Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Creepshow (1982) (Movie Review)

     The horror movie genera is one that mostly takes itself seriously, but once and a while comes something unique that goes for both fun and creativity. The 1982 motion picture titled “Creepshow” is perhaps as unique as horror movies get, with a style, presentation and personality unlike any other. 
It’s a theatrical anthology of five spooky short stories combined into one film, but unlike other horror anthologies, this film also fits right in with our modern-day comic-book genera. While it doesn’t have a direct source, the majority of the film takes inspiration from many of the classic 1950’s DC and EC comics like “House of Mystery” and “Tales from the Crypt”. As such, "Creepshowcaptures the look and style of a comic book, with graphic panels, colorful visuals that pop on screen, comic-book strip transitions, word boxes and animated segues appearing all throughout the film. While many resent superhero movies have emulated similar aesthetics and tones, it was “Creepshow” that got the ball rolling, and can even be sighted as something ahead of it’s time. As such, it’s one of those rare movies that has no limit to how wild, fun, inventive, frightening or disgusting it can get. Horror Anthology’s in general are always exciting, as you never know what you’ll get next, but this is the one bound by no rules, and anything can happen.

        One of the films greatest achievements was bringing together some of the Horror genera’s greatest pioneers together for one project. The first is director George A. Romero, who’s often cited as the great Godfather of the horror genera, as he created two of the most influential Zombie classics “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead”. The second is famed Author Stephen King, who’s resume consists of such thrilling titles like “Carrie”, “The Stand”, “Firestarter”, “Cujo” and “Salem’s Lot” … just to name a phew. Not only did Stephen King write the screenplay, but two of the episodes are adapted from his short stories. In essence, George A. Romero paired with Stephen King is just as exciting as merging Frankenstein with Dracula. The last talent to note is Tom Savini, who’s special effects, and makeup designs have become staples in horror cinema. As you’d expect, he’s the visionary behind the creature designs of the film, but he also contributes to the overall comic book presentation and style of “Creepshow”.  

      It’s probably best to single out the individual shorts, and review them one at a time. The first episode is titled “Father’s Day”, which revolves around a grumpy old man who comes back from the dead as a zombie to seek revenge on his greedy family members. This is easily my least favorite episode of the bunch, as it’s about as basic a premise as they get with no real twists or excitement. One thing to take note of is Viveca Lindfors straight-faced performance as the bitter Aunt Bedelia. I’ll also give credit to the make-up design of the Zombie, which is one of the most original and grotesque I’ve ever seen. Still, this is a weaker episode, doesn’t leave much of an impression, and features some really odd moments ... like a Zombie using “The Force” to drop a tombstone on one of his victims.

      Next is “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, which is easily the goofiest short of them all. A meteor crashes on a farm and spreads some kind of plant vegetation across the land, and slowly transforms a farmer into foliage. It’s kind of a neat premise to have something as simple as plant growth be the main situation at hand. The real reason this episode stands out is because of Stephen King’s over the top performance as the farmer. It’s a fun contrast to see the guy who scared people with countless frightening stories to be this goofy dope of a farmer. Once again, I wouldn’t exactly call this a great short, but it’s certainly superior to the first, as it’s at least more memorable.

     The middle short is titled “Something to Tide you Over”, and straight to the point … this is my favorite episode of this whole anthology. It’s a far more serious and grounded tale revolving around a vengeful husband, who lays out a nefarious plan to do-in both his wife and her new lover. The appeal of this short is due to the villainess lead performance from one of my favorite late actors Leslie Nielson. I’ve been a fan of Nielsen for years, namely his iconic comedy roles in films like “Airplane” and “The Naked Gun” trilogy. Seeing him out of his wheel house, and in the role of a vengeful mastermind is quite admirable, and his performance highlights just how versatile he was as an actor. The way he calmly talks to his victims, and taunts them as they suffer is very unsettling, yet it’s a highly entertaining delivery. The culmination of his revenge is an unbearably suspenseful sequence in which both his wife and her new boyfriend are buried neck deep on the beach as the tide comes in. Another noteworthy talent in this episode is the boyfriend, who's played well by Ted Danson of "Cheers" fame. The story does get over the top near the end with more gruesome creatures, and a spooky haunted house atmosphere, but for the most part, this is the most subdued, well-paced and most genuinely suspenseful short of the whole feature.

    Episode four is titled “The Crate”, which is a duel story revolving around a husband who’s suffering at the mercy of a cranky wife, as well as a mysterious box that contains a savage monster. This is another solid short, with some electrifying buildup, exciting creature action, and some genuinely effective scares. Perhaps the most startling moment of the whole film is our first glimpse of the creature, which is nothing more than two piercing yellow eyes glaring through the holes of the crate. The creature looks like a hybrid between Bigfoot, and a Tasmanian Devil, which is great. It’s the longest of all the episodes, but it’s well plotted and delivers cheesy, B monster entertainment at its finest.

