[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 29 – Creepshow (1982)

Director: George A. Romero
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors
Screenplay: Stephen King
120 mins. Rated R.

We talk a lot about anthologies, especially during the month of October because they predominantly lend themselves to the horror genre. The issue, and I’ve said it time and time again, is that anthologies are incredibly difficult to really pull off because you aren’t just making one solid horror movie. In some cases, its as many as six or more (don’t even get me started on the ABCs of Death) individual horror tales, and they each have to be great, or hopefully good at the very least. While one fowl segment doesn’t tank an entire anthology, it definitely sours it a bit. On the flipside, one great segment is not enough to save a poor anthology (we’re looking at you, VHS: Viral). It’s a very tough formula to work out, and even then, the order of the segments can have an effect on the overall strength of the film. The ordering of anthology segments requires a steady hand, much like Alfred Molina’s character in Boogie Nights waxing on the importance of the order of his musical playlists. With all that, anthologies are just plain tricky, so perhaps it was fate that brought together director George A. Romero (Land of the Dead, The Amusement Park) and novelist Stephen King (Maximum Overdrive, Cell) to put their love of EC horror comics on full display with the stylistic Creepshow. A successful film with two sequels and now a television adaptation on Shudder, let’s talk about the unique and dazzling Creepshow and see if it was able to avoid the pitfalls of so many anthologies.

Creepshow is an anthology homage to EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Our framing wraparound consists of a boy caught reading one of these mind-numbing books full of gore and violence and a darkly comic view of it all. His father throws the comic book out, and then we get a chance to view the many stories within. In “Father’s Day,” a family’s yearly get-together is soured with the memories of their unbeloved patriarch come back to haunt them. In “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” King himself appears as the titular character, a doltish man who comes across a space meteor and fills his head with ideas of fame and fortune, but the meteor may prove to be more menacing than he imagined. In “Something to Tide You Over,” Leslie Neilsen (Airplane!, The Naked Gun) plays a ruthlessly conniving man out for vengeance against his wife and her lover. In “The Crate,” a college professor discovers a storage crate from an arctic expedition with a rather nasty surprise hidden inside. Finally, “They’re Creeping Up on You” is about a mysophobic businessman obsessed with ridding his home of cockroaches and other nasty bugs.

Including its wraparound framing device, Creepshow is an absolute blast from start to finish. This is a rare anthology where all five of the segments work well on their own and together, each one seemingly covering a different area of pulpy gruesome horror fun. What’s so great about this movie is that the wraparound makes the segments actually fit within the film. We see that each of these stories is a comic book tale of horror, and since they have a singular director with a singular vision, each piece fits nicely enough within the framework that this could conceivably be a living comic book, and that bleeds through the tone and style of each of the stories (in fact, as a promotion for this film, there does exist a single book of Creepshow in comic book, or graphic novel, form). Romero used filters and comic book-y borders to create the feeling that we’re peering into a single panel of a page. The words jump out, and there’s almost a freeze-frame moment just on the cusp of the action, reminding us that we’re merely the audience, and nothing can hurt us here.

The benefit of having one director and one writer when the idea is to create a living comic book is that the tone is pretty much the same throughout. That’s not to say that an anthology with a more mixed tone cannot work, but I do believe it helps to have a cohesive tone running through the narratives. That allows for a bit more collaboration with King on the stories (hell, King was the lead of one of them!), and that means hitting all the tonal beats without issue. It’s a more tonally complex movie than most would give it because you would need to understand when you are aiming for horror and when you are aiming for comedy. If you don’t think that the balance between the two is important, then I would direct you to John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man or Wes Craven’s Vampire in Brooklyn.

