The Creeping Terror (1964) **
Director: Arthur N. White
Runtime: 1h 21m
Categories: Alien Invaders
There’s nothing inherently wrong with mercenary filmmaking; history has shown that time and again, filmmakers interested in little more than turning a profit can churn out interesting and even inspired works of art. Hell, just look at Roger Corman’s or William Castle’s respective oeuvres and you’ll turn up plenty of examples of excellent films, made from mostly economical reasons. That said, Arthur N. White, AKA A. J. Nelson, AKA Vic Savage the filmmaker behind The Creeping Terror was perhaps the most mercenary filmmaker of all time, and his work has no redeeming virtues (though plenty of unintentional humor). As the multiple aliases implies, Mr. White had a more prolific career as a petty criminal than a filmmaker. I’m hardly slandering his reputation by noting that White was a pimp, wife-beater, serial adulterer, and most importantly for our purposes a conman. Just how much of a conman was Arthur N. White? Well, for starters after partnering with screenwriter Robert Silliphant, White told his investors that he was producing a film based on a screenplay by Robert’s brother Stirling Silliphant. The height of Silliphant’s career was still a few years in the future, when he would write the screenplay for In the Heat of the Night (1967) and the Poseidon Adventure (1972), yet his name was still enough to attract financers that would have been more leery of a script by the writer of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed up Zombies (1964). Once he had scrapped together the money White was determined to spend as little of it as possible on the movie. This included stiffing his prop designer, who promptly repossessed his shoddily-made monster suit. White wasn’t about to let that stop him though, so he substituted in an even more shoddy monster suit, and changed the script to include a 2nd monster. Finally, midway through filming, White disappeared taking the remaining production budget with him. Given White’s history, I suspect that he always intended to defraud his investors, and that waiting until the movie was halfway done only gave him a chance to get a better head start on his marks.
In a sane world, this would have been the end of the story. The investors would have called the cops, and abandoned the footage that had been shot, writing everything off as a loss and a lesson not to trust charming rogues claiming to be filmmakers. Yet, one investor was not content with this situation: William Thourlby, the original Marlboro Man, decided to nab the footage from White’s former house, even as the furniture was being repossessed and re-edit it into something that could recoup at least some of his investment. Calling Thourlby’s task an uphill battle was a bit of an understatement. The audio track had been almost entirely destroyed, and he was thus forced to rely on a Colman Francis’ style narration for most of the film. Unfortunately for the viewer the narrator is straighter-laced than the looney one employed in Beast of Yucca Flats (1961) so there will be no nonsensical asides about the grinding wheel of progress or children feeding soda pop to a pig. Even with the narration in place, The Creeping Terror is still an impossibly bad piece of crap. But hey, what kind of movie did you expect from a filmmaker whose only interest in the medium was as as a vehicle for bilking funds out of gullible investors?
A rocketship lands in Angel County California (not a real place), well at least that’s what I think is supposed to have happened. The rocket in the stock footage of a launch (reversed to simulate the landing) looks nothing like the one that turns up later in the film. The rocket contains two giant monsters that look like a cross between a mound of shag carpets and gigantic caterpillars. One of them is chained up in the rocket, while the other one gets loose and escapes from the rocket before anyone notices. Naturally, the shape-shifting rocket draws the attention of local law enforcement; only problem is the sheriff is so accident prone that he manages to get himself eaten by the creature inside despite the fact that it is still tied up. This leaves his deputy, Martin Gordon (played by the film’s director/auteur/con artist-in-chief under yet another alias) in charge. Recognizing that spaceships and aliens are outside of his jurisdiction, Martin promptly calls in a special task force of soldiers under the command of Col. James Caldwell. This crack team demonstrates their competence by easily clearing a branch that has fallen in the middle of the road somewhere between their base and the alien-landing site. Despite their crack brush-clearing skills, the government feels that the operation should be conducted under the aegis of a civilian administrator, a man named Dr. Bradford. It would be a fine idea if this weren’t a crappy horror movie, as the soldiers under Caldwell’s command seem more inclined to blow up the UFO and the alien abomination that is locked up inside it than to try to make peaceful contact with it.
