Thursday, October 22, 2015

HubrisWeen 2015, Day 17: Queen Crab (2015)

One of the reasons I mentioned during my Harbinger Down review that the film's mission of delivering a low-budget practical effects horror film didn't make it special is because there's already a director whose entire resume is exactly that. Not only that, but the director I speak of is also a special effects artist who is one of the few effects artists outside of cartoons who is keeping stop-motion animation alive.

I refer, of course, to one Brett Piper.

I've been rather enamored of Mr. Piper ever since I first heard of him, but sadly I also have yet to see any of his work beyond a few minutes of A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell back when it was on Netflix. His work always sounded delightful in theory but I have no idea if it was any good in practice. Sadly, this is because his work has always ended up out of print or unavailable whenever I finally heard about it.

Happily, 2015 proved to have Piper's latest opus in store for me and it was a movie about a giant killer crab. There was no way I could resist this, especially when it was so easy to get my hands on a copy!

Would my blind admiration for Brett Piper prove unfounded? Well, grab the butter and crab cracker, let's dig in to some Queen Crab to find out!

We begin with a title card setting the scene as "Crabbe Creek" in "Nowhere, U.S.A." and "Around twenty years ago..." And then my expectations plummet to zero as I see the video quality of this is about at the level of a student film.

Outside of a cabin that has a lighthouse-like tower attached to it, an angry brunette woman (M. Simone Miller, per the credits) is yelling out the door for her young daughter, Melissa Webber (Liberty Asbury). Melissa is hiding just out of sight behind the log pile. The woman goes inside and gets into an argument with her husband (Mark Polonia, one of the film's producers), who is dressed in a lab coat and talks about being in the lab all day. While we listen to ADR of them arguing, Melissa frolics on the dock in the pond nearby. At one point an eye-searing slow motion effect is applied to the footage for no real reason I can fathom.

Melissa suddenly discovers a large stop-motion crab stuck in some rocks on the edge of the pond and frees the creature. Since it makes no attempt to pinch her, she decides it shall be her friend and names it Pee-Wee. She takes it to her father's lab to show him, but her father is busy trying to make a formula that makes things grow bigger. You know, because of the dangerous trend of population increase by 2050 that won't allow for enough food. He brushes her off when she asks what crabs eat, only telling her that they're omnivorous--so Melissa grabs several grape-like fruits hanging off of the fungus growing on a small tree in her father's lab.

Melissa happily feeds the science grapes to Pee-Wee, who eagerly eats them while squeaking. And the stop-motion effects here are really good even if the insertion of them into the footage doesn't look very smooth, Melissa promises to get Pee-Wee more of the fruit from her daddy's lab.

"Two months later..." Melissa's father is mystified as to why his plant's fungus fruit is disappearing. However, when his wife screams for him to come downstairs after she discovers a crab the size of a French bulldog under the laundry basket, he doesn't make a connection and in fact he gets angry at her for implying there is one in the first place. They get into an argument while Melissa plays with Pee-Wee on the dock outside--and now I'm confused because Pee-Wee doesn't look that big, so it can't have been the crab in basement.

Unfortunately for Melissa's parents, her father spilled some chemicals when he heard her mother scream and those chemicals decide to react to one another. The result is an explosion that destroys only the tower part of the house. Could they just not afford to super-impose flames on the rest of the house? Both Melissa and Pee-Wee react in horror, though Pee-Wee's performance is more convincing. Cut to Melissa standing outside a cemetery with her Uncle Ray (Ken Van Sant). Ray comments that she's a strange little girl when she says she doesn't want to put flowers on the grave, and when she says she needs to get home to take care of her pet crab he assures her that crabs are resourceful and she needs to come stay with him for a while.

This proves to all be the pre-credits set-up and the credits roll, featuring two notable things: a "Copyright 2013" notice and a cartoon crab that looks like it escaped from the opening credits to Creature From The Haunted Sea. Now that the title card informs us we're in the present "More or less," we see a farmer discover that something has killed his cow and left a huge hole in his barn.

At the Crabbe County Sheriff's office, the we see the Sheriff is good old Uncle Ray--and he is currently annoyed at his deputy, Sonny Huggins (Rich Lounello), for doing push-ups next to him. The farmer comes in to report the incident. Sonny is sure it's a "cult thing," even after they see the barn. Ray teases him about the cult angle, as he notices strange tracks leading away from the barn that look like they were made with a post hole digger. Following the trail, they end up being startled by a warning shot from the now-adult Melissa (Michelle Simone Miller--and yes, I'm pretty sure they had her play her mom earlier and oddly credited her twice), who accuses them of trespassing and half-jokingly threatens that she still has another round in her clearly single barrel shotgun.

