Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: October 23rd, 2018
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
When George Lucas couldn’t acquire the rights to remake Flash Gordon, he famously made Star Wars instead, an oft-told tale that finds an analogue of sorts in the horror world with Creepshow. Hatched among George Romero and Stephen King when the former was originally attached to Salem’s Lot, Creepshow is the spiritual successor to the grisly, ghastly EC Comics the duo read as children. While it doesn’t represent an official adaptation of those tales—which did make it to the screen via Amicus some years earlier—this essential anthology owes its entire existence to those macabre tales that acted as a gateway to the future horror titans.
Like so many Monster Kids, Romero and King plucked these pages as if they were forbidden fruit that would draw the ire of concerned adults, a sensation the duo channeled and harnessed decades later. No matter what age you are, there’s an overwhelming feeling that Creepshow is fucked up—but also so, so fun. Like a talisman passed down from one generation to another, it seems it was made explicitly for budding horror enthusiasts who would eventually have to smuggle it into their family’s weekly stack of rentals and watch it late at night, in the hopes that their parents wouldn’t intrude with disapproval.
It’s no surprise that Creepshow starts in a similar place, with a tyrannical father (Tom Atkins) berating his son (Joe Hill, acting as a literal link between those generations) for reading trashy comic books before tossing the issue in the trash. No worries, however, as the comic’s host—the appropriately named “Creep”—lurks outside the boy’s window, beckoning him (and the audience) to dive right into the book’s candy-colored pages, home to five macabre tales of undead fathers, killer meteorites, deranged cuckolds, bloodthirsty monsters, and skin-crawling bugs. Like a trick-or-treat bag towards the end of Halloween night, Creepshow overflows with an assortment of cinematic junk food, with each bite-sized chunk proving to offer a different flavor.
From ghoulish undead shockers to 50s b-movie homages, this one sports a little bit of everything, a grab-bag approach that finds Romero and King scooping as much into their pails as possible. It results in a jagged, arrhythmic anthology with odd pacing and sometimes jarring tonal shifts, and yet it’s one of the finest examples of the format. There’s something about its rough edges that make it especially appealing: this is a handcrafted love letter to the genre that’s been fashioned with grit and sheer enthusiasm. Creepshow deftly recreates the feeling of breathlessly thumbing through the pages of a horror comic with childlike zeal, to the point where the disparate images blur and congeal into a frenzied delirium of forbidden delights: lurid stories, and gruesome make-up effects, both in the service of a menagerie of monsters and madmen.
Romero doesn’t shy away from his phantom source material either, as he embraces the four-color, garish aesthetic that attracted young, eager eyes in the first place. Creepshow boasts a sumptuous array of indelible images, many of them channeled from Romero’s mind through the hands of effects maestro Tom Savini and his ragtag crew. Each segment boasts something of note in this regard: the garish corpse in “Father’s Day,” the dehumanizing transformation in “Jordy Verrill,” the waterlogged ghouls in “Something to Tide You Over,” the razor-toothed monstrosity in “The Crate,” or the cockroach infested body in “They’re Creeping Up on You.” Much of the film’s appeal rests in Romero and company leading you through this demented funhouse and unleashing these spook show staples with a sense of deranged showmanship. If Creepshow actually were a comic book, it’d be loaded with indelible splash pages boasting intricate artwork looking to capture every grisly nook and cranny of these stories.
Creepshow could coast on this type of appeal alone: after all, it’s right there in the title and doesn’t really require much more than the ghastliness promised therein. But it goes the extra mile, as each segment also features at least one performance that perfectly accents the macabre effects work. Tom Atkins only has a couple minutes of screen-time at the most but makes the most of it, carving an appropriately mean-spirited presence that sets the tone for many of the film’s characters. In keeping with the EC tradition, most of Creepshow’s ill-fated characters practically court their own gruesome demises, either by committing some transgression or by simply being an asshole.
“Father’s Day” has a little bit of both, as Jon Lormer’s titular patriarch is a complete terror during his life, so much so that his daughter Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors) knocks him off, a deed that might be understandable in any other context. In Creepshow, however, even this can’t go unpunished, as Nathan Grantham rises from the dead in search of the Father’s Day cake that’s a matter of entitlement. From there, Creepshow unrolls an assortment of similarly twisted or uncouth characters: Leslie Nielsen plays against type as a complete lunatic, Adrienne Barbeau is a shrill, overbearing shrew to a milquetoast college professor (Hal Holbrook, perfectly meek before also losing his mind), and E.G. Marshall is an abhorrent, racist Wall Street tycoon just begging to have cockroaches turn his body inside-out.
