I don’t know why, but I just love writing reviews in airports and on airplanes. There’s just something festive about it, and it helps when I have a doozy of a movie to write about, as I do here. Plus I’m in a good mood as I’m on a ludicrously civilized Finnair flight to Berlin, waiting for my sleeping pill to kick in, awaiting my airline food [LOOOOVE airline food], with ridiculous amounts of legroom and, I kid you not, a choice of 27 movies to choose from when I wake up! And wait—here’s my dinner. Not so great [the mini-salad is amusing], but free wine! FREE WINE! I’m never flying an America-based airline again.
Well, that was as far as I got before falling right asleep. Now I’m just past midway through my trip, on a train from Prague back to Berlin, with a breathtaking river valley and gorgeous medieval towns going by on my right. I thankfully avoided sitting amongst the group of 20 young and loud tourists, but sadly ended up directly in front of a young woman who apparently fears that her very identity will be negated if she stops talking on her cell phone for as much as thirty seconds. At least she’s speaking a foreign language—one never hates someone so much as when one can actually UNDERSTAND what they’re saying. And how incredibly vapid it is.
Ok, so, The Creeper. This is the first movie I watched out of my 50 Drive-In Movie Classics, from the same good people who brought us the stupendous 50 Chilling Classics. As usual, I looked up all 50 movies on IMDb and this one was unanimously acclaimed and had some real supporters, and it sounded fun, so here we go. We begin with a bunch of middle-aged guys at some grubby resort. They are going to embark on a wilderness adventure, one of those Deliverance-like getting back to nature things yuppies feel they periodically must do in order to remain human. They are also about to embark on a business adventure, some sort of clinic or something—these guys are all doctors—and Harry, portrayed by the wise authority of Hal Holbrook, is not convinced it’s such a good idea. I’ll tell you right up front that the audio on the version on my disc was so murky [and we haven’t even gotten to the video] that I’m sure several of the subtle nuances were lost to me.
So the next day they take off. They’re in—well god knows where they are, like far north Canada or something—and the pilot advises them that where they’re landing is “255 air miles from the nearest outhouse.” He points down and says “That river is in the middle of the Cauldron, and the Cauldron is in the middle of nowhere.” What is this Cauldron they speak of, you ask? Why it’s The Cauldron of the Moon, a vast valley where it is said the moon once bumped into the Earth, and is now a spiritually messed-up place. The guys are still determined, and the pilot starts taking a “suit yourself, fools” type attitude. They land, the plane leaves, and they take a group picture where they all say “CHEESE!” loud and loooong. I think pretty much anytime a camping team takes a group picture, they’re pretty much asking to be killed one by one, don’t you agree?
So that night they have having several heated discussions around the campfire, and one guy is gesturing with an inflatable sex doll. What, did they bring that for all of their use? Like, they’re going to take turns with it or something? These guys are pretty open with each other—and I hope they brought some Lysol. While this is happening we are seeing the POV of someone watching them from the woods. Only the picture is so dark and murky that several long moments pass where you literally have no idea what you’re looking at. Then they suddenly hear a booming voice howl from out of the woods! And it’s fucking scary! But then—it’s just their friend! Ha ha ha, such a practical joker! But then it turns out—and this was an effective twist—they really ARE being watched by someone else. Watched as they start chanting “Put us back together again!” over and over. These are some odd doctors. Into some men’s movement-type shit.
The next morning they’re all hangin’ when one guy notices he’s missing his boots—and soon they realize they’re ALL missing their boots. Because their boots have been STOLEN! And I must say it was quite scary the idea of thinking you’re way out in the middle of nowhere and realizing there’s someone else there with you. And not only that, but he [or she, mustn’t assume] is TOYING with you. Also by this time [15 minutes in] Hal Holbrook has proven himself so superior and patronizing to everyone I just want him to SHUT THE FUCK UP. The organizer of the trip, DJ, volunteers to hike to a dam that is several days away, figuring there must be a person and a phone there, and tries to suppress his rage that HE SPECIFICALLY TOLD THEM ALL TO BRING AN EXTRA PAIR OF BOOTS.
