Studio: Scream Factory
Director: George A. Romero
Writer: Stephen King
Producer: Richard P. Rubinstein
Stars: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Stephen King
Two titans of terror team up for five frightening tales of killer creatures, the living dead, revenge, madness, and murder.
How much hyperbole can be heaped onto “Creepshow?” An indisputable all-time classic. The greatest horror anthology ever made. The gold standard by which all similar movies must be graded. “Creepshow” earns all of these assertions and then some. I’ll throw down one more for good measure.
People popularly think of “Batman,” The Avengers,” or “Justice League” when “comic book movies” come to mind. Never mind the superheroes. In terms of what sequential art truly represents as a unique storytelling medium, “Creepshow” is the closest any motion picture has ever come to accurately capturing the visual vibrancy, tactile texture, and imaginative inspiration of comics in feature film form. This makes “Creepshow” the definitive “comic book movie.”
A prologue where little boy Billy summons a skeletal figure after Dad confiscates his comic tunes “Creepshow” to a frequency maintained for the remainder of the movie. The film is creepily cartoony. But Dad’s smack on his son’s face, Billy’s retort about his father’s porn stash, casual cursing, and an “I hope you rot in Hell” wish add a precise pinch of nastiness to sweeten the scares and silliness with slightly sinister sugar.
Plugging crumbling tombstones and shambling corpses into Michael Gornick’s candy store cinematography keeps that rich EC Comics vibe humming at top speed in “Father’s Day.” Starting here and continuing throughout the following four segments, Gornick cheekily cants camera angles while bathing characters in dance floor lights at every fantastically fearsome development. It might seem campy at first, but there’s a method to this madness.
“Creepshow” adds to its three-ring presentation by framing certain shots with animated overlays and asking actors to temporarily tip over the top. You could accuse their exaggerated expressions of being overly bug-eyed and gape-mouthed whenever a scene calls for shock. Keep in mind that both in front of and behind the camera, everyone is only emulating the EC art of Al Feldstein, Wally Wood, Jack Davis, et al. that inspired the movie in the first place. And what a flatteringly imitative job they do.
If “Father’s Day’s” most memorable contribution is its “I want my cake!” quote, then “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” should go down as Stephen King’s pinnacle performance in a long line of cornpone characters. In typical EC Comics fashion, “Creepshow’s” macabre morality tales feature nearly no redeemable people. Virtually everyone earns an evil end for one reason or another, with the sole exception being King’s lovable lunkhead. Being unfortunately undeserved, Jordy’s fate benefits from a uniquely sympathetic note of sadness whereas the other shorts invite audiences to cheer on each comeuppance.
Among other things, “Something to Tide You Over” serves as a terrific reminder that Leslie Nielsen was as excellent at drama as he was at comedy. Remembered most for his “Naked Gun” bumbling, Nielsen’s villain stands out as particularly vicious when considered alongside his more commonly known persona. It’s an excellent performance in a film filled with juicy roles for veterans whose inherent gravitas takes two-dimensional designs into a third dimension of believability.
This certainly holds true for Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook, who also create complete characters out of simple stereotypes in standout segment “The Crate.” Being “Creepshow’s” bloodiest chapter while featuring a notable creature to boot puts monster maestro Tom Savini’s FX work on full display. Innovative for their era, Savini’s effects have a harder time holding up under contemporary standards.
Fortunately, the scares at the center of these stories hit on universal fears that never fall out of fashion. That’s one major reason why “Creepshow” possesses timeless appeal as a fantastic fright film.
For my money, the most terrifying torture involves thinking about gradually drowning as the tide rises while buried up to your neck in beach sand. The sight of countless cockroaches crawling all over E.G. Marshall in “They’re Creeping Up on You” can compel almost anyone to scratch his or her skin while looking for bugs in dark corners. And who can’t relate to running one’s mind ragged over an unidentified rash, bump, or growth alarmingly spreading across the body?
At 120 minutes, “Creepshow” runs long, which may be the only inarguable strike against the anthology. “Father’s Day” highlights this issue by including more scenes than the segment requires to execute its agenda. On the other hand, it’s easy to see why director George A. Romero and company wanted to bask as long as possible in the smoky, spooky graveyard atmospheres infused inside every set.
Speaking of Romero, “Creepshow” represents he and collaborator Stephen King at the peak of their early ‘80s prime, both writing-wise and style-wise. Fans can find several Romero/King Easter eggs in the form of cameos throughout the film. King’s son and accomplished author Joe Hill appears as Billy in the bookends. Romero’s second wife Christine Forrest plays a math professor in “The Crate.” John Amplas from “Martin” and “Day of the Dead” dons the corpse suit for “Father’s Day.” Even though you only see her on a colorless TV screen in her human form, that’s “Dawn of the Dead’s” Gaylen Ross wearing waterlogged zombie makeup in “Something to Tide You Over.”
