Friday, July 26, 2013

The Godfather of "Tales From The Crypt"

As all bloggers know, you gotta put highly searchable terms in your blog posts so that the Google web-bots can find them more easily.  But I was hesitant to call 1982's Creepshow the grandfather of "Tales From The Crypt," the HBO series that was yet to come, as that doesn't quite do it justice.  But for some reason this was a childhood favourite of mine.  Well, you know how kids are, right, adults?  Always wanting to do the adult things before they're ready to: sneaking into the liquor cabinet, smoking cigarettes... sex, drugs, rock and roll, you know how it is.  And I say, why not?  After all, it's better to do those things when you're young.  Have you seen some of the snarky comments people were making about all these recent pictures of Iggy Pop?  Barton Fink's right: people can be god damn cruel.
But I digress again.  Me myself, I personally think I'm getting too old to be watching films like this.  That being said, the production is about as top-notch as it gets.  And for all you Star Wars fans out there, editor Paul Hirsch.  Am I right?  Of course, a film like this clearly needs more than one editor, but I bet Thelma Schoonmaker could've handled it... but only if Scorsese directed, of course.
Now, for those of you who don't know, the film is broken up into five separate short stories.  Yes, believe it or not, films like this used to appear in theaters!  Spoiler alert: the first three involve characters finding their zombie voices, and different types of guns that all sound the same when they shoot.  Now as a licensed and bonded film critic, it's probably my responsibility to rank the five in terms of which is my favorites, but this is a task which I must recuse myself from.  I'll just say that four (The Crate) and five (They're Creeping Up On You) are the strongest, probably because animals are involved.  One (Father's Day) and three (Something to Tide You Over) are about the same as well, but slightly less potent than four and five.  And, well... I suppose Stephen King's used to getting his segment bashed by now (The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill), particularly on his acting ability.  But me, I'm a positivist, and while I probably can't go so far to say that it's the role he was born to play, (that might be his cameo in Maximum Overdrive... oh s'z'nap!) I think he does a fine job with the role.  As a kid, I felt sorry for Verrill, what can I say?
I was originally going to do a full-fledged review of each of the five segments, treating each like a separate film in its own right, but as I said earlier, I'm getting too old for all this fun stuff.  Gotta keep it short and sweet.


Spoiler alert: it's basically Night of the Living Dead, but instead of a bunch of dead people coming back to life, it's one dead guy with a rich back story.  At least, as much as Stephen King could write for him.  He was a busy guy!  Didn't have time to make every character so deep and personal now!
Anyway, let me get this straight.  So the old man was a greedy rich bastard that deserved to die, and he gets to come back to life to get revenge?  See, he gets killed by his daughter because the daughter was a little upset that her father had her fiancée murdered.  Makes perfect sense.  So the old dude comes back to life, kills the daughter and a couple other people in the house, and turns one woman's head into a cake!  What kind of sick crap is this?  I'm with Tom Atkins, damn it!
Now, most of these other segments have a high "Where Were They Then" factor.  Here, it's pretty much Ed Harris.  He doesn't have much to work with, but he does what he can.  For example, check out his dancing!  Love it.  And his gruesome death is, of course, the best part of this segment.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who watched it over and over again.  Now, as a younger man, I couldn't help but wonder why he couldn't get out of the way of that damn headstone, spoiler alert.  But now that I'm getting on in years, I can relate to his dilemma.  First of all, it's not just the looming headstone.  He's got two dead bodies to deal with as well, one of which is up and walking around, for Christ's sake!  My eyes would be popping out of my head, frankly.  Also, props to Carrie Nye for her role.  She puts everything into it when her moment of truth comes.


This harkens back to a similar time when country hicks would actually think of a college as an option for something.  In this case, one night a meteor lands in a hick's backyard... ah, who'm I kidding.  See, Stephen King apparently used to be a college professor or something.  Let me Wikipedia that here... there you go.  Hampden Academy... hmm!  Sounds like a college from one of his stories!  Anyway, the hick thinks he can take the meteor to the college so they'll buy it.  Ah, the days before Pawn Stars and Meteor Men.  And then... the one moment that changes everything.  Few people can point to such clarifying, life-altering events, but Jordy can, and that's when he touched the damn meteor.
Things go from bad to worse when Verrill tries to cool the meteor off with water.  It breaks in half, and as we all know, no college worth their weight in salt's going to pay for a broken meteor, especially if they knew how it was broken.  Boy, hicks are so stupid.  Anyway, to cut to the chase, weird plants start growing from the liquid inside the meteor at an alarming rate, almost as fast as the beings in 2001's Evolution!  Verrill himself turns into half-man, half-plant by the next morning, and he ends up blowing his brains out with a shotgun.
I don't know if there's a moral in all of this, but it just might be that sometimes you just gotta get out more, especially if your only friend is your angry dead father in the mirror.


