Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Starring: Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, and E.G. Marshall
Reviewed by: Wes R.
“That's why God made fathers, babe. That's why God made fathers.”
Although there had been numerous horror anthology films produced during the 1960s and 70s (mainly thanks to British studio, Amicus) most of them were pretty straight-laced. None of them really felt like pulp comic stories, although they were clearly inspired by them. Most were filmed with stuffy British casts and tried more than anything to scare or shock. After saturating the market for nearly a decade, sometime toward the mid to late 1970s, the anthology completely died. Then, out of nowhere, inspired by the very same comic books that Amicus and the other filmmakers had been, zombie king George A. Romero and king of modern horror Stephen King teamed up for an anthology that would define the sub-genre for the 1980s and beyond. Yes, fans…prepare to enter the Creepshow. Admit one!
There really isn’t a plot per say. Like most anthologies, there is a wraparound story that starts things off and provides a reason to the viewer as to why they’re watching a number of shorter films. The wraparound story in Creepshow is about a young boy getting in trouble by an alcoholic father (Tom Atkins) for reading a really gory E.C. style horror comic book titled (you guessed it) “Creepshow”. As the issue has been thrown in the trash, we are then treated to each of the five stories within the comic…the first, about the zombified remains of a murdered father coming back to get his long overdue piece of Father’s Day cake…the second about a bumbling country bumpkin (played to great effect by author Stephen King) who thinks his ticket to riches (a whole $200!) will be had by finding a strange, glowing meteor in his backyard…the third concerns an older man (Leslie Nielsen) who finds out that his wife (Gaylen Ross) has been quite unfaithful to him with another man (Ted Danson), so he decides to make them both pay in the most breath-taking of ways…the fourth features actor Hal Holbrook (The Fog, Girls Nite Out) as a sheepish husband married to an overbearing wife, who after discovering a blood-thirsty monster hidden away at a local college, decides it’s time for his wife to meet said monster face to face…the last story on the docket is pretty much a crotchety solo performance by E.G. Marshall, playing a Scrooge-like CEO who lives in a high-tech, highly sterilized apartment penthouse and is deathly afraid of bugs.
Creepshow is a special movie to me because it is the very first horror film that I can ever remember watching. My parents had owned their video store for a year when I was born, and at the tender age of three (couldn’t have been any earlier or later, assuming they took it home as a new release, as I suspect they did) I only remember vague flashes of it (mostly from the last segment) but I’m positive it was this film. I think I was even too young to be scared of it at the time. I just sort of remember watching it and really having no real opinion of it. Years later, I would re-watch it after being enticed by how cool the oversized Warner Bros. clamshell VHS artwork was. Creepshow is such a fun film. I knew that Romero was talented when it came to working with zombies, but had no idea he was capable of something so relatively light-hearted and downright fun as this film was. You could tell that he grew up loving the same Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comics that countless other filmmakers have over the years. Many scenes are bathed in reds, greens, blues, and other colors, giving them the over-theatrical appearance of the panels of the comics that inspired the film. You even see the in-between area of comic panels during some scene transitions, showing that Romero wanted to go full-tilt in order to pay homage to the medium.
The all-star cast (well, for the early 80s) is excellent. The first story is kind of a rush job. You don’t really get to spend a lot of time with the characters (well, none of them really accomplish this either, but in them, at least you become partially involved in their respective plights) and it’s mainly just a quickie to get the movie going and provide a few fast thrills. Ed Harris is in it, and we do get to see a really cool, thoroughly crusty and rotted zombie. Most of the zombies in Romero’s “Dead” films are more human and fleshy, but only partially decomposed. The zombie in the first segment here, is covered in cobwebs, dirt, and looks more skeletal than anything. It literally looks like the kind of zombie that would’ve been featured in the pages of an E.C. comic, circa 1954. A very excellent job by Tom Savini (who provided the film’s fantastic makeup and gore FX work). I’d actually forgotten how good Savini’s work was in this film. Far more fan praise seems to go his way when discussing his more hardcore gore efforts such as The Burning and The Prowler. Zombies appear again later in the film, but I don’t want to give too much away. I will say that their makeup job is also very well done and creepy. It kind of makes you wish that Romero had let Savini go a little more “out there” during the two “Dead” films they worked together on.
