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By Daniel Wible | September 16, 2004

It all started on Monday, and it only got worse from there. By Thursday, initial fears had turned into anger had turned into unmitigated rage. I was starting to scare even myself. After one of my more vitriolic rants, I swear I could hear dogs barking and sirens wailing off in the distance. Or had I just lost it completely? That was it, I thought, no more Republican National Convention for me. It was high time I retreated to much safer grounds, find my power animal as they say. It turns out my power animal was the hideous reptilian-man hybrid of “Creature Unknown.” Who knew? (Here I was, thinking it was Halle Berry from “Catwoman”!) But as it were, neither the creature nor the disappointing film proved much of a distraction from the real monsters of this world.

Uninspired and entirely irrelevant, “Creature Unknown” is yet another would-be scary movie about a gaggle of comely co-eds and their h***y boyfriends spending the weekend together in the woods. The course of its plot is well-worn and familiar to all: one by one, many of the teens bite it, their mutilated bodies found hanging unceremoniously from trees or in their sweat-dampened beds. What sets “Creature Unknown” apart from its legions of forerunners, if anything, is that it’s really a revenge tale disguised as a creature feature. Steve (Chris Hoffman) is a young man still haunted by the tragic events of his prom-night, when his twin brother Wes (Matt Hoffman) was mysteriously killed in the woods near their rented cabin. Four years have passed and Steve wants desperately to move on. His idea of moving on however, basically involves an ill-conceived “reenactment” of that fateful weekend, same group of people, same cabin. So, he gathers the older, wiser troops and together, they head off unwittingly to their fates. Of course, in movies like this, a weekend getaway to mourn the death of a fallen friend/brother is also a wonderful time to rekindle past relationships. In keeping with convention, Steve pairs off with former flame Amanda (the foxy Maggie Grace), while Lance (Cory Hardrict) rediscovers Coral’s (Betty Okino) reef. (Conveniently, the former couples aren’t hindered by any pesky current relationships.) Frat-boy Sean (John Keyser), his fiancé Ally (Kristen Herold), and Wes’s ex, Rachel (the very sexy Ella Bowman), make up the rest of the group.

It’s all fun and games, minus a few tears, until Rachel is found brutally murdered by something clearly inhuman. Just as the gang is on the verge of completely freaking out, a rogue research scientist named Kat (Chase Masterson) shows up with her tough talk and bad attitude. Kat cryptically commands the group to ask no questions and split immediately. But Steve and Amanda suspect that the good doctor knows more than she’s letting on, especially when it comes to the identity of the murderous beast hunting them down. What the group eventually discovers shocks them all, even if you saw it coming all along.

As sexcapade slasher pics go, this “Creature” is in fact known all too well. The cliché-embracing script by Scott Zakarin and Eric Mittleman faithfully follows its course, seemingly without ambition or an inkling of creative spark. Michael Burnett’s direction, for its part, does what it can with a middling template on which to work. The director at least knows he’s working with Z-material and keeps things fast and loose. But any scares the film might earn are thoroughly dissipated by an overwhelmingly made-for-TV feel. Even the creature itself, a slightly interesting old-school horror creation, is in the end, just a man in a silly suit. Sexy co-eds or no, “Creature Unknown” is a lazy effort that will likely only appeal to obsessives of the badly beaten-up genre. Still, it’s nice to know that even a mediocre horror film about a blood-hungry mutant can make the world seem a better place, for an hour and a half at least.

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