Creature (1985) Retrospective

In the film’s prologue, two geological researchers for the American multinational corporation NTI encounter an ancient alien laboratory on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. In the lab is an egg-like container which is keeping an alien creature alive. The creature emerges and kills the researchers. Two months later, the geologists’ spaceship crashes into the space station Concorde in orbit around Earth’s moon, its pilot having died in his seat.

NTI dispatches a new ship, the Shenandoah, to Titan. Its crew, consisting of Captain Mike Davison (Stan Ivar), Susan Delambre (Marie Laurin), Jon Fennel (Robert Jaffe), Dr. Wendy H. Oliver (Annette McCarthy), David Perkins (Lyman Ward) and Beth Sladen (Wendy Schaal), is accompanied by the taciturn security officer Melanie Bryce (Diane Salinger). While in orbit, the crew locate a signal coming from the moon—the distress call of a ship from the rival German multinational Richter Dynamics. Their own landing turns disastrous when the ground collapses beneath their landing site, dropping the ship into a cavern and wrecking it. When radio communication fails, a search party is sent out to contact the Germans.

In the German ship, they find one of the containers from the prologue breached, as well as the dead bodies of the crew. The creature appears and kills Delambre when she lags behind the escaping group. Fennel enters a state of shock at the sight and Bryce sedates him. When they return to their own ship, the Americans find that one of the Germans, Hans Rudy Hofner (Klaus Kinski), has snuck aboard. He tells them how his crew was slain by the creature, which was buried with other organisms as part of a galactic menagerie. He proposes returning to his ship to get explosives, but the crew are unwilling to risk it.

It becomes apparent that the creature’s undead victims are controlled by the creature through parasites. Unsupervised in the medbay, Fennel sees the undead Delambre through a porthole and follows her outside. She strips naked, and he stands transfixed while she removes his helmet. He asphyxiates, and then she attaches an alien parasite to his head. Now under alien control, Fennel sends a transmission to his crew mates, inviting them over to the German ship. Hofner and Bryce are sent to get some air tanks for the Shenandoah and stand guard over it, while the rest of the crew go over to the Richter ship.

Hofner and Bryce stop over at the menagerie on their way, and are attacked by Delambre, who has had a parasite attached earlier. The rest of the crew go over to the Richter ship, and find Fennel with a bandage on his head to conceal his parasite. Davison insists that medical officer Oliver examine his head, so Fennel has her accompany him to the engineering quarters to feed her to the creature. Davison and Perkins notice Fennel doesn’t sweat and go check on them. They are too late to rescue Oliver, who is decapitated by the creature, but Perkins blows up Fennel’s head with his pistol.

Soon afterwards, Sladen runs into an infected Hofner. She escapes the ship, and in her haste, only puts on her helmet after exiting. Perkins spots her outside and opens the airlock. Now unconscious, Sladen is carried in by Hofner to lure the others. They fight, and Davison manages to defeat Hofner by ripping off his parasite. The three survivors formulate a plan to electrocute the creature with the ship’s fusion modules, which can only be accessed by going through the engineering quarters.

Alarms suddenly sound as a creature makes its way through the ship, committing sabotage. Sladen and Davison go through engineering to construct an electrocution trap, while Perkins goes to the computer room to monitor the creature. Sladen finishes rigging the trap just in time for the creature’s arrival, and they apparently electrocute it to death. However, when Davison leaves, it captures Sladen.

Davison and Perkins follow her screaming and find her locked inside engineering. Studying the ship’s blueprints, they find another entrance to engineering and sends Perkins to lure away the creature while Davison retrieves Sladen. On the way, Perkins locates one of the bombs Hofner had mentioned, just before the creature jumps him. Dying, Perkins manages to attach the bomb to the creature and set off the countdown so Davison can jettison it through the airlock.

It climbs back aboard, however, so Davison tackles it, throwing himself out the airlock in the process. When the bomb fails to explode, Bryce appears and shoots it, which sets it off and kills the creature. She recovers Davison and dresses his wounds, then they reunite with Sladen and finally launch the ship.

Director William Malone
Director William Malone

Even though in space, nobody can hear you scream Bill Malone still wants you to try. The 37 year old director of SCARED TO DEATH is getting ready to try and scare audiences again with his second feature, THE TITAN FIND. The $4.2 million production is set to open this spring, and Malone is cautiously optimistic about its chances.

The film is set in the near future, when the commercialization of space is well under way. On the surface of Titan, a research ship has discovered the remains of an ancient alien laboratory and its collection of specimens. One specimen, however, turns out to be much livelier than originally thought, and kills all but one of the crew. The survivor lives long enough to make it back to Earth, setting off a race between two competing multinational firms for whatever is there, both unaware of just how deadly the alien is.

