Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Lost in the Supermarket: The Mist at 15

My first viewing of The Mist was about as perfect as it gets. I caught it solo on an opening day matinee on November 21st, 2007, in a nearly empty theater (an early indication, I guess, that the box office wasn't going to be stellar). After the end credits rolled on its gut punch of an ending, I staggered out of the darkness of the theater only to feel like I had walked into the movie itself as the weather in Western Massachusetts that day had brought a thick mist to the area like I'd never seen. 

Fittingly, I had to stop off to pick up some groceries and the mist was so heavy that I could barely make out the shape of the supermarket as I walked towards it through the parking lot. It was such a perfect, impossible to replicate, experience that I left it as my sole encounter with The Mist. I was comfortable in believing it to be one of the finest horror movies of the current century, one of the best Stephen King adaptations and just an all-around masterpiece. But with it celebrating its fifteenth anniversary this month, I felt like I was due a revisit. I steeled myself for a bleak couple of hours of monsters n' misery only to be surprised at how much I didn't think it had quite held up.  

On the plus side, there's an eerily prescient quality to The Mist. Writer/director Frank Darabont seems to have had a crystal ball into our current MAGA era with the hysteria and zealotry of Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Hardy) being all too plausible now in a world where you have people like MTG and Lauren Boebert in Congress. If you happened to be in a grocery store when, say, a lunatic like Kari Lake was shopping and you suddenly had to contend with otherwordly creatures, things would go from bad to worse about as quickly as they do here. 

So, high marks to Darabont for having the correct instincts in regards to how crazy shit could get. Mrs. Carmody's fanaticism was an aspect of The Mist that was faulted in 2007 for being too unbelievable, as some critics just couldn't buy the idea that ordinary, everyday people would be as quick to lose it as they do here, but time has proven Darabont right. If anything, reality has managed to eclipse The Mist in regards to its cynical view of human nature. Turns out people are even worse than Darabont imagined - and they need far less provocation than the characters in The Mist have to be that way. You only have to look at the events of January 6th to understand that you don't have to have other dimensional creatures flooding through a rip in our reality for people to start tearing each other apart. They're more than ready to do it over truly stupid shit. So, in that regard, The Mist was ahead of the curve.

That aside, there's a stultifying portentousness that hangs over The Mist. At 126 minutes, this doesn't move like it should. King's novella was cut from the cloth of '50s creature features but Darabont is trying to make it into Oscar material. When Melissa McBride as the unnamed woman who is determined to go out into the mist to return home to her children, irregardless of the danger, pleads for at least one person in the market to walk her home only to be met with downward glances and sorry excuses says to all of them, "I hope you rot in hell," the movie is essentially already over in that moment. Everyone in that grocery store has made a choice and they have damned themselves with their cowardice - even protagonist Thomas Jane as movie poster artist David Drayton, who can only offer up a mealy mouthed "I got my own kid to worry about." - and the remainder of the movie is about watching their collective comeuppances unfold. The problem is that it takes The Mist too long to get to an already forgone conclusion. There's no redemption on the table for any of these people so the protracted conflict between the warring factions in the grocery store is just Darabont slow walking this story to its inevitable conclusion. That's not something that's obvious on first viewing but on the second, knowing the outcome, the power struggle between the religious wackadoodles and the well meaning but ineffectual pragmatists now comes across as tedious and it goes on forever. 

This is a movie that should have clocked in at a brisk 80 to 90 minutes, not stretch past the two hour mark. And Darabont didn't have to abandon any social commentary in order to craft a trimmer narrative. If Rod Serling could make incisive observations about human nature - often in stories concerning characters under siege - within the fleet running time of a Twilight Zone episode, Darabont should have had no trouble doing so within the normal length of an exploitation movie. 

If only Darabont had made The Mist with director Chuck Russell, his collaborator on two of the greatest genre confections of '80s cinema, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and the '88 remake of The Blob. Together the two of them could have crafted a truly remarkable creature feature that still could have made some trenchant social commentary while also delivering gooey, tentacle slinging, B-movie thrills. The Mist needed to operate in a whole other gear than Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile but it doesn't. With critical acclaim filling his sails, the solo Darabont of the '00s puts too much weight on this material. 

