Friday, October 23, 2015

Monster Team-up Reflection #28: Charles Band's The Creeps

Charles Band's 1997 Full Moon "little creature" entry, "The Creeps" is distinguished not by the writer/director/producer's killer puppets and demonic toys, but rather shorter versions of iconic monsters. As a comedic monster rally, it hardly holds the significance of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", but in its own, truncated way, still stands as an interesting effort. 

Actually, the film's concept is similar the Spanish monster team-up, "Assignment: Terror" (see "Monster Team-up #8": March '14), wherein a scientist resurrects classic monsters to gain world conquest. However, in"Creeps", the scientist springs the monsters to life through use of their actual novel manuscripts. 

The tale begins with Dr. Winston Berger (Bill Moynihan) visiting a library, under an alias, to study Mary Shelley's original draft of "Frankenstein". He makes his way into a secluded chamber and switches the book with a blank one when the pretty librarian, Anna Quarrels (Rhonda Griffin), isn't looking. 

When Quarrels discovers the switch, she enlists the aid of video-store manager/would-be detective, David Raleigh (Justin Lauer) to track down the thief. Though Raleigh identifies the doctor from his fingerprints, the hapless investigator is slow in pursuing the matter, allowing the thief to return to the scene to steal the original draft of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". (Why the doctor just didn't nab both copies in the first place is anyone's guess, but his reappearance does certainly pad the unfolding silliness.)

So, how exactly do the manuscripts bring the monsters to flesh-and-blood life? Well, the hows and whys are rather ambiguous, but Berber has fashioned an "Archetype Inducer", which has the miraculous capability of assembling the leads based on their literary descriptions (or as turns out, the movie interpretations of such). The books are displayed near Berger's vast equipment, including the compartments where the monsters are to manifest.

Incidentally, Berber must select a virgin as a conduit to complete the experiment. However, after he kidnaps Quarrels, he learns she isn't quite the ideal subject. He keeps her shackled nonetheless and boldly triggers his machinery, but when the monsters emerge, they're considerably smaller than intended.

The famous fiends are four in all: Dracula (Phil Fondacaro), the Frankenstein Monster (Thomas Wellington), the Mummy (Joe Smith) and the Werewolf (Jon Simanton). The actors do an swell job representing the troupe (with Wellington and Smith's performances based specifically on their Universal counterparts). Fondacaro, in particular, stands out as the ringleader: so articulate and suave in his annunciation and movements that his size is inconsequential. He is, for all intents and purposes, every ounce the Count. 

Raleigh manages to rescue Quarrels, and this prompts the two to squash the scientist's plans. Meanwhile, Quarrels' statuesque boss, Miss Christina (Kristin Norton) becomes an accidental victim when Berber dispatches the monsters to reclaim the escapee, but they mistake the head librarian for her subordinate. Christina is no better a fit for the experiment, doing nothing to alter the monsters' height, and is inadvertently sucked through a dimensional portal, only then to reappear as an incensed Valkyrie. 

Without question, such outlandishness does churn laughs, but most of the humor is subdued when compared to any given Abbott and Costello monster flick. On the other hand, if it had only dashed its gimmicks, "Creeps" could have matched any other serious, monster-rally picture. 

The film also exudes a quasi-adult sensibility (e.g., Norton has a nude scene), which would undoubtedly exclude kids from watching, and like later Full Moon installments, it never seems to reach a satisfying stride. It only succeeds well enough to entertain, with (and I trust this should come as no surprise) the monsters never reaching their goal of extended height (at least not within our dimension). Beyond wishing to return to their literary places of origin, they appear otherwise content with their physical circumstance by film's end, and through that, a commendable (though probably unintentional) message is conveyed.

Regardless of its various shortcomings (pun intended), "Creeps", like an old, sentimental B-film, remains unpretentiously lurid and offbeat. Sure, it's no classic, and your intellectual level won't rise a notch for watching it, but neither will you be worse for wear for viewing it. 

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