Peter Hyams is not only a director but he is also his own cinematographer. One of his stipulations with this film is that it not be deluged with artificial lighting. Because of that, the film oozes nyctophobic atmosphere as the hallways and corridors of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History are barely discernible and therefore, something could be prowling within the shadows.
Hyams adopts the Jaws approach and the Kothoga monster is enshrouded in the outskirts of scenes with a tail glimpse or a snarling sound echo. It’s a very old-fashioned tease but quite effectively tantalizing. When the viewers are finally aghast at the Stan Winston creature in its fanged glory, it is a gloriously teramorphous creation with a slender, saurian body and slightly arachnid visage with mouth pincers.
Of course, the mutation rationale behind the Kothoga and its evolution from a tribesman’s leaves are patently nonsensical. But that is a quibble within the genre and it doesn’t detract from how broodingly salivating the practical animatronic is. Another bonus for the film is the casting-against-type for Tom Sizemore as the stoic detective Vincent D’Agosta in the midst of a divorce.
Sizemore is disarmingly eccentric as he rants about superstitions (stepping over a cadaver and face-down pennies are “bad luck”) and the fact that his ex-wife absconded with his cherished canine during their separation. Meanwhile, Penelope Ann Miller is a broiling, sparring partner for Sizemore. The tongue lick across her face is mongrelized by the critter’s latter CGI enhancements.
The police procedural first half isn’t a stillborn affair of forensic exposition because everyone from the curator to the coroner is slinging tart zingers (“Hey this brain’s light, even for a man.”). Luckily, the delay is worth the anticipation when the beast’s dropsical rampage begins (bifurcated bodies from the waist down and heads extracted like Pez during a gala). Overall, it is a moody, intelligently glacial creature feature from journeyman Hyams.