Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, October 11, 2010

Director's Report Card: George A. Romero (1981-1982)

7. Knightriders
There’s something about “Knightriders” that almost feels like a confession on Romero’s behalf. With this one, only his second non-horror movie and only the first to ever be widely released, it’s almost like he’s saying that, while he’s stuck making horror movies for the rest of his life, his heart really belongs to slow, character-driven dramas.

Even then, “Knightriders” is hardly a typical character drama, even
by nineteen seventies standards. If there was a studio pitch, which there wasn’t, it would’ve been “The Arthurian Legend on motorcycles.” Even then, the story plays with expectations and it’s ultimately more inspired by the King Arthur legend then an adaptation.

On a strictly visual level, this is one of Romero’s most captivating films. From the opening sequence down to the last frame, there’s an air of dreaminess floating through the whole thing. Many shots of the motorcycles on the road are just exciting for some reason and really capture the sense of speed and exhilaration that comes from riding. The jousting scenes themselves are also shot in an exciting style. This is how action movies use to l
ook, kids. The excellent music is also worth pointing out.
What really keeps the movie going is a cast. While Ed Harris is strong in the lead role, what really impressed me about the movie is Tom Savini’s turn. While he had acted in Romero’s flicks before, this is the first time Tom’s had a part of great significance and extended screen time. And, surprise surprise, it’s actually a really good turn. Tom expands pass the kind-of-love-him, kind-of-hate-him smart-ass he’s played in the past (and would continue to play in the future) to actually develop things like arcs and layers. Brother Blue is hypnotic as the Merlin of the group. Also keep an eye open for many of the Romero company players, like Christine Forrest, John Amplas, Ken Foree, and Patricia Tallman.

The story is always moving forward, in the style you’d expect of a road movie, but it wanders as well. The movie is long at two and a half hours and it seems like there could have been some editing. The main character’s dilemma, to hold onto his dreams and honor in the face of real world concerns like how to pay the bills, is a little overplayed. The movie stretches that issue out for too long. I also feel like the confrontation between local police and the scenes of Savini’s group on their own probably could have used some subtle clipping. The movie manages to wrap up all of it’s plotlines in an incredibly neat (A little too neat, I think) way before concluding on a sad, inevitable note. “Knightriders” is one of Romero’s most ambitious films, perhaps a decree to Hollywood that he himself refuses to sell out. It’s not a perfect movie, maybe not even a good one, but interesting nevertheless.
[Grade: B]

8. Creepshow
“Creepshow” is a rare example of a horror anthology were all of the stories work. Though some of the five tales are better then the others, there isn’t a sour one in the bunch.

Romero has mentioned before how the old EC horror comics were one of his earliest influences and is responsible for his belief in horror with a message. So he’s a natural choice to handle such an anthology. I have a mixed opinion of Stephen King but I will give the man this: If you can keep him from overwriting, he can do a damn fine old-fashioned horror story.

The framing sequences sets the trick-or-treat tone with an early shot of a Jack-o-Lantern. Stephen’s son (and now a famous author in his own right ) Joe King has a part, as does the great Tom Atkins, who is nearly unrecognizable without his mighty ‘stash. I really like the comic book motif. Romero incorporates panels, action lines, and bright coloring to further emphasis. George did it a good twenty years before “Sin City” and he does it better too, in a way that’s natural and never too flashy. I also like the ads within the magazine that bumper each segment.
“Father’s Day” is our first story and is a fun piece of horror formula. It’s got a cool zombie make-up, some neat death scenes, and a solid cast, including demented performances from Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, and especially Jon Lormer.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill” plays like a slapstick take on Lovecraft’s “The Colors out of Space” and stars King himself. Now, it’s obvious that Stephen King isn’t an actor and, considering the bit is mostly a one man show, a stronger performer probably should have been chosen. But something about King’s goofy facial expressions and general mugging makes me laugh every time. He’s just having so much damn fun.

“Something to Tide You Over” is more notable because of Leslie Nielson. (Yes, that Leslie Nielson.) The story is mostly a back and forth between him and Ted Danson. While Danson’s character is fairly uninteresting, Nielson’s voyeuristic, vindictive son-of-a-bitch is immediately worth watching. It makes me think how good Nielson would be as the bad guy in action movies.
“The Crate” is the centerpiece of the film. Hal Halbrook is at his best as the beleaguered husband of a shrewish Adrienne Barbeau who plays down her natural beauty for the obnoxious part. I’m not quite sure while “The Crate” resonates so much. Maybe it’s the idea of sorting out what makes your life unhappy. Or perhaps the concept of finding something old, horrible, and unexplained in a normal place. Or maybe it’s just because it has a really cool monster and some nice gore effects. Either way, the segment really sums up the film’s mixture of black comedy and classical horror concepts.

I can’t decide if it’s the best part or if that title belongs to the next sequence, “They’re Creeping Up on You.” The final tale is definitely the creepiest moment, as the images of cockroaches crawling over everything is squirm-inducing. E.G. Marshell is really fantastic as the paranoid, germaphobic old white guy who has alienated every person in his life and likes it that way. This is really the only time Romero’s typical social commentary comes into play and there’s something really satisfying about watching this son-of-a-bitch get his comeuppance. And its final image is one of the ickest of Tom Savini’s many tricks.
The fantastic score, which switches around from pounding synth cords, to scattered electronics, to simple piano and a children’s chorus, helps along the atmosphere. Savini actually gets to create some monsters here and they are all perfect, look like they step right out of the pages of “The Vault of Horror.” “Creepshow” is probably Romero at his most fun and prankish. It’s a textbook definition of how horror was done in the eighties. [Grade: A-]

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