there are easier ways to get money than his roundabout predication/murder racket. Indeed, the fact that Basso is turning Doreena into a gill-woman actually makes him less odious as a villain. Keeping her under psychic submission, and exploiting her for profit he is far more disturbing than some mumbo jumbo about conjuring the psychic ghosts of her past lives. The creature thus winds up being something of a distraction to the real horror going on in their relationship.
In terms of pacing, it is somehow even duller and more overstuffed with padding than the original. No doubt some of this is due to the extra minutes Buchanan had to tack on in order to make the film fit a television timeslot. Still, Buchanan did not do himself any favors by eliminating minor roles and set pieces. A few things he added, such as the prolonged musical numbers at the beginning and middle of the film are thus stretched out to an almost intolerable length. The one in the beginning is manageable only thanks to the creeping realization that the song is about Batman (this was at the height of the Adam West TV show’s popularity, though somehow I doubt that West or his producers was aware of Buchanan’s use of their intellectual property). The one in the middle features some god-awful folk song that had me reaching for the fast-forward button. The parts of the film that are actually pertinent to the plot are not exactly pulse-pounding either, with once again an inordinate amount of time given over to Basso’s boring psychic performances.
Perhaps the only interesting addition to Buchanan’s remake is the change made in the central protagonist: Ted Dell. In The She-Creature (1956), he is a psychic researcher along the ivory-tower/academia model. In Creature of Destruction he is still a psychic researcher but is employed not by any college or think tank, but by the US Air Force. This is obvious from the very start of the movie, as when Buchanan introduces Ted, he is wearing a captain’s uniform. The characters in the movie tell us that he has made a name for himself working with those who have been psychically scarred by combat. It’s a surprisingly skillful way, particularly for Buchanan, of slipping in a reference to the ongoing horrors of Vietnam when the brass at AIP were unwilling to address such topics.