Boomeranging back to hyperbole one last time, “Creepshow” is top to bottom terrific terror entertainment. Proving its tagline is no mere marketing boast, “Creepshow” fulfills its promise as “the most fun you’ll ever have being scared.” Amicus, eat your heart out. Or maybe just eat a Father’s Day cake instead.
Review Score: 90
Scream Factory Collector’s Edition: I feel like I probably say this every time I cover one of these. But given the scrumptious quality of the NEW 4k scan of the original camera negative and two and a half hours of bonus content, this might be the best Scream Factory Collector’s Edition ever released, at least until the next one. The disc comes with a 36-page booklet filled with fabulous photos and fascinating factoids written by former Fangoria editor Michael Gingold. I’m usually nostalgic for original artwork, but Laz Marquez’s new cover illustration makes the slipcase’s visual appeal even handsomer. Never fear however, as the Blu-ray case inside has a reversible cover featuring the iconic ticket taker poster on one side and the comic book art on the other. It’s a truly terrific package.
NEW Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Michael Gornick: Commentary tracks where the moderator has more to say than the subject usually aren’t entertaining. But Lee Karr, author of “The Making of Day of the Dead,” has a head full of “Creepshow” trivia that complements Mike Gornick’s recollections well. Karr prompts with “can you talk a little about…” often, and his preemptive contributions cause Gornick to reply “that’s correct” several times. But the two are also well acquainted with one another, making their question-and-answer session come off as a conversation rather than a strict interview. Gornick has a terrific radio voice too. Although the commentary generalizes more about what it was like working with certain people instead of dissecting a lot of specific scenes, there’s enough content here to constitute a highly enjoyable listen.
NEW Audio Commentary with Composer/1st AD John Harrison and Construction Coordinator Ed Fountain: Perhaps because John Harrison wasn’t on set until after “Father’s Day” filmed, there’s a slow introductory ramp up before he and Ed Fountain really get going. Once they’re on their way however, moderator Michael Felsher keeps their memories lubricated and the commentary becomes a hugely informative Memory Lane stroll. “Something to Tide You Over” gets particularly great coverage, with Fountain going into detail about how the segment’s tricky wave machine and drowning tank shots were put together.
Audio Commentary with George A. Romero and Tom Savini: With three separate commentary tracks as well as additional interviews, you’re of course going to have some overlap in the anecdotes. I can’t count how many times someone talks about Leslie Nielsen’s mischievous fart machine or mentions Adrienne Barbeau being nothing like Billie Northrup in reality. Nevertheless, I still listened to this commentary back-to-back with Harrison and Fountain’s because those men made me hungry to hear more about “Creepshow.” And you can’t go wrong with Romero and Savini. Romero’s admiring comments about what Stephen King and Hal Holbrook do with their characters shines a light of new appreciation on those particular performances. You can hear glasses clinking and cigarettes being lit as Romero and Savini relaxingly reminisce about how much fun everyone had putting together what would be one of their last freewheeling Pittsburgh productions.
Audio Interviews with Michael Gornick, actor John Amplas, property master Bruce Alan Miller, and make-up effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci: You’ve already watched the movie four times, once straight through and then again for each of the three commentaries? Well, gear up for a fifth go because Michael Felsher follows up his 2007 “Just Desserts” documentary with supplemental interviews he was unable to get at that time. Audio plays over the movie once more in case you need another excuse to press Play on the feature.
NEW Terror and the Three Rivers: Perhaps because “Just Desserts” already exists separately as a feature-length ‘Making Of’ documentary, this disc doesn’t contain a similar BTS bonus. The closest alternative is this half-hour roundtable where actors John Amplas and Tom Atkins sit down to reminisce with Tom Savini and longtime Romero utility man Marty Schiff.
Savini’s considerable makeup FX contributions notwithstanding, you might not assume these four men would have a whole lot to offer considering they played Nathan’s Corpse, Billy’s Dad, and two garbage men, none of whom have much screentime. That’s not the case at all. Even though Michael Felsher unobtrusively moderates, the four men have natural camaraderie that results in free-flowing recollections of their time on set and working with George A. Romero in general. You genuinely feel like a fly on the wall eavesdropping on four friends. Anecdotes include Leslie Nielsen’s penchant for poking people’s nerves using fake fart noises, Atkins’ rejected request to play Jordy Verrill, and what really happened to the cockroaches that disappeared. The segment concludes with bittersweetly touching remembrances of how George A. Romero positively affected the lives of everyone in his film family.
