[1 July 2007]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
When you want horror, go to the people who know it best. That theory, long avoided in Hollywood as well as among its independent direct to video brethren, is fairly straightforward and not without its loopholes. Still, when you’re out to make a film called Creepshow III, based on a previous pair of cinematic installments created by macabre maestro Stephen King and terror titan George Romero, don’t send in a couple of hacks whose main credits consist of some under the radar episodic television work.
The directing team of James Glenn Dudelson and Ana Clavell are perhaps best known for their “erotic drama” Compromising Positions. Dudelson has also had his hand in some incredibly inept onscreen shivers (Museum of the Dead, Day of the Dead 2: Contagion). Yet after watching their work in this abysmal DVD tre-quel, it’s clear that neither knows the first thing about delivering fear factors.
The first quandary here is how these particular individuals got permission to use the Creepshow name. Back nearly 25 years ago, horror’s preeminent author decided to write a film focused on his childhood obsession with EC comic books. It was a fascination shared by his filmmaker of choice, the man behind the famous Night of the Living / Dawn of the Dead movies. To them, the classic William Gaines rags, with evocative names like Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear were a guilty pleasure ripe with potential plotlines. Coming up with their own takes on the material, they delivered an early ‘80s fan favorite.
Turns out that Dudelson managed to secure the rights to both the original films and the name, so before the remake machine can crank out a new version under the original title (Oh yes, it’s on the way), this corrupt cash grab was conceived. Horrible in ways that are almost indescribable, Creepshow III is a nonsensical waste of any viewer’s time.
Instead of employing an omnibus, or anthology approach to the storytelling, Dudelson and Clavell try to fashion a Pulp Fiction-like narrative where random separate vignettes wind up tying together to form a much larger plot. Therefore, all five tales are told in a way that references the other yawn-inducing yarns to be spun.
For an introduction, we meet Alice, a spoiled little brat who can’t stand her suburban situation. Naturally, she gets some manner of supernatural comeuppance. Then we are introduced to a sad sack security guard whose urban squalor life is suddenly shifted thanks to a wisdom spouting radio. Of course, the advice turns evil. Then, a serial killing prostitute meets her match in a decidedly ‘monstrous’ John, and a wacky professor finds his fiancé vivisected when a couple of old students can’t believe the babe is real (don’t ask). Finally, a doctor doing community service in a downtown clinic is haunted by the image of a homeless man he accidentally killed.
Yes, our intrepid scribes find ways to interlock each and every one of these ludicrous tales, sometimes obviously (the professor is responsible for Alice’s condition and the all knowing wireless), most times stretching the concept of credibility to its very thinnest fibers (the demonic creature that kills the mass murdering hooker actually throws parties frequented by the doped up doc). Since Dudelson and Clavell are trying to mimic the EC trick-ending ideal in each story, we sit around waiting for the supposedly significant denouement. But since Creepshow III is so poorly put together, the finales are either obvious (our rent-a-cop is double crossed by the radio) or just downright dumb (the students cutting up the professor’s gal to see if she’s real or robotic).
Upon each reveal, we find ourselves responding based solely on how implausible, impossible, or impractical they are. Instead of being afraid, we’re flummoxed.
Perhaps if there was a lick of suspense, or a moment or two of genuine dread, we’d actually find ourselves forgiving the many readily apparent flaws. But when you take into consideration the complete lack of star power (no one famous on hand here), horrible community college-level performances, static filmmaking, and a general feeling of cesspool level schlock, even the most brilliant scribe couldn’t save this slop. It’s not just that the dialogue is dim – and it’s grade school level lame – but it’s the lack of essential elements like logic and legitimacy that constantly destroy the fear.
Take, for example, the opening tale. It begins like a bad episode of The OC, quickly shifts into an incomplete take on the Adam Sandler dramedy from Summer 2006, Click, and then degenerates into an unexplained bit of gore effects work. Eventually, we get the point – Alice is a miserable person inside, and therefore, such vileness manifests itself outwardly. But we have to wait 15 minutes for this inference, and even then, it’s a conclusion we reach without a single substantive word from the movie itself.
Something similar happens with the serial killing whore story. Her motives are never revealed, and within the first two minutes of showing up at the residence of her latest sheepish John, we recognize that she’s not the only one carving up innocents. But the dismal demonic turn at the end of the tale is terrible, a left field lunge that may add to the film’s minimal bloodshed, but does little to legitimize the overall storyline. It’s as if Dudelson and Clavell brainstormed a bunch of interesting (at least to them) ideas, tossed them together in a big pile, and tried to get them to interconnect. Under such a stupefying strategy, we keep waiting for the errant aliens, the misguided werewolves, and the ghost of Christmas Past to show up and start snooping around.
But it’s the last story – the pill popping physician who keeps seeing the spiritual visage of a local hobo – that exemplifies everything that’s wrong with this film. Actor Kris Allen is baffling in the lead, turning his performance into a resume reel for a job on Mad TV. He’s so over the top that he’d have to freefall several thousand feet just to begin overacting. In between his insensitive one-liners (“Nurse…I can’t write a prescription for ugly!”) to his momentary lapses into dead-eyed dreariness, he’s like an unfunny monkey with ADD.
Of course, the shallow, subpar nature of the story doesn’t help. Dr. Farwell buys a hotdog, drops it on the ground, gives it to a tramp begging for change, the bum eats it and chokes. Somehow, karma figures this is the MD’s fault, and like clueless clockwork, the vagrant’s CG enhanced visage makes an appearance in front of the doc. That’s it. The wrap up offers no rhyme or reason, and there are better reasons for this foul physician to pay other than giving a beggar a ‘five second’ frankfurter.
Yet this is what Creepshow III wants to pawn off as the paranormal. It’s the very essence of its eerie. The juxtaposition of the pointless with the meandering is exactly what it hopes to accomplish. Even referring to itself in the same breath as the work of Romero and King should warrant some manner of genre excommunication. Yet there will be those drawn in by the notion of another hyper-stylized scary movie mimicking the classic comics that set a nation on edge (yes, EC comics were actually condemned by none other than the US Congress).
Too bad there’s not some political watchdog group looking out for fright film flim flams. One look at the worthless Creepshow III and you just know some manner of quorum call would immediately be held. In a realm where devotees often sigh that ‘there ought to be a law’, this fiasco would draw instant legislative retribution.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/creepshow-iii/