"I've seen Army of Darkness, I know shotguns don't have to be reloaded!"
Ray asks if she knows anything about the incident, but she claims not to. She also refuses to let them onto her property without a warrant. Ray promises to get one, but Sonny insists on trying to push on, despite Ray warning he'll end up with an ass full of buckshot--and Melissa shoots him in the ass. The gun is loaded with rock salt, so he's not seriously harmed, but he is annoyed. He's even more annoyed when Ray refuses to arrest Melissa for shooting an officer of the law. On the drive back, Sonny threatens to file a grievance for the preferential treatment Ray gives Melissa. However, he also suggests they make casts of the footprints to send out to Fish & Wildlife to identify, which Ray finds surprisingly astute.

The cast reveals something curved and pointed--almost like a crab's leg, you might say. Of course, neither of them make that connection at this point. Meanwhile, a blonde woman (Kathryn Metz) is pulls up to the ruins of Melissa's old house. She gets out to look at the house, which is still somehow standing despite the unrepaired fire damage--and then we see her pulling up to a road house at night, She orders a white wine from the barkeep, Moe (Steve Diasparra), who actually has clear knowledge of wines. Comedy! She tries to deflect his questions about why she looks familiar, only for another patron to recognize her as Jennifer Kane, star of "Lesbian Vampires From Mars", which is somehow not a real movie. Travesty of justice, I tells ya!

Jennifer claims she's actually not the actress at all and is looking for her friend, one Melissa Webber. Sonny then appears, saying he knows where Melissa is because she took a shot at him earlier in the day. Jennifer claims to be a college friend of Melissa, but Sonny counters that Melissa has never left the town in her whole life. And then Sonny aggressively puts the moves on Jennifer. He gets an elbow to the face for it, When Jennifer rushes out the door, Sonny chases her and she's forced to mace him before speeding off.

Jennifer heads back to Melissa's property, only to find a trail of clothes leading out to the pond in the woods. And then she sees Melissa on the far bank, dancing naked in the moonlight--though obviously wearing a bodysuit. Jennifer decides to hang back, and thus misses seeing the enormous crab surface in the pond. When Melissa makes her way back, putting clothes on as she goes, she is shocked to see Jennifer emerge from the trees. It takes a bit of talking to finally jog Melissa's memory--it seems that Jennifer was a high school friend who moved away.

When she finally gets Melissa to invite her back to Melissa's home, it comes out that Melissa is still rather bitter about her friend moving away. Jennifer counters that she tried to stay in touch but Melissa doesn't own a phone and never got any of the letters Jennifer sent. It turns out that Melissa also doesn't own a TV so she's never encountered her friend's movies, and is rather confused as to why she would choose to visit since it required going 600 miles out of her way. Melissa has about decided to give up on reconnecting, when Melissa finally softens up and begs her to stay with her after all.

The next morning, Ray and Sonny have a "comical" scene where Ray gets a phone call informing him the State Wildlife department is sending someone to follow up on their footprints and Sonny won't stop trying to interrupt the call. Oh, and he intentionally got Ray the wrong sandwich to try and make him healthier. Back at Melissa's house, she and Jennifer attempt to reconnect as Jennifer sunbathes out front. Melissa asks her how she can handle taking her clothes off in movies, eventually concluding she could never do that. Jennifer asks what Melissa does do, then, since she seems to support herself just fine. Melissa tries to deflect the question, but basically just mentions living on the money her parents left behind. Jennifer suggests they go out that night, which Melissa reluctantly agrees to.

"So, did you have to become a real lesbian vampire for that movie?"
Meanwhile, the state wildlife rep, Stewart MacKendrick (A.J. Delucia) arrives to see Ray. He's reluctant to explain why he's so eager to get to the site of the footprints, but Ray refuses to take him until he explains why it's so urgent. Stewart relents and explains that the footprints belong to what appears to be an enormous freshwater crab. A crab of such size is alarming, but the possibility of it breeding is even moreso--luckily freshwater crabs don't lay many eggs, but they are extremely protective of them.

However, even Stewart finds it hard to believe at first that the crab could have done the damage to the barn when he sees it. To his great consternation, he realizes the larger tracks have small ones accompanying them. Following the tracks alone, since Ray had business elsewhere, he finds several empty egg cases the size of footballs--and then the shed exoskeleton of a crab with a shell that's a good eight feet across. Unfortunately, he is only able to snap a few cellphone photos before he runs afoul of a cigar-chomping middle-aged woman wielding a shotgun, Sally Rae Rooney (Yolie Canales), who runs him off the property before he can explain himself.

That night, at the Road House, Daisy (Danielle Donahue) comes in from a bad date. Based on the snide comments from the other patrons she has a reputation as either a promiscuous woman or a prostitute. She orders a martini from Moe, but he utterly messes it up. Apparently, this happens every time she orders one from him. Disgusted, she tries to see if anyone there can give her a ride home, but the only one who offers is Sketch (Houston Baker), and she declines because he's known as an awful driver. Daisy decides walking is her only option.

