“It is big – too big! We can’t control it! We’d be releasing energies that would result only in mutations, monstrosities, and death!”
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Starring: Janis Wilson, John Baragrey, Onslow Stevens, Ralph Morgan, June Vincent, Eduardo Ciannelli, David Hoffman, Richard Lane, Philip Ahn
Screenplay: Maurice Tombragel, based upon a story by Don Martin
Synopsis: Dozing in his study, Dr Lester Cavigny (Ralph Morgan) awakens to find that his daughter, Nora (Janis Wilson), has entered the room while sleepwalking. As her father watches in horror, Nora takes the gun from his drawer and returns to her room with it, slipping it under her pillow before getting back into bed. As Dr Cavigny retrieves the weapon, Nora wakes, startled. When she sees the gun, which her father tells her he has been cleaning, she confesses that she had just had a dream about taking the gun because she felt that something was after her. The next day, shipments of equipment and specimens arrive at the Cavigny-Bordon Laboratory in the Medical Research Center. While Nora and Gwenn Ronstrum (June Vincent), a research technician, unpack, Dr Cavigny has a disagreement with his partner, Dr James Borden (Onslow Stevens), over the direction of their work. The two men are interrupted by a cry from Gwenn, who has discovered that all of their precious serum samples have been smashed. While Cavigny suggests that this may be for the best, Borden announces his intention of obtaining more serum from the experimental cats the group worked with in the West Indies. At the mention of the cats, Nora becomes visibly distressed. Borden scoffs at her, but her father comforts her, telling her that her fear is simply a residual effect of the severe illness she suffered in the West Indies, where her delirium induced hallucinations about cats. While Cavigny and Borden argue over continuing their research, which has produced unexpected results, Dr Van Glock (Eduardo Ciannelli), who works in the laboratory next door, spies them upon. Borden insists that he is going on with the research. Cavigny reassures Nora by reminding her that he holds all the notes of the experimental work, without which Borden cannot proceed. Nora is visited by Dr John Reade (John Baragrey), Dr Van Glock’s partner, on whom she had a crush as a girl. The two exchange greetings, but are interrupted by Gwenn, who was involved with John before the trip to the West Indies. John takes both girls into his lab, introducing Van Glock and making them coffee. As John shows them around, Nora becomes terrified of John’s cat, Creeper, and flees. Concerned, John wants to go after her, but Gwenn dissuades him. That night, Nora suffers an hallucination about a giant cat attacking her. A few days later, Nora visits John in his lab, confessing her fear of cats and describing her terrible, fevered illness, during which she became haunted by the death of the wife of her father’s assistant. John takes Nora out to dinner, but the evening is spoilt when Nora has another encounter with a cat. Jealous of John’s growing interest in Nora, Gwenn confronts the girl, forcing her to face her greatest fear: schizophrenia. Soon afterwards, Dr Cavigny is found dead, his body mutilated by the claws on an enormous animal…
Comments: Terrible acting, ridiculous dialogue, an incomprehensible storyline, mindboggling science, a half-human cat-monster, shameless plagiarism— Truly, The Creeper has it all!
It would be unjust, I suppose, to blame this travesty on Val Lewton, but there isn’t much doubt about where the makers of The Creeper found their inspiration: this misbegotten little film steals the haunting cat motif from Cat People and The Curse Of The Cat People and the setting from I Walked With A Zombie, and has a leading lady dressed and made up to resemble Kim Hunter in The Seventh Victim. However, there the resemblance ends. Rather than Val Lewton’s own subtle guiding hand, what we have here is a Val Lewton film brought to us by the people responsible for The Devil Bat. You can imagine the results.
Mind you— On a personal level I should probably be kinder to The Creeper than my first impulse dictates. It is well-documented that the deep sense of unease underlying Cat People and its sequel stems from Lewton’s own genuine ailurophobia. The Creeper, conversely, seems to be the work of people who couldn’t for the life of them figure out why anyone would have a problem with cats, and were consequently incapable of imagining the manifestation of such a phobia in even a remotely credible way. Which, we concede, was rather tough on the individual who was asked to try and do so.
