The Brute Man [Movie review by John Bruni]

The Brute Man59 min., 1946
Directed by Jean Yarbrough
My rating: ***
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The Creeper’s back AGAIN?! How?!

* * *

The last time we saw the Creeper, he’d just been shot in the back by the cops and was, presumably, dead. For what, the third time? And suddenly he’s on the prowl again? Considering he was the only 100% human Universal monster, how can that possibly be?!

This movie is actually a bit tricky. While it is the third in the series, it is strongly hinted at that this might actually be a prequel to the other movies. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; with this one, we have the Creeper’s origin story. Let the groans begin! Because let’s face it, some monsters just don’t need an origin story. As any horror aficionado knows, once you’re allowed to walk a mile in the monster’s shoes, their ability to horrify is lessened. Oddly enough, that doesn’t hold true for Dracula (who technically doesn’t have an origin story and is a complete bad ass) and Freddy Krueger (whose origin story goes to show that he ALWAYS was a scumbag).

With the Creeper, it actually adds a great deal of depth and understanding and maybe even a bit of warmth. As it turns out, his real name is Hal Moffat, and he used to be a star football player at Hampton, accompanied by his friends, Cliff, Virginia, and Joan. While Joan was clearly in love with Hal, Cliff and Hal were in competition for Virginia’s hand. He constantly pulled shit on Cliff, trying to sabotage him so Hal could win out. This irked Cliff, especially since they were roommates. Since Cliff was a hell of a scholar, and Hal was good for only football, it was Cliff’s job to maintain Hal’s grades, so the athletic star could continue doing well for the school. Cliff turned the tables on Hal by feeding him the wrong answers to a chemistry exam, and Hal gets stuck doing experiments after class while Cliff gets to take out (and eventually marry) Virginia. This infuriates Hal so much that he flings down the experiment, and it blows
up in his face, disfiguring him and changing him from a handsome young man to the Creeper you see before you today.

That seems a bit weak at first. So . . . the Creeper did this to himself? HE’S the reason why he turned away from society and became the serial killer we know and love? But the more you think about it, the more it makes sense. Here was a guy who was used to the adoration of everyone. He was a winner, always on top of every situation, and because of his legendary temper, no one ever thought to question his ways. All of a sudden, all of that is taken away from him. He’s at the very bottom of the totem pole. That’s bound to fuck with such a man’s sensibilities.

This third movie finds him stalking his old friends and murdering them. Along the way, he meets a blind pianist who actually falls for him a bit. After all this time of being reviled, someone finally shows him favor? In a tender moment, he doesn’t want to ruin it, so he refuses her request to feel his face in order to “see” him. He learns that she needs a few thousand dollars in order to get an operation that would restore her vision. Naturally, he takes it upon himself to get that money together . . . but in yet another tender moment, we see him contemplating the situation before a mirror. You can actually see the cogs turning in his head. He wants to help this one person who has shown him human kindness, but at the same time, he doesn’t want her to see what a monster he is. He smashes the mirror in a fit of rage, and for the first time, we know that he absolutely loathes the way he looks.

This is a far more human Creeper than we’re used to. The big question is, is Rondo Hatton up to the challenge? During his last outing as the Creeper, he demonstrated that he wasn’t quite so good with this side of the job; he’s really good at looking menacing, though. Here, we see a great deal of improvement, probably because there is a great parallel between Hal Moffat and his own real life. Hatton didn’t always have acromegaly; according to legend, once upon a time, he was the most handsome young man in his high school class before he went to fight in World War I. It wasn’t until the ‘Twenties that his crippling disease would deform him into the Hatton everyone is familiar with. It looks like he’s channeled this frustration and anger into the most recent incarnation of the Creeper, completely embodied in that smashed-mirror scene.

Once again, there are plenty of flaws to go around. Even though the Creeper is a hell of a bruiser, he takes more damage than anyone could possibly take on, and like a Swatch, he still keeps ticking. At one point, it looks like he gets shot in the dick (later, he clutches his hip), and he still has enough power in him to twist the spine of one of his former classmates. After that, he still has the sense of mind to gather up a bunch of jewelry and take it to the blind pianist . . . but he climbs up a fucking fire escape to get to her room. How is that possible, even for a strong guy like him?

Another problem is the exact location of this movie in the chronology of things. It would seem that this is the real beginning of the story, not just because it includes the Creeper’s origin, but also because he is exacting revenge for what he perceived turned him into a monster. Yet at the same time, the name of the Creeper is still notorious, so he must have been killing a whole bunch of people in all that time. However, if that’s the case, why did he wait so long to get revenge in the first place? Wouldn’t that be the first thing on his mind after getting out of the hospital?

His motivation for revenge isn’t that strange, though. Like any human being can be, he’s shortsighted. He’s not bright enough to realize that he created himself. It isn’t Cliff’s fault that any of this happened; Cliff didn’t fire the first shot, after all. It was always Hal who was playing games, and he didn’t have enough self-control to rein himself in whenever he lost.

All in all, the humanizing look at the Creeper is worth it. It gives Hatton a chance to stretch out. There is a great scene in which the Creeper wants to get a piece of jewelry for the blind pianist, and he asks the jeweler how much it costs. His answer: twelve dollars. The Creeper goes to pocket it and says he’ll pay him tomorrow. And it would seem that he completely means it. Of the many things the Creeper is, he isn’t a liar. But the jeweler understandably doesn’t want to do business that way. He demands to have the piece back, or he’ll call the cops. He tries to wrestle with the Creeper, and naturally, the Creeper leaves him with a broken back. Some things, he just can’t help himself. There are these times when society pushes him to pull a Bane on someone.

Is this really the end of the Creeper? SPOILER ALERT: Strangely enough, this is the only one of the three movies in which the Creeper doesn’t die in the end. He’s arrested by many, many police officers. END OF SPOILERS. Given that piece of information . . . sadly, this really is the last of the Creeper films. Hatton died shortly after this movie was completed. There were, indeed, more movies planned, but he was such a distinctive face and image that he simply could not be replaced. It’s a shame. Given this performance, it looked like he was getting better at his craft. Who knows what kind of Creeper we would have gotten with a fourth movie?

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About John Bruni

John Bruni is the author of DONG OF FRANKENSTEIN (New Kink), POOR BASTARDS AND RICH FUCKS and TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (StrangeHouse) and STRIP (Riot Forge). His short work has appeared in anthologies like A HACKED-UP HOLIDAY MASSACRE (Pill Hill), ZOMBIE! ZOMBIE! BRAIN BANG! (StrangeHouse) and the critically acclaimed VILE THINGS (Comet). He edited STRANGE SEX 3 for StrangeHouse, and he was the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE. Find out more at www.talesofquestionabletaste.com and www.talesofunspeakabletaste.blogspot.com.
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