31 Days to Scare ~ Creepshow (1982)
Synopsis: An anthology which tells five terrifying tales based on the E.C. horror comic books of the 1950s.
Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Viveca Lindfors, Stephen King
Director: George A. Romero
Running Length: 120 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: I’ve gone on record multiple times with my affinity for anthology horror films. I like their compact nature and how the sometimes smaller-budgeted movies can attract decent stars because they don’t need to commit to a laborious production schedule. With a good through line, these nasty nuggets can be a whole lot of fun and movies such as Tales from the Crypt, Asylum, After Midnight, Tales of Halloween, Cat’s Eye, and From Beyond the Grave are great examples of how to do anthology horror and get the most bang for your buck.
You can’t very well mention anthology horror and not include 1982’s Creepshow in that list. Just the people behind the camera are alone worth noting. Directed by legendary horror maestro George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead) and written by Stephen King (Carrie, Thinner), Creepshow is a nifty little package of five stories that may not scare the wits out of you but will likely give you a few shivers up your spine. A big studio film from Warner Brothers, this was the first time Romero was given the kind of budget to do some work on a larger scale and was also the first time King wrote a script directly for the screen.
There’s a morsel of a framing story introduced and that follows a young boy being taken to task by his father (Tom Atkins, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) for reading his trashy horror comics. The young boy (played by King’s son Joe) doesn’t take too kindly to having his hobby tossed away and between the five main courses we get tiny bites into the boy’s developing a plan to payback his father for throwing away his magazines. Much of these moments are animated in a crude but playful style and there’s a few good visuals when the Creeper (seen on the poster) makes an appearance.
As for the five stories, I’d almost line them up in order of favorite in exactly they way they are presented. ‘Father’s Day’ introduces us to a stuffy family awaiting the arrival of their aunt who offed her father years earlier. Watch for a young Ed Harris (The Abyss) pop up as an unsuspecting newcomer that learns the hard way that family bonds are hard to break. King himself pops up as the star of ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’, which sees his country bumpkin discovering the deadly effects of a meteor that landed on his property. ‘Something to Tide You Over’ focuses on Leslie Nielsen taking a watery revenge on Ted Danson who has been carrying on an affair with Nielsen’s wife only to have his own crimes come back to haunt him. Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau lead the cast for ‘The Crate’ playing a meek college professor and his nagging wife who get tangled up with an artic beast that’s emerged from a long-forgotten wooden box. The final tale is a one man show with ‘They’re Creeping Up on You’, with sanitary freak E.G. Marshall finding his penthouse overrun by thousands of cockroaches.
At two hours, the chapters drag a bit more on repeated viewings and you wouldn’t be blamed to wonder when Romero and King will get to the point. Once they get to the scares, though, the movie becomes a wicked treat for fans of the genre that don’t need their terror served with a side of blood and guts. Aside from some gore (courtesy of Tom Savini, Friday the 13th), it’s a relatively mild film and might have just scored a PG-13 rating had it been available at the time it was released. Romero and cinematographer Michael Gornick have worked up some nice visuals that add to the enjoyment and play with the campy vibe that bubbled right below the surface. It all adds up to an enjoyable film with a throwback quality that has aged pretty well, considering how long ago it was made.
31 Days to Scare ~ Creepshow 2 (1987)
Synopsis: Three more bone-chilling tales that include a vengeful wooden Native American, a monstrous blob in a lake, and a hitchhiker who wants revenge and will not die.
Stars: Tom Savini, George Kennedy, Lois Chiles, Don Harvey, Stephen King, Dorothy Lamour
Director: Michael Gornick
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: With the success of Creepshow in 1982 it was probably too much to hope that lightning could strike twice. Even if this sequel isn’t quite as electric as it’s predecessor, it’s got a few good jolts to it that make it a nice companion piece to it’s more skilled big brother. Much of the same behind-the-scenes people reunited, though in one key role there was a shuffling around that saw original director George A. Romero sit out directing the follow-up and instead passing the reins to the original cinematographer, Michael Gornick. While Romero wrote the movie based on work by Stephen King, you can feel the absence of his guidance in the director’s seat. The result is a good film, but no where near as fun as the first. Instead of five stories we are treated to just three and none truly land the way anyone intended. They’re either flimsily written, badly acted, or both. Technically, they look great but once again the same problem that haunted the original is a factor,: it takes far too long to get moving.
That’s especially the case in the first segment, ‘Old Chief Wood’nhead’. Living in a poor town that’s dying on the vine, a kind old couple (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) are terrorized by a trio of thugs who wind up paying for their actions when a statue comes to life. The pay-off of the film, however, doesn’t equate with the long slog it takes to get there. Severely iffy political correctness aside, there’s nothing fun about watching old people get knocked around and it winds up setting the tone for the rest of the film which features unlikable characters getting their just reward.
I admit when I first saw Creepshow 2 as a youngster I was most looking forward to the second segment, ‘The Raft’. At that age I was obsessed with swimming, water, and everything scary below the surface. This tale of four friends that swim out to a raft on an isolated beach and are stalked by a horrific floating monster has a great concept but is torpedoed by dreadful acting from all involved. Employing the most gore, it’s a feast for the eyes but loses impact every time one of the hokey actors opens their mouth. Based on a Stephen King short story, I could see this being extended to a longer film or possibly being re-done in an anthology series that could give it more attention. The final segment, ‘The Hitchhiker’, has the most action but is as hollow as Old Chief Wood’nhead himself. An adulterous wife (Lois Chiles, Moonraker) mows down a hitchhiker on her way home from her lover’s house and then can’t shake the man as he keeps popping up. Though she tries again and again to kill him, he comes back for more. There’s not a lot going on here (or in Chiles’ acting) and while it finishes up nicely there’s no real point to the whole affair.
The wraparound segments in Creepshow 2 are relayed by more Saturday morning cartoon animation following another boy who stands up to local bullies who tease him for his love of scary comics. The boy has a plan to get back at the guys tormenting him and I almost would rather have seen this one play out as a live action segment than have it be relegated to animated interludes.
Far from perfect and often not that involving, Creepshow 2 has a nostalgic kick to it that makes it worth coupling up with the original. It’s a solid combo for a double feature and with everything in easy segments you can pop it in Halloween night and pause it whenever you need to hand out candy to the kids stopping by.