To this day I remember one of the most insightful observations ever made by one of my tutors at college, namely, that there was no rational link between eating and going to the cinema to watch a film. Why was it, he continued, that the two had become so intertwined in the collective conscience that eating popcorn was now seen as an indispensable element of the cinema-going experience? Over the years I have come to agree with him more and more, especially as cinema menus have expanded to encompass a wider range of annoyingly noisy foods.
I thought back to this as I was watching the superb Stephen King/George A. Romero’s horror anthology Creepshow. Not because I was sitting next to an idiot piercing the cinema silence as they wolfed down their cheese and chilli tortilla, but because I can’t remember the last time I saw a horror film dabble with a different format to the standard 90-120 minute linear progression.
And in Creepshow it really works. I’ve said elsewhere on Black Lagoon that I think Stephen King adaptations can be pretty hit and miss, but in teaming up with Romero, King was taking no chances in bringing his five short stories (two of which were taken directly from his books) to the big screen. Though intended as a film version of the horror comics of the 1950s, this element of Romero’s direction lapses into almost total non-use beyond the occasional flash of animation here and there. This isn’t fatal though, and what you’re essentially left with is five straight horror tales from two of the genre’s masters.
The variety of the stories, in terms of content, approach and duration, is a critical strength of Creepshow, and one that readily grabs the viewer’s attention. They range from the tragicomedy of The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill (in which King himself does a very creditable turn as the lead character) through to a stylish examination of intolerance in They’re Creeping Up On You!. My personal favourite was Something To Tide You Over, which is almost entirely down to Leslie Nielsen’s superb portrayal of a psychotic husband on the rampage. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about his performance, but his default method of playing it straight, coupled as ever with the affectionate inability to displace Frank Drebin from the memory when watching him, makes it supremely entertaining.
It’s this fondness which accounts for the enduring popularity of the film, and you can’t help but watch Creepshow and be struck by the love of the genre that King and Romero have. In this affectionate homage to their comic book ancestors, they obviously weren’t aiming to turn out anything approaching the high-brow, genre-defining output that they achieved elsewhere. And what’s wrong with that? All genres, perhaps horror more than most, need the occasional dollop of fun to keep their recipes fresh and alluring. For us, there are few people better placed to do this than King and Romero, as they amply prove in the slick, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable Creepshow.