Much of The Creeper’s wrongness is delightful, but at one point it is painful in the extreme. This is the kind of film where the good guys are so intensely irritating, it is almost impossible for the viewer to refrain from siding with the bad guys—one in particular.
All the acting in The Creeper is poor, but as our alleged heroine, Nora Cavigny, Janis Wilson is just awful. Wilson showed some promise as a child actor – she was particularly good as the girl who grows up to be Barbara Stanwyck in Lewis Milestone’s marvellous The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers – but here she is simply dreadful, registering every emotion by dropping her jaw and opening her eyes as wide as she can. Her cat-induced terrors come across not as involuntary psychological recoils but as petulant, attention-seeking tantrums, and after the first one or two of these episodes it is impossible not to sympathise with Gwenn Ronstrum and her obvious pleasure in tormenting the girl.
We are introduced to Nora while she is sleepwalking. It is possibly fortunate that this occurs in the very first scene, because on the basis on Janis Wilson’s overall performance, we might otherwise have some difficulty recognising a somnambulistic state when we see one. Nora glides into her father’s study, where Dr Cavigny is dozing in his chair, a book open in his hand and a microscope at his elbow. Because he’s a scientist, dammit!
Cavigny wakes up just in time to see the blank-eyed Nora crossing the study with his gun in her hand. He follows her back to her bedroom, watching as she slips the gun under her pillow, climbs back into bed and goes to sleep before reclaiming the weapon. Nora wakes with a startled gasp, but accepts her father’s various soothing assertions. She adds that she was just dreaming about that gun and, after more soothing, admits that she was once again experiencing a feeling that something was after her. Her father reiterates that she is home, and safe, and nothing can harm her. The question of whether she might harm someone else is not broached…
And then – huzzah! – the action shifts to the “Medical Research Center” (yet another subsidiary of Generica Inc.), a nexus for high-powered, cutting-edge scientific research…all conducted in rented office space. It makes a change from the basement, I guess.
As this film progresses, it becomes increasingly and amusingly apparent that the “Cavigny-Borden Research Laboratory” and the “Reade-Van Glock Laboratory” are one and the same, with minor alterations in the set-dressing intended to convince us otherwise. Both laboratories favour the simple if somewhat self-defeating decorating style of piling as much random glassware as possible onto the room’s single bench.
As a delivery is made to the C-BRL, looking on is Dr Van Glock of the R-VGL, which occupies the office next door. Eduardo Ciannelli gets billing in The Creeper, and is photographed so as to look as suspicious and sinister as possible.
The many expressions of Nora Cavigny.
Inside the C-B we find Nora and Gwenn Ronstrum unpacking and setting up. Gwenn exclaims in relief at the arrival of “the serum” (which, we might note, is in an ordinary crate rather than refrigerated). This in itself is enough to induce one of Nora’s countless “blank-outs”, and Gwenn has to speak to her sharply to bring her out of it.
Meanwhile, in the next room (which nobody pretends isn’t an office), Dr Cavigny is having an argument with his partner, Dr Borden, over their research, which has gone in an unexpected direction. Cavigny is in favour of abandoning the project as just too dangerous, whereas Borden is all, “Damn the ethical considerations, full speed ahead!”
Cavigny lectures Borden gently on how man must always come first and how, without man, there would be no science. A contemptuous Borden retorts that Cavigny isn’t really a scientist at all, only a philosopher. Ooh, burn!
Borden, by the way, has a moustache and a little chin-beard. This being 1948, not all the chiaroscuro photography of Eduardo Ciannelli in the world is going to trick us with respect to the identity of this film’s real villain; certainly not in conjunction with Borden’s appalling taste in ties.
The ethical debate is interrupted by a cry from Gwenn, who has discovered to her horror that every vial of serum has been broken—apparently in transit, although Cavigny and Nora exchange a significant look. Borden comments dryly that the damage looks almost too complete to be accidental. Cavigny responds that perhaps the “accident” is for the best. Borden isn’t having any, though, and immediately makes plans to start over.
SCIENCE!!…if they only had room to do any…
Cavigny protests that it will take more than a year’s work to get back to where they were, but Borden counters that he will have their experimental cats shipped over from the West Indies, so that they can pick up again with only a minor delay. He adds angrily that he should never have allowed Cavigny to talk him out of bringing them back in the first place.
