October Nightmares #14: Creep (2004)


And so like a documentary exploring the Royal Family's affinity with Hitler, we move from a collection of Creeps to a singular Creep. Growing up in a small city, I never really understood the furore for underground train stations. The way people talk about the London Underground, you'd think they were being sucked into the hoo-ha of the 50 Foot Woman. What I'm saying is that going into Creep I lacked any knowledge of how these places worked. So when I heard there was a horror film set in a 'train station', and one that wasn't about Bernhard Goetz, I wasn't exactly convinced. Incensing me further was a review that claimed Creep does for The Underground what Psycho did for showers, or what Jaws did for beaches. The Psycho one I get, but Jaws? A film about people dying because of their inability to stay out of the fucking sea? Who are these people - Aquaman? And I was left wondering how one could be terrorised by something that requires minimal effort to leave and get to safety.

Fortunately, Creep turned out to be rather good; now ranked alongside Kill List and The Wicker Man as my favourite British horror films. The full-length début of director Chris Smith, Creep is a psychological slasher from that curious school of horror which teaches "Modern English life is depressing". There's even a Scottish tramp with a pathetic yappy dog. All throughout Creep it felt like I was about to be tapped for a bloody quid. This attests to Smith's ability to draw us into the vision for his world. As with the unrelated Clive Barker short story, Midnight Meat Train, or 1972 horror film Death Line, Creep blends a vibrant and trendy cityscape with a seedy underbelly of human misery. He effectively contrasts the up-market house parties which protagonist Kate (Franka Potente) attends, with a very real and dangerous feeling night-time London; making the city feel like a living breathing hub where a joyous evening and an agonising encounter are separated merely by the luck of the draw.

The plot ties this atmosphere to a very simple idea: being locked in an usually innocuous place (a train station) and bearing witness to its dark heart. This is a recurrent theme in horror as the narrow focus allows for a more atmosphere-led approach and the mundanity of the story to extrapolate from real-world fears. We see it time and time again, with works like H.P. Lovecraft's The Horror in the Museum, or M. Night Shyamalan's Devil. Someone even made a film about a demon bed that eats people - that must be a frigging nightmare for the Snoring Old Man. Kate after being abandoned by a friend for, let's face it, being a bit of bitch, is forced to make her way to another party and heads to Charing Cross station. Whilst waiting for her train, however, the dozy cow falls asleep and finds herself is locked in the station; along with two homeless individuals (Paul Rattray and Kelly Scott), work colleague/casual rapist Guy (Jeremy Sheffield), and the world's worst security guard (Morgan Jones). Oh, and a terrifying serial killer...thing (Sean Harris).

Now, to fully enjoy Creep, the viewer is required to do a few mental leaps. We're supposed to buy that the sycophantic night watchman sat at the cameras didn't notice Kate before she got locked in. Like a security guard has ever passed up an opportunity to obsessive spy on an attractive woman. Or that Guy was prepared to let himself also be locked in so that he could molest Kate and then what? Spend the next ten hours making awkward small talk? But such is the nature of the slasher movie, that we must be prepared to accept the flimsy plot-points and diabolus ex machina that drive the plot. I saw one review subject the film to a lengthy harangue for it being genre fiction and filled with clichés. I take umbrage at this suggestion, however. As though every piece of work has to be ground-breaking. There is nothing inherently wrong with clichéd genre fiction, just as long as it finds interesting ways to explore its material. And Creep does.

It helps that Creep is powered by an enigmatic villain, one who terrifies and mystifies in equal measure. Looking like Gollum's creepy uncle, the Creep immediately serves as an affront to the audience's sensibilities. His awkward mannerisms and animalistic features cast him apart from the rest of humanity, making him simultaneously a sympathetic and frightening figure. There's one part of the film where he performs caesarean-like surgery on a female captive, and in his grotty antique lab he mimics the actions of how a surgeon would prepare - even if the facilities don't work. Although a tense and harrowing scene, it's kind of adorable: like a child copying the actions of its father. I suppose that's what it is really, throughout we are given clues that the Creep is the result of a mad scientist's test tube baby experiment. And isn't that just a rather metal sentence.

For all its faults, Creep is an entirely enjoyable grisly little movie. It's wonderfully shot too. Many shots have the characters perfectly centred within the Station and its tunnels surrounding them, creating a sense of oppression and claustrophobia. I'm enamoured with the colour palate too. Look at the above photo, there's an interplay of acidic blues, greens, and yellows, to creating striking yet dilapidated aesthetics. The cinematography is equally impressive throughout, with some scenes marked by a monochromatic scheme such as harsh blues or alarming reds. The on-screen action gets somewhat dark and saturated towards the end as Kate goes deeper underground, but it's nice to see such attention to the visuals - especially from a new director. Little touches such as this help to create the notion of being drawn into the Creep's unique world. It's like talking to the weird lank-haired man on the bus. Or, if you are that man, imagine being stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump as he reads a pop-up book about immigration.