Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Full Moon Fever: The Creeps

by Patrick Bromley
Undersized. Undead. And angry!

I've been away from Full Moon movies for a while, so I have to admit that I got weirdly excited when I put on the company's new Blu-ray of The Creeps -- aka Deformed Monsters -- and I realized pretty quickly that it comes from a time when Full Moon movies -- and all low-budget horror movies like it -- were still shot on film. I was immediately nostalgic for not just the Full Moon of the past, but for a time when the lines between "real" movies and little direct-to-video cult movies like this were much more blurred. They could rightfully sit next to one another on the video store shelves.
My excitement didn't last a whole lot longer, though, as The Creeps -- one of the few '90s Full Moon efforts I had not yet seen -- turned out to not really be my kind of movie. The movie stars Rhonda Griffin as Anna, a librarian who allows a man named Dr. Winston Berber (Bill Moynihan) access to Mary Shelly's original manuscript for Frankenstein only to have him steal it from the library. She hires a video store clerk moonlighting as a private detective (Justin Lauer) to help locate the text, but then Berber returns to the library to check out -- and presumably steal -- Bram Stoker's Dracula. It turns out he is collecting rare horror manuscripts and using them to power an invention he calls the Archetype Inducer, which will bring history's most famous monsters -- Dracula, Frankentstein's Monster, the Wolfman and the Mummy -- to life. All he needs to do it is a virgin sacrifice, but when the experiment goes wrong because a captured Anna escapes at the last minute, the monsters emerge from the machine at a diminutive three feet tall. Berber promises to make the monsters full size, provided he can once again capture Anna and perform the required sacrifice.

There's almost too much plot in The Creeps, which spends a great deal of time on the capture of a second woman (Anna's boss at the library, played by Kristin Norton), as well as Anna and David running around in circles and bickering in an uninteresting way. The little monsters -- a staple of Full Moon Features -- are the real draw here, and they're handled pretty well. I may not love the interpretation of Dracula by Phil Fondacaro (he of Bordello of Blood fame), but I appreciate that he plays the material more or less straight, which works to bring out the comedy. Yes, The Creeps is meant to be a horror comedy, which I suppose could be inferred when I mentioned the whole "3 ft. tall monsters" thing. I appreciate that the tone is less silly and broad than many of Full Moon's more recent horror comedies -- the Evil Bongs and the Gingerdead Mans and their respective crossovers -- but just because the movie doesn't go for easy, stupid jokes doesn't mean that it's funny. The most comically entertaining moments in the film come from the monsters, which are pretty well-realized in their makeups and physicality, especially for a movie of this scale and budget. As long as they're on screen, The Creeps is kind of fun. The bad news is that they're not on screen a whole lot.
Also of note is the fact that this is a rare PG-13 Full Moon movie, which means it backs off the sex and violence that characterize so much of the company's output. Sure, there are still some boobs on display -- Full Moon gotta Full Moon -- but the overall tone has more in common with old Amblin movies than the full-fledged exploitation they made their name releasing as they got their start in the early '90s. This gives the film the appeal of a curiosity, but by sanding off some of their edges The Creeps sacrifices some of the personality for which they're known. It's kind of like Band is trying to make his version of a kids movie, but then can't help but indulge some of his natural impulses and so he throws toplessness into the proceedings so as not to let down the regular fan base. I'm reminded of when Lloyd Kaufman made Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. at Troma (the sort-of sister studio in low-budget horror, cult and exploitation to Band's Full Moon). His goal was to make a movie that was more mainstream and commercial, but then he loaded it with too much of his characteristic weirdness to really work for most audiences. The result was a movie that played it too safe for the rabid Troma fans but was too outrageous for the masses. The Creeps is a little like that.

Maybe my two biggest obstacles to enjoying The Creeps more than I do are the score by Carl Dante, which is juvenile and runs over seemingly every frame of the movie (I have never missed Richard Band more than I did watching this), and the performances. I won't make an impassioned argument that the acting in Full Moon Features has always been their strongest suit, but I also know that the movies have starred actors like Jeffrey Combs, Andrew Divoff, Barbara Crampton, Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Lance Henriksen, Seth Green, Denice Duff and many, many others, all of whom are talented and who elevate the material with said talents. Even some of the casts not made up of genre stars have worked in Full Moon movies because they know the movie they're in and pitch their performances in just the right way to make it fun. The actors in The Creeps, however, just don't quite work for me, with Griffin relegated to mostly screaming and Lauer in full-on "funny guy" mode. They generate hardly any chemistry together. Bill Moynihan, playing the movie's de facto villain, does a version of a mad scientist by way of community theater; he's saddled with some dialogue that might be challenging for any performer and clearly makes some choices in the way he approaches the role, but comes off more as an actor trying for something than a convincing character.
In some ways, The Creeps feels like an anomaly within the Full Moon catalogue, whether it's the PG-13 rating (this was not released under Full Moon's family-friendly subsidiary Moonbeam Entertainment) or the fact that it's one of only a handful of Full Moon titles shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. But it's also another horror comedy about miniature monsters with a score that's too prevalent and a limited number of locations, so it's a lot like most Full Moon movies in a number of ways, too. As my first Full Moon movie after a long time away, I was reminded of so much of the company's filmography while still not really getting what I want out of a title like this. It's weirdly middle-of-the-road, neither slick or professional enough to break through to a wider audience nor truly bananas enough to carve out its own space in the corners of cult moviedom next to titles like Ooga Booga and Head of the Family. It's hard to imagine I would ever be accusing a movie with a three-foot tall werewolf of playing it safe, but here we are.

Got a movie you'd like to see covered in Full Moon Fever? Let us know in the comments below.

2 comments:

  1. Great review, Patrick. I have actually never heard of this FM title.

    Being Debbie Rochon fans, I would love to see you cover Band's "Scream" knock-off slasher film, "Bleed" (2002). Shadow Films counts, right?!

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  2. I've got a special place in my heart for this one... it's one of my favorite ex's favorite movies. It's strengths, besides it's gimmick obviously, are Phil Fondacaro playing it so straight (he seems to take this role as an opportunity to really play Dracula,) and it being so representative of what it is. When Jackie Brown came out, David Denby said that Tarantino "really likes pulp for its stiff, repetitive, bullheaded qualities," a statement I found revelatory; later on, I heard the exact same word, "bullheaded", leveled at Death Proof, my personal favorite of his movies. Real B-movies are generally one of two things: astonishingly unpredictable, or predictably disappointing; and both avenues are a fulfillment of some sort of ethereal promise. I remember Chaybee's appreciation of Lost After Dark hinging on its success at not really being anything special, ha ha, and The Creeps, by giving you next to nothing besides what the box promises (dwarf actors in monster costumes,) is a Full Moon movie as through and through as it should be. Italics.

    As far as Full Moon requests, my favorite is, has, and always will be Blood Dolls, Band's deliberately "problematic" riff on Mr. Sardonicus. I'd love to hear Patrick's take on it (don't get hung up on the racist puppets!)

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