Thursday, December 20, 2012

Creepshow Franchise

Seems I can’t stop talking about horror movies, no matter what time of year it is, even if it’s only a few days until Christmas.  I guess I should watch corny films like Elf or Family Man or Four Christmases, but when I reach for my movie binders, I find myself grabbing the ones marked “horror” instead of “holiday.”  And even when I do take down one of my horror binders, I habitually leaf through them to pick out the Blu-Rays over the DVDs.  I can’t help it, I get a kick out of how good some of these films look all cleaned up and looking more crisp and clear than they did when they were first released in theaters.  

The first movie in question—Creepshow—unfortunately, I haven’t purchased the Blu-Ray disc.  The sole reason being is that the disc is so bare-bones, I don’t think it’s worth it.  It’s probably a simple transfer that wasn’t cleaned up and probably looks just as good as the DVD.  And with the lack of special features, in my mind, it’s just a waste of money.
A while back (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), it was announced that a special edition DVD was to be released, complete with deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, cast interviews…the works.  But shortly after that was announced, it was publicized that the special edition was only to be issued in the UK, not the United States.  Something to do with the rights of distribution between Universal Studios having overseas rights and Warner Bros. having domestic…I’m not sure.  All I knew, and still know, is that the US wasn’t going to be privy to that release, so we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Creepshow.

Back in 1982, this movie was released on my birthday—November 12th.  I had just turned 14, but my parents weren’t really big movie-goers, so, in turn, I wasn’t a movie-goer.  I had to sit in class and hear the other kids talk about how cool and scary Creepshow was and wish I could’ve seen the movie as I sat watching the TV spot come on, teasing me from my television set.  It wasn’t until another year went by before I was able to watch it when it premiered on the Showtime cable channel.  Of course, it was only broadcast during late hours, so I was only allowed to watch it until it was my bedtime, so, again, I was only able to watch a fraction of the movie.  It wasn’t until another year or so before I was able to watch it in its entirety and I fell in love with it all over again.

When it comes to horror anthologies, Creepshow is the best, in my book.  It was just a perfect storm for this film to be made.  With the two masters of horror (at the time), Stephen King and George Romero, you couldn’t go wrong.  The beginning of the 80s was the best time for Stephen King.  Nearly every year there was a movie being made out of a novel or a short story by him, so it was a no-brainer for studio execs to give this film the green light.  And with Romero helming this film, it only sealed the deal.  

The anthology features five tales—plus a wrap-around story to book-end the film—and it’s a wild ride.  Most of the film is presented as if you’re reading one of the horror comic books of the 1950s, complete with colorful backdrops and comic book frames shown during some of the terrifying moments to give it that extra thrill. 

With “Father’s Day,” you’ve got Romero’s specialty, the dead body of a father who was killed years ago is reanimated and decides to come out of his grave to get the Father’s Day cake (do people have cake on Father’s Day?) he feels he deserves.  This is an eerie one, especially the ambiance created during the graveyard scenes.

For some of the funniest comedic moments in the film, “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill” showcases that Stephen King (in the lead role of this tale) really does have some comedy acting chops.  He plays a country bumpkin who finds a meteorite which has landed in his field.  But the radioactive liquid that spills from the inside of it causes “growing” concern.

“Something to Tide You Over” is a nice little supernatural story, again with corpses becoming reanimated, as an eccentric rich guy decides to punish his wife and the man she’s having an affair with by burying them from the neck down on his beach property, letting the tide come up slowly to drown them.  But they find a way to exact revenge.

My favorite chapter of the whole film is “The Crate.”  That is the one story out of the whole movie that gave me night terrors for a while.  I was afraid to go to sleep and had to check the closet and under the bed for a few years (still do every once in a while).  Basically, it’s an old crate that’s found underneath some stairs in a college, but the crate is home to some creature that’s just waiting for someone to open up the crate so that he can eat.

And for something that’s truly disgusting, “They’re Creeping Up on You” will satisfy you.  This is the one story that really grosses me out, every time I watch it.  An eccentric germ-a-phobe, Upson Pratt, has the most advanced apartment to keep germs and bugs out as he conducts his business and life without stepping out of his apartment.  But somehow, bugs check in…until Mr. Pratt checks out.

I can’t forget about the wrap-around story, which begins at the very start of the movie with Tom Atkins acting like a total dick to his son, all because the kid was reading the “Creepshow” horror comic book.  Right before going into the beginning credits, the kid (played by Stephen King’s son) hopes his dad rots in hell.  A skeletal figure appears at his window and the kid gives the impression that he’s happy about this.  Holy shit!  I would’ve screamed for my dad, telling him how sorry I was that I was reading that crap and that I’d never read that type of comic book again!  But, being that it’s a movie, the kid punches his fist against his other hand, as if he’s going to beat the shit out of somebody, and the introductory credits roll.  The story ties up at the end of the film with the son getting some revenge on his dad.

One thing, for a horror movie, there sure are a lot of stars in it.  You might recognize Ed Harris in the first tale as he boogies it on down during a little disco dance scene.  As I’d said already, Stephen King does a great job in the one tale that happens to be a one-man show.  You’ll recognize the great Leslie Nielson as the antagonist in the third tale, along with Ted Danson.  Hal Holbrook and Adrian Barbeau are featured in the fourth story.  And, last but not least, is another great actor, Mr. E.G. Marshall as Upson Pratt in the last tale.
The practical effects (seeing that this is way before CGI’s time) are pretty awesome and were done by the wizard himself, Tom Savini.  He even has a funny cameo at the end of the film as one of the garbage truck workers.  His creation of the creature from the “Crate” story still chills me.  I love the little touch of having all the drool drip out of the creature’s mouth when it’s about to eat someone.  Savini definitely leaves his signature in this film.

