Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Monsters #25: Creepshow

Creepshow, director George A. Romero and screenwriter Stephen King's loving homage to the lurid, gory EC Comics they loved as kids in the '50s, is not only one of the most entertaining horror movies ever, it's also one of the best comic book movies. King's screenplay, an anthology of five short stories, recreates the storytelling formula of books like Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, where evil or repugnant characters are dealt grisly, bluntly ironic supernatural payback for their sins. The script is admirably faithful to its unapologetically lowbrow, crowd-pleasing source, and Romero pays further tribute to their pulpy artistry by using dramatic lighting, backdrops of expressionistic splashes of color and animated transitions turning shots into comic panel and cuts into turns of the page. Other comic book movies like Hulk and Dick Tracy, have tried to ape the look of their source material, but none have matched Creepshow's celebration of the bold aesthetic pleasures of the medium.

The anthology format also allowed to go makeup artists Tom Savini to go wild, creating zombies, a monster, a skeletal Cryptkeeper-inspired figure and a moss-covered Stephen King. Savini's character and creature makeups perfectly capture the style of the EC illustrations; Bernie Wrightson did a graphic novel adaptation of the movie, long out of print, that is well worth keeping an eye out for to see Savini's designs translated back into comic book panels. The vengeful, cake-hungry corpse of Nathan Grantham from the opening segment "Father's Day" is my all-time favorite movie zombie, his face a sneering skull covered in earth and worms and lit in garish reds and blues by cinematographer Michael Gornick (who would go on to direct Creepshow 2). The ape-like beast locked in a crate beneath a university staircase in "The Crate" is also a highlight - nicknamed "Fluffy" by Savini, he's all fur and huge teeth and looks almost comical until he tears his victims apart.

Savini's showstopper is the final segment, "They're Creeping Up On You," about a corrupt, misanthropic tycoon named Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall) whose Howard Hughes-like sterile existence is invaded by hordes of cockroaches. Thousands of roaches were transported for the film, and as one can't really train a cockroach, the crew had to spend a great deal of time dropping crates of roaches into the frame and getting whatever they could. In the story's final moments, Pratt's inert body suddenly explodes with the many, many cockroaches who have found a home inside him. It's a great sick-joke ending, and Savini, Romero and the crew pull it off the sort of giddily bad taste that made William Gaines and his comic label such an illicit pleasure and inspiration for King, Romero and the many other genre writers and filmmakers who loved Tales From the Crypt as kids.

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