At the first mention of the c-word, Nora goes rigid, her eyes opening wide. Now she breaks into the conversation, arguing desperately that the scientists’ experimental notes are complete and that they have everything they need to get published. Her outburst makes Borden lift a supercilious eyebrow: “Don’t tell me you still have that ridiculous aversion to cats?” he sneers.
Borden’s the bad guy.
I just need to keep reminding myself of that.
“It isn’t ridiculous!” insists Nora breathily. “I just hate to be reminded of that horrible place!”
The always unctuous Cavigny puts an arm around her shoulders, reassuring her that it’s all over—that is, the delirium, and the hallucinations… He then turns his attention back to Borden, agreeing with Nora that they should just publish and move on.
In their apparent belief that the chief aim of science is to get published, the Cavignys were possibly a little ahead of their time. Borden, on the other hand, has the proper scientific attitude:
“Don’t tell me you can open the door to a great discovery—actually stand there on the threshold!—and not go any further!?”
“You will pay for that remark about my tie!”
In the course of the ensuing argument, The Creeper becomes inadvertently interesting. This seems to be one of those science fiction films where the writers have done a little research – or, more likely, read an interesting newspaper article – but haven’t quite understood the principal they’re hijacking for their screenplay.
It turns out that he aim of the experimental work being conducted by Drs Borden and Cavigny is to assist surgery by introducing into the tissues of the patient—well, for now I’ll call it “a glow”. Towards the end of the film this process is referred to as luminescence; here, however, they call it phosphorescence. I doubt the writers understood the difference but it is, to put it mildly, significant. More to the point, which of these two is actually under debate here changes the entire thrust of the film. If it is phosphorescence, then Cavigny is right to object; but if it is luminescence, well, guess what, folks?—Dr Evil-Mad-Unethical Borden is absolutely correct in wanting to proceed.
For the past several decades there has been substantial work carried out not just in developing methods for introducing genes for luminescence into a living target, but in finding ways to induce specific tissues to luminesce; this work was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 2008. The main aim of this research was not, as envisaged by our movie scientists here, to assist with surgery generally, but rather to identify cancer cells, and to guide the clean and complete removal of tumours, while at the same time avoiding the unnecessary removal of healthy tissue.
In February of 2014, the first luminescence-guided surgery was carried out on a breast cancer patient. Following the introduction into the patient of an appropriate marker, the luminescent cells were detected by the surgeon via experimental glasses with specially developed lenses. The breast cancer clinical trial is still ongoing, while this approach is now being converted to an even more sensitive video-detection system.
A rat. Also, a small white mammal.
The Creeper’s switch from phosphorescence to luminescence makes me wonder if in the very early days of this concept, there was some debate over the best approach to take. The trouble with phosphorescence, of course, is that while the operation might be a success, the patient would almost certainly die.
This point brings us back to the argument between Cavigny and Borden, the former insisting that they will do “immeasurable harm” by proceeding – that they will be responsible for “mutations, monstrosities, and death”, no less – and the latter stubbornly ignoring these warnings.
Borden orders Gwenn to get in contact with their assistant in the West Indies, who rather alarmingly is to be instructed to, “Find all the experimental cats he can” (they just let them go afterwards?—excellent!), and to ship them to Los Angeles. He then apologises to Cavigny, but insists that he must proceed as he sees fit.
While the writers of The Creeper more or less accidentally hit the mark with Cavigny and Borden’s experiments, the background that they gave the work could hardly be more ludicrously wrong. Firstly, why on earth would anyone feel compelled to travel to the West Indies, in order to experiment on cats? And secondly, why cats?—which are about the last animal anyone would choose in a situation like this. They’re too small to be much use as a serum source, too large to be conveniently handled, and too temperamental to be anything other than an ongoing pain in the butt. Stealing from Val Lewton is one thing; doing so without considering the consequences of removing his plot-points from their natural environment is just begging to be mocked.
Anyway— When Nora is left alone with her father she asks what he intends to do? Cavigny hurrumphs that Borden seems to have forgotten that he holds their experimental notes – of which there are, of course, only the one copy. Sigh.
All through this sequence, there are cuts to the corridor, where we find Dr Van Glock lurking and listening in deeply suspicious way.
