Thursday, October 13, 2016

Send in the Creeps

Ahhh, but where would we be without CREEPSHOW?

Filmed in 1981, the horror anthology-cum-comic book tribute proved enough of a success to warrant a sequel, but more importantly to our interests here, the original CREEPSHOW served as the seed for the program that was to become TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Richard P. Rubinstein, having formed Laurel Entertainment with George Romero in the 70s, produced a series of the director’s films including MARTIN (1977), KNIGHTRIDERS (1981), and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Rubinstein was also on board as producer for CREEPSHOW, the brainchild of Romero and novelist Stephen King, who penned the five tales comprising their omnibus project.

Having grown up delighting to the cackling mannerisms of the GhouLunatics from E. C. Comics’ stable of horror titles, Romero and King sought to create a film that replicated the retro, vibrant grotesqueries of their youth that they loved so much. And boy did they succeed there. CREEPSHOW is charming from top to tails. It’s a veritable Valentine’s to horror fans, leavening the gruesome shocks with doses of comedy that vary from the wry to pure shtick.

The Day-Glo art direction is eye candy in the truest sense, as the screen seems to bubble over with its frothy compositions that have everything from cartoon bugs enc-roach-ing on the scene to lightning bolts from the electric rainbow highlighting the actors’ screaming faces. From the second that the floating corpse-puppet grins outside of little Joe Hill’s window in the wraparound segment, we know we are in good hands.

Everybody on the scene looks to be having the time of their lives, and even icky moments like a monstrous primate ravaging flesh like so much wet tissue paper are shot with such dark glee that it’s almost impossible not to be tickled by what’s occurring on the screen. There are some moments that might lose the bite of genuine terror due to all the Super-Size styling, but the bold advertising doesn’t shirk on its promise that CREEPSHOW will be “The Most Fun You’ll Have Being Scared.”

The rock-em, shock'em atmosphere mellowed out (sort of…) when CREEPSHOW 2 was released in 1987. Michael Gornick (who served as DP for Romero on the Rubinstein projects in addition to DAWN OF THE DEAD [1978], as well as going on to helm several DARKSIDE episodes) took over the directing reins for a script penned by Romero, who adapted one of King's previously published short stories and two “original” yarns for the sequel.

An interesting note: there were originally plans for CREEPSHOW 2 to have five segments like its predecessor, but two of them were scrapped. One of the vignettes, “The Cat from Hell,” went on to be adapted three years later in a little feature called TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990).

Released just a year before TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE was to take its final bow on television, CREEPSHOW 2 seems a little less beholden to its pulpy roots and vies for a more contemporary vibe. The lack of a classical score by John Harrison certainly makes this film feel more washed out by comparison. Still, CREEPSHOW 2 offers its own brand of whacked-out horror, including the vengeance of a full-sized wooden Native American, a slick puddle of putrescence hungry for human flesh, and an irksome undead hitchhiker that owes a little to a radio play written by Lucille Fletcher. 
CREEPSHOW 2 did not perform nearly as well as the original, with one critic even opining that none of the segments from the theatrical feature were "as good as...the syndicated TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE." Just goes to show that $14 million doesn't make any guarantees for solid storytelling.

But it was after the surprise hit of the original CREEPSHOW that the brains over at Laurel Entertainment began formulating the idea of distributing a television show that offered up isolated stories in a similar vein. The result came in the form of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, a title that the Cryptkeeper would undoubtedly have approved. And while the show would debut with a strong pilot and feature occasional episodes that were clearly molded from the clay of 50s horror comics, DARKSIDE would eventually go on to explore other, shadowy terrain in a manner similar to THE TWILIGHT ZONE’s accumulation of pure terror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Without the success of CREEPSHOW, it’s very likely that the world would have never seen the Darkside. And for a feature that spent its time looking back into the past, it’s somewhat ironic that the film should help pave the road ahead for Laurel’s future success in TV Land.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I grew up watching both Creepshow 1 & 2, and still enjoy them from time to time. The original is likely the better film overall, but I believe that The Raft segment from part 2 is my favorite of all the stories.