Welcome all to the final chapter of the exciting 1939 movie serial The Phantom Creeps! Begun over a year ago in October, 2011, SBBN has recapped this cinematic classic with witty banter and stunning detail, to the delight of thousands. Others would say that SBBN has bitched incessantly about this craptastic serial while a few people came along for the ride, laughing when we realized actress Dorothy Arnold was daydreaming about skullfucking her co-workers. Witty banter, skullfucking, either way is good.
Before we begin the final chapter of something that should have ended many, many months ago, I want to thank you all for sticking with me. A new movie serial endeavor will be beginning shortly, my goal with that one to stick to a tighter schedule. I hope you’ll join me for the next series!
Tonight’s thrilling conclusion is a Creeps classic, featuring terrible writing, horrible acting, stock footage of questionable taste, and some very sad actors who never worked in Hollywood again.
The Phantom Creeps
Chapter 12: To Destroy the World
When we last left our intrepid heroes Plucky Girl Reporter and G-Man Bob, they were lounging by the catering table while stolen footage from The Vanishing Shadow starring Ada Ince and Onslow Stevens was doing all the work for them. Ada and Onslow, unwitting (and probably unwilling) stand-ins for PGR and Bob, are seen careening through a construction site in a British car — and by British I mean “the dinks in editing flipped the Shadow footage for no explicable reason” — driving straight into a controlled demolition.
PGR and Bob make it through, of course, because the blast the Creeps production staff created to mimic the destruction in the stolen Vanishing Shadow footage was complete, unseasoned weaksauce.
Yet that same weak blast changed the color of the convertible, turned Ada and Onslow into PGR and Bob, and blew them all the way back to the U.S. where they now drive on the American side of the road. And now you know, kids: A couple of firecrackers in a bowl full of talcum powder really can provide cinematic excitement.
The last two chapters of The Phantom Creeps display a delightful amount of incompetence. The flipped footage fiasco of the demolition scene is continued as Henchman Clooney (Anthony Averill) and Jarvis the ringleader (Edward Van Sloan) stand astonished as they realize PGR and Bob have made it through the explosion:
As we cut to a shot from the front:
They’re on different sides now. And I usually don’t post screen captures where I catch an actor in transition, inadvertently making a goofy face, but Jarvis looks this goofy all the damn time. Edward Van Sloan played small parts in many famous films — you’ve probably seen him looking dignified in Song of Bernadette or the holy trinity of pre-code horror films, Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy — but for some reason, he possesses absolutely no poise in Creeps. Every expression is outsized, ridiculous and hilarious. The production could not have cast a more inappropriate actor for the role, except maybe Chester Conklin, and I think we can all agree he would have at least been fun, therefore a vast improvement.
You’ll also notice that our favorite henchman looks so very very sad. While filming his final scenes of Creeps, Anthony Averill was obviously at the breaking point, trying to hold it together but also knowing that sweet, sweet release was close at hand. Averill was so glad to get out of the serial, in fact, that when PGR and G-Man Bob caught up to him and the spy leader at the beginning of this final chapter, Henchman Clooney Guy helped our plucky girl reporter by putting his hands together for her so she could restrain him more easily.
Zorka has driven off with the spies’ car, because he’s a genius, and geniuses know that driving a convertible while invisible won’t result in any undue attention drawn to you at all. The spies were left behind with nothing but their freakish face masks, surely props borrowed from a prior, better production, and which didn’t help them evade capture. Henchman Clooney immediately blurted out the location of the meteorite when captured by PGR and Bob, surely in hopes of being able to leave the set of The Phantom Creeps as quickly as possible. Thus our favorite henchman, hogtied and shoved into the back of Bob’s convertable, rides off into the dusty sunset. Anthony Averill would never have a role this big again. A couple of uncredited bit parts later, he disappeared from film forever. Averill died on Christmas day in 1982.
It’s time to say goodbye to another beloved Phantom Creeps character: The medical bag. An ancient wonder dating from before the time of Hippocrates, this relic spent twelve long chapters lugging around the meteor — variously called the meteorite, the element, or the elements — that gave Dr. Zorka his wild, earth-shattering powers. The elements were surely dangerous, most probably radioactive, yet this thin animal skin satchel with its rusting clasps and vaguely erotic shape protected us all from certain doom. Thank you, medical bag, and godspeed, my little friend.