Oh bliss! The yakky cell phone woman got off at the first stop! [After talking nonstop for 45 minutes.] I also remembered—having become a bit peckish—that I had a half bag of Peanut M&Ms in my bag! It’s not a prosciutto and cheese sandwich, but it’ll do. I’m also drinking this soda I bought called Kofola that I thought was a cola but I guess is supposed to taste like… well really, I have no idea what it’s supposed to taste like. Bark? Moss?
SPOILERS > > >
So the guys left are Martin, brother of DJ, This guy named Mitzi [yes, JUST like Mitzi Gaynor], Abel, and Prince Sanctimonious, Harry. DJ isn’t gone too long before they find a deer carcass, all hung up and disemboweled, with a snake crawling on its thigh, which is similar enough to the symbol for medicine [you know that snake crawling around a pole thing] that they know someone meant it for them. Abel thinks it must be DJ [because he's really pissed that they didn’t bring extra boots?] and starts wheedling Martin about it. Martin takes all this criticism to heart, and it really bugs him. They decide that they’re going to try to hike out of the valley [they each just have cloth tied around their feet], despite the fact that if DJ finds help, he’s going to send it back where they WERE. They take a break, and one of them thinks it might be a great idea for them to pose for a photograph in the “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” pose. As they’re hanging out, someone chucks a BEES NEST at them, which crash lands and they’re besieged by angry bees! You gotta admit, this guy is pretty creative. They guys run down to the river but, hey guys, the idea to get away from bees is you go UNDER the water. Fucking dumb doctors. Abel now dies of bee sting, leading Mitzi to weep over his corpse, saying “You’re such a boob. Such a gentle boob.”
Ok, so I decided I couldn’t make do on my M&Ms and I needed a sandwich. I was off to find the club car when—here comes the little snack cart! Because I could not stop for a sandwich, a sandwich kindly stopped for me. It was ham, cheese, pickles and boiled egg with copious mayonnaise on mushy bread—perhaps even more repulsive than it sounds.
Okay, so now—HOLBROOK TAKES COMMAND! Since he’s the big know-it-all of the bunch, he is of course going to lead them out of the valley. They find a guide line strung across the river, but Martin has a terrified fit about having to do it alone, and makes reference to how if only his dear departed boyfriend were here—wait a minute, Martin is GAY!?!!? That’s right, you sons of bitches! Now, on the one hand, it’s nice that the movie hasn’t made a big deal about this thus far, and just lets it be known as part of his character. On the other hand, is it me, or does Martin abruptly turn into a giant GIRL at this point? Maybe not, since he was just sort of in the background before, but all of a sudden he’s deeply hysterical, and there’s a line about him only having a bottle of scotch and toilet paper in his bag, which I thought was a low blow—as a stereotype of gays is that they’re sad alcoholics, and he also has stuff to keep his anus clean [gays are all about their asses, you know], and this is ALL he has in his bag? That’s rude, guys! Why not show him at home leaving out food and water so he can pack another dildo in? Dicks! Anyway, so they send Martin across the river first…
…and then we have a shot under the water of a bunch of open bear traps! I actually had to cover my eyes at this point, because I do NOT like the idea of bear traps, and also I can’t stand that type of tension where you’re just WAITING for something terrible to happen. Martin gets it, REALLY SQUEALS in agony—This is what I was saying about him suddenly turning into a mega-girl. They drag him back to shore, where he turns a little bitchy until they have to wrench his broken leg back into place. Now he’s glad he brought that stereotypical scotch!
Then they have to jerry-rig a stretcher, and drag Martin along the river through a bunch of rapids, as the semi-conscious Martin keeps up a constant, irritating babble about fabulous Corian counters and window shams [just kidding about that last part]. Then they get stuck in the rapids and have to cling to the rocks and—I LOVED the evil perverseness of this—they get into a fight and accidentally let Martin go and he starts drifting down the river! They go back into the rapids to get him before he goes over the waterfall! They get Martin to safety and wander a few feet away, and when they return he has a little medal pinned to him! Their tormenter is messing with them! And he’s a silent bugger, too! But I guess that’s why he’s The Creeper and not The Stomper, The Cruncher or The Twig-Breaker.
