Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow (2007)
Studio: Synapse Films
Release date: July 12th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Horror fans are nothing if not fiercely loyal. Chances are, if you create something that’s well-received, it’ll go on to become a beloved property. Obviously, this applies to the likes of heavy-hitters like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it’s a bunch that hardly discriminates: even something like Creepshow—which likely carries very little currency outside of horror circles—has enough of a following to become the subject of its own feature-length documentary. Even I find this kind of surprising but nonetheless delightful, especially since Just Desserts is the sort of appreciation that really reminds you of just how great Creepshow is.
More than that, it truly captures what made Creepshow so great. Because it snagged both a star-studded cast and theatrical distribution from Warner Brothers, it’s easy to forget this was yet another independent effort for George Romero and a ragtag production outfit. Shot in and around Pittsburgh, Creepshow is the result of ingenious, low-budget filmmaking held together by scraps and duct tape. It’s an exceedingly clever film, as Just Desserts often highlights how certain effects were achieved with minimal means but maximum effort. If nothing else, this gives you an appreciation of the hands-on craftsmanship that went into creating this anthology—this should be catnip for anyone with a love of practical effects and gags.
But before Just Desserts focuses on the nuts and bolts aspects of the filmmaking, it takes a step back to describe the context of its conception and creation. Anyone familiar with other Red Shirt productions—you’ve no doubt encountered their work on a Scream Factory disc or two in recent years—will find the format here familiar, as it traces the film’s arc from its brainstorming roots to its eventual release and legacy. Moving in linear fashion and divided up into separate chapters, it finds its starting place in Romero and co-writer Stephen King’s shared appreciation of EC Comics.
Naturally, when the two decided to collaborate on a project, they had eyes on adapting one of King’s works, specifically The Stand. When it soon became clear that neither had the clout to secure the kind of financing that would require (something that’s hard to imagine yet all too believable), they channeled their energy into recreating the vibe of those macabre childhood comics. Pointedly, they did not seek to simply adapt pre-existing EC stories but rather recaptured the morbid, grisly tone in King’s original screenplay. It’s a wonderful example of allowing childhood nostalgia guide your creative impulses without overwhelming them, and it’s a lesson all creators should keep in mind. Imagine if George Lucas had simply re-made Flash Gordon instead of creating Star Wars—it’s sort of the same situation here.
From there, the documentary moves onto a segment focusing on the actors. Anyone looking for any juicy anecdotes or dirt will find nothing of the sort, as everyone involved repeats just how delightful the experience was. It’s this segment that gives you an impression of the project’s scope in terms of participants: while the documentary wasn’t able to wrangle everyone back, it does feature key players like Romero, Tom Savini, Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau, and even Ed Harris. An assortment of other behind-the-scenes participants (grips, PAs, effects artists, composer John Harrison) fill in the rest with various anecdotes about those actors who don’t appear. A portrait of camaraderie emerges, as all the participants wistfully discuss their time spent on-set and the thought process that went into casting some of the characters (Atkins wanted to play Jordy Verrill before learning that King himself had claimed the part). Romero’s relaxed direction with actors is frequently discussed, as he preferred to leave them room to go as big and boldly as they deemed necessary—after all, this is supposed to be a comic book.
The next segment is a sort of catch-all nuts-and-bolts examination of the film’s actual production, one that’ blends vintage behind-the-scenes footage with the present day talking head recollections. In this most anecdote-heavy, scattershot chapter, viewers are treated to various asides about each segment. It perhaps comes as no surprise to learn that the only real divas on set were the cockroaches used for the film’s final segment. Not only did they require their own trailer, but they also proved to be a bit uncooperative (on the other hand, E.G. Marshall was apparently charming and wonderful despite having to work with the things). There are a lot of interesting odds and ends here that you’ll be better off learning in the documentary, so I’ll spare the details—just suffice it to say that this is exhaustive as hell.
And, yet, there’s more: this chapter naturally bleeds into a segment that focuses exclusively on Savini’s effects work, which was essentially accomplished by himself and a 17-year-old assistant. Savini is his usual lively self, eagerly chatting away about his morbid creations (well, when he’s not being a fanboy about the actors he met—just like us, he was a bit star-struck to meet people he’d watched on television and movie screens as a kid). Thanks to the archive behind-the-scenes footage, audiences can visualize this creative process as those involved recount it. One of the more fascinating examples is (spoiler alert) Jordy Verrill’s gruesome demise, a neat little trick accomplished via precise timing and teamwork. Effects gurus will really dig this chapter, which details everything from the concept art to the actual implementation of the film’s memorable creatures and gags. As always, it’s a nice reminder of the crafty, hands-on nature of this sort of work—not to denigrate what digital effects artists do these days, but this is all so much more interesting than hearing about how stuff is rendered in computers.
The film’s post-production, release, and legacy are the topics of the final two segments—hell, there’s even an entire anecdote about how the film was eventually acquired by Warner Brothers at Cannes and everything. I doubt any Creepshow devotee will be wanting for more crucial information after spending 90 minutes with this documentary—well, unless you’re wanting to hear anything about Creepshow 2*. For whatever reason, it goes all but unmentioned even though Romero does discuss how this should have become a long-running franchise. “We should be doing Creepshow 7 by now,” he says at one point, a declaration that has my full endorsement. If I’m being completely honest, the sequel has always been more of a personal favorite, so the lack of so much as a shout-out is a bit disappointing (but also understandable since it didn't carry over everyone's participation from the original).
It’s not a deal-breaker, though I suppose the lack of King’s participation might be something of an elephant in the room. This is the documentary’s only real letdown, though it’s otherwise so thorough that it feels like he’s mostly accounted for. I certainly know more about Creepshow than I ever thought would be possible before watching Just Desserts, which ultimately amounts to a worthwhile love letter and a breezy canonization of one of the genre’s better anthologies. The only real regret is that it’s not serving as a centerpiece supplement on a collector’s edition on the film itself, as it certainly deserves one.
*Obviously, nobody mentions Creepshow III either because no one in their right mind would ever mention Creepshow III.
Instead, fans will have to make do by placing Synapse’s Blu-ray release of Just Desserts alongside their Creepshow discs. In many ways, its’ a de-facto supplements disc anyway, especially since Synapse has provided a wealth of additional extras, including two separate commentaries. One is manned by Just Deserts director/editor Michael Felsher, while the other features actor John Amplas, effects artist Darryl Ferrucci, and Bruce Alan Miller.
Creepshow DP (and eventual Creepshow 2 director) Michael Gornick appears for “Creepshow Days,” an 8-minute featurette detailing his various contributions. About 24 minutes of extended interview segments provide even more anecdotes and information, and Savini’s own homemade behind-the-scenes footage gives a further glimpse into the film’s production. Sean Clark appears for another episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds,” wherein he visits some of the film’s locales and bumps into Tom Atkins, who all but (jokingly) reprises his role as Creepshow’s asshole dad in an amusing bit.
Two of my favorite supplements are vintage dispatches. One is a Pittsburgh news station’s behind-the-scenes preview of Creepshow (featuring some footage of Stephen King, so he’s not completely absent), a sort of charming little reminder that this is how folks found out about upcoming movie projects before the internet. Speaking of which, before we had DVD supplements (never mind feature-length documentaries like Just Desserts) to pull the curtain back on a film’s production, we had to rely on other means, such as Fangoria and its various video productions. Presented here in all its VHS-era glory is Fango’s Scream Greats Vol. One: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects, a 53-minute tribute and profile. Old school fans will no doubt recall seeing this stuff advertised on any number of tapes in the 80s and 90s, and it’s nice to see it emerge here for those of us who never got a chance to see it. We can even view it with Savini’s commentary now to boot.
A stills gallery rounds out what adds up to an impressive, lovingly crafted tribute to a beloved film. It’s nice to know that a major studio’s lack of desire to produce this kind of stuff is but a hurdle for truly impassioned fans like the folks at Red Shirt Productions. Just Desserts might not be a part of an “official” Creepshow release, but it might as well be. I imagine it’s the closest we’ll ever need to come to a special edition disc for this film because it leaves no stone unturned, meteor shit be damned. comments powered by Disqus Ratings:
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