Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Saturday 30 March 2024



Publicity poster for Carnifex, showing the characters gazing up in awe at some formidable claw marks left upon a  tree trunk by a large unknown animal of seemingly arboreal ability (© Sean Lahiff/Dancing Road Productions/Arclight Films/Universal Pictures Content Group – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Thanks to longstanding Australian FB friend and crypto-enthusiast Tim Morris kindly making it available to me - thanks Tim! – my movie watch on 26 October 2023 was the fairly recent Australian cryptozoology-themed creature feature Carnifex.

Directed by Sean Lahiff, and released just a year ago in December 2022 by Universal Pictures, Carnifex takes its name in a general sense from the Latin word for 'butcher' or even (during the Roman era) 'executioner'. However, wildlife enthusiasts, especially cryptozoologists, will also be aware of its more specific, zoological meaning.

Consequently, if you're of the latter persuasion, you will have no doubt guessed straight away from this movie's title that while conservationists Ben (Harry Greenwood) and Grace (Sisi Stringer) accompanied by documentary camerawoman Bailey (Alexandra Park) are uncovering and recording deep within the Australian outback the vast wildlife devastation caused there by some recent, unprecedented bushfires, they also make the startling, totally unexpected, and truly terrifying discovery of a living marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex. For once they do, they also discover – very swiftly – just how hyper-aggressive and rapacious the creature is, forcing them into a desperate bid for survival against this mega-belligerent blast from the past, their thoughts echoing only too emphatically the film's tagline: "Some species should remain extinct".

This ferocious species was – or is? –  a predatory pouched mammal of feline form, leopard or lioness stature (opinions vary), and possibly arboreal capabilities, but officially deemed extinct for many millennia. However, some cryptozoologists feel that its putative reclusive survival into the present day may explain occasional reports of an Aussie mystery beast known as the yarri or Queensland tiger. It may even have inspired the spoof killer koala called the drop bear (koalas and marsupial lions were actually quite closely related). Most of this pertinent background information, however, is never alluded to in the movie, sadly.

Yarri or Queensland tiger, based upon eyewitness descriptions (© Dami Editore srl – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Speaking of which: its build-up to this very dramatic discovery, although very lengthy (see later), is engrossing, and features a trio of lead likeable characters that interact well together, interspersed with plenty of breathtaking shots of genuine Aussie Outback Nevertheless, Carnifex suffers from two very significant, crucial problems.

Firstly, once the story truly gets going, it consists almost entirely of night-time scenes, resulting in actual sightings of the creature (with totally black pelage, thereby rendering it even more difficult to see against the darkness)  being as shadowy and brief as they are seldom and inconclusive, i.e. plenty of growling and flesh-tearing sounds, but visually all but non-existent.

Secondly, when in this 90-odd-minute movie's last 10 minutes we finally - finally! - get to see two blink-and-you'll-miss-them close-up full-face shots of the (very) anatagonistic animal in question (so fleeting in fact that after seeing them I then had to rewind and laboriously seek them out via freeze-frame in order to be sure of what they actually revealed – something, incidentally, that cinema audiences for this movie would not have had the luxury of being able to do), guess what?

The film makers had only gone and got their Thylacoleo carnifex fundamentally wrong – and after having kept their increasingly impatient viewers waiting so long to see it properly too!

A selection of photo-stills from Carnifex depicting the latter beast's brief appearances and, especially, its dentition – click picture montage to enlarge for viewing purposes (© Sean Lahiff/Dancing Road Productions/Arclight Films/Universal Pictures Content Group – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

All placental carnivores have fangs consisting of enlarged upper canine teeth (and so too, for that matter, does, or did, the thylacine or Tasmanian marsupial wolf Thylacinus cynocephalus, officially deemed extinct in 1936 but which may still linger on in this island's more remote regions). In stark contrast, conversely, the tusk-like fang counterparts of Thylacoleo were actually greatly-enlarged upper incisors (it also sported a pair of extremely enlarged lower incisors, but its upper canines were only very small and stubby). Yet in this movie, its Thylacoleo has been given enlarged upper canines, not incisors, thereby rendering their Carnifex dentally deranged!

