It’s a typical rite of passage. A bunch of kids are sitting in a circle by a campfire or in a room somewhere and the conversation, which was going great, breaks into a lull. And to fill that uncomfortable void someone grabs a flashlight and starts telling a ghost story. Everyone leans in closer, hearing stories that start from a plethora of different places but almost always end with the proverbial and utterly predictable “BOO!” You see it coming from a mile away but you still end up screaming anyway and then breaking out in laughter. The biggest fun of this whole exercise, other than the fact that it was at least in your head something your parents frowned upon, was the possibility that one of those stupid horror stories would actually manage to get under you skin and leave you sleeping with a nightlight for a week or so.
Creepshow, more than any other horror movie I’ve seen recently, perfectly captures the fun of the campfire ghost tale. Originally I wanted to save this horror-anthology for my annual October horror binge-a-thon but the news of George A. Romero’s passing over the weekend pushed this one up for me. Watching this reminded me that Romero more than anything was a master of macabre humour. Given the chance to satire and give homage to the horror comics of the golden age as well as shows like “Tales from the Crypt”, and armed with a screenplay from the master of horror Stephen King, Romero truly shines.
Most horror anthologies are at best a mixed bag. They are typified by their unevenness with strong stories usually followed by half-baked concepts. But Creepshow manages to avoid this pitfalls for the most part by doing two things. First, it structures the entire movie just like the comics it seeks to imitate. By hewing so closely to these classic comics the movie immediately helps centre us because it frames our expectations. These are not stories of true horror, but the kind of ghost tales woven by prepubescents for generations. The only thing way that this movie could more firmly root itself in the horror stories of our childhood is if the narrator were Vincent Price (which truly would’ve elevated this movie from good to epic).
And second, Romero is wise enough to know that the material should be treated with the dignity and respect that it deserves – which is not a lot at all. He embraces the campiness of the tales, especially by letting all the variety of actors loose to paint their characters as broadly and ridiculously as possible. Whether it is Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen chewing scenery in the deliciously macabre “Something to Tide You Over”, or the over-the-top seriousness with which the opening story “Father’s Day” (with a young Ed Harris!), or the shocking showcase of Stephen King’s deep acting talents (or lack thereof) in “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” you can tell that everyone involved in making this film just had so much fun. And that fun is infectious because Romero is wise enough then to give this movie enough direction and attention to editing so that the stories flow effectively, the humour is highlighted, and the proverbial “BOOS” at the end achieve their desired screams.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the curse of the horror anthology strikes again with this movie. A good four out of the five stories are in fact pretty good, with The Crate in particular being actually close to great. But the last story story, about a greedy germaphobe, just falls more than a little flat compared to what had gone on before. Much like a dry fruitcake at the end of a great meal, it’s bad enough to almost derail the whole experience. But fortunately the movie had more than earned my goodwill by then.
Nobody will ever call Creepshow a masterpiece or good art. But the tagline of this movie is “the most fun you’ll ever have being scared” and it is at least as good as advertised. It evokes the joys of my childhood, when the thrill of telling ghost stories was both the chances that you might actually get scared and that you were probably doing something that your parents mildly disapproved of. And it shoots close to the top of my list of “Best Halloween Movies” as it embraces all that is exhilarating about taking a trip down the darker side of life. It might even be good enough that I will have to revisit again this pumpkin season.
Individual segment ratings
Prologue and epilogue: ★★★½
Father’s Day: ★★★½
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill: ★★★
Something to Tide You Over: ★★★★
The Crate: ★★★★½
They’re Creeping on You: ★★½
Overall: ★★★★ (no one has ever accused me of being good at math)