When Toby Jones, as grocery store assistant manager Ollie Weeks, says "As a species, we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?" it feels too much like a Hollywood screenwriter trying to impress rather than a middle aged supermarket worker who's out to survive. There's a polemic quality to the dialogue here that only adds to the movie's ennui. It's a lot of stiff sounding philosophising that lacks the plain spoken poetry of Tom in Night of the Living Dead telling Judy that the situation they're in isn't "like a wind passing through."

From the perspective of 2022, there's another issue with The Mist that came as a real surprise to me this time around. In 2007, it didn't make any special impression on me that Drayton's neighbor Brent Norton (Andre Braugher) decides to gather several like minded folk and leave the supermarket at an early point never to be seen again but now it immediately calls attention to itself as a misstep. 

Norton is the only prominent minority character in the film (which is a problem in itself), one that we develop an attachment to and an interest in right away, but he exits the film so early and there's no satisfying resolution to his storyline. He and his group leave, they vanish into the mist, and while we assume that he and his party don't make it, we never know for sure and so this character just disappears. That would not fly today. Aside from giving such short shift to the film's one minority character, what a weird, inexplicable waste of Andre Braugher it is. If you've got this guy in your movie, don't have his part just come to nothing. 

Similarly, the character of Hattie played by Susan Watkins seems meant to be perceived as gay but, as with Brent Norton, Darabont sweeps her off the stage quickly. Back in 2007, to only have a single prominent minority character and one potentially LGBTQ character and give them both such limited screen time didn't seem all that egregious but in 2022 it absolutely does. This speaks less to any errors on Darabont's part, though, as much as it speaks to how much the world has changed in a relatively short time where things that not so long ago seemed innocuous now stick out as wrong - or at least as beings things that would most certainly be handled far differently today.   

As far as the controversial ending goes, it only works for me if I interpret it as a validation of Mrs. Carmody's call for a "blood sacrifice." As this would represent the ultimate cynical move on Darabont's part, I really hope that's how he intended it. I love the very twisted notion that the world would never have returned to normal had Drayton not pulled the trigger on his son. Just as some can look at Night of the Living Dead from the perspective of "Cooper was right" (he's a cowardly douchebag but still strategically correct), one can choose to look at The Mist from the even grimmer standpoint of "Mrs. Carmody was right." 

Personally, I've never bought into the believability of David's decision. Darabont does his best to sell us on it and it might be convincing to some but not for me. Shit was bad but it wasn't quite blow your kid away bad yet. But if it's supposed to reveal that Mrs. Carmody was right all along, then that's fucked up enough for me to get on board with it. Also, I've always wondered, what order does David do the shooting? He's got to kill his son first, right? Anything else would be beyond sadistic. My God, if he saved his son for last, how sick is that? 

Anyhow, it's quite an ending any way you slice it. And the button that Darabont puts on it with McBride and her children included among the survivors is absolutely brilliant. A lot of The Mist comes up short for me now but not that. Again, though, it underlines the fact that the movie was over once she left the grocery store and it takes way too long to arrive at this ironic sting in the tail. 

I can't rule out the possibility that if I re-watch The Mist again down the line, that I might have another change of heart about it and go back to admiring it as a masterpiece but for now, when it comes to King adaptations about people under siege, I'm gonna have to say Maximum Overdrive > The Mist. But, you know, maybe there's nothing wrong with The Mist that an AC/DC soundtrack couldn't fix. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Nerd Notes: November 2022

I'm always welcome to hearing that rich people are shallow assholes but if you already agree with that point of view, The Menu doesn't offer much else to chew on past that. It unfolds at a steady clip, though, it doesn't dawdle (thumbs up for the well under two hour running time), it occasionally surprises in wonderfully nasty ways, and the cast is top notch. I do think, however, that if you start pulling on the threads of its narrative it quickly starts to fall apart. There's a lot of suspension of disbelief that has to happen here. Without giving any spoilers, I would just say I wasn't convinced that Ralph Fiennes' kitchen staff would be as, let's say, dedicated as they are and the whole movie hinges on whether you can believe it. I can buy the fact that Anton Phibes had one assistant that, for whatever reason, was so maniacally devoted to him that they would go along with facilitating his murderous revenge schemes but do I think that an entire restaurant staff would be willing to go all in on what Fiennes' character has planned here? No, I don't. No matter what grudges these people might have towards the one percenters that they serve, I don't think that every one of them would be willing to go as far as Fiennes is asking them to. Director Mark Mylod, working with Seth Reiss and Will Tracy's script, tries to sell this aspect of the story by making it clear that the staff is more like an obsessive cult than a group of professional cooks but I still think it's an awfully big ask. Ultimately, for The Menu to work you just have to shrug and go along with it. Luckily, the events of The Menu are entertaining enough where it's easy to enjoy what's on the plate without picking apart the ingredients.  

