Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It's Been Sleeping For 2000 Years

Released theatrically in 1985 with the generic but evocative title CREATURE, THE TITAN FIND is one of many ALIEN rip-offs of the 1980s about gooey space monsters with big teeth that chomp on astronauts with paper-thin personalities.

The second film by writer/director William Malone (whose next film was THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL fourteen years later), THE TITAN FIND does a nice job creating a mood and delivering cheap violent thrills on a $750,000 budget. The miniature work and production design by future Oscar winners Robert Skotak (ALIENS) and Dennis Skotak (THE ABYSS) are very good, as are the many gore effects by Bruce Zahlava (DEAD HEAT). Really, the goo is the best reason to watch—faces are ripped off, heads explode, and blood splashes everywhere.

An American research team travels to Titan, one of Jupiter’s moons, to investigate some ancient artifacts that left a previous expedition dead. They discover their West German rivals have beaten them there, but have all been brutally murdered. That is, except for one: creepy Hans Hofner (Klaus Kinski, who leads the league in creepy German portrayals), who informs the new arrivals they’re being stalked by a 200,000-year-old creature that subsists on human blood and can control the dead using squishy control devices attached to the back of the corpses’ heads.

Besides Kinski (NOSFERATU), whose star-billed role as a lascivious, sandwich-chomping astronaut is really just a five-day cameo, the only satisfactory performances are given by pretty Wendy Schaal (THE ‘BURBS) as a brainy scientist (who is forced by the script to do some pretty idiotic things) and Stan Ivar (LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE) as the ship’s captain. You’ll instantly recognize Lyman Ward, who plays the arrogant corporate lackey who’s responsible for the party’s trouble, as Matthew Broderick’s clueless dad in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. Co-writer Alan Reed is actually Robert Short, the visual effects artist who won an Academy Award for BEETLEJUICE. The orchestral score by Thomas Chase and Steve Rucker makes the action seem more exciting than it actually is, and helps to lend a “big-budget” feel to the proceedings.

It was nice to finally see THE TITAN FIND in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, so that the Skotaks' imaginative low-budget sets and Malone's widescreen framing are shown off to their best advantage. If I understand the situation correctly, Malone was set to self-distribute THE TITAN FIND on DVD with special features. Days before he was to sign copies at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California, it was announced that THE TITAN FIND would be postponed so it could be distributed by a major independent company, presumably Synapse. Malone's DVD signing was cancelled, but he agreed to sell the copies he had already printed and sold via pre-order through the Dark Delicacies site. Which explains why I own the DVD with Malone's autograph on the cover. I don't know how many of these DVDs made it out--Dark Delicacies no longer offers it--but it's possible I own a rare collector's item (which you can see at right).

The original negatives of THE TITAN FIND no longer exist, so Malone's personal answer print in Panavision widescreen was used to create the DVD. It looks and sounds just fine, though certainly the upcoming Synapse version will be better. It is not the theatrical cut, because trims were made to the film before it hit theaters as CREATURE, but I'll leave it to the VIDEO WATCHDOG gang to determine the differences (though I do think the exploding head is longer on Malone's DVD).

Malone could have used a moderator to help him through his audio commentary, but he has a candid memory and explains pretty much everything you could want to know about the movie. Unsurprisingly, he didn't get along with Klaus Kinski (nobody did), and tells a few stories about the mercurial actor's five days on the set. He also points out the props he borrowed from earlier science fiction movies, including FORBIDDEN PLANET, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, and THE FLY. Malone moves before the camera for a short interview segment, as are actors Diane Salinger and Stan Ivar (who have their own Kinski memories). The DVD is also loaded with production stills (including a VARIETY box office chart placing CREATURE in the week's Top 10!) and Robert Skotak's conceptual art.

Malone describes THE TITAN FIND as the movie that directors usually pretend they never made early in their careers. He's quite fond of THE TITAN FIND, however, as he should be. It's trash, but it's entertaining trash clearly made by filmmakers who cared.

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