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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

A subterranean Loch Ness Monster?

Doctor Who The Silurians No, I’m not going to refer to The Silurians as Doctor Who and the Silurians . I’m going to refer to it as Doctor Who and the Eocenes . The Silurians plays a blinder. Because both this and Inferno know the secret of an extended – some might say overlong – story is to keep the plot moving, they barely drag at all and are consequently much fleeter of foot than many a four parter. Unlike Malcolm Hulke’s sequel The Sea Devils , The Silurians has more than enough plot and deals it out judiciously (the plague, when it comes, kicks the story up a gear at the precarious burn-out stage of a typical four-plus parter). What’s most notable, though, is how engaging those first four episodes are, building the story slowly but absorbingly and with persuasive confidence.

The Reverend Thomas says you wet his trousers.

Double Bunk (1961) (SPOILERS) In casting terms, Double Bunk could be a sequel to the previous year’s magnificent School for Scoundrels . This time, Ian Carmichael and Janette Scott (he still almost twice her age) are wedded, and the former continues to make dumb choices. Despite being an unlikely mechanic, Carmichael allows himself to be sold a lemon of a houseboat; last time it was the Nifty Nine. And Dennis Price is once again on hand, trying to fleece him in various ways. Indeed, the screenplay might not be a patch on School for Scoundrels , but with Sid James and the fabulous Liz Fraser also on board, the casting can’t be faulted.