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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Creeping Terror

Sometimes nominated as one of the worst films ever, The Creeping Terror (TCT) is, nonetheless, fascinating in its badness. It has developed a cult following over the years, with much written about it. Many rumors and several urban legends surround this movie and its producer/director: Arthur Nelson. TCT exhibits many of the foibles of films produced, directed and starred in, by the same man (under the stage name of Vic Savage). Other low-budget features, such as local/amateur actors and production "economies" all leave their mark too. Perhaps because of this "perfect storm" of shortcomings, TCT has a sizable fan base. Ostensibly, the tale of a couple of alien monsters who slowly rampage around eating people. A lone scientist thinks he has some answers. A newlywed deputy sheriff must stop the beasts.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Deputy sherif Martin and his wife Brett are returning from their honeymoon. They don't see the rocket land in the woods, nor the first monster emerge. Sheriff Ben, Martin and Brett investigate the reported plane crash. Ben goes inside and gets eaten by a second monster still strapped inside. A Colonel Caldwell's crack unit of six soldiers are dispatched. A Dr. Bradford, expert on "space emissions," is also dispatched. The monster eats a young woman. Martin and his deputy buddy Barney discuss the pros and cons of being single vs. being married. The monster moves on to eat a housewife as she hangs up laundry. The monster then eats a young boy and his fat grandfather. Unsated, the monster attacks a picnic hootenanny, eating everyone. Martin and Barney investigate all the missing person reports. Dr. Bradford conducts tests on the rocket, but learns little. The monster attacks the Community Dance Hall, interrupting extended dancing sequences. Everyone obligingly bunches up in one corner, so the monster can eat them all. Despite the abundant meals, the mosnter moves on to Lover's Lane. It eats some. Some escape. Finally, Caldwell's men arrive to battle the beast. It's bullet proof and eats all but two of the soldiers. Outraged, the Colonel attacks the monster with a grenade. This kills the monster. Bradford finds some electronics in a hunk of the flesh. Based on an unstated epiphany, he rushes back to the spaceship. Martin follows in the sheriff's car. Bradford rushes into the ship, but it explodes inside. This mortally wounds Bradford, but also frees the second monster. This second monster almost eats Bradford before Martin rams it with his car, killing it. Bradford says the creatures were data collectors. With both creatures dead, transmission would begin. Martin tries to disable the ship's transmitter by beating on the equipment, but this fails. Bradford says it might not be so bad. Maybe the aliens were dead. He then dies. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
TCT is just too bizarre to not find fascinating, in a sort of forensic sort of way. Everyone in TCT is so earnest that it lends an amateur charm.

Cold War Angle
It is doubtful that there is any serious analogies in use. Instead, TCT is a sort of reflection of more earnest works. They had monsters as metaphors for Soviet invasions. TCT has monsters because they did. Nothing deeper.

Art or Scam? -- Rumors claim that Arthur Nelson was a scam artist always working an angle. It's not like unscrupulous men were rare in the movie business. Scam or not, we have at least the film he convinced his investors to make. Nelson wasn't a good actor, nor a good director. He did, however, appear to have some talent as a producer/promoter. His one-man-show production is reminiscent of Mikel Conrad's The Flying Saucer (1950) and Russ Marker's The Yesterday Machine ('63) as a home-grown product acted by locals. In TCT, several people do get their brief (and glorious) moment on the big screen: Betty with her laundry gets several minutes; the brunette who gets to say,"My God, What is it?"; the sergeant who did not get eaten -- scam or not, they all got to be in a movie.

A Tale of Two Monsters -- Observant viewers will note that there are two different monster costumes used for the same monster -- collectively called the "carpet monster" for its resemblance to being made up of carpet remnants. Fans have labeled the first carpet monster "clamhead", the other, "shovelhead," for differences in how the "head" was shaped. They vary from scene to scene. A plausible explanation is that Jon Lackey, the man who created the first (clamhead) costume left the production over a dispute (not getting paid for his work) and took clamhead with him. Undaunted, Nelson had a second costume made. Though similar, Shovelhead was less well-crafted. The alternating appearances are due to scenes being shot out of sequence. (a common practice in movie making). Clamhead's scenes (mostly outdoor stuff) were apparently shot early on, while Lackey was still waiting for his check. Post-Lackey footage was shot with Shovelhead and intercut.