      The last episode titled “They’re Creeping up on You”, revolves around a cruel manager, who’s also a germaphobe, and is constantly being attacked by bugs in his clean room. This short goes straight for the gross out factor, and it doesn’t shy away from some unforgettably shocking visuals. “Bravo” even labeled it as one of the one-hundred scariest moments in film because of just how repulsive it gets. If you can’t handle the image of cockroaches bursting out of a man’s body, you should probably skip this one. While not my absolute favorite episode, it is the most effective to close out the movie, and the nasty imagery in this short leaves the most effective sting on the audience.

     Now, I have to mention both the prologue and the epilogue, which in my view is the absolute worst aspect of the film. Things are at least off to a good start, as it’s a rainy October night with house-hold Halloween decorations taking up the scenery. We see an abusive father frustrated with his son for reading the actual Creepshow comic book, which effectively foreshadows certain events, and sets the tone of the movie quiet well. My one issue with this whole thing is the little boy, who is clearly disturbed and twisted from the start. Maybe if this kid was just a misunderstood innocent, I’d be okay, but he’s clearly evil from the start, and the dad was right to scold him for it. We return to this family during the epilogue, and this right here is the moment that ruins the entire experience for me. While dark comedy had been laced through the film, this boy’s methods of getting revenge on his dad are down right sick, and disturbed. Basically, he kills his own dad, which is terrible, but it’s his means of doing-in his dad that really kills all my positive feels for this movie. I mean, I still like this movie overall, but it would absolutely rank higher among my favorite horror films if it weren’t for this awful and tasteless ending.

Creepshow 2 (1987)

     Without going into a full-on review, I want to lightly talk about the 1987 sequel simply titled “Creepshow 2”. George Romero, Tom Savini and Stephen King are all back for this film, giving it that same fun comic book, anthology style, and adapting more of Stephen king’s short stories. 
However, the style is noticeably downgraded from before, and it lacks that same colorful presentation that characterized its predecessor. The real down side is that this movie only features three sorts, which robs the film of the fun variety present in the first film. These shorts now have to be stretched out to relentlessly long lengths, and they overstay their welcome in the process. This especially applies to the first short titled “Old Chief Wood'n head”, which wasn’t even that interesting to begin with. Basically, a group of bullies pick on an old store owner, and then a statue from the shop comes to life to take revenge of those bad kids. It’s so simple, yet it takes up too much of the film. The middle short titled “The Raft” suffers from annoying characters, but makes up for it with an original and suspenseful premise. A group of teens get stuck on a raft in the lake, with a mysteries substance underneath that can melt flesh. It’s a unique situation, with some effective tension, and it could have almost worked had the characters been more likable. To finally pore salt on the wound, we have the final short titled “The Hitch-hiker”, and this right here is my absolute favorite of any Creepshow short. This episode revolves around a woman who’s coming home late one-night after work, gets lost, and accidentally runs into this pore man on the road … taking his life. In the heat of panic, she drives off, and gets even more lost in the woods. 
She’s having a hard time copping with what just happened, and things get even more intense as she finds herself followed by the corpse of the man she hit. At first, the episode doesn’t establish if it’s his ghost back for revenge or if he’s a figment of her troubled imagination. Either way, there’s nothing quiet as terrifying as being followed at night by a man you just accidentally murdered. The tension in this episode is great because whenever she tries to escape this guy, he always reappears again, either on the road or even in her own car. Even his appearance gets more and more decayed every time, which is really creepy. It’s a deeply thrilling concept pulled off very well, with an eerie atmosphere, and plenty of scares.

     In my opinion, if the “The Hitch-hiker” episode had been switched out with the “Father’s Day” short from the first … and that horrible epilogue dropped … then 1982’s “Creepshow” would have a secure spot as one of my top ten favorite horror movies. The sequel "Creepshow 2" certainly has value for featuring my favorite short of the bunch, but it just doesn’t excuse the blandness of everything else. For all my issues with the first movie, it still had an original look, feel, personality, and has just held up as the better alternative. 
Over the years, there have been a number of Dark-Comedy horror themed anthologies trying to replicate what “Creepshow” perfected, but none have them have come close. While my feelings toured “Creepshow” are very mixed, it’s still something I enjoy re-watching now and then around the Halloween season. It’s one of those rare horror films that doesn’t aim for serious scares and instead just busts loose for some fun. Actually, it’s like the grownup version of the “Goosebumps” series I grew up with back in the 90’s, as it likewise combines campy frights with creativity and atmosphere. Honestly, I’d give “Creepshow” a slot alongside both “The Shining” and “Misery” as one of my favorite movies adapted from Stephen Kings written work. The special effects are appealing, the direction is stylish, and in the end, this spooky anthology highlights just how fun a horror movie can be.

