Film #109: The Creeping Terror (1964)

film 109 the creeping terror

Rating: 1.5/5
Enjoyment rating: 5/5

“He slowly asked Bradford what was in store for humanity. Bradford was pessimistic, but implied that maybe all was not lost. After all, he told him, the vastness of the universe was incredible.”

Sometimes I worry that giving a film a low rating will deter people from watching it. Of course, sometimes the low rating should be taken on face value, and he movie should be avoided at all costs. Other times, however, the low rating doesn’t even remotely reflect the sheer enjoyment that can be experienced watching a film that is technically terrible. This is, I suppose, my way of saying that some films are “so bad they’re good,” although I’m loathe to use that phrase because it’s so problematic. More appropriate is to describe such films as “so bad they’re pleasurable” and, as pleasurable experiences go, The Creeping Terror is way up there.

Actor-director-editor-producer Vic Savage’s film is, on the surface at least, a fairly standard 1960s teen-oriented sci-fi picture: a rocket lands, an alien emerges, and chaos ensues. Narratively it’s no more or less interesting than so many of the other low-budget drive-in movies of the times, but aesthetically it’s quite fascinating, and rumours and myths have followed the movie around for years. It gained notoriety when it was included in the Medved’s hugely influential Golden Turkey Awards, nominated for the “most ridiculous monster in screen history” award (eventually losing out to Ro-Man of Robot Monster fame), then featured in their follow-up Son of Golden Turkey Awards, where it won the “most laughable concept for an outer space invader” award. The aliens, which are most frequently described as “carpet monsters”, are a sight to behold – gigantic slug-type creatures with tentacle-covered “faces” and huge mouths for people to helpfully climb into. The Medveds claim that at one point you can see the shoes of one of the students beneath this giant, moth-eaten rug-creature, but I’ve looked pretty carefully and all I’ve ever spotted is a pair of big fluffy monster feet (and the Medveds were not particularly known for their accuracy, preferring to repeat stories that emphasise the wacky regardless of the truth).

One of the stories the Medveds relate regarding The Creeping Terror concerns its strange use of a voice-over narrator and the obviously dubbed dialogue. There are a significant number of films of the time that were shot MOS (without sound) as a cost-cutting measure, with dialogue dubbed in afterwards (Manos: The Hands of Fate does this, though poorly; Beast of Yucca Flats is also clearly shot without a soundtrack; there are plenty of other examples) and, on the surface at least, it seems that The Creeping Terror is no different. Legend has it, however, that the film’s strange (lack of) sound is a mistake, the result of Savage accidentally dropping the sound reel into Lake Tahoe. It’s a great story, one that emphasises incompetence and stupidity, highlighting the conditions by which these older bad movies were made, and it would be great if it was true. However, just a few years later, the Medveds don’t mention this, reporting instead that the style was intentional rather than accidental. Regardless, the myth is still repeated – it’s far more interesting than the mundane truth, after all. While I don’t want to claim that the initial tale is accurate, there is evidence in the film to support such a claim, namely that the film appears to be shot precisely as though it had sound. Characters have long conversations with each other, filmed in classic shot-reverse-shot technique, prioritising the speaker, yet what we hear is the voice-over narrator relating the conversation in distinctly literary tones. As an example: “the sergeant reported seeing an amazingly large creature in the aft section of this strange craft. He further reported that it was secured by a kind of metal harness, but that the creature could still move around somewhat, and for that reason they had not gotten too close to it. There was no trace of either Ben or Jeff. The colonel ordered continuous guard duty around the spaceship, and decided to set up a temporary military headquarters at the sheriff’s office in town.”

It would be quite fascinating to get a lip-reader to watch The Creeping Terror, to see what the characters are actually saying during these scenes – they’re clearly speaking to each other, but we’re rarely privy to their conversations. There are occasional moments of dubbing, and at times it’s clear that what they are saying doesn’t correspond correctly with either the added voice-over or the dubbed dialogue: at one point, a woman (soon to be eaten by a Terror) clearly mouths “there there” to a baby, although we hear her say “poor baby”; later on the voice-over narrator claims that the sergeant tells scientist Bradford to “go to hell,” but this is immediately followed by the sergeant saying “get out of my way!”

So why is the film so enjoyable? Partly it’s because of the visible and aesthetic badness, further emphasised by the voice-over, which speaks in such serious tones, and infuses the film with a bizarre contrast between what is being shown, and what we are being told. There’s plenty more badness on show, of course – the acting is non-descript (and further limited by the voice-over’s insistence of speaking on behalf of the characters, making their appearance on screen frequently redundant), for example. Mostly, however, it’s the Terrors themselves. These creatures are brilliant – physically absurd, technically inept, ludicrously conceived. The people who get devoured (and there are plenty – it’s a pretty impressive death count) have to advance towards the creatures, rather than the other way around, and then either get “swallowed up” by inserting themselves into the conveniently positioned mouth-hole, or the Terror appears to just flop down on top of them. It’s delightfully bonkers, incredibly kitsch when viewed today and, at a short 75 minutes, never gets boring. It might be currently sitting on IMDb as the 30th worst rated film of all time, but for sheer entertainment, surely it would be among the top.

Bonus: You can watch the whole film on Youtube here!

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Films #75 & 76: The Mighty Gorga (1969) & One Million AC/DC (1969)

film 75 76 the mighty gorga one million acdc

Ratings: The Mighty Gorga, 1/5; One Million AC/DC, 1/5

“We’re still just a couple of outsiders in a green hell.”
“I’m off to see the lizard.”

A prehistoric double bill, both are utterly terrible films – The Mighty Gorga has, at least, an actual story. One Million AC/DC (which has nothing whatsoever to do with the rock band), written by Ed Wood using the pseudonym Akdon Telmig, which is one letter away from being Vodka Gimlet in reverse, is basically just a soft-core caveman porno. Both, however, feature quite possibly the greatest dinosaurs ever – and I say both, because it’s the same T-Rex in both movies. I had read about the special effects (ha!), but I can honestly say, no one had really convinced me that they would be as bad as they were. The fact that not one, but two filmmakers had the sheer audacity to include them in their movies is mind-boggling – trust me when I say that a four year old could have created the exact same scenes using their sandbox and some plastic toys.

First up, The Mighty Gorga. A fairly straight-forward, no budget exotic location/ giant ape movie, it stars Anthony Eisley (Dracula Vs Frankenstein) as Mark, a circus owner desperately trying to increase revenue. There’s a brief subplot introduced at the beginning of the movie, in which his brother (or someone) is sabotaging the business, but as soon as Mark arrives in the Congo (which looks suspiciously like a national park in California) any problems “back home” are quickly forgotten. He befriends a feisty female wild animal breeder whose father went missing trying to find a giant ape and, with native “Indian” George in tow, head into the wilderness to find either or both the monkey and the dad.

The film’s low budget is all too obvious, from the frequent day-night issues (just look at the sequence in which the bison’s pen is burned down) to the uninspiring, visibly un-exotic location, to the gorilla itself. Gorga, who apparently protects a local tribe’s village on an isolated plateau, is a man in a gorilla suit – not one of the many gorilla actors working at the time, but the director himself, David L Hewitt. The suit is truly dreadful; the ape’s eyes bulge with a permanently surprised expression (this comes in handy later on, when the beast is apparently completely dumbfounded by a bandage on his giant pinky). Even more bizarre, we never see below the gorilla’s torso – not even when he’s fighting the dinosaurs or leering over the village’s huts. Despite Gorga supposedly being a giant gorilla, somehow Hewitt succeeds in not even making it seem human sized – particularly when it fights the tiny plastic dinosaur, with its snapping mouth and bobbing movements, it is hard to accept that Gorga is anything other than an equally inanimate toy.

Much of the film is dedicated to Eisley and his female companion attempting to convince the audience that they are in peril. Their exploration, which, thanks to the terrible editing, seems like it takes about five minutes, is supposed to last for days. Their ascent of the cliff-face to the plateau above involves them walking slowly along a gentle path. Their beige jungle clothes never get even the slightest hint of dirt on them. Up on the plateau, they discover giant roses and a prehistoric nest with some peach-coloured eggs – Mark says they’re purple. They quickly find the missing father, and plan to escape from the tribe by fleeing down a secret volcanic tunnel that contains, as legend dictates, King Solomon’s treasure. Poor Solomon must have been a truly rubbish king, because the riches consist of a single chest with some Mardi Gras beads scattered around. Eventually the group leave the plateau, arriving out of Ro-Man’s cave in Bronson Canyon and staring upwards at the destruction they’ve left behind – we’re supposed to believe that stock footage lava has somehow destroyed everything, though no one seems even the slightest bit concerned by the whole situation.

