Sub Rosa // Unrated // $13.98 // February 24, 2004
Review by Bill Gibron | posted April 18, 2004
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Graphical Version
It's sad to say it, but the serial killer has become a hoary old cliché. Once the ultimate boogie man, able to scare adults and children alike with his tall tales of skin eating, genital saving and corpse grinding, now he or she has been reduced to an action adventure punchline, an acting tour de force worthy of Oscar accolade. There are a lot of reasons why the mass murderer has dropped off the demonology charts, resting somewhere between angry police captain and nymphomaniac Goth girl in the realm of the redundant. Seems like whenever a movie wants to up the menace factor, they find some sexually confused misfit, able to eat his own feces and hold down a high profile job at the same time, and give him a home life more fudged up than Paris Hilton and Trudi Chase combined. All the prop manager has to do is hand the heathen a hacksaw, and let the costume designer drape them in ornate ritualistic garb and the blood and box office starts to fly. The deconstruction of the consequential carver can be traced back to one Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th series of films. After Mama Voorhees went on her meat cleaver (and various and sundry other implements) massacre, she left it to her maniacal, mutated son to continue the carnage. And as he did, craven J went from horrible Hell-beast to hockey mask wearing weirdo. But somewhere around sequel six, he became a cosmic joke, an invincible silent film comedian with a great deadpan and some sour slapstick all his own. Silence of the Lambs helped the ongoing re-evolution by doubling the dose of deadliness. Not only did we get Buffalo Bill's befuddled body issues, but cult icon Hannibal Lector's leg lunchables came along for the eerie ride as well. When your continuous corpse creator becomes a suave leading man with dietary differences, the legend of Ed Gein is truly over.

That is why Creep is such crap. It wants to be a serious look at psychotic murdering mixed with good old-fashioned exploitation mayhem. It hopes that a dark tone and homemade gore will help overcome its low budget limits. Sadly, all this terrible trash does is add fuel to the fire of foolishness, slowly thawing the threat once posed by a homicide hoarder.

The DVD:
When he was a young boy Angus Lynch was horribly abused by his mother and stepfather. Forcing him to wear a dress and "touch" his sister in disgusting ways, the now disturbed deviant has become an unflinchingly brutal modern day murder machine. And he's just escaped from jail. After gaining his freedom (and killing a few innocents along the way) he makes a beeline for his sister, Kascha, locating her at the strip club she works at (go figure that one out). She is very happy to see him, but miserable at the same time. She lives with a lump of lard named Donny. He treats her like crap and abuses the boob job out of her. Angus rights things with sibling Kascha's home life, then continues his killing spree, exotic dancer relative in tow. While all these atrocities are going on, a female cop is becoming unglued. Haunted by the death of her mother and determined to figure out why she had to die, Jackie Ketchum is at the breaking point. Her police chief father is worried about her. He is also concerned that Lynch will be coming after him. David Ketchum was the officer that finally brought the homicidal horror to justice. Fate and a bend of the narrative will bring these individuals together in a way most people won't expect. Others will recognize it the minute the opening credits roll.

For the first 30 minutes of this movie misfire, Creep promises to be something completely sick and twisted. It begins with demented parents prodding their kids (who remain, thankfully, off-screen) to engage in child pornography for the camera. We next move on to a cat and mouse police chase where our anti-hero Angus ends up biting the ear off an officer. This scene takes place in a run down dairy where pools of brackish water lend a real atmosphere of filth. By about minute 20, our killer has snapped the neck of another innocent man and carved up the dead guy's girlfriend in nicely blood-drenched style. But right about the moment that notorious South Florida nymphomaniac call girl Kathy Willets (famous for being arrested as a high class whore for Broward County big wigs) does her depressing strip tease, fake balloon breast static throughout the bump and grind, the movie derails. Maybe it's the bathtub booty call between an endlessly dancing bimbo and an ancient Ken Doll look-a-like (it's about as sexy as sunstroke) that subverts the sinister. Perhaps it's the bloated visage of Lenny Blythe Jr. as a prissy, pissed-off Paul Prodomme persona - practically sweating every toxin he's ever taken in as he insults his wife for not selling her "stuff" to the paying customers - that mutates the mean. Or it could be Tom Karr's lisping lack of talent as a police chief that sounds like he should be addressing Paul Lynne's lifestyle choices instead of directing the law enforcement efforts of a major city that changes the carnage.