Cheap Sound -- A popular urban legend surrounding TCT is that the audio track was somehow lost or destroyed, thereby requiring dubbed sound and a heavy reliance of narration. The supposedly lost audio may well have never existed. It was not that unusual in low low budget productions to not bother with as-shot audio. This saved a whole load of expenses for sound equipment and a sound crew on the site. It was cheaper to dub in audio in post-production. We just saw this rather well done in The Flesh Eaters ('64) and not so well in Horror at Party Beach ('64). A classic example of this -- including heavy reliance on narration -- is Beast of Yucca Flats ('61). Nelson may well have planned post-production audio in the first place.

Mixed Messages -- As a director, Nelson had an eclectic set of messages worked into his project. Part of him was (apparently) a staunch social conservative. There was the extended treatise on the virtues of marriage and how it changes men. There was the somewhat traditional subliminal message that bad things happen to kids who slip away from adult supervision to make out. The dance hall scene and subsequent massacre seems like retelling of the old modern-decadence-begets-doom trope. Yet, amid these conservative staples, are mixed exploitation bits, like the first victims making out in swimwear, and the ample shake-n-jiggle in the dance hall. Less conservative, and more bizarre, is Nelson's fixation on seeing women's butts and bare legs sticking out of the carpet monster's mouth. Viewers get quite a few repeats of this, yielding a lot of screen time. The monster does eat men too (equal opportunity) but they are off-camera and assumed.

Germ of an Idea -- Lost in all the cheap production, was a somewhat intriguing idea by the writer, Robert Silliphant. Knowing the biological make-up of earth beings, they could engineer a bio-weapon to either clear the planet turn us into willing slaves. This would save on all that expensive blasting famous landmarks. Dr. Bradford's reassuring last words -- that earth will be okay because the aliens probably live far far away (so might be dead by now) -- seem like small hope. Whose to say the rest of them aren't halfway to earth in the mother ships, or even in orbit already?

Bottom line? TCT is definitely not a movie for people offended by cheap production values and weak acting. For fans of low-budget sci-fi, or just fans of bad movies, TCT has tons to love.


Anonymous said...

I wanted SLEEP last night, but this POS came on. I forced myself to stay with it just to see if there was SOMETHING of redeeming entertainment value. To its credit, this movie had a predictable plot that made it amusing. (This compares very favorably with "Howard, the Duck" and "Battlefield Earth," both of which I'd have to be paid handsomely to sit through again!)

CONCLUSION: This movie MUST be seen to be disbelieved! The gaunlet is thrown, so to speak. It sets a new LOW bar for other Sci-Fi filmmakers to aspire down to. At least, I hope that no natural-fiber carpet was harmed in the making of this "film."

The Producers said...

Growing up with Creature Features in the 1970's, director Pete Schuermann became fascinated with TCT. So much so that he and his brother started the TCT fan club.

Fast forward 40 years and Pete's fondness for the movie gives way to the film project CREEP! - the story behind the making of TCT and the con-artist producer, director...Art Nelson aka Vic Savage.

Scheduled for completion in 2012 CREEP! promises to deliver.

johnny said...

I've been trying to find out what this movie was for a long time. I remember watching it in the 80s, 1982 maybe, and I was like 15 years old and lived in Selden on Long Island. It may have been the 4:30 movie they showed on ABC back then if I recall correctly. I'm 50 now but I still remember how the movie freaked me out a little back then. I used to come home from school and be alone in the house and loved watching all the horror movies I could find. Chiller theater with the six fingered hand rising out of the quicksand freaked me out too.
So cool that you wrote about this movie and I was able to find it. The idea that the guy was really dead on the raft with a recording of his voice was a nice touch too. I'll have to revisit it for old times sake. The govt should develop some kind of shimmering flesh eating monster and use it to execute the really despicable murderers and rapists. Anyway, Thanks for the write up.