The Creeper (1977)
If you go down in the woods today, you're in for a big surprise.
Year of Release: 1977
Also Known As: Rituals
Running Time: 89 minutes (1:29)
Director: Peter Carter
Hal Holbrook ... Harry
Lawrence Dane ... Mitzi
Robin Gammell ... Martin
Ken James ... Abel
Gary Reineke ... D.J.
Murray Westgate ... Pilot
Jack Creley ... Jesse
Michael Zenon ... Matthew
Hal Holbrook leads a group of five doctors who decide to hike deep into a remote area of the Northern woods for a rugged back-to-nature vacation. Once they reach their chosen terrain, they are on their own with only their wits as a means for survival.
Within a short time, a chain of horrifying events beings, leading the men, one by one, to find themselves stalked like animals by an unknown terror. The vacation turns into a nightmare as the men turn suddenly desperate, clinging tenuously to the last vestiges of civilized behavior.
The Creeper, remindin' everybody that the benefits of fishin' waders start experiencin' diminishing returns about the time the water's deep enough that you've got bull trout gettin' tangled in your armpit hair. I know it seems like that's kinda obvious, but after watchin' all these guys with P.H.D.s plunge into water deep enough that by the time they get back to the bank they've got so many leeches attached to their faces they're startin' to look like Syrian freedom fighters, I figured better safe than soggy. Ya know who really hates this movie? I mean, aside from Jason, Grisly Adams, Madman Marz an all the other wing-nuts that live out in the woods that had to figure out the best way to dispatch trespassers on their own cause none of their video stores ever bothered to stock this title? Burt Gummer. You remember Burt, right? Para-military paranoid from Tremors that's always talkin' like your crazy right-wing uncle that uses every family reunion as an opportunity to try an recruit for the NRA an has a stockpile of weapons in his basement in preparation for the day the government inevitably tries raindin' his compound to seize his collection of pirated "Spirit of the Wild" DVDs? Well, even if you don't, I'm sure you've prolly got at least a coupla Facebook friends that resemble that description, so you're prolly followin' me alright enough. Anyway, Burt's motto is "always be prepared." He's kinda like a boyscout troop leader that keeps his hands offa the boy scouts. Which... I guess makes 'im nothin' like a boyscout troop leader. But anyway, the problem here is that these guys in this movie aren't even prepared for a sissy fight with Andy Dick, let alone an all out military skirmish against this General Patton wannabe who's had halfa his coconut blown up by a mortar round an thinks he's back in Berlin surrounded by Nazis. Seriously, these guys're goin' out into the Canadian wilderness for an entire week, which is somethin' even Bear Grylls won't try, an they've got no weapons, radios, Deep Woods OFF, chainsaws, mushroom identification manuals, flares, or even sasquatch repellant. I mean, these guys're so screwed that by the time they've all lost their boots, Illidan Stormrage's rollin' around on the ground in hysterics gaspin' for oxygen like a Forbidden City tour group an can't even get up to tell 'em just how unprepared they are. Burt coulda had these guys back to civilization an a lumberjack breakfast platter within 12 hours with nothin' more than a spool of fishin' line an three thumb tacks. It really is pitiful to see just how far we've fallen as a society. I'm with Burt on this one, these guys deserve to end up as buzzard burgers.
But other'n the fact that these guys're all walkin', talkin', Betsy-wets'erself dolls, this movie's actually pretty good for somethin' nobody ever bothered to renew the copyright license on. Really, this is easily the best movie I've ever seen that features Hal Holbrook bein' attacked by the Jack Links sasquatch, an it's ingenuity like that that we really seek out an admire here at Nintendementia, so I'ma share just a few of the survival tips that The Creeper has to offer with you. First, amphibious bear traps're a serious water hazard in the wilds of Canada. I see what the trappers're goin' for here an it makes perfect sense, cause the bears an the guys from Montreal'll never expect it while they're out in the river tryin' to catch salmon, but they really aughta mark those things to make sure nobody important gets hurt. Second, the army was a lot cooler back in the 40s. Once you'd suffered permanent brain damage an been court-martialed for excessive slobberin', they'd let you keep the x-ray from your lobotomy surgery to show all the chicks back home. That may not sound like a survival tip, but chicks dig scars, an I'd like to see you survive without sex for 30 years. An third, close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, an bee hives when you're allergic an too goll durn stupid to carry an epipen.