But the real reason behind the movie's misgivings is that Creep has nothing really new to say for slasher fans. Maybe in 1995, when the film made its direct to video debut, a magnetic tape portrait of a Henry-like psycho killer matched with large breasted soft porn babes seemed like gang bang busters. Though it arrived at the end of the homemade horror phase (before The Blair Witch Project would jumpstart it again), it does have a professional pallor that indicates a desire to sell a serious, if occasionally campy, fright flick. But once the atrocious acting of Kathy Willets steps in and soils the circumstances, and main maniac Joel Wynkoop starts to chew the entire South Florida scenery, this murder movie just stops making sense. Now it's not necessarily a prerequisite for a scary show to make perfect sagacity. You can substitute suspense, atmosphere, gore, acting or directional genius to generate the jitters. But Creep is just too steeped in a series of social issues/ethical taboos to start seeing the horrors for the tease. What with its focus on incest, abuse and childhood trauma, it's all pop psychology and repressed memories. Everyone's messed up and no one is free from the damaging effects of being born and raised. If writer/director Tim Ritter had found an original voice to visualize his version of the genre mainstay, Creep could have been a decent, if occasionally derivative, descent into pragmatic terror. But the entire tone and tenure is wrong, tainted by a desire to dip too readily into the pool of panic pictures to formulate its creature features.

Indeed, director Ritter fancies himself a genre reprocessing auteur. He tries to combine classic moments from much more famous b-films with winks to past masters like Herschell Gordon Lewis, John Carpenter, and Fred Olan Rey to craft his crackpot concoctions. But it is one thing to pay homage. It's another to simply recycle other's ideas into a perplexing puzzle of misplaced reverence. Trying to take a Natural Born Killers like look at ruthless slaughter, but ending up being more Sharon than Oliver Stone, Ritter can't resolve his fanboy leanings and his filmmaking folly. Now, Ritter does have a way with a frame, able to make what appears to be a real life motion picture out of credit card bills and borrowed craft services. He doesn't make many technical or compositional blunders and he delivers a semi-proficient product that could pass for a film under even the most intense scrutiny. He also knows how to insert segments into his big screen shoals to make up for obvious mistakes. But Creep just can't connect. It simply tries too hard to give its characters backstory, to build them into something they can never be on-camera. Indeed, the reason this movie rambles and repeats itself so often is because it doesn't have the guts to use its repulsive ideas to increase the sleaziness. Sibling victims of childhood sexual abuse may grow up to be troubled felons and low self-esteemed strippers (at least, if what Howard Stern says is true) but Angus and Kascha are like lite versions of the venerable victims. Sure, Angus loves to slaughter, but it's more like Fat Mechanic Goes Nutzoid than a study in a troubled mind. And Kathy Willets plays the first onscreen exotic dancer who is simultaneously a contradiction in title terms and so utterly believable that her body baring balderdash takes on a snuff film quality.

On the other side of the cellblock is the disappointing dynamic between the members of the Ketchum clan, police officer Jackie (a totally mannered Patricia Paul) and her supposedly caring commissioner/captain father, David. Deranged producer Tom Karr's anti-thespian turn as the head heat is really bad, not even close to being commanding or convincing. But Pat Paul's patrol person paradigm is equally distressing. If you combined Dirty Harry with the worst case of PMS you've ever imagined, you still wouldn't match the moodiness of this frantic, frazzled female fuzz. Sure, she is haunted by memories of her mother's death, but since when did plaguing nightmares excuse vigilante justice? She's such an unstable sort that her trip wire can be set off by having a sip of water. People who thought Mark Furman was a powder keg just waiting to detonate, need to look at Jackie Ketchum's 'violate due process first and maim second' mentality when it comes to Miranda, to see the real insanity behind the thin blue line. So when both the swishy Sergeant and his hair trigger child become entries in their own father/daughter sex salvo, Creep turns cowardly, shocking for a stupid surprise's sake. Since Karr couldn't sell subversion perversion to prison lifers and Patricia pretends that quiet struggling symbolizes traumatized submission, the overall effect is one of intolerance, not terror. This final fudging with the Ketchum family is just one of the many misplaced endings Creep tosses onto the narrative woodpile, hoping one catches fan fire. But not even a last minute reprieve, a return to more stripper stuff or an out of the blue explosion can cure what ails this film. No amount of pomp can reclaim the uninteresting circumstances.

Had Creep cashed in on the gore school of excess, then maybe this movie might have worked. There are gallons of fake blood here, but huge vats of vein vileness were needed – plus a little professional effects work – to overcome the character study stasis being shoveled. Ritter is not at fault, since he is really trying, overreaching to make his miscreant killers a direct descendant of their own decadent upbringing. He knows the genre, has worked in it with some success over nearly a decade and has the ability to take that daring leap that so many wannabe filmmakers can never seem to get to; that of actually making his cinematic visions come to life by any means necessary. But he's got neither the writing chops nor hired actor competence to pull off this psychological butchery bunk. With better material and a cast that had at least half of its head out of its own performance posterior, Creep might have lived up to its title in the travails of terror. But this film is as forced and counterfeit as Ms. Willett's chest chunks. And equally unappetizing.