Let’s break down a few of these stories, shall we? First off, we get “Father’s Day.” This one feels like it came directly out of Tales from the Crypt, and it very easily could have fit into the popular HBO series as a standalone episode. We get some strong performances from Viveca Lindfors (The Exorcist III, Stargate) as Aunt Bedelia, a woman with a very curious familial secret, as well as Ed Harris (with Hair-is!) as the new member of the family, Hank. He’s our straight man in this segment, the one asking the questions we all want answers to. This story is pretty straightforward, but its simplicity offers an appetizer to whet our horror appetite.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is a pretty enjoyable segment that leans more into the comedy than the horror with a nice tinge at the end, which is fine since we all know Stephen King is not a good actor. That’s not his fault, he just hasn’t been trained nor has he practiced. He actually holds his own enough here to make Jordy Verrill likable and dumb enough to keep to the sillier tone of this one. It’s weird and goofy and a whole lot of fun, probably the funniest of the segments, and it belongs right here.

Definitely vying for the best segment, “Something to Tide You Over” is a terrific little piece that combines a classic horror revenge story with a gross and mucky ending that seemingly aims for the comic codes of the 1950s or The Twilight Zone with its brilliant inversions. Nielsen is wonderfully wicked here as the jealous victim of marital cheating on the part of his wife (Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead fame) and her lover (Ted Danson). The way he pulls all the strings here with his revenge plot is great, and watching his plan either come together or fall apart left me guessing.

The granddaddy of them all (and my personal favorite) is most likely “The Crate,” which utilizes great practical effects from Tom Savini (his first animatronic work is on display here). We get to seeing acting heavyweight Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, Planes: Fire and Rescue) as the shy and underwhelming Henry Northrup, a man who is embarrassed by his loud and volatile wife Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, Escape from New York, Exorcism at 60,000 Feet). The practical effects are terrific here, and the performances cater to those more highbrow stories from EC (I never understood the amount of rich socialites featured in their stories, but I guess a great number of them don’t fare too well, and maybe that’s the middle- or lower-class of us getting our rocks off enjoying it all). The horror is bloody and the humor is a bit more restrained here, and its placement as the fourth story is great because it’s a bit of a downer at times, but this is a clear front-runner of the pack.

The final segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You,” is most likely the weakest of the stories, but that’s because it’s just so small compared to the others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but if we’re ranking, it would be fifth best, but I enjoy it still. In fact, it’s kind of like dessert. We pretty much know where the story is going. Our only character, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 Angry Men, Christmas Vacation) is very unlikable and we want to see bad things happen to him. Then, there’s the element of horror that is so overdone that even many who do not fear bugs will likely find something unnerving about it. It’s a simple story, but it still works, and it leaves us in a solid place to end the film. Worked for me.

Creepshow is wholly enjoyable from beginning to end, and it’s a perfect movie for me. The Creep is a chilling character (that I wish we got more of), and the stories he gives us are exciting, funny, strange, and just plain entertaining. It’s full of actors who know what movie they are in, and they play to their strengths. George A. Romero and Stephen King crafted a perfect tone for this ghoulish jaunt through a hallowed ground of the horror world, and this movie just works every time I watch it.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, click here.
  • For my review of George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 16 – Land of the Dead (2005)

Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, John Leguizamo, Eugene Clark

Screenplay: George A. Romero

93 mins. Rated R for pervasive strong violence and gore, language, brief sexuality and some drug use.

 

Land of the Dead is actually the movie that got me watching the Living Dead franchise created by George A. Romero (Monkey Shines, Bruiser). When I heard a new film was coming out (the last one had been 20 years prior), I became incredibly interested. I hunted down the previous films (in a time without streaming, Night of the Living Dead was still relatively hard to come by) and they changed my life. Land of the Dead is actually the final film, chronologically, of the Living Dead series, and it’s a pretty solid and explosive entry.

It’s been three years since the dead got up and starting shambling about, and survivors have built a refuge out of the Golden Triangle area of Pittsburgh, calling it Fiddler’s Green. The city is run like a feudal government, with the rich living in a high-rise at the center and the poor on the streets squabbling for survival, but hey, it’s better inside the walls of the city than outside, right? Riley Denbo (Simon Baker, Margin Call, TV’s The Mentalist) operates Dead Reckoning, a large armored vehicle used for traveling the zombie-infested parts outside the city. Riley and his team search for food and supplies that the residents need. His second-in-command, Cholo (John Leguizamo, Moulin Rouge!, TV’s Bloodline), wants an apartment with the Fiddler’s Green high rise, but he is denied by the leader, Kaufman (Dennis Hopper, Easy Rider, Blue Velvet), and decides to take Dead Reckoning hostage as vengeance. Now, Riley and the rest of his team, which includes gunman Charlie (Robert Joy, The Hills Have Eyes, TV’s CSI: NY) and hooker Slack (Asia Argento, xXx, The Executrix), have been tasked by Kaufman to retrieve Dead Reckoning before Cholo uses it to destroy Fiddler’s Green.