Now, I don't mean to switch gears so fast that those life savin' tidbits get overshadowed, but I've gotta say that, after watchin' this one, I don't think doctors know diddly squat about measurin' time. Sure, they'll look at a wound an pretend like they know how long it's been seepin' Nickelodeon Gak an how to deal with it based upon the duration of infection, but realistically, these chunkheads wouldn't even know the time of death if they didn't have a nurse standin' there to tell 'em. Take these potatoheads from the movie, for instance. While all these quacks're singin' Kumbaya around their campfire an poundin' tom-toms to get in touch with their inner caveman, this ninja hillbilly sneaks into their camp an slings this mule deer up in a tree. Then once these guys settle down an quit tryin' to pierce each others' nipples with their weenie roastin' sticks an finally spot the thing, one of 'em starts talkin' about how fresh a kill it is an that whoever lynched the thing may still be around watchin' 'em. Only this P.H.D. (I'm assumin' this stands for Perpetually Herpin' Derp) doesn't seem to notice that the body's been gutted, the hide's already been pressed an tanned, an the head's been stuffed fulla styrofoam. An we're supposed to trust these guys with important stuff like knowin' how many seconds it's been between shocks from those cattle prod deals they zap you with after the lifetime of truck stop chicken-fried steak specials finally catches up to us? Ya know what? Screw these guys. I'm gettin' all my work done at the vet's office from now on. So what if the recovery rooms're a little cramped, they've got an all you can eat kibble buffet an complimentary tick bath with every procedure. An on top of that, these guys know EXACTLY when all your bouts of lime disease an accidental gunshot wounds occurred, an they even send out these little reminders in the mail so that you'll know when it's time for your annual de-worming treatment an distemper shot. "Doctors", pffft, I ain't never goin' back to see those charlatans. Sides, my hair hasn't been this glossy in twenty years.
The movie begins with a coupla quack doctors sittin' in this huntin' lodge in deepest darkest Canada bickerin' about the ethical ramifications of openin' up a lobotomy trainin' clinic for med school students next to the local Check Into Cash til their floatplane from Baloo's Air Services shows up to fly them an their fellow Saskatchewan sawbones out to their fishin' hole. Course, while they're flyin' the pilot has to be one of those guys that tries to bilk free medical advice out of 'em an damn near Amelia Earharts the plane into Lake Superior tryin' to get his shirt off to show 'em his autopsy scar an Austin Powers-esque chest rug. Eventually the pilot ends the "is this normal?" show-an-tell medical exhibition an sets the plane down so the doctors can go into the woods an get in touch with their neglected masculine sides by smearin' mud all over their faces an seein' who can slide down pine tree trunks nekkid the farthest without cryin' for Mama. Then they start takin' each others' pictures, only they ain't seen The Forest or Just Before Dawn, so they don't realize they aughta be holdin' up that day's copy of the Ottawa Citizen just yet an then start climbin' down this hillside to get down to the river. You may be wonderin' why they didn't just fish where they landed, but all the grizzlies in the area swear by this one river whenever they come into town to hang around the bait shop all day long an pose for wildfire awareness posters. So once they get a cozy spot where they're sure their voices'll carry all the way to Vancouver, they all start yellin' at each other about whether it's worth movin' to the states so they can charge ludicrous amounts of money for their services an argue about how much brain you've gotta cut out of the average Canadian before they can start to enjoy The Love Boat. Then one of 'em gets up an starts bellowin' like Jacob Marley an makin' like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein to ridicule the resident neurosurgeon til they all get crazy an start dancin' around their fire like the Maple Leaves just won the Stanley Cup. The next mornin', they all get up an start pretendin' like they're all Captain Ahabs huntin' the great white whitefish til they realize somebody's made off with their boots. Presumably to go toss into MY fishin' hole an create all kinda rooster-tail hazards. Then D.J. (realistically, until this moment, none of their names mattered) gets P.O.'d an starts yellin' at 'em for usin' his list of recommended campin' gear to make little paper captain's hats an starts headin' for the nearest Cabelas retailer so none of the panty-waists'll step on a goat head an go into anaphylactic shock.