At the same time, the monster that has already escaped from the rocket begins its slow-moving reign of terror, gradually chasing down and devouring dozens of victims across the county. How this creature got loose from its restraints is unexplained, mostly because the pretense of their being two creatures was just a way to explain away the obvious difference between the professional monster suit White refused to pay for and the shoddy stand-in that White threw together when the original suit was repossessed. The original monster suit was pretty lousy, but the stand in is so bad that it defies belief. Honestly, this is the worst monster suit I’ve seen outside of deliberate parodies of the genre like Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961). A good deal of the film’s comedic value comes from how slow, stupid, and un-menacing this thing is. Indeed, the title is a dead give-away. A scary monster can certainly do his share of creeping, but the fact is that this thing moves at a glacial pace almost by default; none of the victims that the monster eventually devours would have had any trouble escaping from it if they simply stood up and walked away at a deliberate pace.
Case in point, the first victim of the monster is a young woman who is making out in the forest with her boyfriend. The man, demonstrating more brainpower than the rest of the cast (albeit with a distinct lack of chivalry) books it once the creature comes into view. He naturally manages to outrun the alien monster, but his girlfriend lays prone on the ground while the monster eventually works his way over to her is gradually devoured as a result. Would the boyfriend have bothered to contact law enforcement after this incident he might have saved the lives of 20 or 30 people (though being eaten by this particular monster probably means were too dumb to live anyway). Instead, the film promptly forgets that he exists, so the monster can go about munching people unabated for the remainder of the runtime. I suppose he didn’t want to call up the police and tell them that he let his girlfriend be eaten by a rabid mound of carpet scraps, God knows that’s one 911 call I’d rather not make.
From there the monster proceeds to gradually stalk and devour a mother, an overweight grandpa and his grandson, a group of neighbors that has gotten together for a “hoot-e-nanny”, and most of the denizens of the county dance hall. The final sequence is especially jarring, both in terms of its incomprehensibility and it’s heavy reliance on empty filler. As the monster lumbers towards the dance hall we’re treated to a seemingly interminable sequence of couples dancing. Keep in mind, this movie’s runtime is barely over seventy minutes, and dancing eats up at least 1/5th of that! When the creature breaks into the dance hall, the dancers decide to conjugate in one corner so as to better be devoured, rather than make any attempt at escaping. Even more baffling is footage, seemingly spliced in from another movie, of a fistfight between a pair of guys over a girl that erupts as soon as the monster sets foot in the dance hall. There is an alien monster here people! Get your priorities straight!
Once the monster has finished devouring the cooperative dancer he turns his attention to lover’s lane (which is surprisingly crowded given the fact that all this is taking place around noon). Once again the monster devours his victims who are seemingly incapable of or unwilling to run away (perhaps there is an epidemic of suicidal depression gripping Angel County). The narrator assures us that “Anyone who witnessed that catastrophe and survived would never go there [lover’s lane] again.” At this point, the military and law enforcement get their act together and figure out that half the county’s population is currently sitting in the belly of this absurd creature. The time has come for them to spring into action, but Dr. Bradford insists on capturing the creature alive, if possible. Given that the monster is slow moving and clumsy in the extreme this should be no problem for Caldwell’s crack branch moving squadron. All they need is a pit trap or some kind of snare, and a couple of nubile young women to act as bait (the monster has a marked preference for the fairer sex). Unfortunately, they are just as incompetent as everyone else in this movie, and are promptly devoured by the rampaging monster. Looks like the army will have to resort to drastic measures, flying in the face of Bradford’s namby-pamby diplomacy and science.
This is perhaps the only interesting notion in the entire brain-dead movie. In 1950s monsters movies, law enforcement, the military, scientists, and the press all work together harmoniously to suppress whatever wacky threat is endangering the town/nation/world. There might be a fair bit of toe-stepping on during the opening act, but most creature features follow this formula pretty closely once the protagonists begin combating the threat in earnest. As history marched on though, the common-enemy cooperation of WWII became a more and more distant memory (or history for younger Americans) and this formula began to erode. By the 1960s you start to get a darker, more sinister military that has interests besides the well-being of the American people. You also get naïve scientists like Bradford, whose good intentions get people killed; though this trope was occasionally used in the 1950s, most famously in The Thing From Another World (1951). There’s a general feeling of the organs of society breaking down, and working against each other in a way that 10 years earlier would have been all but unthinkable. As far as harbingers of the looming societal collapse go it’s fairly mild, but it’s there all the same creeping along in the background.