The Video:
Creep looks colorful, crisp and clean in this direct to DVD video transfer. It uses a cropped widescreen imagery (around 1.66:1, though it may be more around 1.60:1) to sell its cinematic aspirations. On a few occasions, the film's no budget boundaries reveal a bad lighting setup or a lack of technical prowess. But overall, this non-anamorphic picture surpasses most VHS variations and really presents a professional facade. Only the lack of a 16x9 mastering makes this vibrant visualization void.

The Audio:
Surprisingly, the aural presentation here is also excellent. Most made for nothing productions skimp on sound, hoping an internal mic or an eventual incident of in-studio ADR will fix their sensory shortcomings. Creep, though, has a very nice Dolby Digital Stereo soundtrack which highlights Jacksonville based Goth gang Alucarda's Goblin-inspired Italian movie mimicry quite nicely, as well as keeping the dialogue and effects front, center and crystalline.

The Extras:
Whether you hate the movie or not, whether you find the multiple finales as false as the rest of its absurd character studying, you'll have to admit one thing: the bonus material on this DVD is fantastic. Absolutely brilliant! Perhaps the best behind the scenes walk through on how a no-budget, completely independent production got its start, its stars and its struggles, the Making of Creep documentary is must see viewing for fans of self-financed motion picture pipe dreams. Starting from square one and moving consecutively through every aspect of the movie's creation, this is an incredibly detailed and mesmerizing feature. At almost 90 minutes (as long as Creep itself) we witness the media feeding frenzy that accompanied the hiring of the notorious Willet's, tales of Tom Karr wanting the movie renamed Deranged 2 and lot's of outtakes and deleted material. The director obviously scrapbooks everything even remotely associated with himself and his films, so there is lots of print and publicity material present (even snippets of the A Current Affair episode featuring Willet's and the gang on set). But the best moments in this amazing real-life saga come after the movie is completed and Ritter is taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous distributors who basically rob him blind. This sad, cautionary conclusion to what was, up until then, a true depiction of a labor of love in process makes for a more compelling, complete drama than anything evident in Creep. And that entire tainted project aside, it makes this DVD worth renting...or even owning.

But the wealth of contextual wonders doesn't stop there. Creep contains three commentary tracks (yes...three!), each one focusing on a different facet of the film's making and history. Covering some of the same ground as he did with his excellent featurette, director Ritter sits down with his wife (who worked as a production assistant on the film) and continues to spin his stories of the trials and tribulations of an outsider auteur. Track 2 features some of the cast: actors Joel D. Wynkoop, Asbestos Felt – who played a crazy drunk named Tom Russo and worked with Ritter in the past, and R. M. Hoopes –who essayed the awful role of the Angus and Kascha's porno producing step-dad. They have a good old time roasting the movies many misgivings, commenting on how horrible Kathy Willet's "augmentations" are and, generally, passing along hilarious anecdote's about making the movie. Track 3 gives us a chance to hear Deranged producer Tim Karr discuss his take on serial killer Ed Gein. Actually taken from a series of interviews conducted by Creep producer Michael D. Moore, Karr gives a history of the famous Wisconsin psycho and provides intimate details about what was found in his farmhouse when the police finally raided it. Karr then details the production of Deranged (1974) discussing the link to Gein and working with a young special effects wizard in one of his first paying gigs. Indeed, Karr along with everyone else here, drops F/X guru Tom Savini's name so many times, you'd swear he had some direct involvement in the film (some Tom tooled props from Deranged ended up in Creep). Taken together, this trio of tracks offers wildly varying insights into the making of this, and other, low budget fare and are well worth a listen... or two.

Final Thoughts:
Creep raises a difficult conundrum, one that rears its harrowing head a great deal in DVD reviewing. Sometimes, a brilliant title with great cinematic elements is hobbled by a horrible, incomprehensible digital package that undermines almost all the excellence the film strived for. On the other hand, a really heinous movie can be salvaged (or even shown up) by a bevy of bonanza like bonus features. Creep is such a laudable latter case scenario. The movie is yet another phase in the further devaluation of the serial killer as scary monster. It's preposterous portrait of evil inert just spends too much time in family member fornication and not enough effort in creating a completely creepy or callous mood. But once the film is over and the DVD delicacies are sampled, Sub Rosa Studio's souvenir for this film is phenomenal. Between the multiple alternate commentary tracks and an unbelievably thorough behind the scenes feature, there is more than enough here to entertain and enlighten. This may be the first time that fans will have to sit though a really bad b-movie to understand the contextual underpinnings of the extras being presented (viewing the movie first does make them that much better). So be warned. This DVD is being recommended. Fans of fright flicks may even warm to its wandering wickedness. But Creep is really a cruddy mess, and the critical call on a possible viewing stems solely from the adventures in movie making advice inside. In many ways, it signals the final death knell for the mass murderer as menacing entity. But it equally highlights the reason why DVD is such a stellar format. VHS couldn't save this shite. The aluminum disc becomes a superhero to Creep's continual shortcomings.

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