Skip to main content

Do you see that crap? All that horror crap?

Creepshow
(1982)

(SPOILERS) It’s curious that Creepshow is so keen to establish an EC Comics style, right down to the page frames and inked opening and final shots of each story, as George Romero’s patchy approach is exactly notthe way to produce a consistent aesthetic. Compare this to the more full-blooded engagement with split screen and attempts at visual immersion of Ang Lee’s Hulk two decades later, and subsequently the likes of Sin City, The Spirit and 300, and Romero’s movie looks rather malnourished. In a way, though, this cobbled-together vibe is perfectly suited to movie. Like most anthologies, the quality of its episodes is wildly variable, and add to that very spotty performances and tonal lurches (including those of humour) and you have a grisly mess, if one emphatically short on scares.

Michael Gornick acted as Creepshow’s cinematographer, and only ever performed those duties on Romero movies. He would graduate to directing, albeit relatively briefly, and producing; his sole feature was, appropriately, Creepshow 2. The stylistic approach is never as encompassing as it really needs to be if it’s to embrace the EC look; a few red and green filters are definitely a help, but they shouldn’t a be all and end all. You’re left with a part-real world aesthetic that absolutely worked with Romero’s Dead movies, but doesn’t so much here.

Then you have Stephen King, whose original screenplays were few and far between, but mostly to be found during this decade. His work for Creepshow is, well, a mixed bag. Two of them, the second and fourth, are adapted from short stories, and I can certainly believe the latter works better on the page. King undoubtedly gets the idea of the anthology format, though, even if the payoffs are sometimes variable (one might charitably suggest he recognises that, in any anthology, some of the entries are expected to at least slightly suck). And, of course, we also get King the thespian…

Prologue and Epilogue

The scene setter and its conclusion are appropriately twisted, tackling head-on the criticisms of EC by parents concerned at the degeneracy they encouraged and the corruption of their target audience’s morals. And you know what… they’re right! As personified by 70s porn-tache supremo and Carpenter man Tom Atkins – here shorn of his face fungus – dad berates Billy (Stephen King’s son Joe, now more commonly known by his penname Joe Hill), who is indignant and unbowed, and exclaims “I hope you rot in hell!” The epilogue finds pater feeling peaky on account of the voodoo doll Billy sent for from an ad in the comic, which he’s now sticking it to as an effigy of his father. It’s an effectively brief wraparound, notable for a very crap floating Creep (much better realised in the subsequent animated titles) and makeup guy Tom Savini as a garbage man.


Father’s Day

A one-note yarn that’s all setup and payoff, with no filler between the sandwich. Indeed, it’s most memorable for an early Ed Harris movie appearance (coming off Romero’s Knightriders), albeit he’s the second on the hit list of reanimated corpse Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer). King can’t even be bothered to give a decent reason for the corpse rising then and there. The cadaver effects are decent enough under the red/green filters, but decidedly less so elsewhere. Admittedly, “Where’s my cake?” is a marvellous murderous monster catchphrase. Also in the cast – and probably the best performance here, none too hard with several of the actors – is Viveca Lindfors, later decidedly sinister as Nurse X in The Exorcist III.


The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

Another that’s rather one-note, originally King’s short story Weeds, published in Cavalier magazine in May 1976. The Colour Out of Space is cited as an influence (a forthcoming adaptation of which sees Richard Stanley return to feature making), but Romero takes a decidedly goofball tone, not his strongest suit, and King as an actor is… Well, he and Romero are tonally consistent, let’s put it that way. The title character is Forrest Gump if he found a meteorite that turned him into a plant person and then managed to blow his own head off.

It’s interspersed with various WACKY dream sequences where Jordy fantasises making a ton from selling the meteorite, or going to the doctor while he becomes ever more infested. One could imagine Sam Raimi pulling off the ghoulish giggles (indeed, one could imagine a far superior Raimi version of the movie top to bottom), particularly with Bruce Campbell in the King role (or even Ted Raimi).


Something to Tide You Over

One could also imagine Campbell in the Ted Danson role in this one, particularly with the usually ham Leslie Nielsen effectively cast as cuckolded villain Richard Vickers. This is easily the standout story, more so for the setup and execution than the payoff, which is a bit of damp sea monster(s) as the drowned Danson and Gaylen Ross, returned from the dead and very much the worse for sea-wear, come for their murderer. Substitute their arrival for Peter Falk, and you’d have a great Columbo episode.