To her surprise, Moe ends up pulling up alongside her to offer her a lift. Only, it turns out that he really wants is for her to give him a ride, if you follow me. She refuses, seeing as how he's married. When he offers her $50 she angrily tears up the bill in his face, since she's never taken money for sex in her life and has no interest in starting now. He keeps pushing the issue, beginning to get almost violent. So she shoves him off and flees into the woods. Unfortunately, he follows her.

However, it proves more unfortunate for him. He runs afoul of several raccoon-sized stop-motion crabs. For some reason, both Moe and Daisy think they're spiders (!), perhaps as a reference to Piper's earlier film, Arachnia. The crabs knock Moe down and tear at his flesh, killing him, and then they feast on his corpse. Daisy flees and Sketch almost runs her over. He loads her safely into his car and then deliberately runs over as many crabs as he can--until their enormous mother charges onto the road in front of him. Sketch just barely succeeds in steering around the beast, leaving it to mourn its crushed offspring.

Meanwhile, Stewart is finding the service at the bar rather disappointing since Moe left a local mechanic in charge of the bar--and apparently he can't tell tequila and scotch apart. Melissa and Jennifer enter the bar then, and Jennifer starts up a conversation with Stewart. However, Melissa is still unsure about being there--and she gets more unsure when she hears Stewart mention that he's looking for a giant crab.

Unfortunately for all involved, Sonny then shows up and tries to arrest Jennifer and Melissa. Stewart intervenes and gets socked in the jaw, but after Sonny backhands Melissa it's Jennifer who tells him to take it outside. And, naturally, she kicks his ass. However, the celebration is interrupted when Sketch drives up with Daisy and announces that they were just attacked by a giant crab that ate Moe. Stewart demands to see where Sketch saw them and Sketch sort of happily obliges--after being offered $50, anyway. Melissa meanwhile freaks out and demands Jennifer take her home, while a battered Sonny impotently demands someone tell him what's going on.

Stewart and Sketch end up at the place where Stewart found the exoskeleton and egg cases. When Stewart asks if eggs means there's a male crab out there as big as the one that nearly ran him off the road, Stewart explains that actually in crabs sperm can lay dormant for up to years after mating. Sketch quips that it's a good thing it doesn't work that way in humans, and then they have to hide as the crab shows up. She lays several more eggs and then wanders away--though nobody ever explains why she's laying them in an open field instead of in the pond.

And then old Rooney arrives, but since she knows Sketch, she doesn't try to shoot Stewart this time. However, once she hears that the eggs belong to a giant crab, she shoots them before Stewart cans top her. The furious mother crab comes charging back and it turns out that shells don't harm it at all, as it crushes Rooney's left arm in one claw. Sketch and Stewart immediately abandon her to her fate to flee back to Sketch's car. Rooney flees back to her farm with the crab in pursuit, and ducks into a shed to get more shells. Unfortunately, the crab makes short work of the wall between it and the person that destroyed its young. Rooney is lifted out in its claws and then pounded to death.

"Give me all your coconuts and nobody gets hurt!"
Melissa confesses to Jennifer that the giant crab was her pet for the last twenty years and all she knows is that her father's experiments made it big. However, Goliath (since she couldn't keep calling it "Pee-Wee") has always been gentle. Ray and Sonny show up around then and when Melissa tries to stop them from going to the pond, Ray has Sonny cuff Melissa and take her back to town. Jennifer mentions to Ray that Melissa claimed that the crab never even left the pond before, but Ray counters that all the ponds in the area are connected by underwater caverns, so it could have gone anywhere it wanted without her knowing.

In the sheriff's jeep, Sonny gets freaked out because Melissa has closed her eyes and gone silent in meditation. It turns out that she is psychically calling to Goliath (!) and it rises from a pond and intercepts the jeep, forcing Sonny to crash. Sonny flees on foot, climbing up a cliff face and mocking the crab for being unable to follow. Big mistake, for it follows him just fine. And soon Sonny is being torn in two.

Goliath returns to break Melissa's cuffs, but then it turns and starts smashing the jeep to pieces. She finally calms the creature down and climbs onto its back, directing it to head back to the pond. Sketch and Stewart pull up beside the wrecked jeep--which is very clearly not in the same area it was before--and then they both see Goliath in the distance, with Melissa meditating on its back.  Somehow they find their way to Ray and tell him what they saw. Ray has a contact with the military but he knows it'll take too long to get a response and they need to intercept the crab now. So he calls up a local he busted for keeping military hardware.