Despite its small budget, the film boasts good production values, with set design by Robert Skotak and effects by the L.A. Effects Group, and stars international weirdo Klaus Kinski as a German space commander.

Malone, explained the roundabout way THE TITAN FIND got off the ground. “After I did SCARED TO DEATH, I was trying to get another project going.” said Malone. “One of the people my producer Bill Dunn and I went to see said they’d really like to make a picture like SCARED TO DEATH. They signed us up to do one of our projects, MURDER IN THE 21ST CENTURY, a detective story. After we did the screenplay, they didn’t think it had enough exploitation value. ‘What else do you have,’ ey asked, and can you have it to us by tomorrow morning?’ This was in January, 1984.

“On that short a notice, all I could do was go through my files and see what I had kicking around. I found a two page story synopsis of THE TITAN FIND which I had written six or seven years earlier, and I took that in to them. It was basically just the beginning of the picture as it is now. I read it to them with some background tapes of classical music and they loved it. I said to myself, ‘Great…, now how do I make a film out of this?”

Not only was how a problem, but where as well. With a tight budget and little lead time given the company, it would have been nearly impossible to get studio space to shoot the film. The production’s answer was to create its own studio, setting up shop in an abandoned industrial plant in Burbank. The small warehouse became a tight maze of different bits of spaceship interiors and planet exteriors, with Malone’s crew shooting on one set, while another was torn down behind them and another built just ahead of them. Filming began June 25th.

Construction of the bridge of the NTI spaceship 'Shenandoah
Construction of the bridge of the NTI spaceship ‘Shenandoah

“We’ve been on it now for 8′ weeks, and I’m tired,” said Malone. “This has been a particularly tough picture because everything’s got smoke and dust and lava rock, which not only creates a lot of noise when you step on it, but makes this gritty dust and gets into everything. We’re forever wearing filter masks. Initially it sounded like a good idea doing everything in one location where you wouldn’t have to be moving people around, but after a while, all you want to do is go outside and see some sun.”

Malone is taking a lot of liberties with the Titan setting. “Well, I figure it will be a long time before anybody gets there to find out what it is actually like,” he said. “Everything’s got this sort of Dante’s Inferno look to it. There are these tremendous lightning storms going on all the time. The picture almost winds up looking like gothic horror. In fact, when we designed the miniatures, that was the instruction, make them look like Dracula’s castle. From the dailies, someone said they thought it looked like a Mario Bava picture, which I take as a compliment.”

To get the most out of the sets and special effects, Malone decided to shoot in widescreen Panavision. “A space picture practically demands that kind of format,” said Malone. “I had to do some fast talking because most of the people involved didn’t want to go anamorphic. Initially it’s a pain in the ass to deal with the Panavision company. If you’re not a major company, they tend to want all their money up front, and that’s very hard to deal with, but once we had set the deal with them, they were easier to get along with. Using Panavision really paid off in the long run, because it gives the picture a bigger look. With Panavision, you gain about 40 percent in image area, and it tremendously improves the image and clarity. This is only my first Panavision picture, but after working with it, you get kind of spoiled.”

Robert Skotak on the set of the Richter Dynamics spaceship from 'Titan Find
Robert Skotak on the set of the Richter Dynamics spaceship from ‘Titan Find

One group that found it a little harder to work up enthusiasm for the widescreen format were the people involved in physically producing the special effects for the film, the year old L.A. Effects Group headed by Larry Benson. The company includes Alan Markowitz, director of animation and optical effects, and Corman effects graduates Robert and Dennis Skotak. Robert serves as director of visual effects while brother Dennis is director of photography.

“The single biggest problem we had was the anamorphic format,” said Dennis Skotak. “Bill Malone likes widescreen, and I like widescreen, but for a limited budget, it’s a problem. It’s real hard to force depth of-field because you have to have a great deal of light to close the camera aperture down.

“Because the budget was so low on this picture, we had a limit on how much time could be spent building the models. The ships are not large enough for a lot of the things that are necessary. One of the producers wanted a shot of the Shenandoah much closer than what we had planned it to be. I had to pull out the bag of tricks to get it done. We had to have the ship so close to the camera that it was grazing the film magazine.”

“I storyboarded the film, designed all of the miniatures (except for the American ship, The Shenandoah, which Bill Malone designed himself), and worked closely with Bill on the planning and staging of each shot,” Skotak explains. “He pretty much left me with a free hand to design the look and layout of each scene. His input was heavily along the lines of what the mood and coloration of something should be, the things that were important to convey a building feeling of suspense. For example, when the ships are approaching Titan, they’re not zooming by. They’re moving very slowly, almost serenely. Then as they enter Titan’s atmosphere, there is all of this lightning going on around them and huge dust storms everywhere. “In the same way, we wanted the interior of the Richter Dynamics ship, where a lot of the action takes place, to look very German Gray, functional, much like a battleship. We wanted it to look like a weird place without getting ludicrous. I made it a little expressionistic, gave it buttresses and bulkheads to shoot from behind. There is also a geographic quality to the bridge; the area is broken up into planes by several different shapes.”

