I didn’t want to be a Cinémasochist.
As a young movie buff, I was really really (really!) striving to like “good” movies. I grew up watching Hitchcock movies on sunday afternoons on TV. At age 16, I began going to repertory theatres to catch up on classics. I was watching classic and foreign films by the bucket loads and subjecting myself to profoundly meaningful films that were all intending to make me a better person.
Having picked up the Medved’s Fifty Worst Films of All Time, I did enjoy watching a bad movie from time to time for shits and giggles but otherwise my intents were very serious.
Science-Fiction classics, though, were getting hard to come by. The recent wave of modern special effects extravaganzas made even the best of the 50s look crude and cheesy in the eyes of television programmers. There were plenty of chances to catch up on Bogart, Cagney and the like on sunday afternoons but if you wanted to catch classic sci-fi, you had to be prepared to stay up late.
And so it was that in the spring of 1980, at age 17, I waited up to catch The Creeping Unknown (a.k.a. The Quatermass Experiment) on the local ABC affiliate’s saturday night offering, Scream Theatre.
Never mind that the TV listings read “The Creeping Terror”, there was no such title listed in my movie books so therefore it had to be a typo.
I was wrong.
As the opening titles flashed on the screen came my first education into reference books being limited in their reliability. There was a movie called The Creeping Terror. It was my first lesson in doubting reference books.
What followed would forever rewire my brain in a way that is still being felt today: I just sat there slack jawed, my eyes popped out in disbelief at what I was seeing. This was not only defying my definitions of “good cinema”, it was challenging the very definition of cinéma itself.
I had recently screened Jean-Luc Goddard’s Alphaville and had done enough reading to fully appreciate the deconstructionist approach of the French New Wave. But this film was doing more than challenging artistic conventions and reject formalism. This film was challenging my sanity as my brain rejected the very sight unfolding before my disbelieving eyes. I not only struggled with the realism within the film, I was struggling with the reality before me.
There was little or no dialogue. A monotone narrator kept you up on both the events and what was being said by the characters. The landing of the alien’s “spaceship” was stock footage of an Atlas rocket running backwards- sucking in the flame and vapour trail. Once landed, the “spaceship” was a boat turned on its side.
And out of it came the creature- the Creeping Terror.
A very large sluglike affair propelled by what seemed to be the feet of a bunch of people crawling underneath.
For the next hour and a half (there were commercials), this oversized hairball slithered its way around Lake Tahoe, eating everyone in sight. Now, by eating, I mean swallowing bit players trough an opening at the front that looked suspiciously like the the one I had recently encountered in my recent “loss of innocence”.
And just as it risked becoming monotonous, it came upon a group of picnickers. The man playing the guitar rose to defend the revellers as they huddled on the blanket, shivering with fright. The guitar player took a couple of steps before walloping the big walking carpet sample- El-Kabong style- only to fall back and meet his destiny as an appetizer. The carpet then moved on to the blanket where it found the main course all neatly laid out for it. They somehow knew they were fated to be dinner and that presentation is everything.
As the man with the guitar whacked mercilessly at the creature (which made a repetitive sound sounding like a braying elephant), my brain began secreting an endorphin that effectively turned this synaptic abuse into sweet, sweet pain. I had my first bad-movie-gasm!
This was my mutating dose of Gamma rays, my bite from a radioactive spider, my parents being shot in a back alley behind the theatre that played Zorro movies. The epiphany which made me the single-minded-in-purpose mutant that stands before you. This was the birth of The Cinémasochist.
In the months that followed, I would catch The Creeping Terror whenever it aired- going as far as taking photos of the TV screen as no one believed me.
Then, the Medveds published The Golden Turkey Awards. Like the Frederick’s of Hollywood Catalogue to a lingerie freak, that book became a field guide to my newfound fetish but I was disappointed to find only a single paragraph on the Terror in its addendum.
When I acquired my first VCR (a Betamax), my first priority wasn’t catching recent films (I still went to theatres for that), it was catching up on Robot Monster, The Horror of Party Beach, They Saved Hitler’s Brain and all of Ed Wood’s movies. In fact, my first movie night was a double feature of the first two films I purchased: Plan 9 from Outer Space and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
Alas, the local affiliate had stopped running Scream Theatre so The Creeping Terror would remain my holy grail through college (My major was Film Production). I finally did find a copy of VCI’s “Le Bad Cinema” release via a store called Video Shack in New-York. It cost me $98-A fortune for a college student in those days. I had to eat Ramen noodles for a month to afford it.
Ironically, over the years, I’ve watched (and subjected friends to) The Creeping Terror way more often than I did The Creeping Unknown.
With Son of the Golden Turkey Awards, the Medveds did devote an entire chapter to the strange story behind the film. It was made by a con-man by the name of Art J. Nelson. He drove into town one day in a big convertible with his jailbait girlfriend, Shannon O’Neil, and began claiming he was a big shot producer making the ultimate monster movie. He got locals to pony dough to be investors in the film, rewarding them with the choice role of “the victim”. The scope of this con-game is evident as the film spends most of its running time swallowing people.
Of course, he kept the lad role for himself (under the pseudonym of Vic Savage) and the female lead went to the actress who gave him repeated “auditions”- his girlfriend.
In what has to be the most incredible con ever in the history of motion pictures, the screenwriter Robert Slliphant (cousin of Stirling Silliphant) reportedly paid $2000 for the privilege of writing it (and scoring his first screen credit).
In 1994, it not only got the MST3K treatment but Richard Shickel put that presentation at the top of his list for best film of 1994 in Film Journal- with a note to the effect that, despite it being a TV show riffing on a 30 year movie, it still was the best damn thing he had seen all year. (He removed it from the list when it was published in the more mainstream Time.)
But there is more to the story. A lot more!
But I won’t tell it.
These guys will:
That’s right! After 30 years, the biggest itch I’ve ever had is about to get scratched. Director Pete Schuermann and his crew have not only researched Nelson’s life and oeuvre but went as far as recreating the Terror itself.
So forget your Best Worst Movie desperate plea for attention from the pathetic cast members of Troll 2. (Yeah, yeah. So Niblog is Goblin spelled backwards- big deal!). Forget about The Room‘s spinning itself into undeserved recognition as “worst movie” which only serves to further Tommy Wiseau’s need for adulation. Forget even- as painful as it IS- Birdemic’s prophetic vision of what horrors we have to expect now that feature-length filmmaking is in the reach of self-delusional amateurs. Art J. Nelson‘s story is about to be told and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before his story gets pitched to Johnny Depp’s people.
Here it is, in its entirety:
Pain Level: It goes to 11!
Quality of Pain: Sweeet , oh so sweeeet!