Back at the secret basement laboratory underneath Dr. Zorka’s palatial estate, Monk’s cheese has slid completely off his cracker as we find him trying to have a discussion with the Iron Man, asking him to help him escape. Iron Man cannot hear and possesses no warm feelings toward Monk anyway; Zorka overhears, however, and once again, for the last time in this interminable serial, ignores the obvious warning signs that his henchman has some serious emotional problems that will come back to haunt him at a later, more inconvenient moment. You’d think with that element and all his neat toys, Zorka could have developed a better, more compliant slave laborer than Monk, yet he (and we) are stuck with this whiny dude that cannot die fast enough.
At just over five minutes into this final chapter, Creeps has made it clear that its goal is to wrap everything up as quickly as possible while making no damn sense at all. The spies were dispatched within the first two minutes, Zorka immediately began embarking on his final hail-Mary plan of destruction, and plucky girl reporter Jean Drew has been told she can now tell the world the entire fascinating story. And at Dr. Mallory’s lab, Bob is mobilizing troops via phone, giving the unseen Jim (Regis Toomey) on the other end of the line a stern warning: “Better have them equipped with gas masks. Remember, you’re dealing with an invisible force!”
Because an invisible madman and poisonous gases go hand in hand, as we all learned in seventh grade science class.
Dr. Mallory has finally figured out how to deactivate Zorka’s devisualizer; Bob pronounces it “dee-vizz-nnn-blzzzz-errr,” starting the word out strong but just giving the hell up by the third syllable. Mallory has created a ray gun that re-visiblates that which has been devisiblated. I know that’s confusing, but if you were a scientist, you’d totally understand. Mallory’s assistant Perkins (Hugh Huntley) takes great pleasure in zarking a miniature reproduction of The Thinker to demonstrate this scientific breakthrough.
Hugh Huntley and Louise Brooks in A Social Celebrity (1926). Photo courtesy Dr. Macro.
Huntley had been in films and on stage for over two decades at this point, almost becoming a significant character actor after his turn in The Bat Whispers (1930). But the Hollywood stardom train passed him by, his stage career was long over, and he would appear in only a couple more uncredited roles after Creeps before fading into Hollywood oblivion.
Back at Dr. Zorka’s, Reeg arrives with the world’s smallest army, about six guys in WWI army surplus gear who are so unfamiliar with protocol that they salute Regis Toomey as though his character Jim Daly were an Army officer. Zorka runs to a window to assess the threat, and Monk takes a moment to visit the Iron Man… but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The Toomster and G-Man Bob stand outside the mansion with the Army, Bob greedily grabbing one of the soldiers’ gas masks for himself because he’s an asshole. Zorka meanwhile calls upon the Iron Man to crush the U.S Army, which should be easy enough, since Iron Man has taken on groups of five or six henchmen with guns before, and these dudes are quite possibly the same henchmen, just in different duds. The army guys scatter in a panic when they see Iron Man stroll purposely into the foyer, and shoot him quite a few times to no effect while Dr. Zorka cackles in delight.
For whatever reason, Dr. Zorka directs Iron Man in a brisk walk past the soldiers and into the garden outside, bypassing any attempt to squash the Army like bugs. It is a lovely day, so perhaps Iron Man is just getting some fresh air.
Or, perhaps, the script had no convincing way of leaving the Army unharmed enough to exact revenge on this large robot. Since the United States Army is full of a bunch of poopyheads who won’t let a peace-loving robot have any fun, they bring out the very literal big guns and take aim. One large explosion later, Iron Man has been deconstructed into an aesthetically-pleasing pile of large pieces, his iconic head rolling gently across the well-manicured lawn.
Wikipedia cites The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury as claiming the Iron Man was “stopped by a single shot seconds after being unleashed.” Untrue!
This is Monk tinkering with the robot, deliberately removing its protection from bullets so it can now be easily destroyed. Monk has an understandable grudge against the Iron Man, who was used in many, many Monk menacings over these past 11 chapters. Even with the tinkering, Iron Man took dozens of bullets and wasn’t harmed, not until a hail of automatic gunfire blew him the hell up. Wikipedia, whether it’s accurately quoting the book or not, wrongly implies the Iron Man’s destruction was poor writing; it was, in fact, some of the best writing and execution in the entire serial! Way to go, Wikipedia. This error will be further elaborated on in an upcoming made-for-TV biopic to be called “Wrong Again: The Wikipedia Story.”