Skotak also designed the look of the alien, which Malone finally approved after choosing elements from dozens of different sketches that Bob drew. Mike McCracken and Don Pennington were among several people who contributed molds and mechanics to the snakish suit, but it was Doug Beswick, who was called upon, under a heavy deadline, to pull the whole suit together.

“I was real skeptical about it being finished on time,” Beswick recalls. “Bill could only push the shooting schedule back 13 days. The neck and jaw had to be rebuilt to give the creature a larger bite radius, the fingers had to be extended and given long claws, legs and arms had to be built, we had to get a truly vicious look into the face.

This is the small scale maquette, which estabilished the look for the Monster -- which would have only minor modifications. It was built by Michael McCracken's team.
This is the small scale maquette, which estabilished the look for the Monster — which would have only minor modifications. It was built by Michael McCracken’s team.

“We would have liked to have done more, but it was a very limited schedule. Considering that, I’m very happy with the way the thing turned out. I haven’t seen many dailies, but what I’ve seen looks good. They are shooting it right, taking their time to light it correctly. I hesitated at first to take on this job, because of the time limit, but I was able to do it and I’ve learned quite a lot, so now I’m glad that I took it on.”

Beswick also built a mock up version and a one-third scale gelatin replica of the rubber suit, both of which will be used in surprise special effect scenes. But monsters from other planets aren’t all you’ll be cringing at. Besides your basic assortment of gouged necks, chewed limbs and decapitated skulls, Titan Find will grace screens with the spectacle of ripped faces, exploding heads and flying cow bellies.

Special effects makeup was originally designed by Bruce Zahlava, who left the production due to creative differences halfway through the shooting. Jill Rockow, a makeup veteran of The Howling, Frightmare, Deadly Eyes, Conan the Destroyer and Friday the 13th-The Final Chapter, among numerous others, is responsible for the daily applications. One of her primary tasks was to destroy parasite victims Robert Jaffe and Klaus Kinski from the inside out.

“Robert Jaffe has the most makeup of anybody.” Rockow explains. “He attacks people and spits blood at them. His face deteriorates and pulls off. In fact, it’s my hand that rips his face off! The actress he’s fighting with in the scene had to go home, and the actual ripping was done with a fake head. I just reached into the frame and pulled off a section of it to expose the underneath, which was a duplicate of the makeup Robert had on.

“His face peels off more later on, to reveal this whole bloody and slimy underface. Eventually, his head explodes completely. That was done with another fake head and pyrotechnics. The head was filled with cow bellies, cow brains; it was a real party there. It was made out of gelatin and we planted pieces of primacord inside it. Primacord’s an explosive that is so powerful that a piece of it wrapped around your neck will shoot your head right off. It cuts things off clean. People who do blasts for oil wells use it.

“Robert Jaffe really gets destroyed in this. He’s a producer as well as actor; he produced Motel Hell and Demon Seed. He was wonderful to work with, very cooperative. We went through five hours of makeup application every day and two hours of taking it off. He never moaned once.”

Three overlapping appliances are used to create Klaus Kinski’s makeup. The chin goes on first, then the nose, and the forehead and cheek pieces last. As his character starts to deteriorate, plugs on his cheeks and chin are pulled out to uncover the monstrous mutation going on underneath. Rockow and her crew, which included Jerry Quist and Paul Rinehard, have their work cut out for them with these designs; because of the limited budget (estimated at $4 million), Kinski does not appear in all of his scenes, and two doubles, neither of whom resemble the Polish actor, or each other for that matter, have to stand in for him in a number of action scenes. Luckily, Rockow’s foam rubber appliances cover the entire face, so the differences in actors is impossible to detect.

“The alien itself and all the parasites were covered in K-Y,” Rockow explains, “and everyone’s face was K-Y’d too. We tinted it a yellowish-brown for all of the decomposing human stuff. The neat thing about K-Y is that it dries about an hour or so after you apply it, to a point where it’s not slippery. A lot of makeup people use Methocel for creating slime, but that dries hard and you’ve got to peel it off before you can put a new batch on. This stuff just keeps dripping until it dries.

