Thursday 15 April 2010

The Creeping Terror (1964)

Director: A J Nelson
Stars: Vic Savage and Shannon O'Neil

I'm driving the highway to Cinematic Hell in 2010 for the awesome folks at Cinema Head Cheese to post a review a week of the very worst films of all time. These are so bad that they make Uwe Boll look good.

Of all the many atrocities low budget cinema has thrust upon us thus far, the closest anyone has ever really got to Manos: The Hands of Fate is this one, whose title describes the film far better than its monster. Like Manos, this is mostly the product of one man who promptly left the movie business, though he had previously made Street-Fighter in 1959. The difference is that this time out there's a back story that's not just interesting, it's far more interesting than the actual movie itself. That one man is Arthur N White, a small scale conman from Connecticut who came up with a new name and a new gimmick every time the wind changed, making this film under two pseudonyms. As A J Nelson, he produced it, edited it and directed it. As Vic Savage, he played the lead role of Martin Gordon. His real role was as conman though, because the movie itself was the gimmick and during a break in filming he simply packed up and left town with the money.

Fortunately for us, or perhaps I should say unfortunately, the primary financial backer of the film managed to salvage the footage from White's house, under the noses of the men repossessing his furniture, and he had the dedication to finish the job too. He's William Thourlby, a small time model, actor and writer whose biggest claim to fame had been being the first Marlboro Man, and it isn't known how much money he sank into this film. As Frederick Kopp, a composer and college music professor, ponied up $6,000, that suggests that Thourlby was in for a tidy sum. Certainly not much of it made it to the screen though, as production quality is cheap throughout, albeit a notch above Manos as we can actually see things. Whether that's a benefit or not we can argue about once you've made it through the 75 minute running time intact. So while White made it, it's Thourlby we can thank for making it available. The bastard.

There is a story, though not much of one. Basically it has to do with an alien spaceship bringing a couple of huge slug like creatures to Earth so that they can eat people, analyse their biological and chemical make up and beam the results back to their home planet. Oh, and that's it. You expected something more in depth? It was written by Allan Silliphant, the owner of the studio White rented to shoot the indoor scenes, entirely because he was the half brother of Stirling Silliphant, famous Hollywood scriptwriter. Stirling, writer of Village of the Damned, In the Heat of the Night and The Poseidon Adventure, had precisely nothing to do with this film, but conmen don't care about such details when creative fabrications can bring in money. Allan apparently had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote the nine page treatment, saying that 'it was intended to be a spoof on sci-fi/flying saucer movies,' but it didn't turn out that way. White didn't get the joke and the only funny thing about the end product is the realisation that people watch it.

We're in Angel County, CA, where Martin Gordon gets a quick promotion to temporary sheriff because his uncle Ben is an idiot. It's late August and Martin has been honeymooning with Brett, his wife of two weeks. He gets back to town just in time to discover that a plane has crashed out by Willow Creek so they follow Uncle Ben to find out what's going on. Somehow we get there first so we watch the mist in a forest clearing dissipate to reveal a spaceship. This revelation is actually not badly done, but it's by far the best thing about the entire film and it involves blowing away some mist, hardly rocket science. The rocket science came a minute or two earlier when the filmmakers showed a rocket taking off in reverse. No, I have no idea why that was there. Perhaps they thought it just looked cooler than anything they could come up with. They were right.

Before the Gordons turn up, we watch a flap open at the bottom of the spaceship so a bizarre carpet monster can trudge out at very low speed. It creeps, I suppose, but that's one of those words that works best in literature or at least in old dark house movies with dim lighting and secret passages, not forest clearings in broad daylight. Apparently there were up to eight people under the polyurethane contraption at any one time, one trying to stand up inside the front part that has some sort of vaginal passage on it while a bunch of others hump each other underneath the back end. Well, that's what it looks like. These unknown extras were apparently ranch hands at the Spahn Movie Ranch in California, where the Lake Tahoe scenes were shot, one of whom was the film's assistant director Randy Starr. Five years later the Manson family would live at this ranch while committing the Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles and Starr would provide the gun.

