Movie MonDAVEs: Halloween Edition 2022 (Part Three)

It’s October again, friends. It’s the time of year when all movie geeks turn their attention towards the macabre and creepy. Here on MonDAVEs we will be doing the same thing, though perhaps in a different way.

This month I shall be focusing on some of my favorite independent horror/sci fi B movies from the early to mid 1960s. These are films that fall outside of the studio system, made by a ragtag bunch of hopefuls with limited funds and resources, but fueled by the desire to make their own movie. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes…not so much. I will give equal time to both. Join me as I discuss the stories behind the films, and the movies themselves. Then, by all means, watch them for yourself…if you dare.

Part Three: The Creeping Terror (1964)

So far in this series, I have shared stories of directors and amateur film makers succeeding beyond their means to make interesting, quality films. This time, I’ll be examining a two bit hustler who made an absolute mess that stands tall as a cult classic film that is unintentionally hilarious and the very definition of the “so bad it’s good” idea that all B-movie aficionados love. Let’s dig into the making of the movie first, and then we’ll get into digging the movie. It’s pretty wild, y’all. Buckle in.

At the center of the story of the making of The Creeping Terror is a man named Alan N. White, although he worked under several aliases during his “career”, most notably Arthur (A.J.) Nelson, and Vic Savage which, admittedly, is a pretty cool stage name. Unfortunately that’s about the only cool thing about the guy. According to all sources, he was a two bit criminal involved in pretty much any crime or scheme you can imagine. I won’t go into detail here, only what is necessary for the tale of the film. Let’s just say that the man was a crooked hustler, and used his abilities in this field to make his monster movie.

Nelson enlisted aspiring screenwriter Alan Silliphant (brother of successful screenwriter Sterling Silliphant) to write the script. Alan turned in a parody of a Hollywood monster movie set in Lake Tahoe. Nelson was either too thick to understand this, or too inept to make it happen. The shooting location was changed to the Spahn Ranch (which would later become base of operations for Charles Manson) in Los Angeles County, and the massive Lake Tahoe replaced by a small pond. Nelson also shot the film as a straight up monster movie. After seeing the changes made and witnessing some of what he called the “remarkably rinky-dink” production, Silliphant exited the production in an attempt to at least somewhat save his reputation. This fact alone makes him the single smartest person involved with this movie.

As is the case with all B-movies, the cast was filled with mostly unknowns, in fact, Nelson offered parts to local business persons in exchange for a small investment in the film. The story goes that Nelson would shoot the same scene multiple times, often with no film in the camera while the investors were doing their parts, thus keeping up the ruse and being able to pocket their money, knowing full well these “performances” would never see the light of day. To the best of my knowledge, this was the original “pay to play” scam that so many aspiring performers are victims of today.

Most of the financing came from the only actor in the film who wasn’t someone’s girlfriend (or a wannabe with deep enough pockets), a certain Mr. William Thourlby, a model, actor, Marlboro Man, and future consultant to President Nixon. Taken in by the movie’s star Vic Savage (that’s Nelson again) and his passion for the project, Thourlby was convinced to write a fairly substantial check to help make the film. Where this money all went is unclear-certainly it was not used on the film. Most likely it was squandered away on Nelson’s drug habit and whatever other side hustles he had going on at the time.

Now, a monster movie needs a monster, right? Okay. Enter Jon Lackey, a known illustrator/sculptor/writer to build the beast. What he imagined was a lumbering slug like creature with tentacles that had eyes on the ends, and a gaping maw that could swallow people whole. With a proper budget this could have been quite the creepy creature, and many an artist would later have fun trying to flesh out the original vision. A few mouse clicks will show that the internet is full of interesting interpretations of the monster. In the finished film however, what we get is hands-down the most laughably ridiculous monster ever made. The neck/head is phallic looking, while its tentacles are clearly old springs, and the construction of the monster seems to be a shag carpet base with a…throw rug on top of a…tarp, maybe? It is clearly operated by a few teenagers walking in a bent over position and pulling victims into the maw by hand. Oh, and that maw? It looks disturbingly like a different orifice. I’ll let you decide for yourself what that may be.

But wait, there’s more! Most of the action in the movie relies on the monster roaming the countryside and devouring people. Mostly ladies in short skirts, which happens a lot, and probably says more about Nelson/Savage than any documentary ever could. Anyway, at one point during the production, the monster disappeared. Vanished. Gone. When inquiries were made, Lackey simply stated, “He’s in hiding. He’s not going to work until he gets paid.” Not to be deterred, Nelson just built a new monster, albeit an even sillier looking version which is actually kind of impressive when you think about it. Making the stupidest looking monster in film history look even worse? that’s quite an achievement.

The music for The Creeping Terror was composed by Frederic Kopp, a music professor at Los Angeles State College. All things considered, it’s a pretty decent score. Kopp provided $6000.00 of the film’s budget, and later would file a lawsuit against Nelson for “fraud and deceit”. He won, although Nelson was conspicuously absent from the trial.

Which makes sense, because before the film was completed, Nelson himself would make like the monster and disappear. Vanished. Gone. This happened during a break in the shooting. Convinced something was wrong, Thourlby (remember him?) went to Nelson’s house looking for his director. He found no trace of the man, but he did find a crew repossessing the furniture. Thourlby also managed to find what was left of the footage from The Creeping Terror and rescued it.

Upon watching the footage he realized that the film had been shot with little or no sound. Most scenes had no sound, and what was in place was minimal. No soundtrack reels were ever found, so to try and save something of his investment, Thourlby took it upon himself to piece together whatever he could from the footage. The gaping holes in sound required there to be dubbing by any of the actors available to do so, and large chunks of narration had to be included to fill in gaps in the story and explain what was happening onscreen. A valiant effort all around, but nothing could save this movie.

The Creeping Terror may have been screened in the 1960’s at drive ins and cheap matinees (I’m not actually sure), but was sold to television in the 1980s and began to appear on video once it fell into the public domain. Though its profile was raised considerably by an appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Creeping Terror has mostly labored in obscurity and grown into legendary myth like proportions as the “man eating carpet” movie, known mostly to those who actively seek it out, or stumble into it by mistake.

Arthur Nelson/Vic Savage never made another film, and basically fell off the face of the Earth. Some sources say he went back to his birth name (Alan White), and died of kidney failure in Kansas in 1975. Others posit that his sordid past finally caught up with him and he sleeps with the fishes after crossing the wrong people. I don’t know which is correct, or if either is.

All right, so there’s your backstory. As for the movie itself…I love it. It is truly, laughably, inconceivably awful in all the right ways. You can’t help but giggle at the ridiculousness of the monster, and the fact that none of its victims put up much of a fight-in fact some of them appear to be climbing into it. The constant narration is just a spectacularly weird touch, and the voice looping? I’ve seen Kung Fu movies from the 1970s that felt more accurate. I mean, the fact that the actors have to slide under the spaceship to enter it because they couldn’t afford a door

Whaddya mean, “what spaceship?”…oh, right I forgot to tell you the plot. Um, aliens. Small town gets invaded and eaten. Police, military, and scientists try to stop it. That’s basically it. You know what? The plot doesn’t matter. You don’t watch this film for the plot, you watch for the cheese factor. You watch because it makes Ed Wood movies feel like Spielberg epics. You watch The Creeping Terror out of sheer curiosity because it is often cited as the worst film ever made. In fact for many years I believed it to be the world’s worst movie myself.

Until I saw next week’s feature. See you next Monday at the Valley Lodge!

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