I give the 1982 horror anthology “Creepshow” … 3 ½ stars out of 5.

I give it’s 1987 sequel “Creepshow 2” … 3 stars out of 5.

                 Happy Halloween!        

The Simpsons: Tree House of Horror (TV series review)

        There's a number of annual traditions people do on Halloween ... trick r’ treating, go to costume parties, exploring fake haunted house's, decorating the house, etc. Well, I do all of that too ... and I also make it a tradition to watch the annual “Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” specials. "The Simpsons" of course need no introduction, as it’s often regarded as one of the greatest animated TV series of all time. It’s a beloved comedy series, and it’s one of the longest lasting TV shows in recorded history. Yes, it’s a classic show, but for me personally, the best thing about this series is its yearly Halloween special. Ever sense the second season, it became a tradition to always have a Halloween episode, colorfully referred to as "The Tree House of Horror". It’s practically a small series in of itself, and instead of a traditional half-hour long episodes, the “Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” consist of three short back to back episodes in a single block. It’s basically an anthology, comedy series, with no real ties to the continuity of the main show, and I love it.

      These episodes are often regarded as some of the best of the entire Simpsons line-up, and their so popular that a good chunk of the marketing toured the show revolves around their Halloween episodes. There’s a Simpsons tree house addition of Monopoly, video game spin-off’s, comic book spin-offs, and I’ll never forget when Burger King had a lineup of toys based around the Halloween episodes, and recurring characters. This lasted for a couple years, and I distinctly remember my friends and I tried to collect as many of them as possible. Regrettably, I’ve lost them over time, but at least I still have the board game.

      The episodes weren’t always aimed at Halloween specifically. Sometimes it was a funny recreation of a popular “Twilight Zone” episode, and other times it would be a parody of a popular horror movie. The very first episode I ever saw was titled “Fly VS. Fly”, which was a satire of the classic 1958 Sci-Fi/ Horror movie “The Fly”. Just like in the movie, Bart gets his body switched with a fly's during a transport, and just about every famous is lovingly spoofed. Other popular horror movie's that got spoofed included “The Exorcist”, “King Kong”, “Night of the Living Dead”, “Psycho”, “Paranormal Activity” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, just to name a hand full. Over the years, they began to spoof non-horror films, and instead spoofed big blockbusters like “Avatar”, “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. Even popular children’s films from the 90’s like “Free Willy” and “Jumanji” all had funny parody episodes.  

     The're also a lot of annual traditions that reoccur with ever yearly Halloween episode. One of my favorite traditions is the opening segments, which often recreate the traditional Simpsons intro with a funny Halloween twist. Half the time, these openings are better than the actual episodes, and often do a better job getting me in the mood for Halloween. Another tradition are appearances from the two squid aliens named Kang and Kodos. These characters are exclusive to the "Tree House of Horror" series, and usually just make short cameos, but they’ve also had entire episodes dedicated to them, which are always a lot of fun. 

    Another set tradition that regrettably didn’t last long were the Wraparounds, which were like mini segments that loosely connected all the shorts. For example, in the second season, the kids take turns telling scary stories in a tree house, and every story the kids tell leads into a new short. 
There was also a season in which they eat too much candy resulting in every family member having a separate nightmare, which in turn would lead to our standalone episodes. This unfortunately didn’t continue after season four, but the result was longer episodes, and that was at least a plus. In general, you can never predict what you'll get from a Simpsons Halloween special. It could be dark, it could be cute, or it could be extremely wild and over the top. One thing's for certain, they can always make an audience laugh, and laugh hard. Right now there’s over 80 episodes, and there’s no way I can do them justice, as they just need to be seen on their own. However, I’ll at least round up my personal top 10 favorite episodes...  

10. Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores 

Now here’s a clever satire revolving around both product placement and advertising that have gone too far. In this episode, giant company mascots and logos come to life to destroy the city. There's only one way to defeat them, and that's simply to ignore them. It’s wild, imaginative and features one of my favorite Bart Simpsons jokes as he literally becomes a shoulder devil for a giant devil monster. 

9. Tweenlight 

It was only a matter of time before the popular “Twilight” series got the Simpsons treatment for Halloween. I’ll start by saying that I’ve never had any real animosity toured the often hated “Twilight” series, but these guys sure gave it a funny spoof. Homer finds himself teaming up with Dracula in order to prevent Liza from falling in love with the Counts evil son. The variety of vampire jokes are great, and the stabs made at “Twilight” are terrific. It’s just good old Halloween fun with this parody.  

