Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stephen King Month: Creepshow (1982)

I think I first saw Creepshow when I was 10 or 11 years old, and the only thing I remembered about it was Stephen King turning into a plant. Watching it now, especially following so many intense King movies, I was struck by just how goofy it is, even in the segments that are a little more serious. There are five stories (plus a wrap-around sequence) that make up the anthology, inspired by the old E.C. horror comics. Director George A. Romero really captures the E.C. aesthetic, with his grotesque, exaggerated visuals and manic tone, but King's stories don't quite have the same snap. Too many of them just dissipate without the sharp, clever (or at least self-consciously ironic) endings that we associate with E.C. stories, and King's more ambiguous tales of horror don't come across as well in the context of Romero's funhouse style.

The best of the bunch is the final piece, "They're Creeping Up on You!," starring E.G. Marshall as a heartless, germophobic businessman whose apartment is overrun by cockroaches. It has the nasty sense of comeuppance and moral justice that these stories often trade in, plus it's suitably revolting (Romero revels in showing gross close-ups of insects), and Marshall is perfectly maniacal as the evil industrialist. The other stories have their moments -- there's a nice sense of dread to "Something to Tide You Over," although it's sort of hard to take Leslie Nielsen seriously now after all the spoof movies he made later in his career. "The Crate" (one of two segments based on a previously published King short story) seems to be going for straight-up horror, but the ridiculous-looking Yeti-style monster pretty much undermines the legitimate scares. And both of those tales lose steam at the end.

Then there's "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," Stephen King's most significant acting gig to date. It's clearly meant as total comedy, but King overacts so broadly that it's more painful than funny. His dim hillbilly is a silly caricature anyway, and the movie gets in a few real laughs at his expense (he imagines the local college's "department of meteors" where he can sell the space debris he found in his backyard), but King fails to balance the easy laughs with any kind of subtler comedy. His whole performance is pitched at the same bug-eyed level.

Overall Creepshow is still fun to watch, though, thanks to Romero's visual playfulness. I love the way he tints the whole screen a lurid red or green or blue to represent moments of extreme terror or torment. And he uses split-screens to replicate comic-book panels in a fun, cheeky way. If King had adapted his style more fully to the movie's influences, it might have been a truly inspired homage instead of just a fun time-waster.

How far to Castle Rock: King's Jordy Verrill (who turns into a plant) lives five miles outside Castle Rock, according to a sign at the edge of his property.

No comments: