In 2010, British horror director Christopher Smith released BLACK DEATH, which in my opinion was one of the best-made and least-recognized films of that year.  BLACK DEATH was only his most recent film, though.  2004’s CREEP was his first.  I was very surprised that I hadn’t heard of or seen CREEP before I went actively looking for it, since it’s right up my alley.  If you like movies about scary subways and homicidal underground maniacs, it’ll be up yours too.

In crafting CREEP, Smith was inspired by the legendary tube attack scene in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, so much that he made an entire horror movie set in the London Underground.  Of course, this genre had origins with 1973’s RAW MEAT, but Smith hadn’t seen it before making this movie.  The first sign that Smith isn’t your average exploitation filmmaker is that he centered his horror movie around a smart female protagonist played by a strong actress:  RUN LOLA RUN‘s Franka Potente plays a trendy city dweller who falls asleep in the station and gets locked in overnight.  There’s something down there with her.  And the chase begins.

This movie is simple but effective.  True to its title, it’s creepy.  It’s also got a great look to it — the bright yellows of the cleaner parts of the station (and the lead character’s blonde hair) are a sunny contrast to the dim greens and dingy darkness of the environment that she proceeds down into.  It’s a much more visually appealing film than RAW MEAT or even AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, a real eye-catcher, which isn’t an easy virtue for a film centered around public transportation.

Smith has a knack for adding interesting character strokes to his movies, where most horror directors don’t usually bother.  It makes a huge difference.  The way that Franka Potente’s character is kind of self-centered, the way that she hesitates to run in to help other characters, the way that she nudges other characters to go forward when she’s afraid, the way that she still has her soft spots and sympathies — these all make an otherwise basic fright ride that much more interesting and recognizable.  You may wish you’d act differently in her shoes, but chances are, you suspect deep down you wouldn’t.

CREEP is not a perfect movie.  Once the main “villain” is introduced, we’re given a little more backstory than we probably need.  (Less explanation is almost always scarier.)  Also, there are a few too many digressions from the main chase, once some extra characters are introduced.  But as a feature horror debut, this is so very much better than most, with a terrific lead performance and a consistent sense of atmosphere and dread.  Having seen this movie, it’s no surprise that Christopher Smith was able to develop into a director who could make a movie as unusual and challenging as BLACK DEATH.  Which I will get to soon enough.

For now, check CREEP out and get creeped out.

And really, marvel at how much cleaner British subways are than their American counterparts.   Trust me, my British friends, even if it’s an exaggeration, it’s still the truth.