Chau Anh Nguyen/The Emory Wheel

There once was a man named Eythen,
Who liked Blu-rays for more than one reason.
A collection that grew
More than he knew
Now his shelves are facing repletion.

Over the decades, the “creature feature” genre has taken countless forms, merging with other film categories, such as slashers, and using self-awareness to dissect itself. To kick off the first entry for my column, here are a few of my favorite creature features in my Blu-ray collection: 

‘Shriek of the Mutilated’ (1974)

We all love cryptids. Whether it’s Bigfoot in the American North East or the Loch Ness monster across the pond, we’re naturally curious about the origins and whereabouts of these beasts. However, as creature features have taught me, some questions are best left unanswered. And, that is especially the case for the Michael Findlay film, “The Shriek of the Mutilated.”

The 1974 film follows graduate student Keith Henshaw (Michael Harris) who, along with his professor and fellow students, is searching for the Abominable Snowman. However, when his friends begin subsequently dying, Keith soon learns that the cryptid hides a darker secret.

Courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome.

“Shriek of the Mutilated” blends the familiar nature of the creature feature with newer genres like the slasher, especially given the stealthy movement of the Yeti. The film also possesses elements of the folk horror genre, which can be seen at the end of the film when we learn that the “Yeti” was a costumed man leading a cannibal cult. 

On the subject of the Yeti, while the costume itself is well-made and frightening on its own, I think the camerawork further enhances the creature. There are a few flashback scenes filmed in black-and-white that, given the white and neutral tone of the costume, make the Yeti look almost invisible as it sneaks on its next victim. However, the camera also felt like a helpful tool to emphasize the ferocious nature of the beast, especially with the way it would shake during the attack scenes.

“Shriek of the Mutilated” is a unique exploration of cryptids that will keep you hooked until the last second.

‘Grizzly’ (1976)

In 1975, Steven Spielberg released his seminal action-thriller “Jaws,” a summer blockbuster considered one of the most critically-acclaimed creature features. However, with a film as popular as “Jaws,” there are bound to be people who wish to emulate those narrative beats and classic moments. While most directors who would go on to create “Jaws” rip-offs would keep a shark as the primary antagonist, there are a few examples of rip-offs veering away from the aquatic setting, which I’ll touch on again later. For now, let’s talk about William Girdler’s film “Grizzly.” 

Released in 1976, “Grizzly” is what would happen if you replace the high seas with a national park and Bruce the shark with a prehistoric grizzly bear with a taste for human flesh. Other than that, the film plays out in the same order as “Jaws.” After the death of two campers, park ranger Michael Kelly (Christopher George) suggests that the owner, Charley Kittridge (Joe Dorsey), should close the park, but Kittridge refuses because he prioritizes profit over safety. Frustrated by this, Kelly reaches out to natural scientist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) for background on the bear. Scott and Kelly search for the bear, eventually have to fight it and the film ends with the grizzly bear getting blown up. It’s “Jaws,” but with a grizzly bear.

Courtesy of Severin Films.

Now, you may be wondering, “Eythen, you just gave the whole plot of the movie. Why should I watch it?” While “Jaws” is a classic thriller that keeps us on the edge of our seats, “Grizzly” requires less focus. It’s the kind of movie you can put on at a party, watch for a bit, mingle with people, return to the filmmovie and still understand what’s going on. Plus, while “Jaws” uses blood sparingly, relying more on suspense to scare viewers, “Grizzly” is filled to the brim with schlocky gore, which is sure to elicit at least a few chuckles.

Although lacking in originality, “Grizzly” is the perfect film for those who enjoy the story of “Jaws” but want more of a relaxed viewing experience.

‘Mosquito’ (1994)

As someone who was almost an entomologist, I can tell you that I despise mosquitoes. In all my years of living, I have never met a bug so obnoxious and torturous, with their swerving flight pattern and sharp proboscis. Luckily, given their size, a simple wave or a pair of thick pants will usually send the bloodthirsty creature in a new direction. But, imagine, if you will, there existed swarms of genetically-mutated mosquitoes the size of Golden Retrievers with spear-like proboscises. Would humanity survive? That’s the question our characters have to answer in Gary Jones’ 1994 film “Mosquito.”

After a UFO crashes into a pond, mosquitos suck the blood of the dead aliens, begin growing exponentially in size and attack visitors of a national park. It’s up to the newly-instated park ranger Megan (Rachel Loiselle), her boyfriend Ray (Tim Lovelace), extraterrestrial researcher Parks (Steve Dixon), immature park ranger Hendricks (Ron Asheton) and bank robber Earl (Gunnar Hansen) to exterminate the mutated pests.  

When I first watched “Mosquito,” I went in with low expectations. However, I was surprised by how engaging and creative the designs were. Don’t get me wrong, it has its fair share of trashy dialogue, and the plot is nothing new. However, where it lacks in writing, it makes up for in its cast and practical effects. Gunnar Hansen, well-known for his role as Leatherface in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974), plays an intimidating criminal mastermind that makes every scene ooze with tension. And, while I expected awkward, obviously fake mosquito puppets, I was wrong again. Not only are the mosquitoes animated using stop-motion, but they also use cell shading to emphasize the sheer size of the swarm.

If you’re looking for a film that won’t fail to excite you with some wicked movie monster magic, then I recommend “Mosquito.”

‘Blades’ (1989)

O.K., I need you to hear me out about this one. I’ve recommended films with mutant mosquitoes, aggressive grizzly bears and the Abominable Snowman, but this one is the most absurd out of the bunch. 

So, imagine “Jaws,” but instead of the treacherous waters near Amity Island, it’s the green golf courses of The Tall Grass Country Club. And, instead of a massive man-eating shark, it’s a sentient lawnmower. Are you still here? Then you should check out “Blades” (1989).

Courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome.

Similar to “Grizzly,” “Blades” follows the narrative structure and beats of “Jaws.” Teenagers end up mysteriously dead, and ex-pro golf player Roy Kent (Robert North) suggests that country club owner Norman Osgood (William Towner) close the club and cancel the golf tournament, but he refuses. It’s not until a child is attacked by the lawnmower that Norman gives in, and it’s left to Roy, fellow golfer Kelly Lange (Victoria Scott D’Angelo) and tough groundskeeper Deke Slade (Jeremy Whelan) to put an end to this mechanical mower.

While “Grizzly” uses the features of “Jaws” to establish a new, scary creature, “Blades” uses it for comedy. The sight of a sentient lawn mower making its way toward a new victim is absurd to the point that one has to laugh at it. 

“Blades” is a self-aware horror-comedy that treats “Jaws” as a muse to be explored, questioned and expanded upon rather than strictly copied.