Having just watched The Menu days earlier, I found it a little difficult to warm up to Glass Onion at first. As soon as it began, I thought "Oh God, here I am at another movie filled with unlikable rich assholes." Once it got going, though, it became very easy to put The Menu out of mind and enjoy the delights of Rian Johnson's relentlessly clever sequel. I haven't watched Knives Out since the theaters so I can't really compare the two movies but I do remember walking out of Knives Out hoping that Johnson and Daniel Craig had many more mysteries for Benoit Blanc to solve and I walked out of Glass Onion feeling the same way. If the quality can stay this high, I hope this franchise will go on for decades and keep pairing Blanc up with all-star casts in new settings. Shame on Netflix for not giving Glass Onion a lengthy theatrical run as this crowd pleaser deserves to be seen with a receptive audience on the big screen. 

Given that there was about zero chance of James Gunn and co. dropping the ball on this, it's not surprising that The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is every bit as hugely entertaining as everyone assumed it would be. Drax and Mantis are one of the best pairings in the MCU and I love that this special is about 80% just them together on a well intended misadventure on Earth as they hunt down Kevin Bacon in order to give him to Peter as a gift to renew his Christmas spirit. It's hilarious, it's heart-warming and of course it has an impeccably chosen holiday themed soundtrack. In the terminology of the MCU, this is called a Special but in comic book terms, this would be analogous to an Annual, a single issue that can be enjoyed without following the main title. Just as the publishing arm of Marvel is able to cater to fans who are more invested in following every appearance of their favorite characters and the casual readers who occasionally dip in with Annuals and one-shots, the MCU is well positioned with their Disney+ series and specials to serve the needs of both the MCU diehards and those who have a more passing interest in the Marvel U.  

I had no intention of watching this but I gave the first episode a shot just to kill some time and liked it enough to keep going. The original films are something that I watched with my son years ago when he was little so I have some nostalgia for them but not necessarily enough to be motivated to see this continuation. I'm really finding it charming, though. It's very much in the style of the films, both in the aesthetics of the world (I like how it seems to hail from a pre-CGI era with physical sets and handmade props) and in its sitcom level tone of humor. Given Tim Allen's increasingly conservative real world political bent, I was worried that this would be filled with a grouchy, anti-woke attitude but it isn't like that. 

There's one eye rolling line about "...Even saying 'Merry Christmas' has become problematic these days!" but that's it and there are some actually funny bits that address the progressive changes in the world that Santa needs to adapt to like, while he's assembling his naught and nice list, an elf will interject to correct Santa that this kid or that isn't actually 'naught,' but it's just that they have ADD or whatever. I can't say that this is anything great but I will say that, against expectations, I'm actually digging it. If you have any affection for the movies, or if you just want some light 'n breezy holiday cheer that goes down as smooth as a glass of egg nog, it's worth a look. So far, at the halfway point, I'm giving it three out of four candy canes.  


As a love story between two young cannibals (or "eaters," as they're referred to here) who roam the US in the 1980s, Bones and All very much belongs in the horror genre but it's unsettling more than it is scary. This is not a jump scare movie but it generates many shivery, queasy moments and its haunting vibe lingers long past the end credits. Filled with unease from the start, Bones and All's protagonists wander from one bleak situation to the next, all while trying to understand and control their impulse (while sometimes indulging them). They occasionally encounter others of their kind but these brushes with scattered members of their tribe never offers them a reason to feel hopeful for the future. Often in the horror genre, discovering that you're part of a secret society is presented as an empowering experience. Even if being, say, a vampire has its downsides, it's usually portrayed as, if not a step up from being human, then at least an attractive alternative. Not here. What I found most interesting about Bones and All is that being an eater is always depicted as a gross way to live. 

