Gort vs dimension-hopping ash trays: We review 80s classic horror Creepshow

Stardate 19072012.2:

One morning this week, I awoke to a strange noise coming from the Mothership's canteen. Striking out to investigate, I found the hallways filled with an odd clicking noise. Fearing an attack by the Black Dog Armada, I slipped down the corridors and dive-rolled through the canteen door to find Gort sat at an old typewriter.

Recovering my breath, I asked him what he was doing. He was sat in a wheelchair, with his legs covered by a tartan blanket, a large bottle of whisky on the desk. He answered that his attempts to elicit the necessary fear for his experiments from the week before hadn't succeed, so he was attempting to write a terrifying horror novel.

Clean your windows? 10 bob?

I asked him how far he had got. He pointed to the typewriter. Several pages repeated: "All work and no play makes Gort a dull boy. All work and no play makes Gort a dull boy". I patted him on the shoulder and told him to keep trying.

Creepshow is Stephen King and George Romero's homage to the EC pulp horror comics of the 40s and 50s. EC comics' horror titles were an anthology series covering gruesome tales of nasty individuals getting their grizzly comeuppance from supernatural monsters. So popular were these with children that it caused a huge controversy that was to neuter comics for a long time after. Hence, the opening of the film where an abusive father confiscates his son's copy of the fictional Creepshow comic. Over the following night, we see all the issue's stories evolve on screen.

Hello. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal saviour?

First off, we see a bizarrely-young Ed Harris learning about his new wife's family and their dark secret that is about to come back and haunt them, literally. There's not a lot of rhyme or reason to this tale and some moments, such as a rather-weird dance sequence, are outright bizarre. This, however, sets the tone for the film, with a whacky sense of black humour and an exploitation-esque drive to just put loads of cool stuff up on screen and see what sticks. In this case, it's a slightly-OTT zombie with telekinetic powers and a sudden, open ending. Either way, it's a silly bit of fun and a mission statement for a film that gets far better.

I don'think this laser eye surgery has worked, you know.

Bizarrely enough, the next story stars Stephen King himself as a moronic yokel who finds a crashed meteor on his property. King not only looks deeply odd, but he also puts in a solid comedic performance. Yes, the humour is pretty base, but it is effective and there's a weird charm to the whole proceeding as the meteor slowly begins to turn King into a plant and he imagines how a doctor would react to his condition. There's a great technicolour feel and a memorably-dark ending.

His wife's new haircut was something of a surprise

Next up is an abnormally-normal tale with an impressive cast. Leslie Nielson bursts into the home of Ted Danson and accuses him of sleeping with his wife. Nielsen has a nasty surprise in store for Danson, but the paranormal comes in to play when Danson gets his own back. The story has an awfully-80s look about it and some truly old-fashioned tech on display, which serves to undermine the narrative a bit; in addition, the climactic make-up effects are a little weak. This is a shame as it's a cracking story, brilliantly acted out by two talented actors. It always seems to be the comedians who make the best dramatic actors and this is no exception.

Some of the new Muppets went down less well than others

Perhaps the most famous of the stories here is The Crate; the tale of a college professor who discovers a lost crate from an Arctic expedition in the 19th Century, containing a strange and extremely-dangerous creature. His colleague, however, sees the creature as an opportunity to escape an unhappy marriage to his deeply-unpleasant wife, Adrienne Barbeau. The excellent, noirish plot is somewhat undone by the creature, which is unfortunately reminiscent of Bigfoot from Harry and The Hendersons with a lot more teeth. The small, initial glimpses of the creature's eyes and claws are effective, and we somewhat wish that is all that had been seen. Still, it's hard not to appreciate the story's quality.

His cockroach's new haircut was something of a surprise

The final tale is often considered the weakest, but this is perhaps due to it being so out of place with the rest of the stories. This is a slow, considered script that has more in common with Krapp's Last Tape than Tales From The Crypt. A mean-spirited, Howard Hughes-esque entrepreneur ruins his competitor's company and gloats over his subsequent death, yet his hermetically-sealed apartment is soon invaded by a plague of cockroaches. The final section is infamously the cheapest as the production was low on cash and the cockroaches were notoriously difficult to wrangle. E G Marshall puts in an amazing performance and the whole proceeding has a surreal scifi feel. Completely out of place, but still enjoyable.

The movie ends with the boy from the prologue getting revenge on his father in an appropriately ironic fashion. Overall, the film feels lightweight. Each episode has its flaws and its highlights, but none excel. Still, each is interesting in its own way and King manages to make Creepshow a fitting memorial to the comics that inspired a generation of horror fans and fabricators.

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