There’s little to praise about The Mighty Gorga. Oddly, for a jungle movie, the only animals to feature are all clearly in captivity – the circus/zoo at the beginning provides the most animal spectacle, with the subsequent jungle visibly devoid of any animal life whatsoever. There are a few reasonably clever moments (or one, anyway) in the script, largely revolving around the assumptions of the “outsider” – Mark’s pained attempts to communicate with the black slave-native George (Lee Parrish), only to discover that the local only speaks English, is actually quite funny. I am struggling to think of any other genuinely “good” moments; luckily the bad ones provide more than enough entertainment for the right audience. I stared, open-mouthed at the “epic” fight between the dinosaur and Gorga – it truly is a thing to behold.

While I was certain that One Million AC/DC couldn’t possibly match The Mighty Gorga in terms of shoddy effects, it turned out I was wrong. The same, snapping-mouthed, bobbing dinosaur reappears here to eat a barbie doll! It fights another dinosaur! It peers over an embankment! It’s not in this movie enough. Poor Ed Wood, who was by this time not even on the fringes of Hollywood, had succumbed to alcohol, domestic violence, poverty and pornography – the later years of his life were dominated by shoddy sex stories. There’s little of his distinctive screenwriting style here, although there are hints – the fat man first seen at the beginning of the movie takes on a strange narrator-role, commenting on the events going on around him. Primarily, however, One Million AC/DC has little dialogue – maybe ten minutes in total, and all rather inane. The “plot” revolves around a cave full of orgy-loving, furry-bikini-clad neanderthals. Outside, a dinosaur tries to eat them if they leave. A gorilla kidnaps one of the cave girls, who spends the whole movie trying to escape his clutches (at the end they appear to be a happy couple). And that is it. Like Orgy of the Dead, also written by Ed Wood, the main aim of the movie is titillation. This is more hardcore than Orgy; luckily the virgin’s sacrifice at the beginning of the film remains the most explicit scene. The girls, all stick-thin with protruding rib cages, are pretty enough, but it’s all rather seedy and unpleasant, with rape implications frequent throughout. The actual sex consists of a lot of frenzied writhing and groaning, mainly from the women (although some of the men emit freakishly guttural, animalistic grunts to ensure the viewer cannot possibly find any of it even remotely erotic).

The constant sex is interspersed with shots bad movie fans will find suspiciously familiar. At least some of the footage is taken from One Million Years BC, and at least two different sequences reappear (again!) in Horror of the Blood Monsters. Not to mention the footage ripped from The Mighty Gorga, and the generic volcanic stock footage beneath the opening credits. As this is filmed in colour, the recycled shots have been tinted (like in Horror of the Blood Monsters) – here it’s so badly done that it’s difficult to even see what they’re trying to show.

About ten minutes into One Million AC/DC I was certain that, finally, Children of the Living Dead would no longer be the sole worst-reviewed movie of our collection. At least that movie was supremely entertaining: this is virtually unwatchable. Michael Adams described Ed Wood’s porno as “the tar pit of cinema,” and I was equally ready to dismiss it. Then, out of the blue, came the scene that elevated this dire caveman sexploitation picture to a glorious 1/5: a sing-along. Yes, as the tribe plan to destroy the dinosaur using a newfangled bow and arrow designed by a pervy cave painter, the chief and his woman pause in their sexcapades to sing a song straight to camera. It goes like this: (to the tune of For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow) “The spear goes into the monster (x3), And the monster loses his mind.” Finally, something other than that darn dinosaur to stare open-mouthed at. It was a moment of sheer surrealism, completely unexpected, entirely out of place, and reassuringly bizarre, making up for the seventy-five minutes of dire copulation that went before it – but only barely.