There seems at first to be no fallout, either literal or figurative, from the large explosion that dispatched Iron Man. But once you notice that the entire Army detachment has disappeared without a trace from the mansion seconds after blowing up an eight-foot robot, you get the sinking feeling that this is the moment all hell has finally broken loose in the world of The Phantom Creeps.
G-Man Bob runs into the now-empty mansion to find Zorka, who has invisiblated. But Bob has the de-invisiblator, which he aims at…
Waitaminnit. If Zorka is invisible, how would anyone know where to aim this de-invisiblator? You have to see someone to be able to aim at them, which seems like a serious design flaw to me. Yet Bob knows exactly where in that large upstairs laboratory Zorka is standing, and hits him directly with the revisiblator. What is this fuckery?
The re-visualizer immediately after it has been shot. You can tell, because it looks exactly the same as it did before it was shot. In completely unrelated news, the Flash Gordon set has reported the theft of a few prop guns…
But it doesn’t really matter, because the moment Bob makes Zorka visible again, Zorka shoots him, leaving Bob unharmed but destroying the re-visualizing ray. Yes, the ray that Dr. Incompetence spent almost half the serial working on, which turned out to have a fatal design flaw, was destroyed after about eight seconds of use. That is the kind of quality plotline resolution you can expect from a serialized story like The Phantom Creeps, my friends.
Our mad doctor runs downstairs to the secret lab and instructs Monk to take the weapons made from the meteor and escape. Dr. Z plans to destroy Bob, Reeg and the soldiers — who have reappeared without fanfare — with a bottle filled with dry ice and a vague Z-ray thing we don’t know much about.
Zorka zarks a couple of soldiers with a Z-ray that is supposed to be fiendish but merely renders them temporarily unconscious. He also very politely takes time out of his busy frenzied escape from the Feds to jot down this delightful note and leave it on their bodies:
Meanwhile, Plucky Girl Reporter Jean Drew’s articles begin to appear in the paper:
Monk and Dr. Zorka steal an airplane from a mechanic in their bid to wreak havoc upon the world. To get to the plane, they knock the mechanic to the ground, and when he comes to we discover…
it’s Henchman Von Moustache in another role! Like we wouldn’t notice! We just saw him two chapters ago!
Reusing Von Moustache? Heartfelt, emo notes in impeccable handwriting detailing a psychopath’s delusions of grandeur? Mad Genius Running Wild? Oh, you wacky Phantom Creeps, I will forgive you anything at this point.
Bob and Reeg have apparently headed back to Dr. Mallory’s, where Bob finds out via local loop telephony that Zorka and Monk have snatched a plane. Jealous that the villains are about to get in on his lucrative plane-destroying action, he fumes while the Toomster stands there, hands in pockets, rocking back and forth, feigning interest while mentally calculating the cost of a tuna melt and fries at the studio commissary.
Zorka begins his rampage! Tiny little test tubes filled with something-or-other from the meteor are used as bombs, dropped from the plane and strong enough to take out single structures. The mad doctor’s fiendishly clever plan is to fly all over the world, destroying one building at a time until the world surrenders. Or something.
And here, my friends, is where the international incidents begin. Zorka’s first target is supposed to be the federal building, but when it came time for the editors to splice in footage, they went with the Hindenburg disaster instead:
Ah, yes, the use of a real world tragedy with many casualties as footage for a Z-grade movie serial. Very tasteful and not repulsive at all. As the zeppelin burns, Zorka cackles in glee and Monk does a double take, having just now realized that Zorka is a really mean guy.
A bit of trivia: Edward D. Wood, Jr. was given a movie camera by his dad on his 12th birthday in October of 1936. About six months later, Wood filmed the Hindenburg airship as it passed over his home in Poughkeepsie, just over three hours before it caught fire after docking in New Jersey. Wood, as you know, cast Bela in his final films in the 1950s; I wonder if either of them knew of this tenuous Hindenburg connection… or cared?
PGR’s article on the incident. Note that she also has mistaken a large flaming Hindenburg for a local federal building. Check out the article below the headline: “Record Set in Flight of Airship”? Hardly! Not unless you mean RECORD NUMBER OF DEATHS, lady.
