Filmhydra
A creature in the woods with a black unicorn head, angel wings, and woman's body — in a tank top and pink skirt.
Above: I just… I don’t really know what to say about this one.

Creature Cabin (2017)

🦄🦄 When Oscar‘s boyfriend leaves and she gets kicked out of her band on the same day, there’s nothing else to do but decamp for a demon-haunted cabin.

Reading time: 3 minutes.

This era of filmmaking is pretty fascinating. Right now, despite the streaming disaster unfolding most places, it’s possible for an indie outfit to scrape together enough credit cards to make a movie and distribute it through Amazon Prime. And you hold all you need for shooting and editing now.

I have no idea if Amazon gives these filmmakers a good deal. I expect they don‘t.

Creature Cabin (released under the name Tarnation) seems to be one of these movies. Daniel Armstrong has made a few, shouldering writing, directing, editing, and producing for most of them. That’s a lot of work, and it works for him. However, there are a lot of regrettable decisions in the third act.

Most of the cast speaking to the driver of a car and holding up a postcard for the rental cabin.

“Sorry, excuse me! Our cell phones stopped working and our car broke down. Can we get a ride to the horror cabin?”

This is the story of Oscar (Daisy Masterman), lead singer for a lame band. During rehearsal she flips out over the tortured and saccharine lyrics she’s supposed to sing. The band’s manager, who resembles Ned Flanders, fires her.

When Oscar gets home, she discovers her boyfriend has left with her cat and the sofa. Her flatmate Raine (Danae Swinburne) tries to cheer her up with alcohol. Then she drags Oscar off to a cabin in the woods for a dirty weekend with himbos Wilmer and Bo.

Unfortunately, the cabin is a portal into a Sam Raimi film and soon the whole place is crawling with deadites. Also, a unicorn angel woman. And a zombie kangaroo with boxing gloves.

An undead kangaroo with boxing gloves

Sting like a butterfly, float like a bee!

I was on board until the kangaroo. What lots of indie movies get wrong — particularly indie horror movies — is a tendency for everyone to stand around jawing. Armstrong keeps things moving. And while Critter Cabin wears its Evil Dead influence on its sleeve, but Armstrong’s story is no knock-off. It’s got its own story, its own sense of humor, and a serviceable script to boot.

Armstrong, thankfully, depends on practical effects. These are rarely convincing, but they work much better than typical low-budget computer-animated visual effects. What if the spiders look like toys? Many of us have seen James Nguyen’s Birdemic. We know computers won’t save the movie.

Horror-comedy is a tough balance-beam to walk, though, and Critter Cabin falls off halfway. There’s a confidence-shaking dialogue between Good Oscar and Bad Oscar that apes Peter Jackson’s Gollum. This heralds the chatty portion of the film. Oscar and the wheelchair-bound Wheels (Emma-Louise Wilson) rehash the same witty banter for too long. And (pet peeve), I hate it when characters stop all the action explain the theme to the audience.

A deadite poking Oscar in the middle of her forehead.

“This should have a brain in it.”

That’s when continuity takes a hit, too. There are glaring mid-day shots inserted into night scenes. Sometimes Oscar is tied to a cross, then in the next shot she’s chained. When we get to the rap battle, the goodwill has dissipated.

Armstrong has said he runs out of steam in his own projects. In 2015, he told Comic Bastards that it was discouraging how much work indie movies can be. “There’s a stage about three-quarters in where you just hate the living crap out of what you’ve made and want to chop it into little pieces, feed it to a pig, make bacon out of the pig, eat it and shit it down the toilet,” he says. It shows.

Creature Cabin shows a serious attempt to make the best movie possible. It’s better than most Prime crap, even that made by major studios. Creature Cabin just needed a bit more thought. And maybe someone else shouldering the writing, acting, directing, or editing duties. “It really burns you out,” he says, and there‘s no doubt.

Oscar, in a large two-person tub wearing a swimsuit, looking disgusted at the man bathing next to her.

Don’t you think those trunks are too small? Wait… you’re not wearing any, are you?

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