CREEPSHOW ***** USA 1982 Dir: George A Romero. 115 mins
Romero and Stephen King’s loving tribute to the EC Comics of their youth resulted in the most purely entertaining horror anthology since Amicus’ heyday. Stylistically, it’s one of the greatest cinematic evocations of a comic book world : the cinematography offers a rich, suitably gaudy splash of primary colours, while John Harrison’s long-underrated, gorgeously atmospheric score adds to the fun-house horror feel. It was also a marvellous showcase for the work of Tom Savini, whose loveably immobile creation The Creep figures in the wraparound story about a mean, disapproving Dad (Tom Atkins) confiscating his son’s horror comic on Halloween before the quintet of tales from the pages of “Creepshow” unfold.
“Father’s Day” is a classic “Tales From The Crypt”-esque tale of greedy bastards getting their comeuppance, highlighted by a worm-ridden ghoul bleating “I want my cake!” and Ed Harris in a groovy dance sequence wearing tight blue jeans. “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verill” offers good-natured silliness and an astonishingly broad, bug-eyed performance by King himself – gurning his way through the role of a bumpkin stereotype who stumbles into a 50’s sci-fi situation and transforms into a walking plant. The sour punch line is typical of the playfully malevolent tone, and the unrestrained acting carries over into “Something To Tide You Over”, in which Leslie Nielsen subverts his deadpan 80’s comic persona as a sadistically chuckling cuckolded husband subjecting brown-trousered lothario Ted Danson to a horrific fate – buried up to his neck in the sand, tormented by over-sized crabs and video footage of his lover’s agonising death. With its grinning bad guy, vengeful zombies and illicit love affair, it’s the most EC of the bunch, and also has a wonderfully creepy image of an eerie mist creeping into the frame of one of Nielsen’s CCTV monitors, prefiguring the emergence of two seaweed-enshrouded walking corpses.
The bloodiest and most deliciously stylised is “The Crate”, with Hal Holbrook as the ultimate henpecked husband, saddled with embarrassingly brash wife Adrienne Barbeau, who meets a deserved end courtesy of Savini’s awesomely toothy, hairy monster. Barbeau is extraordinary as an unrepentant bitch who still berates Holbrook’s sexual inadequacy, even when she’s about to be eaten. 80’s-leaning horror buffs will particularly appreciate the unsubtle in-jokes. Finally, “They’re Creeping On You” is the one everyone remembers, with a tour de force from E.G. Marshall as a germaphobe whose $3200 a month apartment is overrun with cockroaches. In contrast to the earlier stories, this is afforded a stark, antiseptic look to enhance the visceral horror of the roach invasion, and its grotesque punchline – as the horrid bugs erupt from Marshall’s head and body – is one of the most memorable in all 80’s horror.
CREEPSHOW 2 *** USA 1987 Dir: Michael Gornick. 87 mins
Originally conceived as another five-story omnibus (with “Pinfall” and “Cat From Hell” given the boot – the latter showed up in the Romero-scripted TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE THE MOVIE), this sequel’s budget cuts resulted in a trio of tales executed in a far less authentically garish and stylised fashion than its predecessor. Tom Savini has fun in the wraparound as “The Creep”, dishing out copies of the “Creepshow” comic to all and sundry, though the kiddie-oriented animation that dominates the framing story is notably weak. The movie proper opens with a straight-forward EC Comics morality story entitled “Old Chief Wood N Head”, wherein sentimentalised old couple George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour are robbed and killed in their throwback store by a trio of annoying, cartoonish punks before getting their comeuppance via an angel of vengeance awkwardly reminiscent of the guy from the UK Creosote ads. “The Raft” is much more fun, setting up a slasher-style quartet of weed-smoking, horny teens for slaughter courtesy of a rapidly growing, flesh-eating, suspiciously round “oil slick” that echoes THE BLOB but also prefigures CABIN FEVER in its most gruesome moment. The echoes of eco-horror are compelling, the perfectly round, the gore FX are nasty and the ending suitably downbeat. Finally, “The Hitchhiker” offers gratuitous screen cameos for some of Stephen King’s books (and the man himself) in its tale of unsympathetic adulteress Lois Chiles relentlessly pursued by the decaying hitchhiker she killed in a hit and run. Although slight and silly, this episode is fondly remembered by many, boasting a nicely misanthropic star turn from Chiles and a splendidly gaudy final scene (the hitchhiker, reduced to a grotesque zombie puppet thing, continues to intone his catchphrase, “Thanks for the ride, lady!”) that’s the closest this film gets to the funhouse grisliness of the original.
CREEPSHOW 3 * USA 2006 Dir: Ana Clavell / James Glenn Dudelson. 100 mins
Here’s what happens when the makers of the useless DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM make an in-name-only CREEPSHOW movie minus both Romero and anything resembling entertainment. This time out, in the absence of any tangible link to the “Creepshow” universe, the individual stories unfold in the same town, linked by a chintzy CG-animated framing device and sharing certain characters between them. “Alice” aims for black humour and gross-out make up effects in its derivative tale of a teenage girl obtaining a universal remote control but its witless, nonsensical script sets the tone for what is to follow, and the story pales in comparison to thematically similar TWILIGHT ZONE episodes. (In fact, even the Adam Sandler movie CLICK was more horrific). “The Radio”, in which hapless security guard A J Bowen receives increasingly sinister messages from a device he buys from a hobo, barely qualifies as horror as its one-note gimmick premise plays out. “Rachel The Call Girl” opts for multiple twists in a story of a nerdy loser hiring a $1000 escort, but it telegraphs most of them, while “Professor Dayton’s Wife” is the most obnoxious episode, featuring an irritatingly OTT performance by Emmett McGuire as a long-time bachelor whose fem-bot project is exposed by students. It tries so hard to be funny, but it’s so heavy handed and dumb that it leaves you in a state of despair as the film lurches into the final story, “Haunted Dog”, about which all you need to know is that it features Kris Allen as a callous doctor suffering recurring visions of a decaying spectre vomiting up a hot dog. It’s as good as it sounds and CREEPSHOW 3, with its mugging cast, relentless elevator-style muzak and stupid fake gore, is about as bad as 21st century horror gets.