“About the gore, I tend to sort of pull back in that area,” says Malone. “There are some dramatic scenes that have some gore in them, but I think that if you do it all the way through, then it loses its punch. My basic approach is that I really like suspense more than gore, but the problem is that you have to remember that we also have to try and sell the movie overseas. There are countries that won’t buy your picture without a certain amount of gore in it. Look at the Italian zombie movies, and Japanese kid shows, they have people getting hacked to pieces and arrows that go through eyes … that sort of stuff, so you have to have some pretty heavyweight material in your picture for them to be interested in it.”


Regarding Klaus Kinski
Surprises and difficulties were in store for the live action crew as well. No sooner had Malone worked out the story line for the film and started work on the script when his backers threw him a curve. To help give the film a stronger selling point, his investors had gotten a “name” actor, Klaus Kinski. The problem was that they only had Kinski for a week, and there wasn’t a part in the film that would suit him.

“Previously, we had clues in the original story as to what happened in the German ship, and the audience was supposed to draw its own conclusions,” Malone said. “But once we had Klaus, it seemed the best thing to do was make him the commander of the German ship and work from there. I think he enjoyed working on the film, but it was very hard to tell. He’s got an unusual personality. He worked with me on his part in the script, and actually, I think he would make a very good story editor. He was very helpful with suggestions and with working with the other actors.

I think it helped everyone else too because they really seemed to be working harder because they were working with him.

“Klaus was crazier off camera than the part I wrote for him, and I wrote him as a total looney. The first day of shooting he shows up, and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I raped my 12-year-old daughter, you know.’ I thought, oh great, this is going to be fun. “Halfway through the first day of shooting, the crew came up to me en masse and said, ‘Billy, we want you to know we’re all going to take Klaus out back and beat the shit out of him.’ I said, ‘Look guys, you have to wait until the end of the week, and then you can do everything you want.’ He was a madman, really, but I will say this, when he’s on screen, he just lights up the screen. He’s definitely one of the best things in the picture. He really added a lot to it. When we write a script, a lot of times the actors don’t give you what you heard in your head. Klaus was one of the few people who gave me exactly what I was writing, the intonation and delivery that I heard for this stuff.”

A running gag on the set occurred after Kinski tried to make a pass at the female makeup artist who was applying his makeup by sticking his knee between her legs and telling her, “That is not my knee, that is my cock.” From then on, whenever anyone on the set bumped into someone else, it became de rigueur to say, “That is not my knee, that is my cock,” regardless of the circumstances.

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ALIEN rip off?
 “You have to understand that this movie has turned out to be a lot bigger picture than we set out to make. We started out small, but after the second week of shooting, the investors looked at the footage and said they loved it and wanted us to make it bigger and better, so they kept throwing money at us, which is really a filmmaker’s dream. We’re using a Dolby stereo soundtrack, which isn’t something we were originally designed for. When we put together a rough cut of the movie, we decided it would add a lot to the film, even though it was going to cost another $80,000.”

Aside from the technical aspects of the film, Malone knows he’s going to run into objections about the film: is it an ALIEN rip off?

“I don’t know what to say about the ALIEN question,” Malone continued. “I guess it depends on whether you consider ALIEN an original story. I don’t look at that many films as real originals. I know ALIEN had elements of several films in it that I could name, but beyond that, most genre films are pretty derivative. I think that THE TITAN FIND has got some unusual and interesting things in it. Certainly the film is going to be compared to other films, but I don’t think you can help that. I actually think there’s a lot more of 1950’s science fiction in it than anything else, and that it resembles ALIEN because Dan O’Bannon and myself were probably inspired by the same pictures. I like Spielberg’s JAWS also. I think it’s probably one of the best monster movies ever made; when I was writing Klaus Kinski’s part, I wanted to try and capture more of the feel of Robert Shaw’s part in that, than ALIEN.”

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Stan Ivar as Captain Mike Davison
Wendy Schaal as Beth Sladen
Lyman Ward as David Perkins
Robert Jaffe as Jon Fennel
Diane Salinger as Melanie Bryce
Annette McCarthy as Dr. Wendy H. Oliver
Marie Laurin as Susan Delambre
Klaus Kinski as Hans Rudy Hofner

William Malone

William G. Dunn

William Malone Alan Reed

Moshe Diamant       …executive producer
William G. Dunn      .. producer (as William G. Dunn Jr.)

Special Effects
Wayne Beauchamp …       pyrotechnician
Doug Beswick         …  creature coordinator / miniature construction
John Eggett  …       pyrotechnician
Michael McCracken …       creator: “Titan Find” creature
Gerald Quist …       special effects makeup assistant
Paul Rinehard         …       special effects makeup assistant
Jill Rockow    …       special effects makeup assistant
Robert Short …       weapons creator
Bruce Zahlava         …       special effects makeup supervisor

Cinefantastique v 15 n02
Fangoria 041

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