Nora is then interrupted in her unpacking by the other half of the Reade-Van Glock Laboratory, Dr John Reade. Nora is thrilled because, as Reade is quick to smugly remind her, she always had “a schoolgirl crush” on him. Reade is supposed to be the hero of The Creeper, and of this I can only say that he and Nora richly deserve one another.
Gwenn, on the other hand, who is about to be dumped, fails to appreciate that she is well rid of a bad bargain. She enters the lab to find Reade and Nora holding hands. We learn that Reade and Gwenn are actually engaged, but have also been separated for a year due to her involvement in the West Indies enterprise. Lest we think this is merely an example of a woman foolishly choosing her career over her man and so deserving to lose him, Reade and Nora haven’t seen each other for four years—during which time, Nora “grew up”, as the chop-licking Reade is quick to observe.
Reade invites both Gwenn and Nora to the R-VGL, where he and his partner conduct allergy research. They interrupt Van Glock, who is writing up his notes, and who stops to pop a white rat, which was sitting companionably beside him, into his pocket. (Yet another of this film’s Who-are-the-bad-guys-again? moments.)
Reade offers coffee—which he likes to make in an evaporating flask over a Bunsen burner, an apparatus that sits dead in the middle of the lab’s actual experimental glassware, and to serve in beakers. Oh—and he keeps the cream in the same fridge as his reagents and blood samples.
I don’t know which part of me is more offended, my science-side or my coffee-swilling-side.
I swear, I can feel my hair turning white…
Reade takes the women into the back lab to show them around, expressing some puzzlement over how, over the course of six months, two mice could have become dozens. (He’s a biologist, all right.) He then reintroduces Gwenn to an old friend, who I like to think of as the real hero of this film: a black cat known as “Creeper”, whose casting in this film we can chalk up to a combination of tolerance of repeated mishandling, and a willingness to sit still while the makeup artist dipped one of his paws in white paint.
Gwenn immediately scoops up Creeper and coos over him (who are the bad guys again?), while, unnoticed by her companions, Nora goes into one of her fits of frozen horror. Reade comments that Creeper is very helpful around the lab, not catching the mice, but “keeping them in check” if they get out:
Gwenn: “Creeper is very intelligent!”
Reade: “You’re not kidding! Sometimes I get the horrifying impression that he’s smarter than I am!”
Reade then takes Gwenn to one side to show her his favourite mice. As she passes by Nora, Gwenn – presumably with malice aforethought, although this is not made explicit – puts Creeper down almost at her feet. Reade’s inane chatter about his mice is abruptly interrupted when Nora drops her coffee-beaker and flees the lab in terror, leaving Reade bemused and Gwenn maliciously satisfied.
Aww…kitty, kitty, kitty! I mean, uh—EEK!!
Though The Creeper was, as I have said, the work of several of the same people responsible for The Devil Bat, in fact it is all but a remake of Devil Bat’s Daughter (of all things to remake!), with a central character suffering hallucinations and coming to believe herself a killer. It’s even shot in just the same way.
Indeed, the scene that follows, with Nora terrorised by an imaginary cat, is almost shot-for-shot the same as Nina MacCarron’s terrorisation by an imaginary bat—only even funnier, because in place of a rubber bat on a piece of elastic, we have a fake cat’s-paw that makes the one in The Uncanny look realistic.
(NB: cats do not have wool.)
Woken by feline yowling, Nora stares in horror as a gigantic white paw appears over the edge of her window-sill. She screams, slams the window down, and goes shrieking for her father, insisting hysterically that, “This time I really saw it!”
But of course when Dr Cavigny goes to look, there is nothing there; nor did he hear anything.
One morning, when arriving at work, John Reade is startled to see Van Glock emerging from the Cavigny-Borden lab. Van Glock insists he was looking for Creeper, who is missing. Reade is suspicious, however, and becomes more so when – after one glance at an anonymous fluid in a test tube – he deduces that whatever Van Glock was working on so early in the morning, it has nothing to do with their standard research. Van Glock insists irritably that it is nothing, just something to keep him occupied when he can’t sleep.