NEW The Comic Book Look: Coming off more like a kindly neighbor than a successful costume designer, Barbara Anderson’s personable nature highlights the affable attitudes and close-knit affection George A. Romero’s homegrown crews had for one another. Her husband Cletus was “Creepshow’s” production designer too, so Anderson has quick yet entertaining stories about Adrienne Barbeau being mistaken for Cletus’ mistress, Ted Danson’s daughter being indifferent to seeing her father zombified, and having to shave Stephen King’s chest. These are 12 enjoyable minutes spent with someone whose collaborations with Romero date all the way back to “Knightriders.”
NEW Ripped from the Pages: Animator Rick Catizone’s 15-minute interview might be the most fascinating featurette. Catizone talks us through the process of creating “Creepshow’s” cartoon interludes and matching them with live-action moments. Catizone uses plenty of hand-painted cels and original illustrations from comic artists Jack Kamen and Ron Frenz to fill in visual blanks. Not only does Catizone offer interesting technical insight into the animated sequences, he also adds tidbits about creature designs for “The Crate,” including looks at scrapped ideas for Fluffy’s appearance.
NEW The Colors of Creepshow: Cinematographer Michael Gornick’s nine-minute interview broaches the basics of what went into the Blu-ray restoration. Gornick’s verbal notes would benefit greatly from before-and-after comparisons illustrating examples of what he was able to improve through corrected color timing. But the featurette’s main function is to be a bit of a commercial promoting the new scan’s 4k quality.
NEW Into the Mix: We tend to remember “Creepshow” for its iconic imagery more than its audio. But sound re-recordist Chris Jenkins presents endearing recollections of what it was like to work with George A. Romero on experimental ideas for the film’s sound design. For 12 minutes, Jenkins recounts some of the challenging circumstances and inspiring lessons he took away from the experience. Incidentally, I couldn’t find confirmation of them being related aside from sharing a common last name, but Chris looks an awful lot like actor Richard Jenkins.
NEW Mondo Macabre: Rob Jones and Josh Curry of Mondo offer cursory looks at the Austin-based poster producer’s “Creepshow” prints by artists like Mike Sutfin and ‘Ghoulish’ Gary Pullin. Odd editing renders this a perfunctory nine-minute piece. On top of ill-fitting old timey music played underneath, Jones and Curry occupy much of the time with personal thoughts on the movie instead of the artwork. Close looks at the prints are quick, cropped, or nonexistent. For instance, Jones briefly mentions We Buy Your Kids having delivered two “Creepshow” posters, but only a corner of the second one can be seen over Jones’ shoulder when it should be front and center.
NEW Collecting Creepshow: This featurette spends 12 minutes mostly telling instead of showing Dave Burian’s collection of original “Creepshow” props, which apparently includes just three items. Like the ‘Mondo Macabre’ segment they also co-produced, Red Shirt Pictures seems to have an issue collecting adequate B-roll. Burian has amusing anecdotes about how he was paid in props for helping Tom Savini fix his computer. But ‘Collecting Creepshow’ predominantly features Burian’s talking head instead of copious cutaways to E.G. Marshall’s bust, Fluffy’s crate, and the screen-used comic. We actually see more props that Burian owns from other Romero movies than we do from “Creepshow.”
Tom Savini’s Behind-the-Scenes Footage: If you’ve seen these before in other Special Features, you know Tom Savini took tons of home movies while working on the projects he has been involved in. Since they lack narrative context, casual viewers might not get much from these 26 minutes. But FX junkies should appreciate the alternate angles and test footage of various gore gags having their kinks worked out. Vintage videos include shots of Savini personally applying makeup to Stephen King and Ted Danson in between takes and during rehearsals, as well as the cockroach choreography of Upson Pratt’s death.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Sean Clark takes a 14-minute tour of what a few exterior locations from “Father’s Day,” “The Crate,” and the wraparound look like 30+ years later. Tom Atkins ratchets up the fun factor by joining Clark outside Billy’s house in Monroeville, presumably not far from the “Dawn of the Dead” mall, to offer recollections about Romero, Adrienne Barbeau, and working with Stephen King’s son Joe Hill.
Deleted Scenes: Although picture quality is poor because the footage never went through final film processing, 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes provide additional background for all five stories as well as the bookends. Nothing major here, though there are some amusing moments like an uncensored line of snark from Adrienne Barbeau’s Billie good for an out loud laugh.
In addition to all of the above, Blu-ray extras also include an assortment of Trailers, Radio Spots, a TV Spot, and Still Galleries of Lobby Cards, Movie Posters, Color Stills, Special FX Makeup, and BTS photos for the “Creepshow” completionist.