Monday, February 27, 2017

Silver Screen Stories: The Creature Wasn't Nice

Of the many obscure movies I know and love, and often try to tell other people about (either in real life, or here in blog form), perhaps one of THE most obscure, surprisingly, is a Leslie Nielsen comedy from 1983. Hot on the heels of his fabulous 1980 role that really kick-started his comedy career in Airplane, and the subsequent (and sadly short-lived) genius TV show Police Squad, filmmakers tried to strike while the iron was hot with something in a similar mold. Unfortunately, the low budget madness of The Creature Wasn't Nice, was perhaps even obscure back in it's original theatrical release. And part of the reason for it's obscurity, is because the film would not bear the same title when it found a second life on home video release.

 The poster above, is for the movie, presumably even during theatrical release, or perhaps re-release, bearing the title I first discovered by, Spaceship. For whatever reason, the studio that owned the film, changed the name, perhaps thinking that "The Creature Wasn't Nice" was too long, or too oddball. Or perhaps they were just trying to get a little closer to cashing in on some of that sweet Star Wars/Star Trek pie. Either way, when I rented this as a kid from "All The Best Video" back in the early 90s, this is how I knew the movie. So imagine my surprise years later, when as a teenager I tried to look up info about the film on the internet, and couldn't find any!

Yet ANOTHER name for the film.

At some point AFTER the runaway success of the hit film that really "made" Nielsen as a comedy icon, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad, they decided to change the home video name AGAIN, this time to ridiculous Naked Space, to try to cash in on the Naked Gun franchise. In other words, a cheap ploy, to make renters believe this was somehow related, just because they both starred Nielsen. On the one hand, welcome to the insipid Hollywood mindset. But on the OTHER hand, I can't really think of another movie off the top of my head that went through three name changes AFTER production was finished.

The Crew of the Vertigo.

So moving on to the film itself, The Creature Wasn't Nice is a farcical science fiction comedy, parodying many popular sci-fi films and shows of the era, but most especially the 1979 Ridley Scott hit Alien. The film of course stars the great Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen, as Captain Jamieson of the spaceship "Vertigo", an exploratory science vessel. His crew is comprised of ship psychologist Annie McHugh, played by the always great Cindy Williams, still in the midst of her Laverne and Shirley television run, ship scientist Dr. Stark, played by well-known actor of the era Patrick Macnee, and the ship's pilot/handiman/whatever Rodzinski, played by Gerrit Graham. Last but not least, the ship's janitor (basically) John, is played by the great Bruce Kimmel, who also wrote and directed the movie.

Of all the crew members, while they are all memorable in their own way (beautiful and classy lady, obsessed scientist, goofy-yet-timid janitor, and self-assured straight-man captain), as a kid the character who stood out the most to me was Rodzinski, because he is the major comedy act of the film, always cracking-wise and spouting one-liners. He is constantly heckling the rest of the crew, and being irreverent to the captain. One of my favorite lines of his, especially as a kid seeing it for the first time, was in a scene where Captain Jamieson is trying to tell him something important, and he responds "Gee, I could shit a brick!". That one line about sums up the character.

The crew, planet-side, discovering something, odd...

Being a science vessel, the Vertigo stops off early in the film at a "previously unknown planet", which seems to have vestiges of a ruined civilization. The crew are shown a scan of the history of the world, hilariously using some clips of giant "kaiju" style monsters fighting and wrecking the place. The world now is a mostly barren wasteland, and their stop seems to be mostly pointless, that is until Dr. Stark finds a curious red blob of "jelly", which he collects and takes aboard the ship for study. Naturally, that jelly would be the downfall of the story.

A clip from the crew's TV watching.

To help alleviate boredom, at some point the crew takes to watching television, or having a "movie night", and we are shown all sorts of parody clips of present-day (of the early 80s) conventions, such as the giant King Kong alien invader shown above, or the most memorable of the bunch, the some-odd bazillionth Dirty Harry sequel, where-in an elderly Clint Eastwood is shown still showing those punks a thing or two.

Meanwhile, Dr. Stark mostly sequesters himself in his lab, studying this alien lifeform, and he eventually tells the rest of the crew that since being brought aboard, the creature is now growing. The crew are alarmed to hear this, but the good doc, being obsessed with his new find, assure them that it is completely harmless. Of course, that is far from the actual case.

The fully grown titular Creature.

They eventually are shown the creature itself, fully grown into a gooey, grotesque humanoid form. And Dr. Stark has been making attempts to communicate with it, hooking it up to mind-scanners that will help it talk to the crew. And thus comes the scene the few people who DO know about this movie, know it best for: the hilariously disturbing musical scene. The alien proceeds to put on a song-and-dance number for them, a song entitled "I Wanna Eat Your Face", in which it communicates, rather politely and with delightful flair, all of the delicious parts of them that it wishes to consume. It is, after all, one hungry monster. And after hearing this, everyone in the crew, except of course for Dr. Stark, is rightfully scared of the thing, and wants to destroy it before it gets chance to make good on it's song. the doc insists it is merely a misunderstanding.

The Creature gets loose!

It's no misunderstanding, however, as the creature manages to escape it's confinement, and is running loose on the seemingly endless, seemingly identical dark corridors of the ship. Captain Nielsen brandishes his hilariously cheesy ray-gun, and the crew goes looking for the thing, all the while Dr. Stark protesting their intentions, and indeed even protesting their pejorative use of the term "Creature". They finally find the thing, and Stark tries once again to communicate with them, to get assurance that it is in fact friendly, and then proceeds (SPOILERS), to become it's first victim/meal. I won't get too spoiler-y from there onward, but it's from that point that the threat of the creature is real, and the movie turns into a full-tilt parody of Alien.

R.I.P. Dr. Stark

So there isn't too much more to say about the movie. It's very obviously low-budget from the title screen onwards, but lovingly made, with tons of little quips and references and touches throughout. It may not be everyone's comedic cup of tea, but I think it's a wonderful "Forgotten Gem" that fans of science fiction OR comedy should really check out. It's a quirky, silly-as-hell farce, but that's what it was meant to be, and it's one of many movies that I strongly feel deserves a bigger audience. And in that spirit, I will finish this article by encouraging you to go and watch the movie yourself, on the Retro Revelations Youtube channel, where it is now available in it's entirety. Fire up some popcorn and enjoy the cheesy ride!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Welcome Retro Revolutionaries! Feel free to leave your own thoughts or feedback on these fantastic retro memories!