Later on that night after they all finish swappin' stories about lonely housewives comin' into their offices to get various salad ingredients dislodged from their hoo-has an the guy that got stuck while gettin' real familiar with the shampoo bottle they decide to hit the hay. Cept before they get that far they find Bambi slung up in a tree on the outskirts of camp with a garter snake coiled around its leg an pretty quick everybody turns into paranoid schizophrenics thinkin' somebody's after 'em specifically because they're doctors, an start tryin' to narrow down the list of people who might "know the symbol." You mean... the snake coiled around the pole? Yes, who indeed might be familiar with that symbol... you mean, besides anyone that's ever been to a pharmacy or a hospital?! All these guys must've slept with their professors in college, that's all I got to say. They're all a buncha sissies anyway, it was prolly just Ted Nugent tryin' to scare the city folks again. But anyway, by now they've all shit themselves in terror an much like the shoe situation, didn't bother to pack any spare underpants, so when morning comes they perform a little cosmetic surgery on this tarp an wrap their feet up like enchiladas in case they step on a wolverine an start headin' after D.J. After awhile, they decide to stop an take some more pictures, only about that time this bee hive starts plummetin' outta the sky like Ash's 1973 Oldsmobile Delta in Army of Darkness til it hits the ground an busts like a back alley breast implant an the guys have to roll down this gravel hill til all their backsides look like Kunta Kinte's after he wouldn't use the name whitey gave 'im. Fortunately, all the bees have to head down to New Orleans to start shootin' The Savage Bees an give up before too long. Less fortunately, one of the guys (Abel) is allergic an ends up goin' to the big country club in the sky after bein' singled out an bombarded like the teacher's pet in a dodge ball game. Once everybody's paid their respects they press onward til they find a suitable spot to stop an make camp, only by then Marty's got sad face an starts whinin' about how he coulda been a contender an that he's turned into an alcoholic boob whose boyfriend's a big meanie that spends all his time on nature hikes an never takes 'im anywhere nice anymore. Marty's kinda what I picture Reggie Bannister'd be like if The Tall Man was ever able to squash Michael Baldwin into a zombie dwarf. Then Mitzi starts tryin' to build a fire til Harry forbids it an tells 'im if they make a fire all the rocks along the riverbank're gonna catch on fire an burn Canada to the ground an then Smokey the Bear's gonna come maul the shit out of 'em.
The next mornin', Mitzi finds this "rope" that looks more like fishin' yarn outta some yokel's tackle box stretched from one side of the river to the other an so they infer that D.J. must've crossed there an start usin' it to make their way across til Marty steps in an aquatic bear trap an starts screamin' like his interior decorator suggested usin' an area rug that doesn't match the width of his sofa while the first aid kit takes off on its maiden voyage downstream. Then Mitzi starts demandin' to know who's been upsettin' the cosmic balance an doin' dirty deeds cause he's scared he's gonna take a stray bullet in the middle of all this karmic crossfire an they just kinda stare at 'im like they wanna get their hands on the guy who gave 'im the copy of Dianetics. But now they've gotta reset the broken bone in Marty's ankle, which isn't as bad as it sounds cause he's able to get his mind off of it pretty quickly once Mitzi starts drippin' Black an Mild ashes into his eyeballs while he holds 'im down. Then they build a stretcher outta old pecker poles an start haulin' Marty's dead weight up the river an... am I the only one that noticed the way he only became a complete wimp once they'd established that he was gay? Anyway, after awhile they come to this waterfall an start tryin' to think like a salmon so they can figure out how to negotiate this thing when Marty, despite havin' the significant handicap of bein' drunker'n Hogan's goat, suggests that everything that's happened up to this point reeks of Deliverance. Then Mitzi gets P.O.'d an starts tryin' to commit doctor assisted homicide on Harry while Marty an his stretcher go on a white water raftin' trip. The big show off. When you're raftin', it's imperative that you know when to portage. So eventually Mitzi an Harry quit tryin' to kill each other an pull Marty out, only by now he looks like a potato that got rolled down the Chand Baori Stepwell an thinks he's Winston Churchill. The next mornin', Mitzi an Harry climb to the top of the hill they're on to try an figure out where in the name of Saskatoon's scrotum they are an come back to find Marty with a military medal from dubya dubya eye eye sittin' on his chest lookin' like he's either paralyzed with fear or about to break into a rousing chorus of Over There. So then they lug Marty out into the open so they'll be able to see if anybody's comin' after 'em with a Sherman tank an Mitzi starts talkin' about how much easier it'd be if they'd just ditch Marty like 3rd period Algebra. But by now Harry's got his Rambo headband on an started havin' Korietnam flashbacks an he ain't goin' for it cause he thinks that's exactly what Charlie wants 'em to do. Mitzi's a real asshole. I'm startin' to think this guy was makin' crossies while he was takin' the Hippocratic oath.
