Sunday, February 7, 2016

Prime Cuts :: Clearing out the Amazon Instant Que: Come Meet the Reel Monster in Pete Schuermann's The Creep Behind the Camera (2014)

About four years ago I wrote about a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a proposed bio-docudrama on Art Nelson, the total creep behind The Creeping Terror (1962), a film where a shambling carpet sample galumps around and slurps up several dudes and damsels, lingering and leering on the lady tushes as they get stuck in the creature's gaping maw. Two years later they managed to raise enough to get it done, and then The Creep Behind the Camera (2014) spent two more years on the festival circuit, but now, finally, it's available to stream to the masses on Amazon Prime.

Now, the cinematic tale of this con-man, grifter and complete whack-job, Nelson, under the name Vic Savage, is both funny and loathsome as director / writer Pete Schuermann pokes a stick into this noxious human cowpie, who apparently ran a prostitution ring out of his house, fleeced wannabe actresses for money and sexual favors, and abused his multiple layers of wives and children to advance his apocalyptic cinematic dreams. A dream that sort of came to fruition with the realization of one of the most gonzoidal monster movies ever made.

Told through first hand testimonials of those who survived both Nelson and the making of the film, dramatic recreations, and footage from The Creeping Terror itself, the film positively excels when focusing on the spit and bailing-wire of making a monster movie, revealing all kinds of mind-boggling behind the scenes shenanigans, including a high school band powered soundtrack, how it was shot on the Spahn Ranch, where Charles Manson provided all the (most probably stolen) cars for the film, and a running fight between Nelson and monster-maker Jon Lacky over unpaid bills, who kept stealing the creature costume from each other as the production was drawn out over nearly two years as financing kept running out. It also finally answers why the majority of the film is nothing but nonsensical narration that has nothing to do with sound equipment falling into a boy of water.

The rest of the film, focusing on Nelson's horrific personal life -- he was a convicted felon, a certified abuser and sexual sadist, probably could've spent another week in editing to shore it up just a bit more as the finished film feels too long (clocking in at nearly 2 hours), and yet not long enough. Yeah. The Creep Behind the Camera feels fairly immersive but gets too repetitive in spots and leaves several surfaces barely scratched with many raised questions and side vignettes left unanswered and unresolved -- namely the hints that Nelson filmed pornographic material with his own children for the raincoat crowd to compensate for the ill-gotten budget money he wasted on drugs, booze, and hookers.

Again, the stuff on making the movie is both fascinating and hilarious (especially the Charles Manson connection), but the look into Nelson's personal life as he schemes and screws his way through Hollywood is just sleazy and revolting and hard to watch. A more pathetic person you will be hard-pressed to unearth. (And if you ever do, please lower the rock and run. Run fast.) Despite the subject matter the film itself is very well-crafted. Thus, entertaining probably isn't the right word when considering the subject matter but The Creep Behind the Camera does make for one fine cautionary tale.

The Creep Behind the Camera (2014) Slithering Carpets / EP: Aaron DePry, Nancy Theken / P: Brian McCulley, Kyle Woodiel, Kevin J. Beechwood, Jeremy Lengele, Robert von Dassanowsky / AP: Robert C. Cage III, Marilyn Freeman, Ryun Hovind, Jeremy Lengele / D: Pete Schuermann / W: Pete Schuermann / C: Jeff Pointer / E: Dave Wruck / M: John Schuermann / S: Josh Phillips, Jodi Lynn Thomas, Bill LeVasseur, Kyle Amann, William Thourlby, Lois Wiseman, Allan Silliphant

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