Before you know it a tank and a bunch of rednecks with bazookas and rifles are laying in wait. The tank driving redneck is doing a crossword because the only thing funnier than a redneck is a smart one, right? Well, naturally Melissa tries to stop the posse from shooting, but Stewart tackles her out of the way to keep her from being shot as well. Even the tank fire doesn't do more than terrify the crab--possibly because the shots keep missing--and it retreats back into the pond.

Well, Ray has gotten through to his military contact and some planes will be bombing the pond in just a few hours. Stewart takes Melissa and Jennifer back to Melissa's house, where he starts to side with Melissa. After all, nobody ever even knew Goliath was there for twenty years, right? The baby crabs were the dangerous ones and they're all gone, since Stewart's sure Goliath doesn't have any more eggs in her. (The "her" part is news to Melissa) And the people Goliath killed were only those that were aggressive toward it. Plus, it'd be a shame to kill the beast before he could study it.

So Jennifer ends up following along with the plan to take the shed exoskeleton, tie it to a log at the bottom of the pond after swimming it through one of the underwater caverns--the film glosses over how the hell they intend to pull that part off, for some reason--where it will be blown apart by the bombs and it will look like the crab was killed.

I don't know if Goliath coming out of the pond to kill one of the posse before being driven back into the pond by their fire was part of the plan, but that's what the crab does just as the F-18s fly by and fire missiles into the pond. Sure enough, the empty shell floats to the surface and Stewart and Ray declare the beast dead.

A few months later, however, Melissa is swimming in the pond and when she goes to sun herself a shadow falls over her. She looks up, smiling, and then caresses a giant crab claw lovingly. A final title card declares, "And they lived happily ever after..." The End.

"...just keep on that way and if you hit the giant crab, you've gone too far. Also, it will eat you, so just don't hit it."
Oof. As I alluded to earlier, Brett Piper has a reputation for delivering enjoyable genre films on pocket change budgets. However, it seems that my misfortune is to so far only have encountered his films where he failed to do that. What I saw of A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell was not super promising, and Queen Crab manages to be even worse that.

I mean, I'll give Queen Crab the fact that it never gets as painfully dull as Psycho Shark, but it sure isn't for lack of trying. I totally understand that the film's stop-motion crabs would be too expensive to feature much more than they do, but when the crab isn't on film everything kind of grinds to a halt. There's simply no B Plot, and given how long it takes for the A Plot to actually become relevant, that's a problem. Hell, this film could actually benefit from the inexplicable liquor store robber subplot from The Crater Lake Monster!

Speaking of which, this film makes me think I was a bit too hard on that film's comic relief rednecks. At least that was mainly two actually good actors who played off each other well, who just got stuck with material that didn't know when to end. This film features a wide variety of actors who are all being awful in different ways reading lifeless dialogue at each other. Seriously, the performances range from competent actors who aren't being given proper direction to some folks who would be considered hams in community theater to people who just simply cannot act at all. This stunning mixture of different kinds of incompetence is almost entertaining in and of itself.

However, as I said, there's just nothing in the film's human story to engage you. Seeing as how I always root for the monster, I should sympathize with Melissa's desire to save the giant crab. However, I really just don't give a shit. I mean, sure, the crab is the best actor in the film, but that doesn't mean I feel like it deserves the sudden Lake Placid ending--especially since Melissa should be the one who sells me on the creature deserving redemption, and I don't feel anything for her, so why should I care about the crab? And really, it does kind of come down to the fact that this movie does badly want to follow the same formula Lake Placid set down, but that film actually had charismatic actors who were capable of making David E. Kelley's screenplay as clever as it thought it was. This film's script is barely even trying for clever and its actors are definitely not able to elevate it,

So, what about the reason we're all here--how's the crab? I have to say, the animation on the crabs is superb. It's not exactly Ray Harryhausen, but it's almost on par with David Allen. The techniques to super-impose it into the live-action footage are less than stellar, however, and the film's other effects are pretty terrible. However, there is a definite charm to them that most current low-budget monster films lack. I also have to give the film credit for at least attempting to make the cover art not wildly misleading.

Unfortunately, I simply can't recommend something just because it has some pretty good stop-motion animation in it. This film is dull, unengaging, and at several points gave me unpleasant flashbacks to my time in film school. I once had a group project requiring us to film in sequence that I shot outdoors on a sunny day with snow on the ground before I knew how to fully work the camera I'd borrowed, and it was white balanced better than several scenes in this film!

I'm hardly going to swear off Brett Piper for good, of course. By reoutation, a lot of his earlier films are a blast, so I'll have to give them a spin whenever I can. Maybe this was just a prohect made when he was off his game, it happens to the best of us. And if nothing else, I have to respect his dedication to keeping stop-motion animation alive.

Still, if this is the kind of movie I can expect to see stop-motion animation being showcased in going forward, perhaps the technique deserves to be relegated to nostalgia and kid's movies.

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