The next mornin' gets off to a bit of a rough start when the trio discovers that while Folgers may be the best part of wakin' up, findin' your buddy's severed head on a pike ranks pretty close to the bottom. So while Mitzi's horkin' like George Bush on the Japanese prime minister, Harry gets up an pitches that pike like a javelin an starts rantin' at Mitzi for bein' the worst night watchman since the guy that was supposed to be guardin' the Watergate building. By this point, Mitzi's chickenshit to courage ratio's startin' to become about as balanced as Fox News coverage, an so he ends up gettin' P.O.'d an tellin' Harry he's quittin' the campin' trip an that if he wants to carry Marty he can see how big his shoulders really are when he's got 180lbs of unconscious homosexual slung over 'em. So Harry tells Mitzi to get the heck outta his perimeter an starts draggin' Marty's stretcher through the rocks while his neck jostles around like an off balance Maytag appliance til Harry's knees decide he could use a break an turn to jello like Joe Namath's. Then Mitzi catches up an decides that since he's slower'n a tortoise on Valium an managed to lag behind the guy pullin' a life sized Raggedy Andy doll on a stretcher that he may as well help out again. Eventually, they finally make it to the dam they've been lookin' for, only nobody bothered to tell 'em that the enviros got it decommissioned after a coupla muskies couldn't find the fish ladder an about that time they realize they're bein' watched from the top of the hill. Then they find D.J. chained to a fence pole with a hospital document from 1945 stapled to 'im an realize that General Eisenglower's P.O.'d cause the army put 'im in traction an turned 'im into Gary Busey an so now he hates anybody with a stethoscope. They're about to press on when Mitzi notices one of D.J.'s fingers twitch, only by now he's been mangled pretty bad in Eisenglower's P.O.W. camp an Harry has to make with the doctor assisted suicide while Mitzi tries warnin' 'im about what it's gonna do to his malpractice insurance. To survive a war, you've gotta become war, Mitzi. Mitzi? God damnit, you desertin' pile of hypocrisy. By now, Harry's pretty much tapped out like a beer keg at a NASCAR party an has to tell Marty he's droppin' 'im like a roll of used toilet paper but that he'll come back for 'im an about that time he notices the guy's dead. Well that woulda been real spiffy to know while he was draggin' his heavy ass though the burnin' desert with his ham hocks bloodyin' up his best leisure suit. So Harry soldiers on until later that evenin' when he comes upon a dilapidated old shack an proceeds to invite 'imself in an eat all the porridge in the place before findin' a buncha newspaper clippins an photos inside an pretty quick he starts to realize the cliches're beginnin' to pile up like passenger cars in a Louisianan snowstorm just as the owner returns home. Pretty good ending on this one, an I'm not much for spoilers, but here's a link since it's in the public domain:
Okay, I've got a bit of a confession to make on this one. I've only got the butchered Mill Creek garbage print of the movie and so this review and rating are going to be for the horribly mutilated TV version. I'm not proud of it, but I feel like it'd be dishonest of me not to mention it, that an it might bring my credentials as a professional amateur movie reviewer into question. So, for anyone interested in picking this up, you want the Code Red print of the DVD (it was released under the alternate title, Rituals), as it's the only uncut Region 1 version available. As an added bonus, that version doesn't look like somebody hung the film canister from a tree an used it to sight in their 12 gauge. But anyway, this is the granddaddy of the killer in the woods sub-genre, discounting Deliverance and Open Season which're better classified as action/drama titles. Before Friday the 13th, Madman, The Forest, Just Before Dawn, Don't Go in the Woods, Trapped, and all the others, there was The Creeper. And sure, it definitely borrows a little from Deliverance in particular, but it was the first to lean more to the horror genre than those that came before it, and that counts for something. It's also a bit unique in that it's at least partially a horror movie, made in 1977, that features an openly gay character (possibly a couple, but like I said, this sucker's got 10 minutes hacked out of it so I'm not entirely clear on that), in addition to the fact that the entire cast is made up of middle aged men, which is also not exactly commonplace. So it's a little bit different than all those other movies from that list, but not so different that it becomes so divergent that it has nothing in common with all the other great spam-in-a-cabin slasher flicks. It's pretty interesting, and in all honesty, damn good for something that dropped into the public domain. Apparently, it was actually shot in sequence, which is almost unheard of, but after you've watched it and seen some of the other unusual features (particularly the amount of shots that go on for long periods of time without any cuts), that isn't quite so surprising. Something else about it that impresses is the number of shots that don't look particularly safe, but evidently never resulted in anyone being injured. I mean, there's a lot of movie here where these guys're sloshing through a Canadian river that's pretty swift in certain places, an they're just doing it like it's no big deal. Later on we see them walking side-hill while carrying a guy on a stretcher (though it's likely that it was just stuffing at that point) across some pretty loose, rocky terrain, which is also apparently no big deal. But that's what you did in the 70s and 80s when you didn't have a budget, and that sort of thing appeals to me, so good on them. And good on them for not getting hurt, which looks as though it was a very real possibility.
