No Show


Creepshow - 1982
Written by Stephen King
Directed by George Romero

If you've read my last couple entries, you may have noticed me, hm, not so much taking digs as not entirely won over by corny horror and "womp womp" tromboner twist endings inspired by old EC comics.  Now, I have nothing against EC horror comics or any other EC comics.  I love that stuff, but I love it in context.  Stephen King and George Romero loved it when they were kids, and then in the 80s decided that they wanted the rest of us to love it too, and so they made Creepshow.  It's now been longer since Creepshow than Creepshow was from Vault of Horror, and the idea is showing signs of decay.

Creepshow consists of five stories framed in scenes of a (frankly abusive) father taking his son's comic book and throwing it away.  Resting atop the trash heap, the wind stirs its pages and the stories unfold.  So faithful to the source material that they hired former EC comics artist Jack Kamen for these segments.

On the one hand, it may be unfair of me to judge Creepshow for succeeding in its anachronistic ambitions.  On the other hand, there are still legitimate complaints about the overall quality of the work, so I'll start with those and work my way back to petty.  The biggest single flaw that I can't blame on the tributary nature of the film is that the stories simply aren't very good.  Oh, sure, they're slavishly faithful to the source material, but they're poorly paced, due in large part to their predictability, and there were moments between them that seemed too similar.  Yes, I'm actually complaining that an anthology lacked variety and that the segments were too long.

Father's Day is about a nasty family of rich folks waiting while their aunt mourns the family patriarch whom she killed, then he rises from the dead and kills the lot of them.  Actually that's not what it's about; that's the whole story, stretched out to 20 minutes.  For all the time we spend trapped with these tedious characters, they never really become characters.  They're mannequins in a diorama of death and we're stuck waiting for zombie grandpa to shuffle his ass along and knock them over.

Then we get perhaps the most telling segment, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill.  This one stars Stephen King himself as a bumbling yokel that would get even the producers of Hee Haw to declare "Oh dear, don't you think that's a bit... much?"  That suggests to me the magnitude of corn that King had in mind for the project.  Jordy finds a meteor, and while he fantasizes about the potential reward or humiliation of telling someone about his find, he becomes overgrown with mutant space weeds.  It's obvious early on that he's going to become overgrown with space weeds, but again, the conclusion is dragged out for far too long.

Mercifully, after that, we get the least-bad acting in Creepshow from Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen in Something to Tide You Over.  Danson is the scoundrel who had an affair with Nielsen's wife, and Nielsen is out for non-analogous revenge.  In an unnecessarily complicated set-up, Nielsen buries Danson and his wife up to their necks on the beach as the tide is coming in, letting them watch each other drown via video.  Then they come back as waterlogged zombies for revenge, The End.  This one tried to throw a curve into an A-to-B story, but the potential drama between the two men was never really explored and the video actually diminished the inherent drama in burying them face to face.  Then there was none of the guilt and creeping dread of something pursuing Nielsen.  They just showed up all corpsified and that was that.

The fourth segment actually went to the greatest lengths to almost have a story, but missed wildly.  In The Crate, Hal Holbrook is a modest college professor married to an unbearable and overbearing Adrienne Barbeau.  When an antique crate containing a still-living monster on campus, he plots to use the monster to do his killing for him.  There's not even a twist there.  The monster gets her and Holbrook seals it back up in the crate and throws it in the quarry lake.  Okay, the twist is that it breaks out, but that's not even a twist; that's just an ending.  Despite a little character building, the story is flawed and never really means anything.  Rather than dramatic tension and action-driven plot, there's just "Welp, that happened."

The last segment, They're Creeping Up On You was my favorite.  A mean and paranoid old millionaire (EG Marshall) is cooped up in his futuristic crazy-den like Howard Hughes in Vegas.  His all-white apartment is supposed to secured against all invaders, large and microscopically small.  And yet, he keeps finding (and killing) cockroaches as he goes about the business of hostile takeovers and the pleasure of shitting on the little guy.  More roaches.  No remorse.  More roaches.  Most roaches.  Evil millionaire problem solved.  Again, it's a woefully thin story that takes far too long getting to the point, but Marshall's energy, the now retro-futuristic apartment, the whiff of still-relevant satire and the real roaches nudge it to the head of the class.

Those, I feel, were the legitimate shortcomings of the film; where they just did not present quality material.  I feel obligated to overlook the bad, bad acting because I see it as an intentional effort to convey the sensation of the economic but tone deaf dialogue of the comics being honored here.  We're generally used to a more naturalistic acting style nowadays, and 1950s soap opera acting wears out quickly.  Oh, I'm sorry, maybe you' watch a lot of Big Bang Theory and you're used to one-dimensional characters and performances, so I can't speak for you.

Creepshow also suffers from many of the musical problems that many 80s films have; specifically that it's bad, loud and heavy on the synthesizers.  They really overlooked the "background" in "background music" in the 80s, didn't they?

Needless to say, Creepshow is never scary.

I will give it two pieces of praise, however.  One; it IS indeed the faithful tribute it intends to be, execution notwithstanding.  Crypt of Terror did indeed regularly present five stories much like these.  But it didn't take two hours to read an issue.  It barely took 20 minutes.  Breaking up the movie this way gave them too many minutes to tell too little story.  If King wasn't willing to update the material with things like character development, then he should have written more stories to fill out the film and gotten them to their points more quickly.

The other piece of praise is for Tom Savini, Romero's longtime make-up and special effects collaborator.  His zombie grandpa in Father's Day, water zombies in Something to Tide You Over and flesh-rending gore in The Crate & They're Creeping Up On You are top-notch practical effects.

If you had cable in the 80s, you probably have a nostalgic place in your heart for Creepshow, but I didn't and I don't.  There's only so much that can be chalked up to honoring pulp comics.  The rest is bad choices.

If you really want to reminisce about the pulp comics of the 50s, you'd be better served by reading them.

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