After watching the outrageous and deliberately old school Rat Scratch Fever (2011), I’ll confess that I found myself wondering whether any of its director, Jeff Leroy’s other films had achieved that same blissful level of absurdity. I’d seen his later film, Giantess Attack (2017), which had much of the same goofy, old school, retro feel, as if it were an over the top take on Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958) with a bit of Kaiju Eiga thrown in for the heck of it. Sadly, though, it was one of those films I wanted to like more than I actually did, and nowhere near as fun or as consistently entertaining as Rat Scratch Fever.
Hey, that happens.
But I was willing to explore further, so I checked out one of his earlier films — one which did well enough (on whatever metric applies to Grade Z direct to video films) that they actually made a sequel — the killer spider film, Creepies.
And I have to admit it does get off to a pretty good start, with two soldiers accidentally releasing a killer spider which leads to a lot more of the ugly critters on the loose. A day later, everyone at the mysterious research facility has gone missing, with spiderwebs over everything, and a team of soldiers trying to investigate end up facing off against a giant spider.
Yeah, I’m a bit disappointed that the practical giant spider monster keeps turning into a digital version (which has very poor detail and doesn’t even look that much like it) every time it starts leaping about. But there still is much of the vibe of Rat Scratch Fever, with chunky, toy-like model vehicles and miniature sets. It’s very old school, and one just wishes they’d had a little more faith in the spider puppet and yanked it around on a wire.
That would have been the right kind of terrible.
Like keeping the deadly killer spiders in old pickle jars that break easily when dropped.
But then we switch to a small recording studio, where a couple of guys on staff are making an after-hours recording for a girl band.
The problem is that box that the military accidentally delivered to the wrong address, which their boss is hanging onto because she feels they’ll pay big to get it back. You know, the box full of…
The Tar Man.
Ooops, I mean dormant killer spiders. But no one who’s seen The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is going to miss the reference.
And, right on schedule, the two guys go to take a look at it and the spiders are loose…
You might accuse Jeff Leroy of cramming two very different movies together (or is it more?) but as different as the two parts are they do work together. The small spiders give him plenty of room for gross makeup effects, with people getting all sick and zombie-y from their bites, getting rolled up in webs, and ending up full of baby spiders, while the giant version faces off against tanks, missile launchers and helicopters. However, while so much of the gross out stuff is practical makeup effects, a lot of the smaller spiders are CGI as well, particularly when we see large numbers of them on the move. Then there is one supersmart spider who controls the others and is one of major players for almost half the film. It’s not a terrible idea, but the smart spider is always CGI and looks completely different from the others.
Nor does he look much like a spider.
In fact, his face reminds me far more of a Zanti Misfit from the original Outer Limits.
Now there are plenty of familiar tropes at work here, like the military leader obsessed with stopping the giant monster, or the nuclear “Plan B” if they can’t control the spiders, or the guy turning into some sort of spider monster.
But that’s not a big problem. We expect those things from a low budget monster movie.
It’s not so much that Creepies is bad — as least, in the “so bad you can’t even enjoy it ironically” sense of bad — but that it’s missing that extra spark which would have made this one as fun a guilty pleasure as Rat Scratch Fever is.
It comes close at times, but, sadly, it just can’t bear the weight of those CGI spiders.
Oh, well. So close.
But you never know, Creepies 2 might be better.
I guess I’ll have to check it out…