Friday, 21 March 2008

Creepshow (1982), Creepshow 2 (1987)

Little known fact... zombies love cake

Holy shit, Creepshow is awesome. Written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero with Tom Savini providing visual effects... how could it not be? It's a compendium of five horror shorts... a love letter to the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s. Romero incorporates all sorts of comic book inspired touches, including split screens, freeze frames and colourful background graphics. The sound design is similarly wonderful. It's funny and it's even got some good scares too. (That hand busting out the grave gets me every time, even when I know it's coming.)

In Father's Day, a family gathers at their isolated mansion (on guess which day?) to celebrate the memory of their crotchety patriarch, which coincidentally marks the date he was murdered by his long-suffering niece, Aunt Silvia. However, their father is making a special appearance this year, and he wants his cake! (Skip to the next paragraph now to avoid spoilers) I laugh when I see the zombie with his head-cake, because you know he had to be sitting there in the kitchen beforehand, piping on the icing and lighting the candles.

In The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, a country bumpkin (Stephen King, hamming it up) discovers a meteor full of blue goo. Soon a virulent alien fungus starts growing everywhere that has come into contact with the "meteor shit". Guess he shouldn't have put his fingers in his mouth, huh? This is probably the weakest story, but it's also one of the shortest.

In Something to Tide You Over, Richard discovers that his wife Becky is having an affair with a TV actor named Harry. Too bad for Harry that Richard is insanely, homicidally jealous, and concocts a plan for revenge that involves burying the adulterous duo up to their necks on the beach at low tide. This is one the best stories, thanks to great performances from Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson.

In The Crate a college professor is called in to the campus when a janitor discovers a mysterious old crate. Turns out the crate contains a vicious ape-like monster, still alive after 150 years and understandably hungry. Soon the janitor and an unlucky grad student have fallen victim to the creature. He calls in a friend, an English professor saddled with a nagging shrew of a wife, who devises a plan to kill two birds with one stone. Great performances from Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, and especially Adrienne Barbeau.

In They're Creeping Up On You, E.G Marshall plays a reclusive, Howard-Hughes-like business tycoon. After a lifetime of screwing people over, he gets his just desserts when cockroaches begin to invade his germ-proof penthouse apartment. Soon they're everywhere (even in his food processor, ew) but where on Earth are they coming from? Gross-out moments galore, especially in the final scene.

The wraparound story involves a child seeking some voodoo-based revenge when his cartoonishly abusive father throws out his favourite comic book (Creepshow, natch). Watch for Tom Savini's cameo as a garbage man.

Horror anthologies aren't usually very good, but Creepshow is a stand-out exception. The stories are paced perfectly and the brisk running time means that they never outstay their welcome. The cast are uniformly excellent, and play their roles with the perfect level of camp. Creepshow is a favourite among horror fans, and with good reason. E.C. comics couldn't ask for a better tribute.

Creepshow 2 is a pretty precipitous drop in quality from the first film. The reins were handed over to one of Romero's frequent cinematographers, Michael Gornick. It lacks the creative camera work and graphics of the original, and fails to capture the comic book tone that really made Creepshow shine. To be fair, Gornick had numerous production problems and a severely restricted budget, which also cut the film down to three stories instead of five.

Old Chief Wood'nhead is probably the only one with an actor you might have heard of, unless you're some sort of robot with imdb for a brain. George Kennedy plays a kindly shopkeeper in a dying rural town. It weird, he plays this role like he's in an old Disney film in which a magical donkey saves them from unscrupulous bank owners. A trio of crooks attempt to rob them, and in the process the two of them are shot and killed. Consequently, their beloved cigar-store indian comes to life and seeks revenge on the criminals. Bo-ring!

The Raft is probably my favourite. It's not the story, cause it's basically teens on a raft menaced by The Blob's aquatic cousin. It's not the special effects, cause the creature looks like a garbage bag floating on the lake. It's certainly not the acting. No, it's Randy, a jock who wears bright yellow budgie smugglers and teases his friend for helping clean up an oil spill by saying "mucho ecologico". He's hilarious. Anyway, they all die. Spoilers.

In The Hitchhiker, an adulterous woman is on her way home from a midnight rendevous, when she runs over a hitchhiker. Fearing discovery of her affair, she drives off. However, the hitchhiker appears again and again, increasingly bloody and mangled after each encounter, and tries to force his way into her car. He says "Thanks for the ride, lady" over and over, which always makes me laugh. This story is pretty good, thanks mostly to Lori Chiles monologue-heavy performance.

The wraparound story sucks nuts. It's like the first one except replace "abusive father" with "schoolyard bullies" and "voodoo doll" with "venus fly trap". Also replace "live action" with "cheap-ass animation". Plus there's this Cryptkeeper type dude called the Creep who has a scrotum chin and makes bad puns before every story. Sure, that was de rigeur back in the old E.C. comics (the punny host, not the scrotum chin), but there's such a thing as being too faithful. Tom Savini appears as the Creep in a very brief live-action segment of the story.

I re-watched the both of these in preparation for Creepshow 3, which has recently been released direct-to-DVD. Nobody in the creative team is returning from the first two films. In fact, it's is from the same dudes who brought us Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, a film that squatted over the face of Romero's zombie classic and gave it a Dirty Sanchez. So yeah, I don't have high hopes, but watch this space for the review.

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