Director: Pete Schuermann/A.J. Nelson (Vic Savage)
Synapse Films

If you were asked, what is the worst movie ever made? What would you say? It’s a very subjective question. There are the usual answers, like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and MANOS, HANDS OF FATE. But with THE CREEPING TERROR, the drama behind the production of the film is actually far worse than the finished product. THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA reveals how a psychopathic narcissist conned everyone into believing he was going to create the greatest monster movie in history. And the result was a hot mess.

Before we dive into the story of how THE CREEPING TERROR came to be, let’s first explore the film itself, which is included as a bonus on the Blu-ray. A spaceship crashes in the fictional California area known as “Angel County.” A large monster resembling a giant slug with a towering head of tendrils emerges and begins eating the local populace, which includes horny teenagers, a group enjoying a hoedown, attendants at a dance hall, a squad of Army soldiers and anyone who will slip into its vagina-like orifice. The local sheriff (Byrd Holland, NIGHTMARE CIRCUS, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS) and his newlywed deputy, Martin Gordon (Vic Savage, NIGHT FIGHTER), investigate the downed craft and the sheriff is killed when he enters the ship. A special Army unit lead by Col. James Caldwell (John Caresio) and respected scientist Dr. Bradford (William Thourlby, TWO WEEKS NOTICE, DESTINATION INNER SPACE), try to determine the origin of the spaceship. Caldwell orders some of his troops to enter the craft and they find another creature in restraints surrounded by electronic equipment. Later, Bradford kills the first monster by tossing a hand grenade at it but he discovers it’s not an animal, it’s a robot. He runs back to the spaceship, enters it, and an explosion ejects him and releases the second monster. Gordon rams the creature with his police car and as Bradford lies dying, he explains that the first one was compiling data to transmit back to its home planet. Gordon enters the ship and attempts to destroy the controls as the ship begins transmitting, but is unsuccessful. Will the Earth be invaded by a fleet of alien craft or will it be by-passed? Only time will tell.

THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA was originally planned as a straight documentary by director Schuermann, but he chose to go the “docudrama” route which could land this film on the Lifetime Channel any night of the week. The film paints a hideous profile of actor/director Vic Savage (aka “A.J. Nelson” or “Art Nelson” and a dozen other aliases) added on to the original feature. Savage (Josh Phillips, HELLSING ULTIMATE, STALLED) realizes at a very young age that he wants to make movies. Living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he also realizes he needs to move away, but he meets first wife Lois (Jodi Lynn Thomas, PREACHER) in 1958, and over their three year marriage he sexually, mentally and physically abuses her.

They move to California where Savage sets himself up in a white suit, slicked-back hair and sunglasses to attract investors and possible cast members for the film. When he isn’t looking for money, he stalks Mamie Van Doren and Lucille Ball. While scouting for location shot at Spain Ranch in the California countryside, he is introduced to his assistant director by Charles Manson. He contacts William Thourlby (Bill LeVasseur, CRASH, BROKEN FENCES) who gives Savage a check for $25,000 as executive producer, and is given a role in the film as “Dr. Bradford.” Savage meets with many women as potential actors, but only if they pay him to be in the film. He also seduces other girls who he claims have “connections,” sleeping with them in his own home within clear sight of his wife. He ran a prostitution ring to keep money coming in for the film with a “madame” living in the house. In 1961, his wife finds her husband in a ménage a trios on the sofa and leaves him, taking her two sons to Bridgeport, CT to live with her brother.

Meanwhile, the filming of the movie is interrupted by Savage’s behavior on set. He’s either high, stoned, or doesn’t show up to direct. Jon Lackey, the man who created the monster suit, was never paid so in the dark of night, he confiscates the costume. Savage assures Thourlby that it’s a non-issue because he has re-created the costume and claims it’s better than the original. Later, a group of loan sharks come looking for their money but agree to pay Savage $15,000 – minus what he owes them – to make a child pornography film. He arranges his camera and a dirty mattress in a room in his house and, while kids are playing on the monster prop outside, he chillingly invites a little neighborhood girl to come in. Horrifically, it is inferred that the child pornography film is made, but taken by the loan sharks as payment after the fact. Even worse, Savage is never arrested for this nightmare, and nothing else is said about it in the film.

Savage finally realizes that he doesn’t have any options left, no money, no movie so he destroys everything in his house that could connect him with the film and starts driving east. Thourlby arrives at Savage’s vacant house to find movers putting everything into trucks. He finds a box of film reels and with a film editor, they review the footage and try to save the picture. Another tech discovers there is no audio track for the film. Thourlby hires a radio announcer to record a narrative for the film. He presents it to Crown International Pictures to be shown as a second feature on a double-bill and at drive-ins.

THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA is clearly not representative of actual events but there are testimonials of Thourbly, Savage’s ex-wife Lois Wisemen, and screenwriter Allan Silliphant. They certainly aren’t making anything up, but what parts of the film are “based on true events” or exaggerated, is never made clear. But here’s what we DO know as fact: Publicity materials stated the movie was filmed at Lake Tahoe, which straddles the border between California and Nevada, but it was actually filmed near a small, muddy pond in Simi Valley, CA. The musical soundtrack was composed by Frederick Kopp, and performed while he was the band director of Glendale High School. If you watch the dance hall scenes, you will hear instruments (saxophone, trumpet, etc) that are not present with the band performing on the stage. Robert Silliphant was credited as screenwriter, but it was his brother Allan who wrote the story. Allan went on to make the most successful 3-D pornographic film in history, “The Stewardesses” in 1969. Allan is the half-brother of Sterling Silliphant who won an Oscar for THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, so Savage tried to leverage that for THE CREEPING TERROR. Vic Savage reportedly died in 1975 in Kansas City from liver cancer.

After appearing in drive-ins, THE CREEPING TERROR debuted on syndicated television in 1976 and I remember watching it and wondering how this movie ever got made. A never-ending music score, an ongoing narration in place of dialogue, and one of the worst monsters ever to grace the silver screen. The film was prime material for Mystery Science Theater 3000, where it enjoyed a revival in popularity as “Experiment 606.”

Synapse Films presents THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA in High Definition 1080p 1:78:1 wide-screen format. Audio is 5.1 Surround Sound Digital Dolby. It features a lively audio commentary with director Shuermann, producer Nancy Theken and actors Josh Phillips and Jodi Lynn Thomas. Other bonuses include deleted scenes, an alternative ending, the breakdown of Savage’s death scene, a making-of feature, “How to Build a Carpet Monster” (just in time for Halloween!), Screamfest Black Carpet Q&A with Frank Coniff (MST3K’s “TV’s Frank,”) and a theatrical trailer.

The bonus of THE CREEPING TERROR struck from a 2K master shows the film in the best possible presentation with improved contrast with more grays and detail than the usual stark black-white contrast version, but that’s not saying much. There are no subtitles and no extra commentary for the film. Despite its place in “worst-movie-ever-made” lore, I can’t imagine it appearing in The Criterion Collection anytime soon, but stranger things have happened. (Jim Flack)