d. Jean Yarbrough (1946)
Rondo Hatton suffered from Acromegaly, a pituitary gland disorder that leads to a distortion and thickening of the features and gigantism. He was working as a journalist when a film producer noticed his unusual features and suggested he went to Hollywood to provide some grotesque background detail to various b pictures. In 1944 he hit the (semi) big time as the back snapping Hoxton Creeper* in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes’ film The Pearl of Death. His success in this role led to another two Creeper films in which the lumbering Hatton was, if not the lead, most definitely the star.
The first film, House of Horrors, is about an unsuccessful experimental sculptor (Martin Kosleck) who, after yet another setback, decides to throw himself in the river. Before he can do so, however, The Creeper suddenly appears, pulling himself out of the water before collapsing on the dockside. Fascinated by his physiognomy, Kosleck takes him home to his hovel / studio in order to sculpt him. One sleep and a meal later and The Creeper is ready to repay his new friend by killing everyone who has ever slighted him and his art.
A diverting 65 minutes of long shadows, gruesome murder and waspish art criticism, House of Horrors is notable for a nicely unrestrained performance from Kosleck, some pretty girls and and, at the centre of everything, the calm, almost bovine presence of The Creeper, the gentle, quietly spoken man with a simple mind and infinitely sad eyes. If he wasn’t a serial strangler and back breaker you’d feel almost sorry for him.
There’s a great scene where Kosleck is ranting about an art critic, calling him a cheat and a liar, a low down crook and charlatan. Rondo looks up says slowly and softly ‘you don’t like the guy?’ Kosleck confirms his dislike and then just happens to let slip the critics address, sealing his fate. The Creeper is most definitely a savage killer, but he is a tool of death, not wholly evil, just ill-used. As in Rondo’s real life, The Creeper’s outward appearance constricts his opportunities: he is monstrous looking, so he is expected to be a monster and do horrible things, to smash and kill and snap in two. It must have been bitterly ironic to Rondo that he was successful because of his condition, not in spite of it: for a short period of time, he probably was the most famous ugly person in the western world, and that's got to hurt.
The Creeper dies at the end, shot in the back. You can’t keep a good monster down, though, or a profitable character, so he was soon resurrected for The Brute Man. A series of Creeper films was planned until Rondo, unlucky as ever, died of an Acromegaly related heart attack in 1946. Poor Rondo.
* The Pearl Of Death is a great favourite in our house, particularly Lestrade's line ‘The ‘oxton Creeper? The ‘oxton ‘orror, I calls him’.