Nora then appears, having come to apologise for her abrupt departure. Reade assumes that she was upset by the mice – hey, you know what wimmin are, am I right? – and interrupts Nora’s stumbling explanation (and having just reprimanded Van Glock for prying into the same issue) to ask what her father and Borden are working on. She replies that they were trying to – ah-ha! – illuminate tissues and organs, but that it didn’t work out as expected, and now her father wants to abandon the project.
Nora is interrupted when the laboratory door is pushed open, and Creeper appears. Van Glock – who does nothing but scowl at human beings; that’s my boy! – beams delightedly when he sees the cat and scoops him up, offering him to Nora, who shrinks back in horror. “But he’s so nice and gentle,” purrs Van Glock, his grin getting even wider. “He likes ladies!”
I’m honestly not sure what’s going on here. I think we’re supposed to link this with Nora’s imaginary terrorisation, possibly concluding that Van Glock was responsible for it. A simpler conclusion is that Van Glock is a bit of a bastard.
Anyway, this incident prompts a lengthy explanation from Nora, in which she ties her fear of cats to her experiences in the West Indies. She hated the place, with its sticky heat and the constant dread of stepping on something nasty. (She means a bug or a snake, rather than they weren’t cleaning up after the cats.) And then there were the natives, with their belief in metempsychosis – “They believe they took the shape of cats after death.” (Their souls, that would be.) There she was, surrounded by cats, and natives, and needles, and serum…and then she caught the fever, and was delirious for weeks. She began to suffer hallucinations, mostly about cats—and in particular about a gigantic white paw. In the middle of one of her fits of terror, their local collaborator dashed in with word of his wife’s sudden death; and all through that stifling night, Nora could hear the mourners wailing…
“I find your state of terror-induced phobic paralysis highly amusing!”
Nora: “I can remember it to this day…”
Reade [cheerfully]: “I think we’ve had enough remembering! How about having dinner with me tonight? I’ll take you to a little place I save for extra special occasions!”
Wow. I’m not sure what makes this guy the bigger dick, his disregard of Nora’s real problems or his disregard of his fiancée.
The scene that follows is cringe-inducing from start to finish. Reade’s “extra special” little place is a Chinese restaurant, which is treated as the height of intimidating alienness. While that tinkly cliché “Chinese” music plays in the background, Nora, fresh back from the jungles of the West Indies, just can’t stop staring at all the, you know, foreign stuff. (She grew up in Los Angeles: would this really be such a novel experience?) Reade is moved to ask her if anything’s wrong, to which she replies hesitatingly that it’s just that everything’s so, well—
“Strange?” questions the restaurant’s owner, in front of whom Nora has made no attempt to disguise her discomfort. When she nods he responds, “You can say what you like about the joint, as long as you like my food.” Alas, we are destined never to know, because all of a sudden appears at Nora’s feet—A CAT!!!!
I don’t think this was supposed to be a cat-in-a-Chinese restaurant joke, but by this point it’s a bit hard to tell.
Anyway, Nora’s wide-eyed, slack-jawed goggling at everything is rather rudely interrupted when what looks suspiciously like Creeper without his makeup job brushes against her ankles. A brief clip of the animal opening its mouth is played forwards and backwards and forwards and backwards, while a most unconvincing yowl is dubbed in.
“Say… That guy doesn’t look exactly like me!“
Nora screams in terror and bolts. John catches up with her somewhere in the street, and when he grabs her she shrieks, “You killed her! You killed her!’ Subsequently she denies knowing either how she came to be in the street, or what she said – let alone what she meant by it…
As far as there was time for any conversation between Nora and Reade, it concerned Gwenn and how much she’s changed since her trip to the West Indies. This plot-point is curiously oblique. It suggests that the writers were trying to justify Reade’s abrupt change of heart, but couldn’t actually find any convincing way of blaming it on Gwenn. She, in reality, has every reason to resent his behaviour—including his complete lack of imagination:
Gwenn: “Did you have a good time last night? Did he take you to Ah Wong’s?”
Oh, Mr One-Move—you’re my favourite kind of guy!