Film #61: It Conquered the World (1956)

film 61 it conquered the world

Rating: 3/5

“You think you’re gonna make a slave of the world… I’ll see you in Hell first!”

Directed by Roger Corman, It Conquered the World is best known for its baddie, an alien from Venus frequently described as a giant cucumber. It’s a surprisingly difficult film to get a hold of, considering its reputation and director – my copy is a second-hand VHS yet still manages to be one of the most expensive films in my collection. I bought it for two reasons: first, to see this infamous monster; and second, because it was later remade as Zontar: The Thing From Venus, by notorious badfilmmaker Larry Buchanan. Zontar is a pretty dreadful movie (which will be reviewed shortly), and I was curious to see how the two films compare. With regards to this film, I was pleasantly surprised.

Made right in the middle of sci-fi’s most prolific decade, It Conquered the World shares much with the other, better known films of the time. It’s now widely acknowledged that the sci-fi movies of the fifties exploited social and political fears – the threat of nuclear war or the spread of communism in particular – and this film is no exception. Lee Van Cleef is Tom Anderson, a scientist in direct communication with a being from Venus (or so he claims). Despite the scepticism of his wife Claire (Beverley Garland) and friend Paul Nelson (Peter Graves), neither of whom can hear anything other than static on Tom’s radio set, the scientist is convinced that the creature he’s communicating with is going to be of great benefit to mankind. Naturally, he’s deluded about its true intentions, and things rapidly take a turn for the worse.

It Conquered the World invites several comparisons. The alien, officially named Beluah by its creator Paul Blaisdell, lands on Earth and quickly stops all technology (except for that of its allies) – cars, house lights, telephones, even the water supply ceases instantly, at 3.03pm. Yet this is not a peaceful display of power, as in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but a way of stopping communications and making a human retaliation more difficult. It also has strange little flying creatures who bite human hosts and transform them into mindless pod people – like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (made in the same year), these people look the same, but they are all controlled by their Venusian leader. The idea of one’s neighbours, family and friends suddenly becoming the enemy, without any visible indication of their new status, is a recurring one in 50s sci-fi, perfectly capturing the social paranoia regarding the apparent threat of communism. This was the final year of the Second Red Scare in America, when McCarthyism had reached its peak – anyone could be the enemy. Here, Lou Rusoff’s screenplay makes the metaphor blatant, with characters at one point even specifically discussing communism – it’s obvious now, but it’s still effective.

Like many of Corman’s movies, there are several interesting aspects hidden below the drive-in, teen-friendly narrative. Tom’s wife is a headstrong and determined woman (in a decade when women are almost always secondary characters) – her actions may prove futile in the end, but she is a strong and self-assured character, who at least attempts to stop the madness going on around her. Tom himself is an interesting leading man – far more interesting than the more steadfast Paul. He is utterly convinced that he is helping humanity, but this deluded arrogance is what enables Beluah to come and (attempt to) take over the planet. Lee Van Cleef, a classic bad guy (dark hair, little moustache), is cold and scientific – ruthless even, and cruel to his wife in particular. Van Cleef plays well against the traditional “good” looks (both in terms of physicality and character) of Graves.

Ultimately, however, it is Beluah itself that is the most memorable character here. The creature is truly a sight to behold – its flying minions are daft and never particularly visible, but Beluah is eventually unveiled in all its glory. Officially it’s a kind of sentient fungus, which is in itself a unique and intriguing concept, but it’s difficult to take the thing seriously. What does impress is the actual size of the creature – it’s a cumbersome, awkward and immobile object, with a pantomime villain’s expression, but when shown alongside the characters, is impressively large. That’s about all that’s impressive, however – it fails entirely as a horrifying villain, but I can think of few other creations that really match it in terms of visual entertainment (perhaps the carpet monsters in The Creeping Terror come close; good ol’ Ro-Man should also get a mention).

Despite the obvious budgetary constraints, Corman does deliver. The film is surprisingly professional considering its meagre shooting schedule of just five days; it’s acted well, with a coherent narrative and some engaging, topical (if not particularly original) concepts running underneath. Viewed today, it’s enjoyably kitsch, predominantly because of Beluah. They don’t make ’em like they used to, that’s for sure.

