George A. Romero, Stephen King, Tom Savini. If you don’t know who those three people are then you’ve come to the wrong neighborhood, motherfucker!
There are only two eras in the history of Horror cinema; Pre-Night of the Living Dead and Post-Night of the Living Dead. Romero’s masterpiece took a genre that was regarded as something for the kiddies and ushered in a new wave of Horror that ignored the castles and crypts of old Europe and set it firmly in the present of 1968 America while shoving people’s faces into a nihilistic nightmare from which there is no happy ending, no hope and no escape. In 1978 he made Dawn of the Dead, another masterpiece that’s arguably superior to the first film, depending on who you talk to, with an added bit of social commentary on consumerism which elevates it beyond a simple gorefest and the reason why it has gained strength within the collective consciousness of the USA over the years.
In the 1970’s, Stephen King launched his career as a novelist and quickly became one of the most famous and successful writers on the planet with his stories that did for Horror publishing what NOTLD did for Horror cinema. Adaptations of his work became a cottage industry in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Directed by some of cinema’s biggest names, while a few of his biggest and most challenging novels were translated into Television mini-series’ which was a critical error since network TV of that time basically cut his books balls off, I mean, who the fuck though that was a good idea when HBO would have been a much better place for King’s work what with its lack of censorship never mind that it had a successful run for several years with Tales from the Crypt which was loaded with extreme violence.
Tom Savini was a self-taught make-up artist who was originally supposed to do the effects for NOTLD but got called to Vietnam and, once he returned, reunited with Romero on his vampire movie “Martin”. They would collaborated on several features over the years, including Dawn of the Dead which made him famous, while Savini would also lend his support to movies that wanted him to do for them what he did for Romero and Dawn. Maniac, The Prowler, Friday the 13th 1&4, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, among others, all benefitted from the gore that cemented Savini’s reputation as the King of Splatter.
In the late 70’s, Romero was looking to adapt a King novel, which delighted Stephen who was a fan of George’s work, and attempts to get The Stand off the ground failed as no one was willing to finance anything over two hours which would have gutted the book. Remember, this was back when studio’s would wait for the grosses from the first few weeks before greenlighting sequels which seems odd today considering that multiple sequels and entire universes worth of films are announced with every big budget popcorn flick released these days. Too bad no one, not even Romero or King, had the foresight to pitch an entire trilogy that could have been shot all at once ala The Lord of the Rings, which would have been the only way for such an adaptation to work. Of course the irony is that a new Stand Trilogy, for theatrical release, is actually in development as you read this despite the fact that it had already been turned into an eight hour mini-series back in 1994.
Anywho, in order to prove themselves to the studio’s, George and Stephen came up with the idea of doing a quickie Horror flick in the hope that it would be successful enough to get them the go ahead for The Stand. Both being fans of the old EC Horror Comics such as Tales from the Crypt/The Vault of Horror/The Haunt of Fear, they decided that they would try to replicate that tone and style into what they christened Creepshow, which was released in October 1982.
From a structural point of view, the finished movie is a model of economy as not a moment is wasted with its anthological approach of five short stories and an opening and closing wrap around. The biggest problem with short films is usually what is referred to as “shoe leather”, that is, useless shit that the filmmakers shove into a story simply to pad out the running time. Honestly, I never really liked the Tales from the Crypt TV show because, even though it was only a half hour long, it felt like each episode was drawn out and wouldn’t get to the point. The reason is that all of the episodes were reformatted from the comics and what works great as a story on paper might not be enough to fill in 20-25 minutes of airtime, even with the title sequence and opening/closing Crypt Keeper segments. Most of the episodes of TftC are fucking boring.
Not the case for Creepshow. The wrap around deals with a boy (Joe King, son of Stephen and himself an author at present) and his abusive father (Halloween 3’s Tom Atkins) who hates that his son is reading the latest issue of Creepshow and throws it out while a ghostly specter appears to the child and draws him, and the audience, into the films ghastly tales of the macabre as the comic lays on the street and is used as a transition device between each story.
Fathers Day, co-starring a young Ed Harris who clearly gave up a promising dancing career for acting, deals with his wife’s upper class family who live in luxury derived from the, not unjustified, murder of their patriarch and how the mean old bastard gets revenge from beyond the grave. Stephen King stars in The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill in which he plays himself as a borderline retarded country bumpkin who’s infected from a fallen meteorite while the story is a play on and a reversal of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space, done for comedic effect. Something To Tide You Over stars Cheers alumni Ted Danson as a man lured into a murderous plot by his girlfriend’s (Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross, who’s only briefly visible) sociopathic husband, played by comedy legend Leslie Nielsen who turns in a wonderfully nasty performance that showcases his range. The Crate is found under a College’s basement staircase, which lures in colleagues Fritz Weaver and Hal Holbrook along with the bitch wife of the latter (Adrienne Barbeau), as its inhabitant wakes up hungry. They’re Creeping Up On You has E.G. Marshall as a Howard Hughes style reclusive living in a germ proof apartment which becomes infested with cockroaches that serves justice to the rotten geriatric cocksucker.
The EC Comic stories, despite their violent and gory nature, had a certain morality to them as people who were wronged usually got even while those who were evil sometimes got their just desserts in a suitably ironic manner. Creepshow follows this format to a certain extent and is the best Horror/Comic Book/Anthology ever made that wasn’t actually adapted from a comic. The stories move fast enough to keep your interest while also taking just the right amount of time to create an eerie mood with a beautifully lurid atmosphere.
Adding to this is Michael (Dawn of the Dead) Gornick’s glorious cinematography which is rich and saturated while the moments of Horror are accentuated using primary colored lights, dutch angles, background scrims and foreground matte effects to recreate the look and feel of a comic book in a way that had never been done before nor done better since while Rick Catizone, who did the titles and end credit sequence for the original NOTLD, uses his skills in animation to do the segues from one story to the next.
But special mention has to be made for composer John Harrison whose score for Creepshow is a symphonic masterpiece that accentuates everything beyond perfection. I listen to it quite often and it operates on soo many levels from the melodic to almost working as sound design in moments where the scene calls for amorphous ambience instead of a tune that you can hum or whistle. But there’s plenty of that in Creepshow’s main theme which is as good, if not better, than any I’ve ever heard and instantly recognizable. It’s soo fucking great that I’m sure it would have made Salieri cream his pantaloons.
Topping it all off is Savini’s expert work which, for me, represents the height of his career. It’s strange that after Creepshow his only large scale project was Romero’s Day of the Dead back in 1985 while he’s spent the last 30 years focusing on his effects school and the odd acting job here and there. He tried his hand at Directing with three episodes of the Tales from the Darkside TV show and the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, Romero was involved with both, but he never seemed to be as well regarded as other make-up men such as Dick Smith, Stan Winston or Rick Baker. But those of us who grew up reading Fangoria magazine know how important he was to the genre during its peak from 78-88 and although there seems to be more onscreen blood and viscera than ever these days, even on TV (!), none of it has quite the same shocking punch that Tom Savini brought to the field which is why he is legend.
Personally, Creepshow evokes everything I love about the genre and feels like the quintessential Halloween Horror film which is why I watch it every year on that day. There have been many anthologies before and since, including the rather poor Creepshow 2 (which Romero, King and Savini were involved with to a lesser degree) and an atrocious DTV Creepshow 3 made by a bunch of fucking hacks a few years ago, but the original film feels like the apex of its creators powers and although Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are groundbreaking masterpiece’s, Creepshow is George A. Romero’s best film as it is twenty four frames a second of celluloid perfection.
Until the next time……..!!!FACT!!!