Our Favorites: Cryptozoology Movies.
Smallfoot delighted us in theaters, so Bigfoot and other legendary creatures are on our list for favorite cryptozoology movies.
That’s right: like Leonard Nimoy, we’re in search of the wildest movies about the weirdest creatures. We cover mainstays like Sasquatch, the yeti, and Nessie. We also delve into the really far-out cryptids like the Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil and good old creepy Mothman. We leave no stone unturned, no continent uncharted, and no cheesy B-movie unwatched on our quest for the best. While many lists of cryptozoological films rely on aliens and fantasy creatures, we keep it pure. As the dictionary states:
- Cryptozoology: the search for and study of animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated, such as the Loch Ness monster and the yeti. Or as Captain Ed puts it:
With the groundwork out of the way, let’s get Kraken!
Cryptozoology Movies: Categories.
Contestants: Willow Creek (2013), Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny (2006), The Abominable Snowman (1957).
Winner: Willow Creek.
Director Bobcat Goldthwait proves himself as good at getting a scream as he is at getting a laugh. Willow Creek is a faux documentary/found footage affair about two amateur cryptozoologists (and if anyone ever introduces themselves to you as a professional cryptozoologist, you should laugh right in their face.) It’s tempting to write the film off as “The Blair Sasquatch Project”, but the film rises above the comparison.
The cast is more engaging, the film quality is better, and the writing is both more earnest and more self-aware than Blair Witch. Despite no guy in a gorilla suit showing up, the film is plenty creepy. The town of Willow Creek is like an episode of Twin Peaks frozen in time, and the big reveal at the end is downright disturbing. Besides being a freaky and snarky horror film, Willow Creek is just packed full of Sasquatch lore and memorabilia. If you cut off the second act, you could pass this movie off as an actual documentary about Bigfoot!
The Loch Ness Monster/Lake Monster Movies.
Contestants: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), The Shape of Water (2017), Incident at Loch Ness (2004), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954).
Winner: Incident at Loch Ness.
Apparently I’m a sucker for faux documentaries when it comes to weird creatures. Incident at Loch Ness is a movie inside a movie inside a movie that ticks like a Swiss watch. Writer/Director Zak Pen (X-Men series, Ready Player One) makes a dark parody in which a minor director is filming a documentary about German Auteur Werner Herzog, who is in turn filming a documentary about Loch Ness. The three films all vie for dominance and shade the narrative, as each is helmed by an unreliable narrator. As the directors wrangle, they’re attacked by Nessie. In a film about ego and frauds, the legendary modern dinosaur is the only thing real beyond dispute. It’s a sharp meta-film with striking craftsmanship and one of the few movies about cryptids that isn’t playing them for either a farce or a jump scare.
Kraken/Sea Monster Movies.
Contestants: Clash of the Titans (1981), Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest (2006), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953).
Winner: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest.
I hate the Pirates of the Caribbean Movies. I love Clash of the Titans, with Ray Harryhausen’s inimitable stop-motion creatures. How did Clash lose out then!?
Simply put, the Kraken of the second Pirates film is the best creation the series has come up with. It is steeped in mystery but not obscured by the byzantine plot of the franchise. It is a force of nature and a bestial creature that terrifies on both fronts. Finally, it serves as the best pacing device the series has ever known, relentlessly propelling the action like the monster from It Follows. The visual design is fantastic, putting big budget flourishes on a creature 18th century sailors would still recognize as from their ghost stories. In a series where the villains are interchangeable and often ten seconds away from becoming protagonists, the Kraken is pure fury and destruction, a real delight to watch.
Contestants: Splash (1984), The Little Mermaid (1989), Ponyo (2008), The Lure (2015).
Winner: The Lure.
This category has the strongest line-up, hands down. In addition the classic animated fare, there are smart and funny adaptations dating all the way back to the 50’s. There could have been a dozen films to choose from here, each deserving of the honor. I chose one of the most recent entries because of its startling originality. The Lure is a dark riff on the classic tale that manages to call forth many of the motifs of the mermaid myth while cleverly subverting expectations all along the way.
Golden and Silver are two mermaids who become fascinated by a rock and roll band that plays near their shore. They pose as human burlesque singers to get closer, with Golden seeking thrills while Silver seeks the love of the band’s bassist. Like the Little Mermaid, Silver can shed her tail permanently but at the cost of her voice. If she fails to capture her beloved’s heart, she will dissolve like sea foam.
The classic set-up is embroidered with sex, violence, gender politics and body horror. The transformation of the two mermaids is used on several layers to discuss thorny issues such as misogyny, class, coming of sexual maturity, and the immigrant experience. All the while the film is a surreal, bloody, and audacious treat to watch. Oh, and did I mention its a musical? You can’t lose!
Winged Creature Movies.
Contestants: The Barrens (2012), Carny (2009) – The Jersey Devil, The Mothman Prophecies (2002) – The Mothman, Gargoyles (1972) – Gargoyles (duh).
Winner: The Mothman Prophecies.
The Mothman Prophecies is one of the most genuinely creepy films I’ve seen. It creates so much terror with such restraint that I felt I was reading too deeply into the film…until I talked to others who thought the film was blood curdling as well! The story follows Richard Gere as a journalist haunted by tragedy. His wife suffered a tragic accident, leaving behind clues of a terrifying creature known as the Mothman. The Mothman seems to haunt areas doomed to experience profound tragedies, and now it is being sighted in the sleepy little town of Point Pleasant.
The Mothman is part crytozoology, part urban legend, and part conspiracy theory all baked into one. The film deftly keeps all three of these traits at a near boil the entire time. The skin-crawling alien-ness of the being feels like A Fire in the Sky, while the layers of mystery around it feel like The X-Files. Overarching the whole is a race-against time mystery full of cryptic twists and turns, a bit like The Number 23. Gere gives a great performance that draws equally upon his penchant for playing dogged crusaders for justice and his dark-minded noir films. If you want a movie that will work its way under your skin and leave you cold every time you see a light in the sky, The Mothman Prophecies is for you.
Contestants: Trollhunter (2010), Chupacabra (2007), The Descent (2005), Curse of the Jackalope (2005).
A team of investigative journalists meet up with a man who is reported to hunt trolls. Despite scoffing at the existence of such folklore bugbears, they are soon caught up in a desperate fight to survive.
Trollhunter is one those elusive catches: a B-movie that is gonzo and irreverent while still remaining in character. Think What We Do in the Shadows or 90% of Don Coscarelli’s catalogue. Despite low budget artifacts like shaky-cam, night vision, and faux documentary trappings, Trollhunter isn’t hiding its monsters. It’s simply letting you dip a toe into the freezing water before gleefully tossing you in. The visuals are wild and woolly and tastefully chintzy. The acting is all over the place, but Otto Jespersen plays the trollhunter with such wild-eyed enthusiasm you can’t look away. Like Coscarelli’s work, director Andre ∅vredel has a style and asthetic that defies category. It’s a bit horror, a good bit action adventure, and a little bit 70’s fantasy epic like Krull. It’s a crazy hybrid with swagger that deserves your attention.