The cheapest thing about this film is its sound, because it really doesn't have much of it, and I don't just mean the carpet monster because it does roar inappropriately every now and again. How many slugs do you know that roar? Yeah, this one. That's it. And it doesn't roar too often, only times like when Uncle Ben finally turns up and crawls under the ship to be eaten. What's most amazing is that the horrific screams and roaring lions prompt his nephew to do precisely nothing, except amble back to the car and call for backup. Maybe he's already measuring out his new chair, now that he can inherit the throne of the sheriff, it being a line of nobility in Angel County or something. There are deputies but they don't matter. Deputy Jeff got eaten while we weren't looking. Deputy Barney doesn't seem to mind about being skipped over, but then he's called Deputy Barney so nobody cares what he thinks.

Martin's unusual call results in a special army unit led by Col James Caldwell turning up within the hour. Like that ever happens. Haven't these guys seen any monster movies? The army never believes anyone until something stomps into the big city so they can all suddenly look like morons. Anyway, they crawl inside the ship too and see a second slug monster, though this one looks more like a huge garbage heap with the sort of corrugated tubes that all those kiddie craft books used to tell us to stick onto our attempts at alien monsters. None of what we created would have passed muster in a monster movie and, amazingly enough, neither does this one. It's there because Jon Lackey, the artist who created the carpet monster, surprisingly took offense when he didn't get paid, so left with his creation, leaving the filmmakers having to create a backup. If we can laugh at what Lackey built, we can at least be thankful it doesn't look like a humungous turd, because that's what this one looks like.

Whether the whole film was shot silently or whether the soundtrack merely disappeared with Arthur N White we'll probably never find out, but Thourlby found that what he had was a lot of silent footage with a few bits of out of sync dialogue. He did decide to do some overdubs, but possibly gave up when he saw how badly it was turning out. Whatever the reason, he mostly went with hiring Larry Burrell to narrate almost the entire story to us instead. Some may say this approach has a certain charm, especially when Burrell starts rambling along about nothing, but whoever does is nuts and probably enjoys those Russian dubs of movies from other countries where one guy translates the dialogue for all the characters and speaks it without any intonation at all over the top of the real lines. In other words, moviegoing masochists.

So we get lines like, 'Shortly thereafter, Dr Bradford arrived,' and 'He was a much younger man than one would imagine him to be.' In other words he's driving up to the scene and we can hear the car already and he has to be good looking because he financed most of the film. Dr Bradford is the 'world's leading authority on space emissions.' There's a juvenile joke in there, I'm sure, especially as he's played by a Marlboro Man who didn't die of lung cancer, but I'm above that. I'll just point out that these vast alien carpet slug turd monsters apparently use control panels utterly like our own with switches, dials and gauges, the works, even though they don't have eyes, arms or anything else remotely like anything we have. Perhaps I shouldn't be seeking logic in a movie this bad. 'It could be one of our missiles,' says the sheriff before he gets eaten. 'Or one of theirs,' replies Brett. That's the second good thing about this film. There aren't any more. Trust me.

What happens next? 'A series of tragedies,' says the narrator. Had the public been warned none of these would have happened, apparently, but because the public wasn't warned they die slow horrible deaths. The first death scene sets the tone for the rest. A half naked couple gets it on in the forest, utterly oblivious to the tortured roars of the terror shambling towards them. When they finally see it the boy runs away and the girl is scared into sitting still and climbing inside the gaping maw of the creature. This thing moves so slowly that old men with zimmer frames could outrun it. You wouldn't even have to run, you could just amble away and enjoy the scenery. You could walk slowly backwards and laugh at the huge slug waving at you with its horrendous vaginal mouth. But no, what you'd do if you were in this movie is climb inside to meet a gruesome death, while showing as much leg as possible on the way in.

Next is a boy and his fat granddad who are out fishing. The boy is the son of the film's composer and his casting was presumably part of the deal for him to pony up six grand towards the budget. The granddad is Jack King, who only got older and fatter but still managed to end up in movies with lots of naked chicks, titles like One Million AC/DC, Sam Dobbs and the Guru Gangbang and Hillbilly Honeymoon. Then it's Betty Johnson who makes a production number out of waving goodbye to her husband so she can get eaten by the carpet monster. My wife informs me that all women in the fifties were supposed to be barefoot and pregnant and Betty only misses out because she's dropped already. Her little baby's safe inside while she flounces around outside getting eaten. Then it's a school picnic, or something similar, where at least the token musician tries to hit the thing with his guitar. The rest just wait to be eaten.