Gwenn goes on, under the guise of friendly concern, to stick an oar into Nora’s embryo romance, warning that Nora mustn’t misunderstand Reade’s attitude towards her: “He feels sorry for you, Nora – as we all do.” She then elaborates upon Nora’s obvious—well, what shall we call them?—issues, suggesting gently that she really ought to consult a psychiatrist about what she, Gwenn, fears might be schizophrenia… By the time Gwenn is done, Nora is a sobbing wreck.
And yes, I’m sure we’re supposed to exclaim at this point, “Gwenn, you meanie, you deserve to be mauled to death by a half-human cat-monster!”—but myself, I don’t much care for fiancé-stealers, so I have a certain sympathy for Gwenn.
She’s such a fun date.
Nora is still crying in the dark when an ominous figure looms up out of the shadows. She screams hysterically—again.
This time the trigger is the appearance of Andre (he whose wife died suddenly), who has arrived from the West Indies with the cats. An embarrassed Nora apologises to the bemused attendant, explaining that she didn’t expect to see him. “Why not?” he responds, reasonably enough.
We then spend some time in the lab with Borden and Gwenn, who are conducting an experiment that seems to involve jamming a piece of rubber tubing into either end of a rat. Not surprisingly, the animal dies. “Why does this always happen to me?” grumbles Borden.
The experiment is interrupted by Reade, who blithely asks Gwenn if she’s seen Nora? Borden snaps at him for not knocking, and Gwenn – after pointing out that their work is confidential – replies aridly that Nora went home after “one of her spells”. And yet I’m still sure we’re supposed to be sympathising with Reade! This scene is depressingly punctuated with a shot of the experimental cats in their too-small cages; though it must be said that we never see a cat having anything done to it. (And although it appears to have been anaesthetised, the “dead” rat is still moving.)
The film’s attitude to Borden and Gwenn is odd. Borden is a full partner in the project and quite entitled to do what he’s doing, yet because he has ignored Cavigny’s warning he is treated like your standard-issue mad scientist; while Gwenn, either because she is assisting Borden or neglecting Reade, is self-evidently doomed. It’s all very peculiar. Granted, things are about to go ’orribly wrong—but at this point, the two of them are just doing their jobs.
A bitch, but a justified bitch.
Cut to Nora having yet another hallucination, this time with the giant white paw appearing from under her bed. She sleepwalks, or at least trancewalks, out of her room, and sees the shadow of a cat’s-paw passing across the wall in front of her. There comes the sound of snarling and yowling—and tearing…
The claw-shadow passes back again. Still in a daze, Nora stumbles forward – and finds her father, dead, and horribly mutilated… She stares at the blood upon her hands and then flees the scene, rushing out into the grounds; the camera cuts between her and a cat, also fleeing the scene (Creeper?—it later seems so), until finally she collapses.
Remarkably efficient newspapers they had in LA, apparently: Cavigny dies in the middle of the night, and yet the early edition blares MYSTERY DEATH. “Did you see this?” Reade asks Van Glock, referring to the 216-point font headline on the paper sitting three feet from Van Glock’s left elbow.
A police detective, Inspector Fenwick, then shows up, and in the course of the ensuing conversation we learn that Nora was found covered in her father’s blood, and is being held on suspicion; the “state alienist” is due to talk to her.
We also learn that Gwenn has very helpfully informed the police that Nora is “practically a mental case”:
Reade: “Gwenn had no right to make any such statement!”
Detective: “It’s a free country.”
“This Christmas, every child will want an inflatable rat! We’ll make a fortune!”
An odd moment follows, as both Reade and Fenwick turn to look at Creeper, who stops licking himself and gives them a “What?” look back. We get an explanation of sorts when Fenwick comments that Nora keeps insisting that a black cat was after her…
A subsequent headline informs us that Nora has been released due to insufficient evidence. Also that Auto Mishaps And Drownings Top Death List and State Bureaus Must Pay Rent In New Offices—I should think so!
The camera then unwisely zooms in on the newspaper, letting us see what’s in the second paragraph of the story supposedly about Nora…
Reade, aka Mr Tact, chooses to express his relief over Nora’s release to Gwenn, reacting with blank confusion when she gets snarly. She apologises, explaining that Nora is staying with her (enough to put anyone on edge, I’d say). A most uncomfortable exchange follows, in which Reade and Gwenn go from dinner and a movie to a complete break-up in the course of forty seconds’ conversation; although technically it is Gwenn who breaks things off, so of course Reade is free to immediately go scampering after Nora.
