Before I get into the review proper for this one it’s important to point out that this film is based on the making of The Creeping Terror. For those that don’t know (I didn’t), the Creeping Terror was a super cheap monster movie released in 1964 and quickly forgotten until in 1993 Mystery Science Theater covered it, turning the film into a cult favorite for the folks that love bad movies. Having never seen the MST3k episode, and since Synapse was nice enough to include a 2k scan of the film, I watched The Creeping Terror first. Clocking in at 75 minutes, the film still feels overlong and it certainly has a memorable and poorly constructed monster. The film is about a probe from another planet landing on Earth and the creatures inside running around eating people. The monster looks like an alien shrub with a big long body/tail that looks like carpet. I’ll agree that it’s a pretty cruddy movie, filled with heavy handed narration in lieu of actual dialog, workman cinematography, limited music, and zero terror. One thing the film does have is plenty of shots of the monster with lots of people being swallowed up.
After surviving the Creeping Terror, I fired up The Creep Behind the Camera. The film tells the story of how the Creeping Terror came to be and it’s a lurid tale for sure. Star and director A.J. Nelson was a sociopath huckster hell bent on making the greatest monster movie ever. According to the film he was other, far worse things as well. The film is a hybrid between a biopic and a documentary. Throughout the film, interviews with the crew, financier, and wife of AJ are sprinkled giving the film a weird reenactment vibe. It’s almost as if the interviews were there solely to lend credence to the crazy stuff that happens in the narrative film. The structure of the film bounces around in time from production of the Creeping Terror, to events that took place before the film was produced, to after. I kept track of must of it but the time jumping for me was a little jarring. The acting is solid and despite the fact that this was obviously a modestly budgeted film, the period settings feel authentic and the story engaging.
The film does feel long in the tooth however as it’s nearly 2 hours long. that’s an awful long time to spend with the scumbag AJ Nelson and there were sequences that could have been tightened up to keep the movie rolling. My main problem with the film however is with the events that take place in the film that are particularly vile but with no interviews to back them up. Was AJ Nelson rapist? We have support from his wife that he was psychologically and physically abusive as well as unfaithful and dishonest so it’s not too big of a jump i suppose to believe that he was sexually violent as well. The film seems to leer on these scenes too much, supported with goofy music that almost seems like the film makers were making light of these very serious and disturbing scenes. There is another scene in the film that suggests that Nelson filmed child pornography in order to pay a debt owed to a gangster. Again, this is a very serious allegation with no interview to back it up. I even listened to the commentary during this scene and the director gave no indication that any of the subjects interviewed said Nelson did this. It’s a particularly vile addition to the film and if no one mentioned him doing this, that means they made it up. Frankly child pornography is nothing to joke about or to hang on anyone’s head unless there is some kind of proof or at least a witness testimony. The film makers state in the commentary that they were unsure about including the scene and I can see why. After that point, i had no interest in the film. The scene disgusted me especially if the film makers made it up to further vilify Nelson and shock the audience. He was a scam artist, a wife beater, and an adulterer, I’m already on board with him being a total piece of garbage. I didn’t need further proof, especially if it was invented for the sake of the film. There are other scenes in the film that are similarly questionable and that’s what makes enjoying this movie so difficult: i don’t know what was real and what they made up. Some things they have interviews to support, others, nothing. Where does the fantasy begin, where does reality end? I would have preferred if the interview footage was the majority of the film with reenactments to support what was said in the interviews. Instead we get a film that is supported by interviews but not fully which makes buying what the film is trying to sell difficult.
In the end The Creep Behind The Camera is a film that uncovers a seedy story of how a schlock movie was made. I can appreciate that. But it’s overly long, with a goofy tone that doesn’t suit the disturbing accusations the film makes. It seems to revel in the accusations which would be fine if we were talking about good old garden variety dishonesty and hucksterism. We’re not. The film accuses Nelson of rape, assault, and child prostitution. I can appreciate what the film makers were trying to do but the tone of the film is too light and deals with the considerably dark material with a cavalier attitude. If the child prostitution was thrown in for shock value, i was already shocked and it was unneeded. The scene pushed me to being outright disgusted, especially because the scene is just thrown into the film briefly and then quickly forgotten. The Creep Behind The Camera is hard to recommend though I can commend the film makers for what they set out to do, the result is one I can’t get behind, despite the obvious passion put into it.
I was hoping for a fun film about a guy who wanted to be larger than life and was willing to bend the rules to get there. Instead I got a portrait of a completely despicable man with no redeeming qualities and a film that lingers on his most sordid deeds with a jovial tone that doesn’t suit the subject matter.