Friday, December 4, 2015

Classic Movie Review: Creepshow (1982)

Creepshow (1982)
Directed by: George A. Romero.
Written by: Stephen King.
Starring: Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Ed Harris (Hank Blaine), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blaine), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham).
The 1982 George A. Romero/Stephen King collaboration Creepshow is basically an exercise in nostalgia – a way for two horror masters to pay tribute to something that meant a lot to their interest in the genre as children, and led them down their (separate) paths to redefining the horror genre in their own ways. In this case, Creepshow is a tribute to the E.C. Horror comics of the 1950s – something movie makes no effort to try and hide, and it has a framing device about the comics, and a few animated sequences as well. The film is an anthology – five shorts, written by King, and directed by Romero – that tell bizarre horror stories – the type that may well seem creepy or daring when you’re 10 – not so much when you’re 35 and have no personal connection to what Romero and King are so in love with.

None of the five stories in Creepshow are particularly good – but some are better than others. In the first, an old family relation comes home on Father’s Day – as the newest member of the family (Ed Harris) is treated to the old family story as to the time the woman in question killed her father, and why the dead father is still angry about it. In the second, King himself plays a dimwitted redneck who discovers what he thinks a meteor – and does the brilliant thing and touch it, only to start growing green hair all over his body no matter what he tries. The third stars Leslie Nielsen as a rich man who confronts his younger wife’s lover (Ted Danson) – and tricks him into playing a cruel game, even though he doesn’t get away clean either. The fourth, and longest, segment has a creature long trapped inside a crate – who a university Professor (Hal Holbrook) uses to get back at his shrew of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau). The segment is about a Howard Hughes type billionaire (E.G. Marshall), living in a “germ free penthouse”, which becomes infested with cockroaches.

The characters in Creepshow are all either stupid or assholes or both – and although horrible things befall them all, for the most part they deserve what happens to them. Both the victims and the perpetrators (who will become victims themselves) are this way – and no one gets away cleanly (except, oddly, for Holbrook’s character). Like all sorts of horror movies past and present, Creepshow is a movie that punishes its characters for their transgressions.

Creepshow is not a scary movie in the least. It is more of a campy comedy than anything else – a movie that King and Romero seem to have made as more of a lark than anything else. The actors are in on the joke – as they all go wildly over the top in performances that range from entertainingly bizarre (like Marshall) to awful (King). The wild performances are matched by special effects, makeup, bizarre camera angles, and animated sequences and over the top violence. There is not a second of Creepshow that you can take seriously at all – and all that is by design.

The conclusion I reached at the end of the movie is that Romero and King made precisely the movie they wanted to – it’s just that the movie didn’t interest me at all. It’s really very hard to get people to be nostalgic about something they do not remember and do not love. The best works of nostalgia find a way to make something new of the old – Quentin Tarantino’s entire career is based on this, nowhere more so than in Grindhouse, his double feature with Robert Rodriguez inspired by 1970s grindhouse films. Rodriguez’s feature, Planet Terror, looks, sounds and feels far more like a grindhouse film from the era than Tarantino’s Death Proof, does. But Death Proof is the far greater film than Planet Terror – simply because Tarantino takes his inspirations, and makes something wholly unique, and wholly his own out of them. That is where Creepshow fails to me. It doesn’t feel like either a Romero film or a King film. It feels like precisely what it is – two incredibly talented men having fun recreating something they loved in their youth. If you love those comics as well, you’ll love Creepshow. If you don’t, then there really is much here for you – just like there wasn’t much there for me.

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