Gwenn is not perhaps ready to accept it just yet, but she is so-oo-oo-oo much better off without that jerk.
However, to give the devil his due, the flowers Reade brings to the apartment are for Gwenn; it’s not strictly his fault that Nora assumes they’re for her. Reade’s company proves less than therapeutic for the patient, chiefly because he can think of nothing more helpful to do than to tell an anecdote about Creeper.
A twenty-three-point agenda!? I am SO there!
As he is leaving he is passed by Borden, who has appointed himself both Nora’s doctor and in loco parentis. Borden tries to have an oh-so-casual conversation about Cavigny’s notes, but an hysterical Nora promises to stop him, whatever it is he’s doing—prompting a retaliatory threat of committal, if she doesn’t watch herself.
That night, Andre is woken from his sleep (he sleeps in the backroom of the laboratory, naturally) by a yowling noise next door. He finds himself locked in but eventually forces the door—and then wishes he hadn’t, as the thing in the laboratory comes for him…
Back at her apartment, Gwenn finds herself standing over Nora. She begins to lean towards her, both hands reaching out—and then, realising that she is being watched by Nora’s nurse, she tenderly tucks the girl in.
The next morning, Borden and Gwenn find Andre’s body together and call Fenwick. Borden claims that the deaths have something to do with the research, which will ultimately be very valuable. It is, of course, intended to be “a boon to mankind” – but on the other hand, in the possession of the wrong people…
Who are going to—what? Get rich turning people phosphorescent?
Fenwick then drops in on his favourite two suspects next door, whose laboratory has also been trashed, oddly enough. He breaks the news about Andre’s murder, and generally puts the wind up them.
Well. That escalated quickly.
After another scene with Gwenn, Reade asks Nora to drop in, and advises her to move out of Gwenn’s apartment. In the wake of her almost continuous hysterics, Nora might now be described as “eerily calm”. She reveals that she always believed that the death of Andre’s wife was the result of her father using the woman as a guinea-pig. What, the saintly Dr Cavigny? Surely not!
Nora goes on to blame her mental state upon months of attempting to suppress her suspicions of her father. She adds that when Andre came to LA, she thought he had come for revenge, and that he killed her father. Most peculiarly, being proved wrong in this respect has decreased her fears, since to her way of thinking the same person killed Dr Cavigny and Andre, and therefore Andre did not kill Dr Cavigny and therefore he was not here for revenge, and therefore Dr Cavigny was not a murderer.
As you may have gathered, logic isn’t Nora’s strong point.
Anyway, her new belief in her father’s innocence has lifted the weight of the world off Nora’s shoulders—so much so that the fact that there is still a psychopathic killer on the loose targeting those associated with the Cavigny-Borden Research Laboratory seems a very small thing in comparison:
Nora: “I don’t think I’ll ever be afraid again!”
That night, as Reade is leaving, he realises something is badly wrong in the C-BRL. He rushes in, finding something on fire in the sink, and Gwenn’s dead body on the floor. She is surrounded by the cats, all out of their cages, who are eating something… Spilled food, you nasty-minded so-and-sos! Reade calls the police, while a cutaway shows us Van Glock, still lurking suspiciously in the shadows.
Do it! Do it!! DO IT!!!!
(This scenario requires Gwenn to have been murdered, and the C-BRL trashed, without Reade hearing anything. Those walls must be thicker than they look!)
Meanwhile, Nora is taking care of “one last thing”, which seems to involve her father’s gun. It also requires her to retrieve Dr Cavigny’s experimental notes from a hollowed-out book – which, by the way, specify luminescence. So that settles that. Reade then shows up, and spots someone else slipping through the grounds of the estate. Inside, Nora sets fire to her father’s papers…and then swings around with a gasp as she hears the yowling of a cat.
Nora snatches up the gun again and tries to go in search of the noise. Then she hears footsteps… Outside we see Creeper slipping through the house, but also the shadow of a man… The door slowly swings open—Nora fires—and shoots Reade—YES!!!!
Only in the arm, alas, but it’s enough to incapacitate him – and to induce Nora to put down the gun. So she is unarmed and helpless when suddenly appears—Dr Borden!!