8. Bart Simpsons Dracula 

Here’s yet another clever vampire parody, but this time aimed at the 1992 motion picture “Bram Stoker's Dracula”, and it even pokes fun at “The Lost Boys”. It’s a brilliant spoof like any of their movie parodies, but this one has some of the quickest comedy and flat out funny jokes that the Halloween collection has ever offered, which is saying a lot. Plus, Mr. Burns has never been more memorable then as a second rate Count Dracula.  

7. Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies 

Definitely a classic episode, and what’s not to like about a premise involving the Simpsons battling an army of scary zombies. When Bart reads from a magic book in an effort to bring the family cat back from the dead, he unintentionally awakens a herd of Zombies, or as they like to be called “The Living Impaired”. This episode has all the good stuff, cute moments, clever gags, social satire, zombie action, and lots of dark comedy. The best scene of all is when Homer kills zombie Flanders ... you really just need to see it for yourself.   

6. I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face 

In this episode, a real witch gets insulted at a costume party, resulting in her cursing the town people to literally become what their dressed up as for Halloween. There’s a lot of creativity and funny jokes revolving around the towns folk as they try to adjust in their new forms. It’s just really fun seeing everybody become their costumes, and it’s especially nice to have an episode that’s actually set on Halloween night.

5. The Terror of Tiny Toon 

This is without a doubt one of the most imaginative situations to come from the series. Bart and Lisa get sucked into their TV and are dropped in an extremely violent Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. The kids are the prey, while the cartoons are the villains who simply want to destroy them. The result is a frantic chase throughout TV world, with lots of cartoony gags and visual hummer. Sense their stuck in a TV show, Bart and Lisa can do more traditionally cartoony things that you’d normally see in an old Roadrunner cartoon. They also jump through different TV programs, even a moment when they drop into a live action cooking show. What more can I say, it’s just comedy gold.

4. The Shinning 

As you’d expect from the title, this episode is a parody of the 1980 horror classic “The Shining”. It captures the feel and mood of its movie counterpart masterfully, along with some of the best dark comedy the show ever provided. Right from the opening, this episode lets you know what you’re in for, as it mocks the film’s daily transition scenes. It’s just a brilliant spoof, and a loving tribute to one of the greatest horror movies of all time.     

3. Homer3 

This is an iconic episode that blew everybody’s mind, and it still stands as one of the all time greatest Simpsons moments. When trying to hide from his dead beat relatives, Homer finds himself lost in an Alter-Net dimension which looks like the world of “Tron” if it was rented out by “Futurama”. The effects in this episode were awesome, the jokes were great and the ending was brilliant, as Homer actually finds himself in the real world, making it look a little like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. It’s just an awesome and clever parody of “The Twilight Zone” episode "Little Girl Lost", and one that still gets me laughing to this day.    

2. It’s the Grand Pumpkin, Millhouse 

That’s right, the Simpsons are tackling one of the most treasured Halloween specials of all time. The original “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” is still a favorite of mine that I still watch ever year, and from beginning to end, this episode is a faithful recreation of it with some brilliant comedy throughout. The highlight is a hilarious twist, when the grand Pumpkin turns out to be real, and he's seeking revenge on all the pumpkins that have been killed to make Jack O’ lanterns. It’s clever, brings back Nostalgic memories of Charlie Brown, and features an awesome ending with giant holiday mascots in battle ... what more do I even need to say.

Before I reveal my favorite episode, here are some honorable mentions ... 

Nightmare of Evergreen Terrace

The Raven 


Fly VS. Fly

House of Whacks

1. Time and Punishment 

I’ll always regard this one as a classic, and honestly, it’s the episode that got me watching “The Simpsons” in the first place. When Homer accidentally ruins his toaster, he tries his best to repair it, but he unintentionally creates a machine that can send him back in time. Once he gets sent back to the Dinosaur age, he constantly messes things up, which have huge changes on his present day life. Every time his life is altered, he goes back in time to try and fix things again, but it only makes more problems for things in the future. The comedy is relentlessly fast, and it’s just so creative with how many different Alter-Net realities Homer get’s himself stuck in. It also features my favorite moment in the whole series, when he returns to his present life and everything seems perfect, the house is perfect, the family is perfect, but there’s only one setback ... NO DONATES! That just kills me every time. The premise is so brilliant, over the top, and funny that it had to be my number one favorite.    

     Overall, “The Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” still stand as some of the funniest episodes to come from the series, and to this day they're some of my favorite animated Halloween specials that I still enjoy watching every year. If you love Halloween, and you love dark comedy, this is one series that I highly recommend checking out.

I give “The Simpsons: Tree House of Horror” ... 4 ½ stars out of 5.