Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein (2007/2009) **
Okay, so apparently I now know of two rockers-turned-directors. Most people reading this will surely never have heard of Creep Creepersin or his eponymous horror-punk band, but they’ve been at it a long time. Creepersin has been making movies almost as long, too, but since writer/directors tend to have considerably longer creative lifespans than punk bands, the actual figure would sound less impressive in context. He got his start in film (or on video, if you want to be pedantic about it) circa 2006, with a succession of horror shorts, most of them very short indeed. If I understand correctly, the bulk of that early material was compiled into Creep Creepersin’s Creepshow in 2009. His first feature film (given an extremely generous definition of feature length) was a riff on the Frankenstein premise so loose that actually calling it Frankenstein seems almost like mockery. (Creepersin is charmingly forthright about his reasons for doing an ostensible Frankenstein picture: “I thought Frankenstein was a name everybody would know, and I like Frankenstein. I feel associated with Frankenstein in a way, because of that whole ‘misunderstood monster who only wants to be loved, and no one would love him,’ and all that other jazz. And I just wanted to ride a gravy train to sell a movie.”) But the non-Frankensteinishness of Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein is not the only surprise it offers. Not knowing anything about Creepersin beyond his background as the leader of a middling Misfits-wannabe punk band, and that he went on to make movies called Vaginal Holocaust and Caged Lesbos a Go-Go, I expected his debut feature to adhere to the “cheap gore and off-duty strippers” sensibility so common among backyard camcorder epics. Instead, though, Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein confidently (indeed, overconfidently) stakes its claim in the territory where exploitation and Art with an achingly self-conscious capital-A overlap.
Victor (James Porter) lives alone with his pet rat, Frankenstein, in a sturdy but very modest ranch house owned by a rather younger woman named Shelly (Nicole Nemeth); Shelly herself occupies a much more substantial house elsewhere on the same sprawling property. It’s possible that Victor is mildly retarded. Alternately, he might be a high-functioning autistic. Certainly he’s a survivor of sexual abuse by his father, and of psychological abuse by his mother (played in the hallucinations that continue to plague Victor by Creepersin’s wife and frequent collaborator, Nikki Wall, who can also be seen acting in several of the segments in Creep Creepersin’s Creepshow). Whatever his correct diagnosis, Victor is withdrawn, childlike, and seemingly not very intelligent. He must have some source of independent income, because we see him pay his rent to Shelly early on, but there’s no indication that he works for a living. Indeed, all we ever see him do for the whole first sixteen minutes is to play with Frankenstein, to watch public-domain horror movies on television, and to eat plate after plate after plate of scrambled eggs.
Even for Victor, that’s a lonely, unstimulating existence. Then one night, he gets an idea: why not make a friend for himself, just like his rat’s namesake? He’s good with his hands, and he has a copy of Gray’s Anatomy on his bookshelf for some unfathomable reason— how hard could it be? Well, there is the small matter of raw materials. All the cemeteries Victor investigates have security measures in place, and the flier he picks up with what purport to be the telephone numbers of a bunch of beautiful girls is actually just an ad for a phone sex line. But a few nights after he has his big brainstorm, a flock of young people descend upon Shelly’s ranch to throw a bonfire party. Victor watches the festivities from his window, and selects a girl he likes (Kelly Kingsbury) from among the revelers. Then, after the group splits up to go their separate ways home, Victor waylays his favorite, smashing her on the head with a hammer.
This is where we see just how far afield from a normative Frankenstein movie this one falls. You might rightly ask how a three-quarter-wit like Victor, armed only with an old medical textbook and a few common household tools, is going to bring this chick back to life. The answer is, he doesn’t! Victor’s “surgery” consists merely of drawing lines of suture-marks all over the corpse with a black magic marker, and the “reanimation” occurs only in his own mind. That unreality, however, is not the problem with Mary (as Victor dubs his imaginary creation), for much of Victor’s life is similarly skull-bound, and he truly doesn’t notice the difference. No, the problem with Mary is that Victor proves incapable, when the chips are down, of imagining a woman who actually likes him. His creation prefers the company of his hallucinations of Mom, and what’s more, she tends to agree with their dismissive assessment of his worth.
As I sit down to write this, I have watched three of Creep Creepersin’s movies, and all of them have made at least some use of an unreliable camera (unreliable in the same sense as literature’s unreliable narrator, not unreliable as in prone to malfunction and breakdown) to put us inside the heads of characters whose sanity is open to question. Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein falls in between He and Corporate Cutthroat Massacre in that regard. As in He, the unreliability is crucial to the central concerns of the film, but as in Corporate Cutthroat Massacre (where the unreliable camera serves only to set up a trying-too-hard twist ending), there is a clear external reality which we are at least occasionally shown. In this movie, the central plot development— the one that makes it presentable as a Frankenstein story at all— never actually occurs, and even more remarkably, that isn’t supposed to be a surprise! The scene in which Victor “operates” on Mary is shown from an objective point of view, so that his ministrations are plainly exposed as the ineffectual play-acting of a crazy person. But once Mary has been “reanimated,” we see her primarily as Victor does, colored by the habits of his imagination. Franken-Mary is shot in sepia-tint monochrome, her image overlain with artificial dirt specks and emulsion scratches to give the appearance of old, distressed film stock, and she speaks only in intertitles, as if she were a character in a silent movie. The implication is clear enough, since by the time Mary enters the picture, we’ve already spent more time than we really wanted to watching Victor watch Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (Incidentally, although all that processing usually means that Mary has the frame to herself when we see her alive, there is one primitive but rather nicely done composite shot that inserts her into an otherwise normal view of Victor’s attic. That Creepersin even attempts such effects leads me to forgive a fair many of his little slip-ups.) Meanwhile, Victor’s real-world interactions with Shelly are subject to their own form of subjectivity. All of Shelly’s dialogue is played backwards, so that we can follow it only by extrapolating from Victor’s responses. Anyone who remembers how adults were handled in the “Peanuts” cartoons of the 1960’s will recognize at once what’s going on here. Shelly is not fully real to Victor, and her words, though comprehensible to him, are ultimately just so much noise. That Victor relates thusly to the only person in his life who exists outside of his own head is surely significant.
There’s another sense, too, in which Creep Creepersin’s Frankenstein sets the tone for the movies to follow (or at least for the ones I’ve watched), although this one doesn’t reflect nearly as well on the director or his work as the thematic quirks we’ve been discussing thus far. Even on a running time just barely exceeding an hour, this film is much longer than the ideas underlying it can adequately support. This isn’t to say that they’re bad ideas, or that Creepersin doesn’t give them a fair airing within the limits of his resources. It’s just that there isn’t enough here to constitute a (more or less) feature-length movie. Trimmed down to 30 or perhaps 40 minutes, this would be a taut and compelling character study of a mind in disintegration. At 60-something, it comes perilously close to being Crazy Guy Eats Scrambled Eggs: The Motion Picture instead. And while you might feel differently, Crazy Guy Eats Scrambled Eggs: The Motion Picture does not strike me as a notably worthwhile use of my movie-watching time.