Moreover, the two close-up shots of its front paws also revealed a telling absence of the huge thumb claw constituting another morphologcal characteristic of this unique predator.

Judging from these major morphological discrepancies, I can only assume that someone apparently hadn't done their zoological homework when researching T. carnifex for this Carnifex-entitled movie. Needless to say, this is a great shame, especially as otherwise it is a most enjoyable film, with engaging characters amid the savage beauty of the Australian bush, and it would have been a wonderful showcase for a truly original animal antagonist never previously represented in a cinematic role.

Then again, it is fair to say that many viewers are unlikely to have in-depth knowledge of thylacoleonid dentition anyway. So they will simply not notice or recognize the inaccuracy of the latter's depiction in this movie (particularly as it has no effect upon the plot itself), thereby enabling them to enjoy the movie as an otherwise very watchable, well-presented conservation-minded creature feature, especially one produced by a small independent film company as opposed to a mega-bucks Hollywood studio. Also on the positive side, it does mean that a morphologically-accurate 'living Thylacoleo'-themed monster movie is still waiting to be made.

Thylacoleo carnifex model produced by Jeff Johnson and owned by Rebecca Lang, two longstanding Facebook friends of mine (© Jeff Johnson/Rebecca Lang – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

Incidentally, a novel written by Australian horror author Matthew J. Hellscream (I'm guessing that this may be a pseudonym…) that was published in 2016, i.e. 6 years before the present movie under review here was released, was also entitled Carnifex, and also featured some visitors to a remote area of the Australian bush encountering living but scientifically-undiscovered marsupial lions. According to various Adelaide Advertiser articles, Hellstream took legal advice when the movie came out because of perceived title and plot similarities, but that is not what I am concerned with here. What I am concerned with is that the very striking illustration of one such beast present on the front cover of Hellstream's novel depicts it with totally accurate dentition – click here to view it, and take note of the greatly enlarged incisors, and all but absent canines, plus the shearing blade-like carnassials further back.

I don't own a copy of this novel (yet), but I've heard tell that the cover artwork was prepared by acclaimed horror artist Frank Walls, who created the front cover for Hellscream's previous novel, Metro 7, but I can't confirm this. Whoever did design it, however, clearly made the effort to portray accurately the unique dentition of this truly unique mammalian predator.

Anyway, if you'd like to peer through the darkness of the Outback at night in search of the toothy terror lurking in this movie, be sure to click here to watch an official Carnifex trailer on YouTube.

Finally: this review originally appeared in ShukerNature's fellow blog, Shuker In MovieLand. To view a complete chronological listing of all of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's other film reviews and articles (each one instantly accessible via a direct clickable link), please click HERE, and please click HERE to view a complete fully-clickable alphabetical listing of them.

My book Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), which contains a very comprehensive coverage of the yarri or Queensland tiger, and featuring prominently in the bottom-left portion of its front cover an artistic representation by cryptozoology artist William M. Rebsamen of what this elusive, mysterious creature may look like if it is indeed a surviving representative of the marsupial lion Thylacoleo carnifex, complete with accurate dental depiction for the latter species (© Dr Karl Shuker/William M. Rebsamen/Coachwhip Publications)



  1. I remember reading about this film. Odd that people would make a horror film about as odd a prehistoric animal as the Thylacoleo, and then show it very little not to mention get much of its unique anatomy wrong.

  2. Fangs derived from incisors seem to be unusual among mammals. Evidently elephant's tusks are incisors, but does any other mammal have fangs of that kind? Thanks for another great posting.

  3. The stills you posted make me think 'giant Tasmanian Devil'. I wonder if the creature designers tried to play on the notoriety of the Looney Tunes character, rather than stick close to actual Thylacoleo.
    ('Carnifex' actually makes me think of something else, but then I used to play Warhammer 40,000)

  4. There is quite a nice "stuffed" representation of a Thylacoleo in the Queensland Museum. It is relaxing on a rock and looks quite lifelike. When it languidly flicks its tail, small children back away fast.