I just experienced The Creep Behind The Camera last night at ScreamfestLA at the Chinese Theater.
The people behind the film's camera did an amazing job, providing a fully satisfying film experience, while creating a brand new genre.
It is not really a docudrama. That would imply a drama informed by real events. TCBTC was that, but it also contained interview segments. It felt more like a mockumentary, though all of the events portrayed were real, and the interview segments were of real people describing real events. Like all of the best documentaries, the reaction of the viewer is, "if you submitted this script to someone as fiction, they would reject it as too unbelievable."
It is unbelievable. This is the story of one Arthur J. Nelson, aka Vic Savage, aka any number of other names, whose sole legacy as a filmmaker is the deservedly reviled film The Creeping Terror from 1963, promoted by Nelson himself as "the best monster movie ever made."
I had first become aware of the film while reading the book The Golden Turkey Awards by the brothers Medved, during the early 1980's. Alas, the home video revolution had at that point not coughed up a copy of said film, and it would be another 20 years before I finally viewed it on DVD.
Up until this point, I had dismissed The Creeping Terror as the feckless celluloid leavings of a pitiable, gormless incompetent. Now I understand that it is the motion picture equivalent of a John Wayne Gacy clown painting; the disturbing vision of a twisted, evil psychopath.
The Creep Behind The Camera reveals the devastating landscape of psychic terror left behind by Nelson, a sociopath and huckster. His list of crimes as showcased in the film is long and horrific. Beating his wife, burning her hand on a stove for no damn good reason, addicted to any number of toxic substances, standing in front of a full-length mirror naked, while wearing a German helmet and a fake Hitler mustache, and proclaiming, "I am God!" Yeah. That happened.
And finally, as is heavily implied in the film, for the most devastating action of all, Nelson created child pornography, perhaps explaining that the making of The Creeping Terror was really nothing but a convenient excuse for him being in the possession of filmmaking equipment in his house. Sure, perhaps he wanted to be a star, and make a movie, but in the end, his only concern was swindling as much money out of as many people as possible. As the film documents, he extracted payment from people for the "honor" being in it, as well as squeezing generous actor William Thourlby (who also has a large part in the film and ended up rescuing it from the garbage heap) for a somewhat large chunk of the budget.
Nelson is long dead, and as contended by MST3K's Frank Coniff during the Q&A session after last night's screaming (ha, screening), they probably won't have to worry about anyone bringing defamation charges against them for this film.
Except maybe for Charles Manson.
According to the film, Charles Manson was actually employed on The Creeping Terror and procured stolen cars for use in one of the scenes. I am NOT BUYING this. History tells us that Manson was in jail in 1963, when The Creeping Terror was filmed. But, cool story, bro. (To be fair, the film was largely shot at the Spahn Movie Ranch. Manson did live there...but not until 1968.) Because he was not even present, Charles Manson could very well file suit under defamation for being associated with Art Nelson! That's how dirty bad Nelson is.
Director Pete Schuerman does a spectacular job evoking a 1950's/1960's setting on what was likely a very small budget.
Lead actor Josh Phillips is mesmerizing as Art Nelson. Also a tough acting assignment to portray a leading character who has NO sympathy whatsoever and is basically a heavily damaged, completely irredeemable human being. Jodi Thomas, playing Art Nelson's child bride, Lois, is equally laudable as the battered, tortured object of Nelson's psychoses, who finally, ultimately, gets her revenge on her torturer.
A somewhat satisfying ending, as Nelson ends up in jail. He does get out of jail, but dies a penniless, unknown drunk. And minor character Charles Manson goes on to do...other things.
If you have any chance to do so, please check out The Creep Behind The Camera.
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