Vampires can be feral but there's always that element of aristocracy to them. All the way back to Dracula wearing a cape and tux, first on stage and then in the Bela Lugosi film, the idea of a "classy" side to the vampire life has long been established. Eaters, however, are disgusting. Their cannibalistic hunger is depicted as a gross way to live and every adult that's been doing it for awhile is shown to be a sad, creepy mess. There's not an ounce of glamour to being a monster here. There's a wider mythology that's hinted at with such supernatural touches as eaters having the ability to smell each other, even sometimes across vast distances, but the focus stays on Taylor Russell and Timothee Chalamet's characters and their immediate problems rather than exploring all the whys and hows of eaters. Even though it's set in the '80s (with some era-specific needle drops, although oddly enough, not a single Fine Young Cannibals track!), Bones and All feels far more evocative of the esoteric, melancholy horrors of the '70s. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The Bond Identity: Die Another Day at 20


As someone who remembers how popular Pierce Brosnan's Bond era was while it was happening and how celebrated it was for re-energizing the franchise, it is a curious thing to see how fashionable it's become to disparage it. When Brosnan arrived, his Bonds were seen as rescuing the series from the missteps of the two Timothy Dalton Bonds. With the popularity of Craig's darker, edgier 007, though, suddenly the Dalton Bonds found a belated appreciation and Brosnan's slicker, more crowd pleasing entries, which were once viewed as a much needed course correction for the series, fell out of favor. While I do agree that the Dalton films were worthy of rediscovery, I think the Brosnan era is still terrific fun and that it represents a style of Bond that may never come again. Twenty years ago today, on November 22, 2002, that era came to an abrupt - and some say ignominious - end with Die Another Day

Unlike Craig's swan song, No Time To Die, Die Another Day was not announced in advance as being the final Brosnan Bond. At the time, it was just another hotly anticipated entry in a run that, with each new film, had improved on the box office performance of the last. The 20th Bond film (when Q issues Bond a new watch, he says "This should be your twentieth, I believe."), coinciding with the series' 40th anniversary, Die Another Day had the celebratory feel of a greatest hits package. Every aspect of the franchise was touched on, from the grittier feel of License to Kill and For Your Eyes Only to the over the top camp of Moonraker

Directed by New Zealand director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors), Die Another Day became the highest grossing Bond film up to that point. The screenplay by the duo of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had written Brosnan's previous entry, The World Is Not Enough and who went on to write, or co-write, all the Craig Bonds, sends Brosnan's 007 up against Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee), of the North Korean army, who was believed to be killed during a pre-title sequence conflict with Bond but who survived and subsequently changed his identity and, more improbably, his appearance (by means of a gene therapy clinic) to that of white British dude Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). As Graves, Moon is a Richard Branson-esque British billionaire whose enormous wealth came from discovering a vein of diamonds in Iceland. 

At his spectacular ice palace in Iceland, Graves unveils a new orbital mirror satellite he's dubbed 'Icacrus' that can focus solar energy on small areas, providing sunlight for agriculture. Bond eventually discovers Graves' true identity as well as the true purpose of Icarus - to use concentrated sunlight to slice a path through the Korean Demilitarized Zone and allow North Korean troops to invade South Korea and unite the peninsula.

With the help of NSA agent Giancinta "Jinx" Johnson (Halle Berry), Bond has to take out Graves and his right hand man Zao (Rick Yune) and put an end to their plans. Luckily for Bond, aside from Jinx's assistance, he has an invisible car - an Aston Martin Vanquish (or, for Bond's purposes, the "Vanish") - courtesy of the new Q (John Cleese) to give him a winning edge.   


With The Bourne Identity having been released months earlier, in June of '02, Die Another Day was viewed negatively by some in light of the stripped down style of action that Bourne had popularized. Such elements as the Vanish or Bond kite-surfing across an arctic tidal wave were seen to mark Bond as an out of step camp relic in what was shaping up to be a more tough minded era for action heroes (you wouldn't catch Jason Bourne driving around in an invisible car). Twenty years later, I say that its absurd qualities are what make Die Another Day enduringly entertaining. More than that, they now make it feel like a current action film in a way that The Bourne Identity no longer does. 

