DENIS GIFFORD'S
MONSTERS OF THE MOVIES
(1977)

 

Monster #12 - The Creeper

 
 
 

United States, 1946

A Universal Pictures Production
58 mins, black & white, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 35mm film

Director - Jean Yarbrough
Screenplay - George Bricker, M. Coates Webster
Original Story - Dwight V. Babcock

Cinematographer - Maury Gertsman
Production Design - John B. Goodman, Russell A. Gausman
Makeup - Jack Pierce
Music - William Lava (uncredited)
Editing - Philip Cahn

Rondo Hatton (Hal Moffat, the Creeper), Jan Wiley (Virginia Rogers Scott), Tom Neal (Clifford Scott), Jane Adams (Helen Paige), Donald MacBride (Police Captain M. J. Donelly)


 
Some of the ghouls and scares listed by Denis Gifford in his Monsters of the Movies only scratched the surface of things. The format of the little book and the limitations it imposed didn't really allow for any background information at all - even more so since the text served only as a recap of the movie's storyline. In a few cases this made the "monsters" somewhat puzzling and even difficult to see as such; a prime example for such an entry is Monster #12, "the Creeper" from The Brute Man.
 

The features of Rondo Hatton's face in the image seemed unusually harsh, but even the classic upward lighting (you knew how to do that to yourself with a flashlight) couldn't quite produce something my 13-year old self at the time thought of as particularly scary or even as being a "monster". In short, I wasn't impressed.

It was only a week or so later, after having spent 2.95 at WH Smith's for a copy of Gifford's Pictorial History of Horror Movies, that I got a bit of background information that actually did make "the Creeper" seem creepy - albeit in a very special sense.

"Rondo Hatton was the only horror film star to play monsters without makeup (...) Hatton suffered from acromegaly, a distorting disease (...) [he] carved a unique niche in the history of the horror film. The only genuine monster star because he was a monster." (Gifford, 1973)

 


(Carousel Books / Transworld Publishing)

 
Gifford's words come across today as extremely harsh and devoid of any empathy. In part, this is due to the fact that the 1970s were a very different time and age when it came to physical afflictions, but it is also the result of Gifford's style of writing, which often had the staccato quality of a machine gun, as short sentence followed upon short sentence.
 

  Gifford thought nothing of The Brute Man, calling it "a miserable film" (Gifford, 1973). The inclusion of "the Creeper" in Monsters of the Movies could therefore rather feel like a "carnival freak show" thrill - but it wasn't, since the teenage readers of Monsters of the Movies were not actually told about Hatton's disfiguring illness. It simply remains an odd inclusion.

There are some conflicting ideas floating around as to whether or not The Brute Man is in the public domain, but there are enough indications pointing in the direction that it is not - notice, for example, the 1946 copyright indication on the title card of the movie, also used in the Castle Film (a Universal subsidiary since 1947) 200ft home movie release of The Brute Man. Accordingly, there have been a number of DVD releases of somewhat dubious pedigree over the past 30+ years but nothing in recent years by any one of the reputable labels.

 
The Brute Man was filmed in 13 days, during November 1945. Hatton's acromegaly was becoming progressively worse by that time, making acting difficult for him as he had trouble remembering his lines, focusing on his performance, and responding to the other actors. Jane Adams, who played the blind pianist, called him a friendly and thoughtful man but pathetic to work with and almost autistic (Weaver, Brunas & Brunas, 2007).
 
Only a month after filiming on The Brute Man was completed, Hatton suffered a series of heart attacks as a direct result of his acromegaly condition, and passed away in February 1946 (Meehan, 2010), before the movie was even released.

Universal was about to merge with International Pictures (and become Universal-International in October 1946), and adopted a policy of ceasing production of B movies. As a consequence, the finished Brute Man was sold to Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC, the smallest and least prestigious Hollywood Studio of the 1940s) for $125,000, which covered the cost of the negative plus interest on the money Universal had tied up in the movie (NN, 1946).