One thing I like about this movie is it’s very down-and-dirty about how hard it is to be in the woods [without shoes, for instance], and it includes several specific details like a swarm of bugs in a flashlight beam. At this point Mitzi starts arguing that Martin [who is unconscious but still alive and in no way assured of a happy alcoholic/spotless anus life ahead] is only weighing them down and they should just leave him. This is also one of the things I like about this movie, because there’s an undercurrent that Mitzi is thinking “Plus, he’s only a fuckin’ homo.” Not that I endorse this viewpoint, but I appreciate the honesty of it for THIS character. And truth be told, I would have let Martin wash over the waterfall with a hearty “Bon voyage, sucka!” Anyway, High-On-His-Horse Holbrook responds “I’ll be damned if I let him degrade me!” …which is pretty much the exact opposite of what I personally say on many an occasion.
Okay, if you don’t want to know the shocking climax, it’s time to skip to after the spoiler zone. First, the movie has been offering welcome hints that maybe Holbrook is losing his grip a wee tiny bit. Then—Holbrook makes a HEADBAND! And if you’ve seen Capricorn One or any of the Rambo movies or Loverboy’s “Workin’ for the Weekend” video you know that headbands mean SURVIVAL! Good thing, too, because the fellas wake to find a human head on a pole next to their camp in the morning! It’s one of their former buddies, and tacked to it is an X-Ray from 1945. All of this medical and war stuff is leading somewhere—I guess—but I’ll tell you right now the whole movie is so physically murky I really could not make out what it was. Then they find the dam! And on the other side is another corpse all strung up—but it’s not a corpse, cuz the guy is still alive! Holbrook kills him out of mercy. Mitzi wants to get the fuck out of there, but Holbrook still won’t leave Martin! That’s awfully nice of him—he’s going to get a GLAAD award, for sure. By this time Mitzi outright calls him crazy and takes off.
Night falls, and when next we see Mitzi, he is hanging in the trees over a giant bonfire being made by the psycho [by the way, I hear that about 10 minutes of footage have been cut out of this version]. Holbrook finds a cabin—it’s unclear where he is in relation to Mitzi and the psycho, and looks around. Hanging from the ceiling is some fly-covered meat, which Holbrook devours, saying “Oh—it’s GOOD!” Hey—I just ate that egg, pickle and mayo sandwich, right? Hunger does strange things. Anyway, the killer comes in, and he’s all deformed and shit. Maybe because of some medical mishap he blames the doctors, or ALL doctors for?—and he and Holbrook have a fight, but once again it’s all so dark and murky I literally could not make out what was on screen. I believe Holbrook wins, but, however, Mitzi is delicately roasted to a golden brown.
< < < SPOILERS END
It was really quite good—and would probably be even better if you could hear and see what was going on. Maybe other prints of this are better than the one I had. What was best about it was how very down-and-dirty it was in terms of really facing the trials of the wilderness, and the way the killer brilliantly uses very low-tech and simple methods to really get at our characters. For example, taking their boots is quite simple, but REALLY handicaps them all—in fact, I think the film is glossing over the fact that there’s no way they could have made it as far as they did without them. Then tricks like simply throwing a bees nest at them is very simple—but remarkably nasty and effective.
And that’s the other thing that makes this work: the characters are truly SCREWED in multiple ways, and the killer knows some very clever ways to really mess with them. So the script is clever and is able to think of interesting, unexpected directions in which to take this story. It also comes up with good characters that are interesting, eccentric and somewhat irritating way that gives the film texture, and their conflicts with each other seem natural and not forced. It’s also all done in such a way that really wrings some great suspense out of it.
So yeah! A winner… except it does kind of peter out at the end, although that could be because I could not see what was going on. It’s a bummer, because I’m sure there’s some big secret revealed about why this is all happening, and I have no clue what it is. But now I can look forward to watching a better print one day and having something new to find out. They should issue some sort of “special edition” in which you get to find out what the ending is.
Yeah! It's creepy and chilling!
DELIVERANCE is obviously the granddaddy of the yuppies-trapped-in-the-wilderness movies, and is similar to this, but that’s more about escaping rednecks and this is about one smart, directed killer.
SOUTHERN COMFORT finds an unarmed group of yahoo soldiers hunted in the bayou after having accidentally killed one of the locals, and is pretty good and chilling.