The best acting in the film takes place at the local community dance hall which the monster invades. One young lady, whose face is almost entirely invisible in the print I watched, remains in her seat while her boyfriend tries to persuade her to dance. He gives up and grabs the nearest girl to drag onto the floor instead, leaving our heroic wannabe actress utterly indignant, an emotion that she displays entirely through body language because she has no face. If she's the best actress, he's the worst. He dances like a mad scientist's assistant, one with a hunchback. Igor on the floor! There's even a town drunk who surreptitiously staggers through scenes and steals people's drinks. Am I wrong in assuming that I'm supposed to be focusing in on such little details while there's a giant carpet slug on the way? Well, who knows in this movie? One little detail you may wonder about is where the hero and his new wife have got to.

Well, while all this mayhem is unfolding and the town is dying on its feet, Martin Gordon is busy necking with his wife. You see, the moral of this story has to be that if you're a young lady and you get fast and loose with the guys, you're just going to get eaten by an alien carpet. Play your guitar in public and you're slug food. Just visit Lover's Lane and the shag monster won't just eat you, it'll hump your car and then it'll eat you. This is like watching a Fan Fiction Friday at Topless Robot come to life: a sentient alien carpet and the 23 Skidoo car... how wrong can you get? Well, there's one way out, folks. Get married, like Martin and Brett, and the nasty monster will just leave you alone. It's like this huge slug is a metaphor for the clap or something else that happily married couples can't get. Oh, and you can even make out on the couch next to Deputy Barney. I can't resist just quoting the accompanying narration verbatim:

'Barney and Martin had been bachelor buddies for years,' he narrates. 'But now that Martin was settling down to marriage, they were slowly drifting apart. Barney, naturally, was still dating all the girls in town, and he couldn't understand why Brett and Martin didn't pal around with him more than they did. He couldn't comprehend that married life brought with it not only new problems and duties, but the necessary togetherness of husband and wife as well. Despite Brett's most tactful considerations, such as inviting him over to dinner quite often, Barney was growing resentful of her, or at least she felt that he was. Since time began, this change in relationships probably happened to all buddies in similar circumstances. Life has its way of making boys grow up and, with marriage, Martin's time had come. His life was now Brett, a life that he thoroughly enjoyed.'

Aren't you glad you read this review now? Can't you wait to go out and watch the movie? You can see the endless driving scenes, the endless crawling scenes and the endless narration. Sometimes it seems surprising that anything actually happens at all in this film. When it does we're not sure what it is, like the voyeur who drives up to Lover's Lane with his pipe and watches all the hot carpet on car action. You'll learn how to kill an alien carpet too. 'How does the monster get killed?' you ask. Well, you know all the different things that aliens just forget about that hotshot scientists conjure up as ways to save the day? Electricity, radiation, Slim Whitman records, that sort of thing. Well, here it's a grenade. Yeah, subtle, huh? The only way they can build suspense is to have the colonel pull the pin out of the grenade, then fall over, drop it and promptly forget how to move. Somehow I don't think Alfred Hitchcock was paying attention.

Of course there's a second monster back at the ship, though it's conveniently kept harnessed throughout so Dr Bradford can study how it communicates. It's only when the colonel blows up the first one that the doctor realises from its corpse what he's been searching for all along, but the moment he gets back to the ship, it conveniently blows up and frees the other monster. That's so we can learn another way to kill alien carpet monsters: by driving cars into them. Again, so subtle, but so educational. This is important stuff, folks! You should pay attention! Remember my words when the spaceships come and the giant shag carpets roar and shuffle your way! Don't blame me when you find yourself crawling inside their vaginal mouths like an invitation back to the womb! Grenades, folks, grenades are where it's at! If you don't have any to hand, drive, drive like the wind and crash into the critters! Only then can we save our planet. This public service announcement has been brought to you by Apocalypse Later. You're welcome.

1 comment:

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