Incidentally, this also made it PRC's most expensive movie ever.

 

 
A theory that Universal worried that the exploitation of the now deceased Hatton's condition could cause harm to its corporate image seems rather unlikely, given society's views on disabilities at the time. It is far more likely that the film was an embarrassment due to the poorly-developed story and inferior acting, and selling it off was a way of avoiding the financial loss had it simply been shelved.
 

  Gifford's synopsis of the film in Monsters of the Movies is actually comprised of plot elements of no less than three different movies that involve "the Creeper", but before getting down to The Brute Man proper as well as House of Horrors (to which The Brute Man is a quasi-prequel), Gifford starts out rather mysteriously with briefly mentioning Sherlock Holmes, a "Hoxton Creeper", and a Pearl of Death.

I remember that my 13-year old self was utterly confused at the time. It simply made no sense at all without further context - and that context is Universal's 1944 movie Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl Of Death, starring the accomplished duo of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson. It also featured the "Hoxton Creeper", played by Rondo Hatton; he only appears on screen right at the end of the movie, but he looms large throughout the movie.

 
Rather unsurprisingly, neither House of Horrors nor The Brute Man have any connection to Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl Of Death - other of course than having Hatton play a character named "Creeper" in all three of them, providing almost identical visuals.

"[Pearl of Death] was an attempt by Universal to introduce him as a new member of their monster “family”, making this possibly the only crossover between the Holmes movies and their traditional monster movie fare." (Conliffe, 2013)

In that respect Gifford's decision to include an innuendo to the Holmes movie in his entry for "the Creeper" in Monsters of the Movies makes a strange inclusion seem even a bit more odd. No surprise then that I remember pretty much skipping over Monster #12 every time I took that little book from the shelf.

Incidentally, the 2.95 I paid at WH Smith's for Gifford's seminal Pictorial History of Horror Movies in 1977 equalled 19.50 in 2021 (according to measuringworth.com), illustrating just how intent I was on breaking the bank in order to get that book and learn more about horror movies. It certainly cleared up things concerning the "Creeper".

 

 
 
Monster Factor:

Overall Movie Rating:

  IMHO:

Basing myself solely on a 9 minutes home movie version of The Brute Man, the handling of plot build-up and characterization of the original 58 minutes version is obviously lost on me. On the other hand, you'd expect a sharply abridged version to move along at a fast pace - but that isn't the case. There are a few somewhat atmospheric (and highly conventional) upward lighting shots of Hatton, but there's really very little else of interest and hardly any story at all as the home movie version just staggers along, making even those 9 minutes feel like a lot more. From today's perspective, the exploitation of Hatton's affliction doesn't sit right, but the bottom line is that The Brute Man is a really bad film - and really not much of a horror movie either.

 
 
 
 

Denis Gifford on The Brute Man
in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (1973)

"Rondo Hatton and his Creeper brought the age of Universal horror to an end. He died. His miserable film shocked even the studio that had made it. They disowned it, giving it to the lowest of the low to distribute. It went out on release as a PRC picture: the ultimate horror."

 
 
 
 
SOURCES

CONLIFFE Ciaran (2013) "Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl Of Death (1944)", Daily Scribbling, published online 15 June 2013

GIFFORD Denis (1973) A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Hamlyn

MEHAN Paul (2010) Horror Noir: Where Cinema's Dark Sisters Meet, McFarland & Company

NN (1946) "U's Brute Man to PRC But Hangs on to 2 Others", Variety, 23 october 1946

WEAVER Tom, John Brunas & Michael Brunas (2007) Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 (2nd edition), McFarland & Company

 


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The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction in this non-commercial review and research context is considered to be fair use
as set out by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107
and in accordance with the the Berne Convention
for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

All images from Monsters of the Movies (Carousel/Transworld) were scanned from my personal copy purchased in 1977

Page created 12 November 2023
Last updated 19 November 2023

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