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!        

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