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George A. Romero's comic book sensibilities have always boiled just under the surface of his work. Dawn of the Dead is as much a graphic novel made flesh as it is a zombie movie. Martin is a concept that would fit easily into an EC comic. Even Night of the Living Dead, with its shock ending, is a bit like a story from "Tales from the Crypt." So when Romero and Stephen King collided creatively for the first time, it came as little surprise that the effort would not be for a straight adaptation of one of King's novels. Instead, they recreated something straight out of their childhoods...
Creepshow is a horror anthology - a beast one didn't see a lot after Amicus closed up house in the mid-1970s. There's five tales here, each one packing its own delicious bit of twisted irony or supernatural revenge. Anybody who's ever read an old-time horror comic should feel instantly familiar with these stories.
"Father's Day" involves a family reunion, an ashtray, and an unnatural desire for cake. "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" features King himself as a backwoods yokel who discovers a meteor with all sorts of growth potential. "Something To Tide You Over" tells of Leslie Nielsen's interesting plan of vengeance against the man who stole his wife (played by Ted Danson), while "The Crate" is about college professors, brass-balled shrews, and a wooden box of some strangeness. Finally, "They're Creeping Up On You" is... well, gross.
In any given anthology film, some of the stories are just stronger than others. Even if every tale's written well and produced with style, there's just going to be a few that stand out and make the others look less entertaining. It's a credit to Creepshow that each of the segments have been championed by different viewers at different times. My favorite is "The Lonesome Death..." if only for Stephen King's madcap, zany performance. His role is both overwrought and overwritten, but it's amusing as hell to watch. "The Crate" is also pretty good, but it's overly long and doesn't end when it needs to.
Romero and King are having far too much nodding, winking fun to really be scary, but that's okay. Creepshow has a very specific goal - to capture the garish, gruesome atmosphere of an old-time horror comic. In this it succeeds for the most part. It's really a fun little film to pop in the DVD player and let spin.
The cinematography, in particular, is pretty impressive. Nearly every frame in the film could be frozen and made into a comic book panel. It's just staged that way. Romero's use of weird colored lighting that comes from nowhere (a technique I'm sure he picked up from Dario Argento but uses only when necessary) is perfect for the tone, and it's a nice touch that the specific colors remain fairly consistent throughout the movie.
There's one annoying trick that Romero employs that tends to make the film screech to a bloody halt. Sometimes he builds the structure of a comic right into the visual format of the screen. Small scenes will be staged in comic book panels, with captions over them. It's a cute idea, but Romero's already bringing across the EC concept simply in how he frames his shots. The rest is superfluous and distracting.
A word of warning on the DVD. The Warner Bros. disc I have is a "flipper" with a full-frame version on one side and widescreen on the other. However, the "widescreen" version is nothing more than a matted version of the pan 'n' scan, cutting off the top and bottom instead of restoring the left and right sides. It's one of the few discs where the full-frame is preferable.
Despite Romero's quirky source literalism, Creepshow is another solid film in his oeuvre It also holds the distinction of being a film written by Stephen King that's actually actively recommendable. Watch it on Halloween night with a bowl of popcorn and a bag of candy corn. Just, ah, don't have any raisins or other small, black food items nearby when you reach the very last segment. Trust me on that one.
The monster in "The Crate" was nicknamed Fluffy by the crew.