Fango Flashback: “THE CREEPS”

Originally posted on 2010-09-07 14:19:20 by Allan Dart

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN? HOUSE OF DRACULA? MAD MONSTER PARTY? THE MONSTER SQAUD? Yeah, there are a number of monster mash-up movies out there to choose from. But what other horror picture features Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and The Mummy…in miniature form? “Undersized. Undead. And angry.” That’s the tagline for THE CREEPS, Full Moon’s direct-to-video 1997 release that brought together four of horror’s most famous monsters, albeit in scaled-down sizes. The once-colossal Frankenstein’s Monster reborn as a three-foot fiend? Hey, it’s the jumbo shrimp of horror cinema! But what else would you expect from Full Moon and the Band family…

Let’s be honest. The only reason someone rents a movie like THE CREEPS is because of the gimmick of casting “little people” (I’m going to be P.C. here, as most people of small stature oppose the use of the terms ”dwarf” and “midget”) in iconic horror roles. That being said, one of things to THE CREEPS’ credit is that while the filmmakers do indulge in the “minuscule monster” angle, the movie doesn’t sink to a series of tasteless short jokes or repetitive and sophomoric humorless indignities aimed at the diminutive actors. Trust me, I realize that THE CREEPS doesn’t set the watermark for the advancement of little people in motion pictures, but it’s a far cry from the abominable mini-vampire flick ANKLE BITERS.

So, how do Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and The Mummy end up in our world as pint-sized terrors?  Well, THE CREEPS doesn’t set the watermark for coherent and logical storytelling, either. Come on, Charles Band directed this film! You know, the guy behind GHOULIES, the PUPPEMASTER films, DOLLMAN, HEAD OF THE FAMILY, BLOOD DOLLS and THE GINGERDEAD MAN. Tiny terrors are this guy’s bread and butter, and you gotta believe that this thought entered Mr. Band’s head: “Hey, what if we brought back Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolf Man and The Mummy, but with a twist… They’re little people!” And you gotta believe that when someone asked him why they were little, Mr. Band replied, “I don’t know. We’ll come up with something!”

An “archetype inducer.” That’s the preposterous solution. What’s an “archetype inducer,” you ask? It’s the invention of the mad (although not supremely bright) scientist Dr. Winston Berber (Bill Moynihan), who has built this machine that uses the original manuscripts for books based on Dracula (Bram Stoker’s story), Frankenstein’s Monster (Mary Shelley’s novel), The Wolf Man (Guy Endore’s WEREWOLF OF PARIS) and The Mummy (I’m guessing Jane C. Loudon’s THE MUMMY, OR A TALE OF THE TWENTY-SECOND CENTURY) along with the sacrifice of a virgin to “transform mythic, cultural and literary archetypes into living entities” that will allow Dr. Berber to have the “powers of darkness” serve his will and help him rule the world! Uh-huh. Like I said, not the most well-thought-out plot device in cinematic history.

Berber’s plan, however, is derailed when the kidnapped virgin—Anna (Rhonda Griffin), who works in the Rare Books division of a library—isn’t REALLY a virgin—and is rescued by the part-time video store owner/part-time private eye David (Justin Lauer), whom Anna hired to find the original manuscript of Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN that Berber absconded with. The pair escape with the four manuscripts, and now the shrunken quartet must track them (and Anna) down in order to perform the procedure again and hopefully return them to their full-sized form.

OK, enough of the plot. THE CREEPS takes a while to get going and only clocks in at 80 minutes (like many Full Moon titles, the running time is padded a bit), and yes, the acting, script and production values leave something to be desired, and yes, the score and the FX are kinda cheesy, and yes, this is another case of an amusing-sounding concept not executed to its full potential, but…I still dig THE CREEPS. It’s not an offensive film, or even a licentious one. Yeah, there’s an unnecessary scene where Anna cuts her foot and takes off her shirt to wrap the wound, but Griffin doesn’t even go topless. The most disturbing (and perversely engaging) scene involves the film’s most disturbing and unnerving character: The Wolf Man. Benicio Del Toro and Taylor Lautner can kiss my tuchus, because I’ve never seen a lycanthrope as bizarrely malefic and frighteningly perverted as this diminutive creature of the night. Part LAND OF THE LOST’s Chaka/part Gary Oldman’s Bat Creature in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, this werewolf is a friggin’ unsettling, sneering, seething sight to behold. And in that aforementioned disturbing scene, he and the Monster strip down and fondle Anna’s strapped-down boss. That’s creepy enough—and then the Wolf Man starts drooling…into the camera…several times! Trust me, when you see it, you won’t forget it. 

THE CREEPS isn’t heavy on the sex, the blood or the violence—especially when compared to the graphic R-rated fare being released nowadays. There aren’t any scares to be had, either—these dudes move slower than the line at the DMV. I mean, Boris Karloff’s Imhotep looks look Usain Bolt when compared to this shambling lot of little monsters. And maybe it’s ’cause the two prior times I’ve seen this film it was while drinking with friends, but watching it sober and by myself, I didn’t really laugh out loud that much. But I’m glad that THE CREEPS isn’t simply (and crassly) a bunch of short stingers and little people jokes. And even though I’ve pointed out several of the film’s faults, I still smiled and enjoyed revisiting these Universal Monsters in miniature form chasing after and terrorizing their victims. What ridiculous yet loveable Z-movie nonsense! THE CREEPS is a gimmick, but like a good William Castle movie, it’s a gimmick that makes you foolishly grin. And that leads me to my final point: 

THE CREEPS is moderately successful because it plays these mini-monsters straight. They aren’t in on the joke or going for laughs (drooling scene excepted). They simply want to be returned to their full size. Hey, I know this ain’t exactly high drama, but I give a ton of credit to the main “villain”—and the monster with the only speaking role in the film: Dracula, as played by Phil Fondacaro. I’m a big Fondacaro fan, and if you don’t recognize the name, you might recall the face and some of his credits. OK, you might not be able to pick him out of the 500 Ewoks in RETURN OF THE JEDI, but Fondacaro was the sympathetic Malcolm in TROLL, the fierce warrior Vohnkar in WILLOW, Sir Nigel in GHOULIES II, Vincent in BORDELLO OF BLOOD, Roland in the SABRINA TV series and Chihuahua in George A. Romero’s LAND OF THE DEAD. 

A Full Moon regular, Fondacaro steals the show in THE CREEPS. He plays the bloodsucking legend as a no-nonsense, proud and determined individual, and while he may be small in stature, Fondacaro’s sober performance looms largest among all of the actors. As far as vampires go, Gary Oldman can kiss my… Wait, he’s pretty awesome in BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA. Well, Lance Henriksen can kiss my… Wait, he’s pretty awesome, too, in NEAR DARK. Well, Eddie Murphy in VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN can kiss my tuchus! He can’t hold a candle to Fondacaro—although I wish Fondacaro was given the chance to bite someone’s neck, transform into a bat and act with John Witherspoon. 

THE CREEPS is a high-concept horror flick: little people as memorable monsters. It’s not hard to see, no pun intended, the movie’s shortcomings. But for what it is, it works. And that miniature Frankenstein’s Monster? I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one…

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