Next, Zorka destroys what looks to be an Army barracks in more stock footage that I suspect comes from an actual incident. As Zorka and Monk fly to the coast — it takes them about 12 seconds, which is totally reasonable — more war footage is used of a battleship being bombed.
Meanwhile, G-Man Bob seems to have gotten himself a plane. First, I want you to scroll back up and look at Zorka’s plane immediately above this, the scroll back down here. Notice anything? Like, the fact that these are both the same motherfucking planes? Which is obvious thanks to all the dents and that white stripe painted on to make the plane go faster? Unbelievable.
Also note that Reeg is flying this baby; I imagine some talks with supervisors, or perhaps a few insurance underwriters, resulted in someone finally forbidding Bob from ever piloting an aircraft again.
Bela at this point is just going fucko bazoo in the role, complete with unhinged cackles and big goofy grins. It’s terrific, really, seeing him give it his mad scientist all, which is more than this role deserved. And right on cue, a perfect example of why this serial is beneath contempt: As planes close in on Monk and Zorka, our evil genius looks positively shocked, as though a scenario where officials would attempt to prevent him from killing more people never occurred to him.
Thinking on his feet, he decides to force Monk into crashing deliberately into the ocean, causing the rest of the tubes full of meteorite to explode all at once, destroying the entire world! Except, even if he had a full gross of those little bombs he had been tossing out the plane for the last ten minutes, it wouldn’t take out a county let alone an entire planet.
Reeg, the smartest guy on screen right now, knows this and volunteers to machine gun the little bastards out of the air. G-Man Bob, the guy who has spent a dozen chapters saying, “No, no, we won’t bother to chase after the bad guys,” scolds Reeg for potentially “blowing us all out of the air.” Please, you wouldn’t even get your hair mussed, you moron.
Monk, being the completely worthless jackhole he has always been, decides to stand up and attempt to surrender rather than partake in Zorka’s suicidal plan.
Killing the pilot surprisingly results in the plane losing control and crashing into the ocean anyway, complete with the meteor on board. The Toomster is given the ridiculous dialogue of suggesting he and Bob follow the plane down as it crashes into the water; this is done entirely to give G-Man Bob the very authoritative job of correcting his clueless underling.
Zorka’s meteorite weapons go off all at once as the plane crashes into the ocean, instantly killing Zorka. Noo! Goodbye, Bela! We love you and wish you had gotten better roles in your career!
The explosion from the bomb threatens to destroy the world!
Or, uh, creates a delightful little temporary fountain, whichever. Six of one, half dozen of the other and all that. Ahem.
It’s been an entire episode of let-downs, hasn’t it? The Feds called in the U.S. Army for a serious, world-threatening issue, and the Army shrugged their shoulders and sent them six dudes. Zorka mobilized the Iron Man to destroy the Army, but then conveniently walked the robot past them without touching a one, giving them a chance to blow up the robot. In a panic, Zorka took little bits of the meteorite and went back in time to burn the Hindenburg. Finally, the exact thing everyone had been trying to prevent for 12 long, soul-crushing chapters happens: The meteorite explodes!
And the newspapers hit the streets!
See? I told you she was a plucky girl reporter.
Now that we’ve established that the tiny little spurt of water “shook” the whole content, and without any sort of followup as to what the effects of an entire continent shaking were, we segue to The White House, where some guy in a drab room tells our gang of intrepid heroes that they will be getting medals for saving the world.
Well, everyone except Jean gets a medal, because she’s an icky gurl. But The Toomster, everyone’s hero, immediately realizes the slight and says she deserves all their medals for being so brave.
Jean gets a little verbal thanks from nameless White House guy — who do you think he is, anyway? Senator? Secretary? The dude that gets to run the souvenir flags up and down the flagpole? PGR briefly flirts with G-Man Bob, and then…
IT’S OVER! IT’S OVER! OUR LONG NATIONAL NIGHTMARE HAS COME TO AN END!
It’s a sad day saying goodbye to our friends, rolling our eyes at stupidity and losing our patience, but we got through it together. Thank you all for reading. And thank you Regis, Bela, Anthony, Iron Man, medical bag, and enormous chunky fake eyelashes for being there when we needed you. We will not soon forget you.
“THE PHANTOM CREEPS”
REGIS TOOMEY WILL RETURN
“RAIDERS OF GHOST CITY”