Yeah, I know – big surprise. (Even so—a shout-out to the designers of the VHS case for this film, who put the Big Reveal on the cover.) It also makes no damn sense; I mean, less than usual. Even if you accept that developing a form of induced luminescence that requires serum produced in cats, the doctors were trying to perfect a technique for assisting surgery, so why on earth would they be experimenting on themselves? Much as it pains me to agree with her about anything, Nora’s theory of a disgruntled experimental subject undergoing periodic transformation, and hunting down and killing the people responsible for his condition, is a lot easier to swallow.
“No, no, I quite understand! I’ve wanted to shoot this jerk ever since I met him.”
And while we’re on the subject—Borden is turning himself into a monster and slaughtering people—why, exactly? I mean, assuming that your attempt to turn tissues phosphorescent did somehow result in a serum capable of creating half-human cat-monsters, couldn’t you just—oh, I don’t know—try something else?
This is what I love most about movie science: the one-extreme-to-the-other, baby-with-the-bath-water attitude; the bell-curve stretching from Cavigny’s, “We must stop altogether!” fear-mongering at one far point of it, all the way to Borden’s utterly inexplicable, “You can’t tell me to stop turning myself into a half-human cat-monster!” at the other; with no-one for a moment stopping to consider the 95% of potential alternatives in between.
Though granted, where’d be the fun in that?
Nora still hasn’t figured it out, though. She is actually relieved to see Borden because of Reade’s injury. This scene leaves us with little opinion of Borden’s medical skills, however: Reade clearly grabbed his left bicep when shot, while Borden briefly inspects his clavicle. But perhaps the good doctor has other things on his mind…
Learning that Nora has burned her father’s notes (which, by the way, should only be a delay, not an end to anything), Borden nods resignedly, adding that Gwenn felt the same way: that afternoon she destroyed everything connected with the project – everything but one small dose of serum. That’s why he killed her.
“Actually, it’s kind of a funny story…”
As Nora backs away in growing terror – so much for never being afraid again – Borden goes into a rambling speech about all the people who stood in his way, and who have now been removed; and how he blames Nora for her father’s “weakness”; and how everyone else who has seen this is dead…
And then he injects himself with the last of the serum—writhing in pain as his left arm transforms into a gigantic cat’s paw…
Nora reels back, screaming in terror, but she is locked in. She presses back against the wall as Borden closes in—only for three shots to ring out. It’s Reade, of course. Borden staggers and falls. Reade – by now clutching his left elbow – also collapses into a chair.
Nora phones for the police and an ambulance, and then turns to discover that Borden – as per long-standing tradition – has re-transformed after death:
Nora: “His hand, John! He injected himself with the serum and his left hand turned into a cat’s paw! That was the experiment!”
Reade: “Please, Nora – get over yourself!”
Nora: “Of course, you wouldn’t believe me… But you’re wrong, John! I saw it happen! I saw it with my own eyes!”
Reade: “Yes, dear. All right, dear.”
Finally, she has a reason to make that face!
Wow. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to behave more like a complete dick than Steve March at the end of The Brain From Planet Arous, but good old John Reade has proven me wrong!
And then—Van Glock shows up. He explains that, seeing what happened in Borden’s lab – i.e. Gwenn’s dead body – he decided to follow Reade. He’s also there to collect Creeper, who (it turns out) Borden has been toting around to torment Nora. Nora looks at Van Glock hopefully for a moment, but he admits that with all his snooping, he never did manage to discover Borden’s secret.
Hearing sirens outside, Van Glock leaves to show the authorities in.
I’d like to be able to tell you that, with Van Glock safely out of the way, Nora picked up the gun and sent the remaining two bullets into Reade’s body, but sadly this is not the case. Instead we get this:
Reade: “Nora, when you explain to them – remember, now! – that cat’s paw story – you forget about that!”
Nora: “Yes, darling…”
Oh. My. God.
Gwenn isn’t just better off out of that engagement; she’s better off dead.
Kind of embarrassing when the insane villain is historically vindicated, hey?
Click here for some Immortal Dialogue!
More on The Creeper at Spinning Newspaper Injures Printer.