George A. Romero always crafted incredibly human stories within the confines of a zombie film, and Land of the Dead is no exception. The story of a class system, feudal government, and alienation, are incredibly well-perceived and well-executed. Land of the Dead is maybe more accessible to modern film-goers with its cast of characters and simpler layout. I know a lot of people that didn’t care for Day of the Dead due to its excessively depressing story. Land of the Dead has a bit more hope in it, though not much more.

This is probably one of the more well-acted of the Living Dead films just due to have actors who have more experience. Simon Baker has some nice chemistry with Hopper, Leguizamo, and Joy. Having a feature zombie like Bubb from Day of the Dead, Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, Christmas Next Door, TV’s Night Heat) adds an interesting layer in the development of the zombie. It feels like this horde that just keeps coming back for more has grown and evolved over time.

The screenplay is serviceable if bloated a bit at the beginning. Romero used a lot of unused material from his original Day of the Dead screenplay. Thanks to his partnership with Universal Pictures, Romero is able to use incredible effects like Dead Reckoning, something I’m certain he would not have been able to do in previous or future Living Dead films

I also find it quite interesting that this is the most-connected film in the series to that point, something Romero’s series has never been very focused on. This film is set about three years after Night of the Living Dead, and just like the other films he seems disinterested in explaining away the advances in technology in the near-40 years since that films release. He uses actors Shawn Roberts and Alan Van Sprang, which he will revisit with future installments (yes, I know they have different names later on, but it seems very interesting how similar they are. He utilizes Tom Savini reprising his role from Dawn of the Dead in a cameo (again, this was likely in a jokey way) and he actually uses dialogue and imagery from Night at the beginning. He actively tried to connect his franchise, either jokingly or with serious intent, and it’s a nice way to end off the series if we never get the long-gestating Road of the Dead that Romero was developing when he died.

Land of the Dead is a fascinating “final” chapter of the apocalypse George A. Romero began back in 1968. His craft is unquestioned here, even if Land of the Dead doesn’t have the bite that some of Romero’s previous work contains. This is a worthy and accessible film and thankfully brought me into this franchise in a big way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead, click here.

For my review of George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, click here.

[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 4 – Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

fridaythe13ththefinalchapter1984a

Director: Joseph Zito

Cast: Erich Anderson, Judie Aronson, Peter Barton, Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Laurence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Camila More, Carey More

Screenplay: Barney Cohen

91 mins. Rated R.

 

Ah, The Final Chapter. Never what it truly means. Hell, Jason Voorhees had two film touted as the Final Something. You just can’t keep a slasher down.

fridaythe13ththefinalchapter1984c

In Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the bloodbath from the previous installment has ended, and as Jason Voorhees’ body is dropped off at the morgue, the staff quickly discovers that the killer has not yet died. Now, Jason is up and going, determined to seek further vengeance over the death of his mother. His reign of terror has been going on for days (technically this movie takes place from Sunday the 15th to Tuesday the 17th, but hey, who’s counting), and the body count continues to rise as Jason makes his way back home to Camp Crystal Lake.

This fourth entry is the Friday the 13th franchise is where the series hits its comfortable stride. The producers know the formula, and they aren’t ready to change it. Friday the 13th Part III was supposed to end the franchise, but fans clamored for more and so Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter was created to be a true finale. Tom Savini was even brought in to kill the franchise he helped create. Paramount also wanted a finale as they felt the series tarnished their good name. Director Joseph Zito (Missing in Action, The Prowler) was brought in to helm the Final Chapter.

