Wednesday, October 29, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: Creepshow 1 & 2

It's catchup time! Monday and Tuesday nights movies were of a theme - Stephen King and George Romero collaborations. No Dark Half, though.


George Romero. Stephen King. EC Comics... well, in spirit, anyway. Creepshow was a staple of Halloween in my teens - one of those films that always got rented (if it was available, that is) around the 31st. It has a certain kind of ghoulish glee that I associate with a childhood love of monsters and horror movies. When horror was fun AND creepy. (One of the reasons I love Trick r Treat is that it seems to embrace that same level of love for Halloween.)

Back in 1982, when Creepshow was released, I hadn't actually seen any EC comics. I think they were out of print at the time, or only available via expensive hardcover reprints. Instead I associated the movie with the more palid horror comics that DC put out in the 70's - The Witching Hour, House of Secrets and House of Mystery. I loved those comics - the illustrated equivalent of a fire-side ghost story - and never realized that they were watered down by the Comics Code Authority until much later, when I finally got to see copies of Tales From the Crypt and Vault of Horror.

At one point I had the comic adaptation, illustrated by Bernie Wrightson, and I just about wore it out reading it. I wish I still had a copy, but it's disappeared in the intervening years - perhaps finally falling apart or maybe just lurking in a comic box in the basement, biding its time until it can lurch forth and... I dunno, give me a paper cut or something.

The Medium
I've got the Warner Brothers DVD release which has the widescreen on one side and a full screen version on the other (both written on a tiny black band around the center hole and impossible to read in dim light). The 'special features' are pretty much the trailer - I'm not calling 'interactive menus' and 'scene access' special. From what I understand the US Blu-ray release also only includes the trailer. I'd love to have some commentary, some featurettes on the creature/makeup design, info on the Berni Wrightson comic adaptation... ah well.

The Movie
I'm breaking this out by segment.

Both the prologue and epilogue feature a boy named Billy and his parents. In the prologue Billy's getting a dressing down by his father for reading horror comics. After a fatherly slap across Billy's face the comics are thrown out. While a self-satisfied dad sits in his easy chair Billy sits upstairs, cursing his father. At the window appears The Creep from his horror comic, beckoning Billy to come closer...

The boy, if I remember correctly, is played by one of Stephen King's sons. Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween 3) is the dad.

"Father's Day"
This starts things of in typical EC comics style, with a wealthy family of degenerates and a family secret. Every Father's day the Granthams get together to remember their patriarch, a domineering and abusive man named Nathan Grhantham. The youngest of the group has a new husband, which conveniently allows for the rest of the family to tell him the tale of Nathan's murder - by his own daughter - many years before.

This is Aunt Bedelia, who arrives late and goes to the old man's grave to drink and curse at him for having her lover killed (the event that precipitated Grantham's murder). She spills her drink on the grave and, seemingly in response, Nathan rises from the ground and sets about killing people and asking - in a literally gravel-filled voice - for his Father's Day cake.

"120 years old and still go all my own teeth!"

This is actually my least favorite segment, but it's still loads of fun. Watching Ed Harris be the hick is a hoot, and the maggoty remains of Nathan Grantham are a memorable effect (as is the Father's Day cake he eventually makes for himself). The segment also establishes the visual theme for the entire movie - bright reds and blues with graphic backgrounds reminiscent of EC comics. Transitions and end sequences are often in actual comic book format and some scenes are even shown with a traditional comic book 'gutter' - the white area around each frame.

"The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verril"
A down-on-his-luck farmer sees a meteor crash on his property and goes to investigate. Dreams of selling it to the local college are dashed when he pours cold water on the steaming meteorite, cracking it. He puts the pieces in a bucket - after pouring the glowing contents of the hollow meteorite into the crater - and goes to have a beer and watch wrestling.

Soon he realizes that the fingers he used to touch the meteorite are turning green - growing fuzzy with something plant like. Over the course of the evening the growth gets worse - everywhere he's touched and been. "Not down there!" Oh yes, down there too. Outside, the cabin is becoming overgrown and plant life spreads in a circle out from the crater.

"Did I scratch my ass? Oh God...."

In a desperate attempt to alleviate the itching Jordy jumps into a tub full of water - but that's just what the green growth wants. In the end Jordy finds a way out, but given the weather report the rest of the world may not be so lucky.

Let's just say up front that acting is not one of Stephen King's strong suits. I've always had a soft spot for this segment, though. Watching it again this time I realized a chapter in my Monster War novel - where a lawn comes to life and tries to kill the heroes - is completely inspired by this segment. I didn't realize it at the time, but it's obvious looking at it now.

"Something to Tide You Over"
This segment could also be called "Leslie Nielsen, Super Asshole" - just like Day of the Animals.  A wealthy man finds out he's been cuckolded and takes revenge on his wife and her lover by burying them in the sand up to their necks and waiting for the tide to come in. He even watches the whole thing on remote video. Unfortunately for him, they come back. And it doesn't matter how long he can hold his breath.

"Do you have a few moments to talk about Dagon?"

This one is always fun. Nielsen is a ham sandwich of crazy, but it's fun to watch. Ted Dansen is more interesting as a water-logged corpse than he is as the lover. The makeup effects are great - particularly the spurt of dark water when the zombies are shot.

"The Crate"
A college custodian finds a crate under the stairs and calls a professor, Dexter Stanley, as it appears to be very old. When the two open the crate a monster inside attacks and kills the custodian. Stanly flees, running into a grad student who also ends up being killed by the monster. Even more distraught, Stanley flees to the house of his friend, fellow professor Henry Northrup.