Given the direction that the action genre has gone in, with the one time street racers of the Fast & Furious franchise now launching themselves into space, the over the top nature of Die Another Day now feels in tune with today's action cinema (no one would blink an eye if an invisible car were to show up in a F & F movie - in fact, they'd cheer it). Post 9/11, movies like The Bourne Identity fed into an appetite for a more somber approach but audiences have long since rediscovered their joy of the ridiculous. Ironically, in 2022 it's now The Bourne Identity that looks dated while Die Another Day is prepared to give the people what they want. 

What appeared in 2002 to make Die Another Day look obsolete in a less frivolous action landscape is now what makes it look timely. As a movie that not only features kite surfing across collapsing glaciers but also a car chase inside of a melting ice palace zapped from above by space lasers and a final one on one battle (inside of a careening, disintegrating cargo plane) with a villain suited up in robotic, electrified armor, Die Another Day may not have been the Bond some wanted in 2002 but he's got all the right moves for 2022. 

Too often dismissed as a series low point, I say Die Another Day should be regarded as an example of the Bond series doing what it used to do best, serving up spectacle and escapism on a level that few could hope to match. The Bourne Identity may have led some to accuse Bond of being passe but to watch Die Another Day twenty years later is to see a movie that had no identity crisis of its own. 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Horror Event of the Decade!


The occasion of Bram Stoker's Dracula's 30th anniversary this past Sunday on November 13th prompted me to dig out my copy of Fangoria #118. Some of my greatest nostalgia for Bram Stoker's Dracula isn't for the film itself (which I love) but for the hype that surrounded its release. Beginning with the teaser posters that bore only the single word "Beware," the ad campaign for Bram Stoker's Dracula was memorable in and of itself. With so much riding on its success, the advance press for Bram Stoker's Dracula gamely fed into the hoopla and it's no surprise that the #1 horror magazine in the world would go all in on it. 

Back in the fall of '92, the cover for Fango #118 was an instant favorite for me with its dramatic close-up of Dracula in his bat form (one of the many looks for Dracula created by Greg Cannom, who won the Best Makeup Oscar for his work here). Whenever I look at it, I get an instant rush of nostalgia. In our current time when stills for new movies appear on our Facebook and Twitter feeds as part of the constant churn of content we continually scroll through during our day, it's hard to convey what an essential role magazines like Fangoria used to play in the lives of film fans. 

Today we get new info on upcoming films on practically a minute by minute basis but back then, when print was the primary conduit of information, you had to wait for a new issue to hit the stands before you could get the scoop on whatever movie you were excited for. You went weeks with nothing, or whatever the length of time it happened to be between new issues being shipped, and when that new issue finally arrived, it felt like an event. 

When I got my hands on Fango #118, I was especially stoked. The early '90s was a paltry time for horror so the fact that suddenly there was a promising slate of genre movies hitting theaters in the fall of '92 was a big deal. But none of them were more promising than Bram Stoker's Dracula

As much as calling it "The Horror Event of the Decade!" was hyperbole on Fango's part to help them sell issues, at the same time it also wasn't a lie. Whether or not the movie would live up to expectations, what was important about Bram Stoker's Dracula was the fact that a major filmmaker was helming a big budget horror film. Since the late '80s, the horror genre had been on the ropes so to have a director like Francis Ford Coppola making a 50 million dollar Dracula movie for Columbia Pictures was a legitimatley big deal.

In horror terms, no one expected Coppola's adaptation to be another Exorcist or Alien but at a time when studio interest in the genre had been faltering for years, any kind of high profile investment in horror mattered and the success or failure of Bram Stoker's Dracula would have an impact on the genre's fortunes going forward. 

Coming off the late '80s, horror had become largely an object of contempt in the eyes of the studios. Even when horror had a prestigious hit in the early '90s, like Misery or The Silence of the Lambs, the impulse of the time was to not even call those movies "horror." Since then, as horror has become more respected, those films have been accepted as genre pictures but in the early '90s, movies like those were "psychological thrillers" while the horror tag was only fit for slasher sequels like Jason Takes Manhattan. So to have Coppola unabashedly referring to his take on Dracula as horror in interviews for the film was an opportunity for the genre to gain some esteem back at a time when it was at a low ebb. 

