Creepshow (1982)

*. The 1980s are calling! Check out Leslie Nielsen’s VHS library! Ted Danson’s leonine mane of hair! The world’s longest extensions cord — running all the way down to the beach just to plug that giant box of a TV in to! Oh, I remember the ’80s well. And I don’t miss them a bit!
*. For all of its dated corniness, however, I’m surprised at how well this movie has held up. It has, I think, a small cult following, and its air of gruesome silliness still works. In fact, given that movies in the twenty-first century have thus far been dominated by a comic-book/videogame aesthetic, it hasn’t missed a beat.
*. It wasn’t an original concept. British studios like Amicus and Hammer had already made anthology horror movies inspired by stories taken from Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and other EC Comics. It was a natural fit between the two media, and I really like how the dissolves into and out of the pages of the comic book and the lurid colour scheme here plays this up.
*. Kim Newman: “The episodes tend to set up interesting situations, but fail to come up with the necessary funny/horrible punchlines.” I don’t agree with this. The punchlines seemed pretty good to me. The head-as-birthday cake? The eruption of cockroaches? And perhaps best of all, Leslie Nielsen’s triumphantly insane boast that he can hold his breath a long time? I thought these all struck the requisite note of ironic closure.

*. This shouldn’t be surprising, as both Romero and King have said they were raised on EC Comics and they’re both clearly in tune with the pulp spirit of the originals. I’m not sure Romero was a great director, but King does a great turn with the script here and I think it’s what mainly carries things along. He was at his peak as a writer in the ’80s, and the dialogue in particular is both naturalistic and dramatic in his best way.
*. King wasn’t a big fan of the sub-cult director Andy Milligan, calling his film The Ghastly Ones “the work of morons with cameras.” But I wonder if “Father’s Day” was at all inspired by that movie, since it contains a very similar scene. Maybe not (the idea goes at least as far back as the grisly end of John the Baptist), but perhaps he thought there was something there that he could borrow and improve on.
*. Speaking of possible influences, I wonder if the effect of bringing the pages of the comic book to life in a continuous dissolve was borrowed from Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror. They were both horror anthology films, so Romero might have had it in mind.

*. The cast also does a lot to help out. “The Crate” strikes me as the weakest story, at least in its concept, and it’s also the longest, but it’s given a jolt of energy with a couple of really good performances by Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. Even though Barbeau in particular is really hamming it up, the comic-book tone is again captured perfectly and she just seems right.
*. King’s great theme has always been the threatened nuclear family, and that’s the basis of the frame story here as Billy (played by King’s own son, Joe) is abused by his crummy father (when gently prodded by his wife about his excessive discipline the man of the house replies “That’s why God made fathers, babe.”).

*. I wonder if the “Something to Tide You Over” segment was the source/inspiration for the Dutch film The Vanishing (1988). There’s the same premise of the lover with a need to find out what happened to his girlfriend being lured to a similar fate by a madman. I don’t know if the two films have ever been linked, but a connection seems possible.

*. To be sure, this is no Dead of Night. The anthology horror genre never climbed those heights again, and to be honest I don’t think it ever tried. Leaving Dead of Night aside, however, I think Creepshow stands out as one of the best of the rest. Some people prefer the British efforts, but I find them missing the sense of campy fun on display here. Before the coming of CGI, this was as close to comic books as the movies got. For better or worse.

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