Lastly, I can’t forget the music score.  The composition by John Harrison positively makes this movie all the more creepy.  The piano gives the film the musical nuance it needs, just listening to it gives me goosebumps.  Every time I watch this film and hear the music that accompanies it, I feel I'm watching a spooky movie from the 40s...all because of that movie score.

Now, Creepshow 2 came around five years later, albeit not directed by George Romero, but he still had a hand in it.  The stories were still penned by Stephen King, or taken from his short stories, but there were only three tales this time around, again, with a wrap around story.  Right away, you can tell that this film is inferior to the first one, but still enjoyable nonetheless.

Again, the start of the film begins with the start of the wrap around story, involving a kid, Billy (not sure if this is supposed to be the same Billy from the first movie), and his love for the “Creepshow” comic book.  He rides his bike to where the delivery of the comic books is to be dropped off, greeted by The Creeper as he’s given an issue of the book.  From then on, the credits roll as the live action blends into animation.  Here’s where you see the weakness of the film compared to the first because the animation is not done very well.  The Creeper is now a cartoon character who introduces each story, but if you can put aside the bad cartoon quality, you’ll like this film.

The first tale introduced to us is the story of “Old Chief Wooden Head.”  Set in a small community with Native Americans being the majority, a storefront wooden Indian comes to life to avenge the murders of the store owners.  When I first saw this flick in the theaters, I remember thinking that this first story went on a little too long.  I recalled how tight and to-the-point the stories presented themselves in the first film, and in this film, especially in the first tale, it seemed to kind of lag.  But it’s a good revenge narrative that ends kind of cool.  It stars George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as the store owners, and even though it’s a little lengthy, it’s still a good yarn.  Although you can tell when the wooden Indian is real or a guy in a suit, the outfit made for the film was pretty realistic, having the appearance of real wood.  Now, even though Tom Savini makes a cameo as The Creeper and consulted a little in the makeup effects, most of the special effects duties went to Greg Nicotero.

The next story is “The Raft.”  Four teenagers head out to a small lake out in the mountains to get high and swim out to an anchored diving platform.  Some floating blob in the water turns out to be a deadly force that kills anything that’s unlucky enough to be caught in the water with it.  This one is my favorite of all the tales.  We get to know the characters as they drive to the lake, the jock, Deke (Paul Satterfield) and his nerdy sidekick, Randy (Daniel Beer), taking their dates and hoping to get some action.  The tension that builds as they’re stuck on the platform and cold from the swim are definitely felt, because I was thinking to myself that I’d go out of mind if I were in their place.  Thinking about the tension and suspense built in this feature, it’s hard to believe they were able to accomplish it simply by having people stand on a swimming platform while dragging some hefty bags around in the water.  But it worked.

Finally, “The Hitchhiker” is a tale about a hitchhiker who’s accidentally hit and killed by a cheating wife, trying to get home before her husband.  In order to keep her rendezvous secret, she flees the scene and leaves the hitchhiker…but the hitchhiker keeps coming back for a ride.  This is a nice Twilight Zone-ish story with a malicious character that keeps coming back no matter how hard you try to get away.  On the other hand, the main character deserves what she endures because it was her fault to begin with.  Nevertheless, it’s still a scary thought to have someone keep showing up even though you’ve passed them and ran over them and smashed into them over and over again.

In between each story, the wrap-around story continues as Billy is confronted by the local bullies as they chase and threaten him.  To end the film, just like the first film, Billy gets revenge on his tormenters. 

So, Creepshow 2  ends with The Creeper blending back into his live-action version, in the back of the newspaper truck as it drives off, throwing out “Creepshow” comic books by the handful.  I always think to myself, Man, that must’ve been a hell of a cleanup job after that shot!  

Without going into it like the detail of the first two films, we all know that there was a Creepshow III made.  I watched this feature, unfortunately, once and wish I had never even wasted my time with it.  It’s an insult to Stephen King for this film to be called Creepshow.  If you look at the ratings on IMDb that are given by users, not critics, you’ll see that the first film received 6.6 stars out of 10, the second received 5.6, and this last debacle received 2.7.  In my opinion, that’s very generous.  

This piece of shit features five tales that are boring and just plain uninteresting, so much so, that I’m not even going to waste my time with synopsizing them.

So there you have it, a great horror franchise, tarnished by the third entry.

What’s my final “bit” on each of these films?

Creepshow is an excellent classic, filled with great performances by many wonderful actors who make this movie come alive.  They’re believable in their parts and never take anything away from the film.  Although the DVD and Blu-Ray discs are plain with not much in the extras department, it’s a must to own.

Creepshow 2 is a worthy follow-up, but not as good and entertaining as the first.  The characters are a little over the top sometimes, taking you out of the movie as you laugh at how one-dimensional they are.  But the stories are very interesting and keep you in it until the end.  While not on Blu-Ray yet, I was able to find a Divimax Edition (which was a high definition transfer some select DVDs were able to get before Blu-Ray came around) a few years back that contains some interesting behind-the-scenes extras.  This one is in my collection and is a must if you own the first film.

Creepshow III…forget it.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits