Saturday, October 1, 2011

Kinging Off Our Second Annual Spookey Month: Here's Looking at You, Creepshow!

Ah, Creepshow.  Former EC artist Jack Kamen just kills on that cover, doesn't he?  I love it.  The under-lighting on the kid, the ghoulish personification of horror lurking just outside his window, the full moon through the trees.  His rendering style certainly did change over the years, and with this cover, he fixed the notion in my mind that EC had a staff of the best artists ever featured in American comic books, at any time, of any era.  One could make the same argument about those delightful Warren Publications magazines in the 1960s, but those artists were all EC alumni.

When the movie came out in 1982, I'd only heard rumors of EC Comics and I'd built them up into something so huge in my imagination I had recurring nightmares where I'd find myself reading the most realistically-drawn and vividly-colored horror comics, turning page after page, unable to stop myself.  Lurid illustrations of scaly lizard-creatures feasting on hapless victims, bright red splashes of gore, with worse yet to come-- and then I'd wake up, my heart still pounding and those images flickering in my mind.  By morning, in the sunlight, they'd be faded, stripped of power.  But awake in the darkness, I could still see them.

EC Comics were a fable. A legend.  A cautionary tale.  So dangerous and scary the government banned them?  The reason for that stupid Comics Code stamp that held no meaning for us and no one paid any attention to anyway?  EC possessed the lure of the forbidden... rumors... myth... a mystery.

Then George A. Romero and Stephen King teamed up to make their loving tribute to EC.  Well, the movie is mostly silly.  Too many of the characters were either harsh and unpleasant or else complete morons, so it's hard to care how many corpses kill them or cockroaches come out of their mouths.  But it's still cheesy good fun, with lots of gore and the requisite twist endings.  King himself with an embarrassingly amateurish turn as a dim-witted rube who becomes an alien plant-creature, Leslie Nielsen buried up to his neck in the sand, cackling about how he can hold his breath a lonnnnnng time as the tide rolls in.

Today we think of Nielsen as the deadpan comedian from Airplane and as the dimwitted Frank Drebin.  But with his steely hair and patriarchal good looks, he really had a handle on playing cold-hearted bastards.  There's a bit of the familiar Nielsen-esque tongue in cheek quality to his performance here, but enough straightly-played jerkishness he really sells it.  The perfect bastard.  My favorite segment, by far.  The always awesome Adrienne Barbeau sinks her teeth into a relatively minor role as the harridan to end all harridans-- just call her Billie.  I was going to take a little time to discuss the misogyny that runs through EC comics and, by extension, this film, but then I remembered there are practically no sympathetic characters in Creepshow.  Maybe the ill-fated Ted Danson and Gaylen Ross, but we only really get to know them as bloated corpses.  Why single out Barbeau's character, especially when Barbeau herself has earned a lifetime of goodwill?

Obviously, I couldn't see the movie at the theater at the time because it was rated R, but I could-- and did-- sneakily read the Bernie Wrightson-illustrated comic book adaptation in Waldenbooks when my mom and I went to the local mall for pizza and shopping on Friday night.  My hard-workin' dad was off driving the local high school teams to out of town games and there just wasn't much else to do in my hometown besides go to the mall.

And, baby, let me tell you-- peeping at Creepshow was always a mistake.  What was fine in Waldenbooks after playing a few quarters-worth of Tron and Space Race would come back to haunt me in my bedroom as I tried to sleep in the wee post-SCTV hours of the night.  A month or so later, and I'd do it again.  It impressed me so much, I dressed as the skeletal host one year for Halloween and handed out candy.  Made some kids cry, too.  Oops...  I even drew my own comic adaptation of "The Monkey's Paw" in a crude approximation of Wrightson's drawing style for my English class.  Two pages of full-color artwork, hand-lettered by me.  It took me all night; speed-demon Alfredo Alcala I'm not.  I even ripped off the "Here's looking at you, kiddies!  Heh heh heh!" ending from the Creepshow book.

Strangely enough, out of all the gruesome darkly-humored things contained within the book, the sequence that really made my heart pound was the one where Hal Holbrook, a henpecked college teacher, and this doofus janitor start messing around with an old crate sent to the university by an arctic expedition.  Well, let's let Wrightson show us what happens next:

Yikes!  And the janitor was one of the few relatively nice characters in any of the stories!  Although in deleted scenes, he probably beats his dog.

And now... rocking straight at you from "Music City," Hamamatsu, Japan... SPOOKEY!

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