Anyone who has ever travelled on the London Underground will know only too well that it’s the perfect place for a horror movie: zombie hordes rock back and forth every day, and horror lurks behind every bend. But, that’s just real life!
The latest genre movie to take advantage of the abundance of its dark places and generous menace is Christopher Smith's CREEP. In it Kate (Franka Potente), is a snooty German media type; vacuous and mean-spirited, surrounded by equally shallow London fashionistas. After a drug and booze fuelled party, she leaves to try and get to another media shindig – where she’s heard George Clooney will be attending. Having missed her lift, she heads down onto the underground to catch the last train. Taking a seat on the platform, she tops up her alcohol levels with a miniature bottle of vodka. Dropping off for what she thinks is just a second, she comes to finding she’s alone on the platform; everyone else having long gone.
Kate, realising her mistake, tries to leave the tube station, but all the exits are locked for the night. Returning to the platform she is relieved to find to see a train pull into the station. The doors open, and she jumps on – but she doesn’t see the shadowy figure further down the platform jumping on to join her …
The London Underground has been used before as a backdrop for cinematic scares: one of the most memorable scenes in John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) had a hapless commuter being pursued by a toothy threat. CREEP, however, most closely resembles another British horror flick, RAW MEAT (aka DEATH LINE) (1972), the tale of hungry cannibals hiding out in the warrens under London.
Sadly, whilst CREEP certainly isn’t a complete failure it’s seriously flawed: a whole essay of missed opportunities. At the centre is Polente, who gives a variable performance, but the cardinal sin isn’t her own – it’s the film-makers for having her portray such a unsympathetic character. Now, respect where respect is due, it must have seemed like a good idea on paper: a snide anti-hero(ine). The trouble is, by the time we see her being mean to beggars and generally being the epitome of the air-kissing media monster most of us would run a million miles from the audience’s sympathy is all but lost by the end of the first reel (and with it their appetite for the movie). Without spoiling anything, the reason why she’s portrayed this way comes clear by the end of the film – with a neat character arc and a nicely ironic close – but it doesn’t make the preceding 90 minutes any easier to warm to.
There’s also an unfortunate irony that, given the whole film is set in the underground, that the underground stations themselves are sadly underused. Whilst Kate skulks around through those curiously both antiseptic and filthy looking white tiled tunnels, there are no actual chase scenes through them. Perhaps the director didn’t want too many comparisons with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, but, having said that, if he didn’t want his movie compared to other movies then setting it in the London Underground was, perhaps, not the best idea!
And now the ‘Creep’ [if you don’t want to know the identity of the eponymous bogeyman then skip this paragraph … ] … If the Press Release is to be believed, then the film-makers want to guard the identity of the killer like Hitchcock wanted to hide the identity of his killer in PSYCHO. It’s difficult to see why, as, apart from Kate’s horny work colleague appearing briefly as a red herring this is certainly no whodunit. The ‘creep’, it turns out, is a deformed and disfigured monster/man; he is the forgotten progeny of an illicit, shady experimental facility buried deep in the under the underground. Having been freed by what appears to be bad mortar (a wall seems to have just collapsed), he goes on the rampage; attacking sewage workers, underground workers – and seems to especially dislike snotty media brats. … Now, I’m all for monsters having that pathetic, empathy inducing qualities (so Frankenstein), but the cardinal sin is making the monster unscary - and here the killer is kooky, quirky but not really very frightening, even when he's doing horrible things (and, to its credit, CREEP is on occasional refreshingly ultra gory). Sean Harris, who played another misfit (this time to perfection), Joy Division's Ian Curtis in 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (2002), gives a brave performance as the 'creep' - but whilst all the nuances successfully convey a deeply disturbed person, along the way the actual purpose of the movie's villain seems to have got lost. CREEP works best when the killer was in the shadows (ably orchestrated by an espcially effective, mechanical soundtrack); but the grand reveal has all the oomph of finding your only present at Christmas is socks.
Ultimately, CREEP is not a total loss, but it just misses the mark on so many levels that it never truly engages or excites, which is a shame. Like an underground train, it judders, meanders and five minutes after stepping off the platform you've pretty much forgotten your journey.
female:2 / male:8
1) Female killed (off-screen)
2) Male found dead
3) Male seen with massive wound to face
4) Male dies from stomach wounds
5) Male has throat slit
6) Male found with throat cut
7) Male has his neck broken
8) Female killed after having machete shoved up her nether regions
9) Male has head impaled on spike
10) Male has throat ripped out with chain