This is also the film that started to really show the insanity behind the scenes. Actress Judie Aronson (Weird Science, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was supposed to have a long scene in the cold water, and as Zito kept demanding takes, it was clear she was developing hypothermia. Ted White, who played Jason, actually had to threaten to quit before Zito came to his senses. Then there’s Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Alice in Wonderland). Damn, this dude is insane. He hadn’t quite gone off the rails at this point in his career but legends from the set arose about his unhinged mental state. That being said, his portrayal of Jimmy is one of the more interesting characters from a Friday the 13th entry. Laurence Monoson (The Last American Virgin, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation), who plays Jimmy’s asshole friend Ted, had a scene smoking pot, but as Monoson had never done so, he thought the night of his big scene would be the perfect time to partake. Lots of insanity from the Friday the 13th set helped to mold an interesting if messy entry.

But about the film itself, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is indeed messy. It doesn’t have the same kind of tone that the previous entries had, which would be fine if the film actually had a tone to begin with. It feels like Zito is collecting a check because that’s all he’s doing here. This film just feels like a whole lot of ideas crammed into a movie. For one thing, the character Rob (Erich Anderson, Unfaithful, I Married Who?) is supposed to have been Sandra’s brother from Friday the 13th Part 2. You may remember her as the girl who gets kabob-ed by Jason while with her boyfriend Jeff. Well, Rob is there to exact revenge or find his sister, I’m not entirely sure of his full motivation. But Part 2 took place two days prior. He’s made a lot of ground and learned a lot in two days. Rob shouldn’t be as capable as he is. This is just one of the many problems with the film. I feel like there were good intentions all around, but The Final Chapter is just really weird.

The best thing to come out of this film, though: Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman, Stand By Me, Lost Boys: The Thirst). Tommy Jarvis is an accidentally successful character played nicely by Feldman. The fact that he kept coming back to face Jason is one of the most enjoyable elements of the franchise.

This screenshot was taken from http://www.tepg.se owned by Krister Nielsen (info@wonderworks.se)

As I said before, I really enjoy watching Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. It’s a lot of fun. The formula works and there’s no reason to change it. It just isn’t anything new. Even slapping the tag The Final Chapter on it doesn’t really do anything, and the franchise wouldn’t even skip a beat in order to drop the next film, Friday the 13th V: A New Beginning, the next year. If your a fan of Jason, you’ll find a lot to love here. If not, this probably won’t convince you.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 19 [Happy 25th Birthday!] – Night of the Living Dead (1990)

 nightofthelivingdead1990c

Director: Tom Savini

Cast: Tony Todd, Patricia Tallman, Tom Towles

Screenplay: George A. Romero

92 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language, nudity, and violence.

 

Last year, we covered Night of the Living Dead, an incredible classic of the horror genre. This year, we’ll cover the remake, a less stellar but still interesting reworking of the zombie hit.

nightofthelivingdead1990b

Night of the Living Dead runs in much the same way as its predecessor. Barbara (Patricia Tallman, Army of Darkness, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike) is out visiting her deceased mother’s grave with her brother Johnny. When Johnny is attacked and killed by a vicious ghoul, Barbara flees for the countryside, stumbling upon a farm house where she meets Ben (Tony Todd, The Man from Earth, Sushi Girl). Together, Ben and Barbara, along with several other survivors, attempt to make it through the night of the living dead.

Tony Todd makes a great Ben. Patricia Tallman makes a better but not great Barbara. Tom Towles (Halloween, Miami Vice) does okay as Harry Cooper, who only has one goal: protect his wife and sick child (a goal that would prove to be less on his mind as our story progresses). Performances all around are passable.

The real divergence from the original is the screenplay from George A. Romero (The Crazies, Bruiser). Many won’t notice the differences between the two stories, and in fact, there are but few. Barbara’s character arc alters, and the film omits several plot points from fellow screenwriter John Russo, who originally wrote the screenplay with Romero. I prefer this script, but I prefer that movie. Just saying.

nightofthelivingdead1990a

There isn’t a whole lot wrong with the film. Tom Savini’s directing is still very novice here, but it works well enough. Night of the Living Dead has the potential to keep you up all night. It does. You just need to get over a few bumps along the road.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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