When Bram Stoker's Dracula was released, the immediate reactions were mixed but it was undeniable that Coppola had made one of the most idiosyncratic big budget movies ever. More lushly romantic than scary, Coppola nonetheless embraced Dracula's genre elements while also making it a love letter to cinema with all its special effects accomplished with techniques that dated back to the early days of movie making. Whatever quibbles critics might have had at the time, the movie was a hit and all the hype had paid off.

Its success may not have led to an immediate horror renaissance but it did establish that interest in the genre was very much alive and subsequent big budget classic monster revamps in the form of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Mary Reilly, and Wolf (criminally underrated!), soon followed. 

A few years later, in '96, the release of Scream was what really ended the lean years for horror and the genre has never had another fallow period like '89 to '95 since. The success of Scream buoyed the genre until The Blair Witch Project in '99, then another wave kicked off in 2004 with Saw, the next trend hit with Paranormal Activity in '09, and so on. Point being that for the larger part of the last thirty years the popularity of the genre has never really let up. With the recent announcement that former DC Films president Walter Hamada is moving to Paramount to head their horror line and the even bigger news that Jason Blum and James Wan are planning to combine their respective studios, Blumhouse Pictures and Atomic Monster, into one gi-normous horror factory means that the genre is going to remain huge for, well, let's just say for a very, very long time. We're not going to have to wait for some major filmmaker to come along and help rescue it from obsolescence, that's for sure. 


So that's another layer of nostalgia attached to Bram Stoker's Dracula in that it is a reminder of a time when the horror genre felt like it was dangerously on the precipice of fading away. With horror having been thriving for longer than today's young fans can even remember, it's hard to imagine the genre's future being pinned on the success or failure of just one movie but in 1992, horror fans were depending on Coppola to deliver a much-needed hit for the genre. In Tony Timpone's editorial in Fangoria #119, he quoted a Fango Hall of Famer who wished to remain anonymous as saying "If Dracula flops, we can all pack our bags." Reading all the details about Bram Stoker's Dracula in Fango prior to its release, fans then could only hope that the "horror event of the decade" would help ensure the genre's continued survival in the '90s and not put a stake in its heart.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Most Fun You'll Ever Have Being Scared: Creepshow at 40

The lurid contents of Creepshow's first issue are described by Stan, the angry dad who's enraged to see what his son Billy has been reading as "...things coming out of crates and eating people, dead people coming back to life, people turning into weeds." Stan (played by an uncredited Tom Atkins) is so incensed at the sight of this trash in his house that he gives his mouthy kid (played by Stephen King's son Joe King, known today as successful novelist Joe Hill) a good smack, reminds him of who puts the bread on the table and puts the offending comic out with the rest of the trash that's waiting on the tree belt. 

Ah, but Billy has a guardian angel of sorts in the form of Creepshow's skeletal host. Just after Billy has expressed his wish that his father rot in hell, lightening flashes and The Creep appears outside his bedroom window. As Billy grins and punches his fist into his palm, it seems these two have some ideas for dealing with asshole dads who throw out their kid's comics. At the very least, when it comes to the matter of payback, we sense that they're on the same (comic book) page. 

First, though, after Stan has set us up to expect the worst (meaning, of course, the best), we're going to see all the stuff that got him so worked up. The comic pages flip open in the wind (with animation courtesy of Rick Catizone, who was called in when live action footage of the mock up comic proved to be unsatisfactory) and the Creepshow begins.

Sure enough, right off the bat, we get a corpse coming out of the goddamned ground as a long dead patriarch crawls out of the grave searching for his cake on Father's Day. Over the course of five jolting tales of horror, author Stephen King and director George Romero, both at the top of their game in the early '80s, toast the spirit of the disreputable 1950's EC Comics they were weaned on, all of it brought to life with an adherence to the stylized feel of a comic, with shots suddenly bathed in garish, saturated colors, page flips that transition from one scene to the next, and moments when the background behind the actors will vanish, replaced by a jagged pattern painted onto plexiglass lit from behind with colored light. A movie from two men who became acclaimed, successful artists by indulging in all the things that adults told them would rot their brains, Creepshow is a celebration of what has always been, despite the hysteria of moral watchdogs, good clean fun. 