Most fans seem to like the last segment the best. My particular favorite of the stories is the third one, with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Nielsen, coming off Airplane! but not yet turned into the charming clown that he has become thanks to countless appearances in spoofs) and Danson (who, I don’t think was even on TV’s “Cheers” just yet) are a joy to see verbally sparring with each other. Nielsen is (uncharacteristically, but believably) quite evil, while Danson comes off more as the man who got his hand caught in the cookie jar. Caught in the middle is of course Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead. Unless you count screaming, she has no real spoken lines, however. Hal Holbrook and former John Carpenter bride Adrienne Barbeau also make a great on-screen duo. From the moment they come into frame, you truly believe that they hate each other, making the turn of events later in the segment all the more believable. There really wasn’t a bad There is no nudity to speak of, but the film does have a decent share of blood and gore. While it’s not a complete splatterfest as many other films that Tom Savini has worked on, I think you’ll be surprised at the amount of good stuff that the film contains. It may be his most restrained work, but the stuff on display here is also among his most impressive.
Though his novels are generally worthwhile reads, Stephen King's shorter works are not usually among my favorites. It has always been my belief that short horror fiction works best as Poe did it...short. King's usual 30-50 (and sometimes even longer) page count on short stories would not be ideal for a half hour television anthology show, but here he is able to constrain himself to leaving the stories at only around twenty minutes each. They are of course, the typical pulp horror varieties...revenge, zombies, monsters, and all the things that go bump in the night. Not a lot to think about, but plenty of fun to be had if you like mindless, pulp horror. Romero’s choice of John Harrison for the score was an unconventional one, but worked perfectly. Harrison had only worked on the 1980 rarity Effects when he landed the Creepshow gig. I would have to say, the film has one of my all time favorite 80s horror movie scores. Each segment has its own unique sounds, with nothing re-used, except during the film’s prologue and epilogue. With such haunting piano melodies, and such menacing and fun synth pieces, it’s a truly great collection of horror movie music. I highly recommend any serious soundtrack fan to pick it up on CD as soon as possible. Romero was evidently pleased with Harrison’s work as well, as he hired him to compose for 1985’s Day of the Dead. Though he struggled coming out of the decade, Romero should be pleased with his work here. He single-handedly created the 1980s anthology sub-genre boom. Think about it. Would there have been “The Hitchhiker”, “Monsters”, “Tales From the Darkside”, “Ray Bradbury Theater”, “Freddy’s Nightmares”, or “Tales From the Crypt” TV series if not for Creepshow? I really doubt it. Cat’s Eye, The Willies, After Midnight, Deadtime Stories, and numerous other anthologies would likely have not gotten funding as well had the film not been a success.
As one of Warner Bros.’ earlier DVD releases from 1999, Creepshow could definitely use a double-dip now. One has been discussed for a while, but has yet to actually materialize. Meanwhile, Anchor Bay has given the enjoyable-but-lackluster Creepshow 2 the double-dip special edition (Divimax even) treatment. Despite being anamorphic, the video transfer on this disc leaves a lot to be desired. It looks better than VHS, but not by a whole heck of a lot. Audio seemed fine, but I’m sure a restoration there couldn’t hurt too much either. I’ve seen plenty of behind the scenes videos and segments featuring Tom Savini working on his FX in the film, so I’m sure many different featurettes could be crafted for a future special edition DVD release, if Warner so chooses. As it stands, the only special feature on Creepshow is the theatrical trailer. This film is a great horror watch, and is ideal for Halloween or any other night of the year. You’ll find yourself entertained and enjoying it, but don’t be surprised if the stylized zombies and other creatures don’t give you the occasional shivers of fright as well. Grab a few friends, make some popcorn, dim the lights, and prepare to be thoroughly entertained. Creepshow is 80s American anthology horror at its absolute best. Buy it!
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