As far as I know, the MythBusters haven't tackled this one yet... and I know I'm certainly not going to.  No, the closest we get is the time when Homer Simpson parked the car on the beach right over Ned Flanders' head.  No, I'm still convinced that, if I ended up trapped in the sand like Ted Danson, I could wriggle my way out of it.  But this part of the story assumes, for the sake of argument, that a young athletic type couldn't handle it.
And with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson, this segment probably has the strongest "Where Were They Then" factor: Danson just before "Cheers" and Nielsen in perhaps his last serious role before going full Zucker for the rest of his life.
Let me just say that, even though it's not John Williams, the score of the movie's pretty effective.  When the zombies confront Nielsen, I think of it as the composer's ode to the beginning of Simon and Garfunkel's song "Fakin' It."  Ah, but not all the production values are top notch.  Take, for example, the use of matte photography.  Now, in the olden days, your big time blockbusters, as David Letterman might say on the TV, used to have what were once called "matte paintings" to give the illusion of an impressive background.  Here, when the jeep's driving to and from the beach in one particular part, they use a matte photograph of some clouds!  You can tell because they're the same clouds when the jeep's coming and when it's leaving!  Even Spielberg's not that good; take Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, for example; he used the same technique during the opening credits when the Boy Scouts go past that giant rock impossibly still on top of the tiny stalagmite.  But I digress.
What else?  I guess that's it.  The finest video technology of the day: a VCR with a long length of cable on the beach.  Ah, nostalgia.


Without doubt, the bloodiest of the quintet.  I now think of it as Stephen King's modern take on an Edgar Allan Poe story: The Crate of Amontillado, perhaps.  This is the one edited by renowned editor Paul Hirsch, and of course this one is the best edited.  Take, for example, the scene just before the janitor gets attacked by the crate.  Does it make me a bad person for watching the scene over and over?  Probably.  But think of the number of times Hirsch had to watch it!
And so, there are two innocent victims of the crate: the janitor dies for being too curious, and the nerdy student for... well, for listening, like Aaronow in Glengarry, I suppose.  Of course, these days the court of public opinion is probably on Adrienne Barbeau's side.  I'm sure film reviewers for Maxim magazine, for example, will ask "Is the Hal Holbrook character gay?  I mean, he's only married to the most awesome woman, like, ever!  She'd only be more awesome if she was a nympho who owns a liquor store."


Judging from the Encore! special I saw about director Romero, the cockroach segment was his favorite, and not just because of working with respected actor E. G. Marshall.  He was one of the original 12 jurors, you know!  He seems to be having fun playing a rich old bastard who makes Monty Burns look amateurish in comparison.  At least Burns lives in style, for one.  No, Mr. Pratt's one of the original computer nerds, but instead of constantly checking email, he's constantly checking stock prices, domestic and international.  Even cockroaches know that you don't eat a guy like Pratt all at once!  I understand that David Mamet wrote Glengarry Glen Ross after he saw this segment.  Okay, maybe not, but things change.  Also, he's never ever sick at sea... no, wait, that's Aaron Sorkin.


Anyway, the point is, Warner Brothers needs to do a better job with their DVDs.  According to Wikipedia, there's a new widescreen transfer of Creepshow on DVD, but only in the U.K.!  Bastards.  Well, they could at least show the new widescreen transfer on Encore or something!  Of course, they probably screwed that up, too, and it's all wobbly like the second to last digital transfer of Blade Runner.  That's another thing
There's talk of Creepshow 4 but it'll probably be done around the same time Vin Diesel starts his Hannibal project... the elephant Hannibal, not the cannibal one.  We started to watch Creepshow 2 but we didn't make it through the third segment.  Something about gratuitous shots of Stephen King trying to act that did it, I guess.  Yeah, you know... everyone talks about how bad and hammy King was as Jordy Verrill.  Not a WORD about his appearance in the sequel!  Somehow, there was something missing from Creepshow 2, but the two segments I saw did feature someone throwing up.  This was back when that used to be a taboo.  Now actors have it in their contracts to spew chunks at least three times.  As for Creepshow 3, well... I say it's still a step up the slope from Creepshow 2.  It's more like a horror version of Short Cuts, and probably shouldn't have had the Creepshow label slapped onto it, but you know how it is.  Apparently Dudelson bought the rights to the name, and you wouldn't want to throw away something like that, right?  Well, he's living with the consequences of that decision, anyhow.  That's the way it works these days.  Creepshow 3's available on Blu-Ray, and we have to move to England to get the new widescreen transfer of Creepshow 1.


-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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