Alrighty, looks like it's time to jam a pike through this thing and see what color its brain is. The plot is standard fare, and after some tweaking, would become the regular blueprint for all the killer-in-the-woods flicks that followed. The only real difference between this and the modified versions that would come a few years later is that the entire cast is middle aged and male. Otherwise, we've got a weirdo in the woods hackin' people into pork tenderloin, which is a favorite storyline of mine. The acting, for its budget, is alright. Nothing special, and really the only person you'd probably claim to be above passable status would be Hal Holbrook, but I wouldn't call anybody bad. Trust me, I know bad. We've also got some sparkling dialog to enjoy including: "if you wanna take the front, it doesn't matter to me!" and "he was such a gentle boob!" Here's who matters and why: Hal Holbrook (The Unholy 1988, Creepshow, The Fog), Lawrence Dane (Bride of Chucky, Darkman II, Bionic Showdown: The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Of Unknown Origin, Happy Birthday to Me, Scanners, The Clown Murders), Robin Gammell (Inhumanoid, Nightmares 1983, The Pyx), Gary Reineke (Creature, Murder by Phone, The Clown Murders), Murray Westgate (Scanners II, Happy Birthday to Me), Jack Creley (Videodrome). You normal people (you know who you are) may recognize Hal Holbrook as Evan Evans from Evening Shade, and as Abraham Lincoln in the North and South TV miniseries. You may also be familiar with Ken James, who played Detective Jones on the TV series T and T in 1988. So the acting is passable. Nothing special, but nothing crippling.
The special effects are an area where I'm going to have to remind everyone that I've only seen the cut version, because I'm going to assume that when they removed 10 minutes of the movie, at least some of that contained some blood. I'm still on the fence as to whether or not the deer carcass was "real" in the sense that it was an even remotely fresh kill. I'm reasonably confident that it had been long since gutted, pressed, and tanned, yet it definitely still has the head attached, which doesn't make any sense at all. Unless some weirdo made it into a rug the way you would with a bear. In any event, it really is a deer at least, and not a poorly constructed fake like some people might use; it just doesn't look quite right. As for how fresh a kill it was, I'm thinking not very. The severed head on the pike is surprisingly good for a 1977 effect, or at least it is until Hal starts chuckin' it down the hillside like he's doin' the hammer throw. I'll say this much, it looks good when it needs to. Other than that, in the hacked version anyway, there isn't much more to say. There're a couple more near the end that I won't mention that're pretty fair, one's a make up job and the other involves mirrors, but generally speaking, the cut version only lacks in quantity, not quality with regard to the special effects. The shooting locations are pretty good, though I always like these horror titles that take place out in the sticks. The movie was shot entirely in Ontario, Canada, and has a lot of the same woodsy shots that you've seen before in movies of this type. Although this one does step out of the woods near the end to trek across an area that had previously been forested, but that had burned a few years before, and also features a defunct dam which is interesting and something that most of these movies don't utilize. Though I admit, my definition of "interesting" when it comes to outdoor shooting locations probably isn't going to appeal to the majority of the public. The soundtrack is very 70s, and in all fairness, sounds like the kinda thing that'd be better suited for Little House on the Prairie than a horror movie. That said, the cut that I watched is really an Adventure movie, with horror elements, so I don't think it'd be fair to say that it doesn't fit the overall tone of the movie. So although it doesn't exactly do a lot to enhance the scenes that're more akin to a horror film, maybe a little slack is in order since it's one of the earliest of its kind. Overall, because I haven't seen the uncut version, I can only rate what I've seen, but I can see this movie possibly packing on an addition 10% to its rating if what I'm missing is significantly beneficial. Recommended to fans of the killer-in-the-woods sub-genre and anyone interested in seeing how that genre got started.