Northrup, a mild-mannered man who is severely hen-pecked by his wife Billie, sees the crate and the monster as an opportunity to rid himself of his wife for good. He sets about cleaning the mess before luring his wife to the college, where the crate - and the monster - wait.

C'mon, that monster is awesome!

This has always been my favorite. I just love monster stories, and the thing in the crate is a great monster. Yeah, upon close look it's just a monkey with sharp teeth - but damn, it's effective. Hal Holbrook as Henry and Adrienne Barbeau as Wilma "Call me Billie" Northrup are pretty good, but Fritz Weaver is fantastic - one of the few times in a horror movie I've seen an adult male actor appear believably traumatized by the goings on.

Also, is it just me, or is this the basic plot for Relic? Just me? Okay then.

"They're Creeping Up on You"
A ruthless businessman, Upson Pratt, who's afraid of germs and bugs spends the night fighting cockroaches in his pristine, hermetically sealed apartment. When the power goes out because of a storm the insects invade in a flood and Pratt locks himself in his bedroom - which is no escape.

This one is always fun as well - unless you're afraid of cockroaches, in which case you might want to skip it. E. G. Marshall plays Pratt so over the top villainous that you're pretty happy when he finally gets his comeuppance. The effect of all those bugs bursting out of his body is a pretty gross.

He is SO not getting his deposit back.

A pair of garbage men - one played by Tom Savini - find the comic from the prologue still in the trash. They look it over and discover that an ad for a 'real' voodoo doll has already had the order form sent. Back in the house Billy jabs away at the voodoo doll as his father screams in pain.

The Bottom Line
Creepshow is always a good time. It's not the best work of either King or Romero, but it's got a sense of wicked fun to it that really captures the comics it's inspired by. As with those old EC comics there's a definite sense of old-testament revenge running through the segments, with bad people getting exactly what they deserve. (Except for poor Jordy, that is.) It doesn't bear a lot of scrutiny, but it's a fun movie to watch while the ghouls and goblins queue up for some candy.

Creepshow 2

Five years after the first Creepshow was a surprise hit at the box office we got Creepshow 2, with a screenplay by George Romero based on short stories by Stephen King.

I haven't actually watched Creepshow 2 since it was released. I didn't like it much, though I do remember croaking "thanks for the ride" to friends whenever they dropped me off. Though the segments were based on existing King stories and something I wanted to see, the general quality and tone of the film was significantly different from the original and had lost most of the 'wink wink, nudge nudge, aren't we having fun with this horrible stuff' aspect as well. It no longer felt like a labor of love - more like a budgetary decision.

The Medium
Creepshow 2 is available via Netflix streaming. The image is fine, but it's not really a movie that demands a high-def picture. In general the cinematography is just above TV movie quality - a disappointment, seeing as the director is the cinematographer from the first film.

The Movie
I'm breaking this out by segments again.

Framing Sequence
The animated sequence this time runs more of a story throughout the film. It follows a young boy named Billy (no relation to the kid from the first film) as he excitedly receives a new copy of the Creepshow comic from The Creep himself (played by Tom Savini). Over the course of the film he receives a venus flytrap in the mail (ordered through the Creepshow comic, natch), runs afoul of some bullies who crush his precious flytrap, kicks one of the bullies in the crotch and flees to a deserted clearing where the bullies are devoured by enormous flytraps. The animation is serviceable, if jerky, and has no real mood or atmosphere to it.

"Old Chief Woodenhead"
This is a terrible segment. It follows an elderly couple who own a general store in a dying town. They've got a wooden, cigar store type indian out front that they call Chief Woodenhead. The local Native American elder gives them a number of tribal valuables as collateral for debt the tribe owes the kindly store keepers. Later the nephew of the elder kills the couple in a botched robbery. Old Chief Woodenhead comes to life and wreaks vengeance on the killers.

Does no one else find this problematic?

This is really annoying on a number of levels, but it's also just not very good. The effects are okay, but there's more time spent waxing poetic about the bad guys' hair then in the stalking and killing. And I have no idea what to make of the whole Native American/White paternal figure/Spirt of Vengeance crap.

"The Raft"
Just FYI, in Maine such a device - a free-floating wooden platform for swimmers - is called a float.

Two young couples head fifty miles into the middle of nowhere to go swimming at a lake in October. Some kind of malevolent oil slick stalks them and kills them one by one.

"Guys I think I'm okay."

This is actually one of my favorite King short stories (though it suffers from Inappropriate Sexy Times in both the print and film versions). This adaptation is... okay. Actually, it's not bad. It's definitely the best of the bunch. It's pretty suspenseful at times and the effects are fairly well done when the creature is attacking. At all other times it looks like a dirty floating tarp. The only likeable character is killed first, which leaves us with jackasses for most of the segment - but they all go in bad ways, so I guess that's okay.

"The Hitch-Hiker"
Wealthy adultress creams a hitch-hiker. Said hitch-hiker then keeps appearing as she goes to greater and greater lengths to rid herself of him. Each time he appears (more and more damaged from her attempts to dislodge/kill him) he mutters "Thanks. Thanks for the ride, lady."

"I'm just going to Brewer - you can let me off at the exit."

This one is okay too. Not great, not good, but okay. The gore effects are well done and the only humor in three segments is found in this one, particularly with the repetition of "Thanks for the ride, lady."

The Bottom Line
There's no heart in this film. While the first one had fun with the concept - lighting and framing and even the general tone of the segments - this one is simply a straightforward horror anthology dressed up with some animation. And it's not even a particularly good anthology. I'd suggest watching "The Raft" and skipping the rest.

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