Film #60: Robot Monster (1953)

film 60 robot monster

Rating: 2/5

“I cannot – yet I must. How do you calculate that? At what point on the graph do ‘must’ and ‘cannot’ meet? Yet I must – but I cannot!”

The final film of the day’s badfilm bonanza is the wonderfully kitsch Robot Monster, first acknowledged by the Medveds in their book, Fifty Worst Films of All Time, way back in 1978. It was also one of the primary reasons for its director, Phil Tucker, being nominated as Worst Director of All Time by the Medveds two years later (Tucker was defeated by Ed Wood). Since then, this movie has remained a firm favourite of badfilm aficionados, and it is widely acknowledged as one of the worst films of the 50s. Continuing the trends of the day, it also features a precocious child in a prominent role, but there’s no renditions of Row Row Row Your Boat here, sadly. That would have been too strange!

After an afternoon of particularly bad movies, Robot Monster actually emerges as a fairly successful film – in contrast to the terrible 90’s sheen of Troll 2 and the washed out incompetence of Manos: The Hands of Fate, this is actually rather accomplished. It’s shot reasonably well, the acting is not particularly stilted, and it benefits from a general kitsch appeal of old 50s sci-fi movies. Yet I make it sound better than it is, because a film about a robot monster called Ro-Man from planet Ro-Man who’s clearly a man in a gorilla suit with a space helmet on his head is never going to be very good. It is harmless, however, and quite endearing, despite being completely illogical and stupid.

Robot Monster has a tiny cast, and was reportedly shot in only four days. George Moffett is young Johnny, an adventurous kid with an active imagination who runs into some archaeologists during a day out in what appears to be a gravelly canyon. Then, for no apparent reason, there’s a sharp cut to some recycled footage depicting some (real) reptiles fighting and some (model) dinosaurs roaming around. When we next see Johnny, he’s living in a derelict building with his mother, older and younger sisters, and his father – the archaeologist shown previously. The world has been decimated by Ro-Man, we learn, who is now living in a cave down the road with a bedroom dresser (sorry, I mean a communication screen) and a bubble machine. The latter gets its own mention in the credits – its official title is the Automatic Billion Bubble Machine by N.A. Fisher Chemical Products, Inc.

It’s difficult to not be significantly dislodged by this sudden shift in narrative, but the story established in the opening sequence is easy to forget, namely because it isn’t referenced or acknowledged until the final scene. The recycled footage, which bookends the film along with its shock twist (followed by another shock twist, just to layer some more incoherence onto the already confused screenplay), is audacious and very obvious – it’s also really forced into the story by the Great Guidance, Ro-Man’s superior who dictates actions from the safety of a space craft somewhere. Both the aliens are played by George Barrows, a character actor renowned for playing gorillas – in fact, Ro-Man’s appearance was directly influenced by the fact that Barrows had his own gorilla costume. He should be commended for his role here; traipsing around the desolate desert landscape in a heavy outfit like this couldn’t have been easy.

While the hu-man cast are all quite generic – nice but forgettable – there is something endearing about Ro-Man. His conversations with the Great Guidance reveal him to be a rather pitiful, browbeaten character, who becomes increasingly conflicted because of his developing feelings towards Johnny’s older sister Alice. Despite his annihilation of all but six of the human race, and even after his brutal killing of one of those remaining, it is difficult to ever think of him as anything more than a pathetic, confused, and tragic figure. It is also Ro-Man who gets the most memorable lines (except, perhaps, the archaeologist’s assistant’s quick-fire retort to Alice: “I’m bossy? You’re so bossy you oughta be milked before you come home at night”) – Ro-Man and the Great Guidance discuss their mass genocide in theatrical, overblown language that is entirely incomprehensible, made all the more ludicrous by the physicality of the characters.

Certainly, there are elements of general badness throughout Robot Monster, but it would appear that the main reason for this film’s notoriety is Ro-Man. The recycled footage and negatively-exposed shots – not to mention the narrative incoherence – undoubtedly help, but it is the sheer preposterousness of this character that gives this little sci-fi/apocalypse picture its charm. It’s a harmless film, completely enjoyable and consistently entertaining and, in many ways, no better or worse than any number of equally low-budget 50s movies; a rather quaint addition to the elastic category of badfilm.