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

You are, by your own admission, a vagabond.

Doctor Who Season 10 - Worst to Best
Season 10 has the cachet of an anniversary year, one in which two of its stories actively trade on the past and another utilises significant elements. As such, it’s the first indication of the series’ capacity for slavishly indulging the two-edged sword that is nostalgia, rather than simply bringing back ratings winners (the Daleks). It also finds the show at its cosiest, a vibe that had set in during the previous season, which often seemed to be taking things a little too comfortably. Season 10 is rather more cohesive, even as it signals the end of an era (with Jo’s departure). As a collection of stories, you perhaps wouldn’t call it a classic year, but as a whole, an example of the Pertwee UNIT era operating at its most confident, it more than qualifies.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

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. That doesn’t mea…

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Well, if we destroy Kansas the world may not hear about it for years.

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.