Unlike the Amicus anthologies Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973), Creepshow's tales were not adaptations of classic EC yarns but King stories in the EC vein that had either been published prior ("The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill" appeared as "Weeds" in the May 1976 issue of Cavalier and "The Crate" was first published in the July '79 issue of Gallery) or were original to Creepshow. The stories here have all become beloved in their own right with even the weakest of them containing their share of indelible moments and classic lines (even if it's only "Meteor Shit!"). 

With make-up master Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Friday the 13th) handling the special effects, Creepshow offers a full buffet of ghastliness. All the hideous things that Stan described with such disdain are present and accounted for. Stretching past the splatter FX he was known for, Creepshow saw Savini delivering more elaborate make-ups and designing an actual creature here in the form of the toothy occupant of "The Crate," dubbed 'Fluffy' on set. With Savini and his crew having been pushed to their limits and in some cases working in unfamiliar, untried territory, there is an uneven quality to Creepshow's FX but I'd argue that the occasional instances when Savini's illusions come up a little short are just part of Creepshow's charm. There's a handmade feel to everything here. If some of it might fail to convince, oh well. 

As with any cult classic, Creepshow's imperfections have become inseparable from what fans cherish about it. For instance, could Creepshow have benefited by being a tighter movie? I think so. For a movie that's supposed to be analogous to reading a comic, Creepshow feels like it's adapted from a comic that's as thick as a phone book. As opposed to the trim running times of Crypt and Vault (83 minutes and 86 minutes, respectively), Creepshow clocks in at a whopping 120 minutes (King's first draft screenplay was an absurd 142 pages). Two hours is way too long for an anthology film to maintain any momentum. 

"Jordy" and "Something to Tide You Over" are regarded with affection by fans but right from the screenplay stage they should have been dropped in favor of one stronger segment (maybe "The Hitchhiker," which made its way into Creepshow 2). As difficult as I'm sure it would be to critique the work of the most popular author in the world, especially when it's someone that you have a friendly relationship with, in collaborating with King, Romero could have stood to be a little more demanding. Reportedly Romero started shooting Creepshow as soon as King handed in his first draft and I think that impulse to just keep it amicable and not question whether there was room for improvement shows in the final product. If these guys were a little harder on each other, I think Creepshow would have been better for it.    

That said, whatever fatigue that sets in midway through Creepshow is alleviated by its final segments, "The Crate" and "They're Creeping Up On You." Two classics, both featuring iconic performances in the form of Adrienne Barbeau as Billie, the ball busting wife to the long suffering Hal Holbrook, and E.G. Marshall as germaphobic, racist millionaire Upston Pratt, ensconced in his hermetically sealed, dirt-free, bug-free apartment. 

These two segments were already the most sharply written to begin with but the performances of Barbeau and Marshall make them indelible. Romero was working with his most high profile cast to date here, with everyone from Ed Harris to Leslie Nielsen to Fritz Weaver, so the acting is notably good throughout (even Stephen King does just fine as Jordy Verill) but Barbeau and Marshall are having a whole other level of fun. 

Once "Creeping" ends with Savini's most show stopping gore gag, with E.G. Marshall's chest erupting in an explosion of cockroaches, we return to Stan and Billy for the wrap up (although not before Billy's copy of Creepshow is recovered by Savini himself in his cameo as a garbage man). 

One might argue that Stan's punishment at Billy's hands with Billy causing Stan to clutch his throat as Billy jabs a needle in a voodoo doll (purchased through an ad in Creepshow, natch), doesn't quite fit the crime (although I guess it depends on how far Billy takes things - does he just inflict some pain on Stan or does he flat out murder him? I like to think it's the former and that he's just content to make Stan uncomfortable) but we're in the world of Creepshow and punishments for even the most trivial offenses are always going to be supersized. 

However we might imagine things might go for Stan, Creepshow closes on an "all's well that ends well" note. In real life, it was a slightly different story. Meant to prove the commercial viability of a King/Romero collaboration in order to interest studios in investing in a planned two film adaptation of The Stand, Creepshow didn't quite make the box office splash they were hoping for. When it was released on November 12th, 1982, it only did good, not great, business. As a result, Romero didn't get that hoped for bump, leaving Creepshow to mark a passing moment of time when Romero was briefly primed to jump to the next level but didn't. While it didn't give Romero the commercial clout that he and King wanted it to, Creepshow still stands as a lovingly crafted valentine to, as Stan calls it, "all that horror crap."