Judge Daryl Loomis wants his cake!
Our review of Creepshow, published July 20th, 2001, is also available.
The most fun you'll ever have being scared!
Horror is at its most effective when it is kept short. A quick setup, some brief characterizations, and a payoff keeps at bay the problem of plot feasibility, one of the biggest complaints of the genre. This is certainly true in literature and, in theory, should also be true in film. The trouble is that most examples of horror anthologies are mixed bags at their very best, and range from barely acceptable to outright terrible. One of the only horror anthology films that rises above is Creepshow. Inspired by the EC horror comics of the 1950s and 60s, written by Stephen King (Carrie), and directed by George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), all the pieces fit together for an insubstantial, but totally enjoyable trip into the macabre.
Facts of the Case
A young boy's love of horror comics draws the ire of his mean father, who rips his comic from the boy's hand, takes it outside, and tosses it in the trashcan. Once he goes back inside, a storm rolls in and blows the book open. As the camera zooms in on the pages, we are introduced to five weird tales:
Father's Day: At the annual celebration of the murder of her father, an old woman finds her dad rising from the grave hungry for vengeance and cake.
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill: When a meteor falls into the farm of a crazy recluse (Stephen King), he stupidly touches it and sets off a mossy chain reaction that starts growing everywhere, including his own body.
Something to Tide You Over: A young playboy (Ted Danson, Cheers) has been fooling around with the trophy wife of a wealthy older man (Leslie Nielsen, The Naked Gun), who shows up at his door to exact a special kind of revenge.
The Crate: A henpecked husband (Hal Holbrook, All the President's Men) lures his mean wife (Adrienne Barbeau, The Fog) to a college laboratory to introduce her to a monster that has been found in a century-old creature living in a box shipped in from Antarctica.
They're Creeping up on You: During a power outage, a Howard Hughes-like mogul (E.G. Marshall, 12 Angry Men) with a deep hatred for filth is attacked by cockroaches, the thing he despises most of all.
I grew up reading a ton of Stephen King and loving it. He's an indisputable giant of horror literature, but even as a kid I knew he was terrible with screenplays. This is the exception, though, the one good script he ever wrote. Creepshow is five short pieces of gleeful horror fun. There's nothing serous here; he's just telling little stories that would make the Crypt Keeper cackle. In that, the film is totally successful, even if the quality of the individual pieces themselves is somewhat mixed. Of the five, three are really good, with only one that I really didn't like and one that's got a few funny gags, but not much more.
The best of the bunch is the final segment, which freaked me out as a kid and still kind of gives me the willies. I have no real fear of bugs, but I'm with the character that cockroaches are nasty and the sheer number of them could turn anyone's stomach. The final scene is much less horrific than I remember it (a combination of a child's imagination and advancing special effects), but the way it finishes up is still pretty gross. The segment is really efficient, establishing the character as a racist, elitist piece of garbage before dispatching him; easy and effective.
The other two really good pieces are Something to Tide You Over and The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill, not because of their concepts necessarily, but for their performances. Jordy Verrill is a one-man show featuring Stephen King, who is certainly no actor, but is fun in the title role. The moss effect is good and the segment is the silliest on the program; for that, it works very well. Tide is mostly fun for the interplay between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen, but I'm also a fan of the concept. Nielsen uses early video equipment to help in his revenge, and there's some pretty decent tension in the way that he uses it. The ending is kind of dumb, but that's okay; it's supposed to bring a laugh. Father's Day is worth watching for the undead dad's demands for cake and for a young Ed Harris doing an absolutely awful '80s dance, but the whole scenario is kind of stupid. Not as stupid, however, as The Crate. The only thing that works here is the interplay between Barbeau and Hartley, which is loaded with animosity. The 19th Century expedition crate promises some kind of Lovecraft-style monstrosity, but like most films that invoke the great one's name, it fails on the promise with an utterly ridiculous monster.
George Romero directs Creepshow in a style very reminiscent of the comics that inspired it. Each segment starts and ends in drawn form and we see the surrounding panels representing other scenes along with text that reads very much like the old books did. I don't know many other films that do it quite like this, and I found it a fun little bit that Romero pulls off well. Sure, it's hokey, but that's exactly the voice of the comics. The great Tom Savini works his special effects magic (as well as appearing as a garbage man) to perfection. Those used to computer effects may look at them as obviously fake, but call me old-fashioned; I love the moist latex practical effects. The only one I don't care for is the monster in The Crate. It looks like a '60s rubber suit, which I'm sure was intended, but it still looks awfully cheesy.
The Blu-ray for Creepshow from Warner Bros is not the greatest package. The image isn't perfect, but it has a nice grain structure and is certainly an upgrade over the ugly DVD from the early years of the format. There is some occasional bits of damage and a few transfer errors, but it looks pretty good overall. The real problem is in the sound. While the case advertises a lossless True-HD stereo mix, it is a compressed Dolby mix instead, and sounds like it. The dialog sounds okay, but the music from John Harrison (Day of the Dead) is almost inaudible in the background noise. The only extra is a trailer. However, while there are definite problems with the disc, the image is enough of an upgrade for fans of the film to feel safe in replacing their cruddy old DVD.
Creepshow holds up well, mostly because there isn't much else out there quite like it. The sequel is decent, but darker and not nearly as fun as the original. Romero, King, and Savini, three names in horror that promise a lot and, at least this time, they deliver.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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