And then there’s King himself, appearing as doomed lunkhead Jordy Verrill, a hayseed doofus who encounters a meteor in the wilds of rural Maine. King (who has been too hard on his own performance, it must be noted) brings the anthology’s most unforgettable character to spirited life, all while capturing its general vibe to boot: something about Jordy Verrill is simultaneously silly, haunting, and fucked up all at once. Perhaps even more weirdly, it almost feels like the odd one out among Creepshow, as its thoroughly 50s B-movie vibe hails from an earlier era than the other vignettes, which are made of meaner, more provocative stuff. Where some might (perhaps fairly) consider that to be a detriment, I can’t imagine Creepshow without “Jordy Verrill,” no matter how much it might stick out. After all, even the best trick-or-treat haul has at least one piece of weird, sketchy, or misshapen piece of candy, right?
Truth be told, I’ve sometimes found Creepshow to be a bit too grab bag in nature (“The Crate” clocking in at nearly 40 minutes long will never not feel like an odd pacing choice); however, I’ve come to embrace that a little bit more in recent years. It’s a tad messy, but it’s messy out of pure enthusiasm, guided by the indulgent whims of the old guard crafting an apologia of sorts for the next generation of Monster Kids. Right down to the film’s climactic shocker—wherein the boy from the frame story murders his father with a voodoo doll ordered from the pages of Creepshow—the message is clear: “it’s not just okay to like this stuff—it’s fucking great.”
Just two years ago, it looked like the definitive word on Creepshow on home video would also invoke the word “grab bag" that had fans combining multiple releases for a semi-complete "special edition." At that time, Warner Brothers had produced a serviceable but bare bones Blu-ray, but Just Desserts did function as a nice, unofficial bonus disc of sorts that did the film justice. Apparently, Scream Factory wasn’t satisfied, as they’ve commissioned one of their finest special editions yet, one that boasts a sparkling new 4k restoration (Creepshow has never popped like this on home video) and tons of vintage and newly-produced supplements. Headlining the extras are three commentaries: the first pairs Romero with Savini, the second joins first A.D. John Harrison with construction coordinator Ed Fountain, and the third finds DP Michael Gornick flying solo. An assortment of audio interviews is also available, boasting the likes of Gornick, John Amplas, property master Bruce Alan Miller, and effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci.
Seven newly-produced on-camera supplements tackle just about every inch of Creepshow’s production: “Terror and the Three Rivers” is a 30-minute roundtable discussion with Atkins Savini, Amplas, and Marty Schiff recounting their experience making the film. Costume designer Barbara Anderson appears for “The Comic Book Look,” and animator Rick Catizone discusses his artistic flourishes to Creepshow. Both the cinematography and sound mix are accounted for in “The Colors of Creepshow” and “Into the Mix,” which feature Gornick and recordist Chris Jenkins respectively. The disc even allots the fans their own corner, as “Mondo Macabre” and “Collecting Creepshow” captures the mania of the extremely devoted, including Mondo’s Rob Jones and Josh Curry. Scream has also ported over some stuff from Just Desserts, like Savini’s behind-the-scenes raw footage and a particularly amusing episode of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds. Oh, and there’s also 15 minutes of deleted scenes in addition to the usual array of trailers, tv spots, radio spots, lobby cards, and posters.
As if that weren’t enough, Scream houses all of this in a deluxe slipcover that’s accompanied by Michael Gingold’s liner notes. Some will note that the packaging looks and feels a lot like Arrow Video’s deluxe releases, and that is not at all a knock, especially when this edition of Creepshow can easily stand toe-to-toe on your shelf alongside Arrow’s terrific Creepshow 2 release. Toss in Just Desserts, and that corner of your collection is more than complete* at this point—in fact, between this release and Shudder’s upcoming revival, there’s never been a better time to be a Creepshow fan. Eat it up, boils and ghouls.
*Feel free to also include Tales from the Darkside among these ranks—just as long as you don’t include Creepshow 3. Never include Creepshow 3 in anything. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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