The conceit of manoeuvring Danson out to a lonely stretch of beach, having him bury himself on the promise he’ll get to see his abducted lover, and then switching on a TV showing her similarly buried with the tide washing over her is supremely twisted. Nielsen is especially strong portraying Vickers’ cheerful sociopathy throughout, fixing himself a drink to watch the lovers’ demise on his closed-circuit TV screens. And then there’s his final, hysterical laughter as he realises they have returned for him, and triumphant cry of “I can hold my breath for a long time!” as he too is buried on the beach.


The Crate

The other short story adaptation, and structurally rather ungainly. It’s undeniably entertaining, but it lurches all over the place, with Adrienne Barbeau as a particularly unpleasant barracking wife. Her character has been expressly designed for maximum despicability, such that we can see why Hal Holbrook’s husband would want to kill her. But the method of this is so off-the-wall that it almost works sheer audaciousness.

A crate carrying a ridiculous ape monster from an 1834 Arctic Expedition – perhaps appropriately sent to Julie Carpenter, as it doesn’t look a million miles from the Sewer Monster in Big Trouble in Little China a few years later – is unpacked at Holbrook’s university, by another professor (Fritz Weaver) and an unfortunate janitor (Don Keefer), the latter quickly eaten. Weaver, fearful he will be blamed for the death and that of Robert Harper’s student, confides in Holbrook, who then lures Barbeau to the scene as its next meal. The off-beat vibe very nearly works – and again, you could quite imagine a full-blown feature in which Columbo has to solve the murder. 


They’re Creeping Up on You

Probably best known as the one with the cockroaches bursting out of the guy at the climax. It’s a fairly decent effect, but the best part of the piece is EG Marshall’s gleefully vindictive businessman Upson Pratt, gloating over his various deals and the misfortunes of business partners as his expensive and secure apartment is gradually infested with roaches. There’s also an effective cameo from David Early as the employee being browbeaten by Pratt (one scene has him speaking to his boss through a hole in the door, offering a sarcastic veneer of respect). Ned Beatty also provides a voice cameo.



The main takeaway from Creepshow is that Romero wasn’t perhaps the ideal director for the material, enthusiastic but not sufficiently versatile to translate EC’s cartoonishness effectively. He did seem to be experimenting with his range at the time (Knightriders is at best a cult curio), and his subsequent 80s outings (Day of the Dead, Monkey Shines) would return to the barer essentials of the genre that made his name.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Other monks will meet their deaths here. And they too will have blackened fingers. And blackened tongues.

The Name of the Rose (1986) (SPOILERS) Umberto Eco wasn’t awfully impressed by Jean Jacques-Annaud’s adaptation of his novel – or “ palimpsest of Umberto Eco’s novel ” as the opening titles announce – to the extent that he nixed further movie versions of his work. Later, he amended that view, calling it “ a nice movie ”. He also, for balance, labelled The Name of the Rose his worst novel – “ I hate this book and I hope you hate it too ”. Essentially, he was begrudging its renown at the expense of his later “ superior ” novels. I didn’t hate the novel, although I do prefer the movie, probably because I saw it first and it was everything I wanted from a medieval Sherlock Holmes movie set in a monastery and devoted to forbidden books, knowledge and opinions.

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies.

Watership Down (1978) (SPOILERS) I only read Watership Down recently, despite having loved the film from the first, and I was immediately impressed with how faithful, albeit inevitably compacted, Martin Rosen’s adaptation is. It manages to translate the lyrical, mythic and metaphysical qualities of Richard Adams’ novel without succumbing to dumbing down or the urge to cater for a broader or younger audience. It may be true that parents are the ones who get most concerned over the more disturbing elements of the picture but, given the maturity of the content, it remains a surprise that, as with 2001: A Space Odyssey (which may on the face of it seem like an odd bedfellow), this doesn’t garner a PG certificate. As the makers noted, Watership Down is at least in part an Exodus story, but the biblical implications extend beyond Hazel merely leading his fluffle to the titular promised land. There is a prevalent spiritual dimension to this rabbit universe, one very much

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.