DECEMBER 17, 2012
A lot of independent splatter horror films pay homage to the Troma films that inspired them by having a shoutout to Lloyd Kaufman, either in the form of naming someone Kaufman or having Lloyd himself pop up in a cameo. Well, Creep Van offers both, as the lead character's boss is named "Mr. Kaufman" and Lloyd plays an angry customer at the car wash that he runs, which should be enough to convince you that if you're not usually the target audience for Troma fare, you should probably avoid this one as well.
At times it seems that director Scott W. Mckinlay (working with screenwriter Jim Bartoo) is more interested in the more comedic elements of his story than the titular van, as for every (rather brief) kill scene we get about 10 minutes of the hero dealing with his loser life: he lives with his ex girlfriend, who flaunts her new lovers and berates him at every turn, he has no car and thus has to take the bus everywhere, which costs him a few of his dead-end jobs, and he seemingly has no friends (there's a hilarious bit where he tries to bond with his coworkers that I found particularly awkward/wonderful). This stuff is fine, but the ratio between it and scenes of the murderous white van killing random folks is heavily skewed to the former; I'm not sure if it was a budgetary thing or their attempt to give the film a little more merit than a string of interchangeable kill scenes, but either way I found myself getting impatient at times, watching him argue with his ex or track down a missing duffel bag filled with marijuana.
Luckily, the kills themselves are a delight, with plenty of variety to keep what's essentially a slasher movie with a van from getting too repetitive. I love The Car (the best scene in which is more or less recreated here), but all it did was run folks over, if memory serves. This has a lot of that, plus seatbelt crushings, windows going up fast enough to slice a face off, etc. The kills are occasionally (poorly) enhanced by CGI, but there is enough practical work here to give it a thumbs up in that department, and the Syfy monster movie approach to victims (i.e. they are introduced just to be killed) eventually paves the way for something a little closer to a regular slasher, with the car going after folks we know. Plus, the car isn't haunted - there's an actual killer driving it, so there's even a little more variety near the end when he gets out of the driver seat more often.
On that note, he's represented through closeups of his hands and such for the bulk of the movie, making it seem like a whodunit slasher or something - hope no one else is as disappointed as I was to discover that it was just some guy. Since the van does most of the killing, I can't help but wonder why they didn't just make it a supernatural entity that didn't even need a driver (let alone one that would exit the car and behave like a standard menace), but I guess it would then be too close to The Car or Super Hybrid (not to mention Blood Car, which similarly focused on a love story and a hero who was a bit of a loser). But that seems like the extent of their thinking: "Let's give the car a driver so it's not too close to those other movies!" Well OK, but give the guy some dimension!
Another thing I admired was the downer ending, which escalates nicely from a surprise kill with about 10 minutes to go and doesn't get any easier for our heroes, all the way up to the end titles. With the goofy tone and sweet natured hero, it could have seemed unearned or unnecessary, but in this case it worked (partly because the hero's puppy dog nature was annoying me by this point so it was kind of funny; like the vegan character being eaten by dogs in See No Evil). Sure, maybe something goofy/funny would have made more sense, but why bring logic into a movie about a killer van?
The regular DVD apparently has some commentary and other bonus features; I wouldn't mind listening to the track if it was loaded with insight (as opposed to a "that's my friend, that's my cousin, that's my old high school" type track that might as well include laser pointer graphics). I'd particularly like to know why one scene was shot in California when the rest of the movie is shot in Detroit, as it was early on (before I had identified the Motor City) and was thus kind of excited about a killer car film in my neck of the woods (and would DEFINITELY be interested in production stories, since shooting as much as a single shot for a short film can be a lengthy endeavor given our awful traffic). Since I was mixed (but closer to positive) on the movie itself, a peek inside their creative process and what they were going for might have helped elevate it to total win.
What say you?