Michael Felsher's feature-length retrospective documentary JUST DESSERTS: THE MAKING OF CREEPSHOW hits Blu-ray through Severin Films.
Over the course of seven chapters, Felsher explores the origins of the project from Romero's and author Stephen King's initial Warner-sponsored meetings over a film adaptation of SALEM'S LOT in the 1970s during which they discussed their greater interest in adapting THE STAND. When SALEM'S LOT went to television and THE STAND proved too expensive, their discussion turned to their mutual love of EC Comics (with additional input from illustrator Bernie Wrightson). King produced the first draft of the script in sixty days and Romero set about looking for a major distributor with his three picture deal through Salah M. Hassanein's United Film Distribution Company (DAWN OF THE DEAD) to fall back on if there was no other interest. The second section looks at the casting, with Romero, effects artist Tom Savini (THE BURNING), editor Pasquale Buba (TWO EVIL EYES), grip Marty Schiff, key grip Nick Mastandrea (THE MAJORETTES), and grip Nick Tallo (SLEEPAWAY CAMP) gushing over the opportunity to work with Hal Holbrook (THE FOG), Fritz Weaver (JAWS OF SATAN), Ted Danson (CHEERS), Gaylen Ross (DAWN OF THE DEAD), E.G. Marshall (INTERIORS), and Viveca Lindfors (THE BELL FROM HELL). Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) reveals that he wanted to play Jody Verrill only to learn that King had been cast in the role, Ed Harris (KNIGHTRIDERS) recalls his dancing and death scenes, while Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING) reflects on her notorious character. David Early (DAWN OF THE DEAD) recalls acting with Marshall and Bingo O'Malley (HEARTSTOPPER) with King.
Discussions of how to visualize the comic book aspect of the script on film focus on the camera compositions, use of gel lighting and layers of scrims by cinematographer Michael Gornick (MARTIN), the "hyperbolized" production design of Cletus Anderson (the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD remake), as well as the animation by the company that shared space with Romero's production office. Animator Rick Catizone (EVIL DEAD II) discusses the various borders, text boxes, and the animation of the pages of comic book pages through cel animation and stop motion. The fourth chapter looks at Savini's creature designs from the real skeleton ordered from India and mechanized for the apparitions of "The Creep" to the make-up appliances worn by John Amplas (MIDNIGHT) in "Father's Day" along with King, Danson, and Ross, and the designs for Fluffy in "The Crate." An entire chapter is devoted to the horror of shooting "They're Creeping Up on You" with eighteen thousand cockroaches imported from Trinidad by wranglers who soon discovered that the insects could not be wrangled or take direction. The next chapter looks at post-production with more discussion of the animation, trimming the episodes for balance, and the scoring by John Harrison (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE) over the familiar fifties library tracks Romero had planned to use as homage to the period of the comics. The contributors also discuss the film's premiere at Cannes, and sales agent Irvin Shapiro's ploy to interest the big distributors. The final "Twenty-Five Years Later" chapter features closing remarks by the participants, with the only truly unnecessary ones being Romero's desire to remake the film or do another sequel. JUST DESSERTS is informative, warm, and humorous with the available participants conveying a continuing affection for film regardless of whether they saw it as their first studio production or a tongue-in-cheek change from more serious work.
Prior to Synapse's Blu-ray edition, JUST DESSERTS was only available in the UK as an extra on Universal's two-disc DVD edition and then Second Sight's UK special edition Blu-ray of CREEPSHOW (both of which also featured deleted scenes from the film and the "Behind the Screams" featurette also included here). The 1080i24 widescreen image is given a high bitrate encode with Synapse' usual care. Talking head interviews (under various lighting conditions), production sketches, and production stills look great while the behind the scenes home video excerpts (framed an animated border within the 16:9 frame) look as good/bad as expected if you have seen any other DVD or Blu-ray special editions that have availed themselves of Savini's valuable documentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track cleanly renders the dialogue and quotations of John Harrison's score from the film (I have not seen it recently enough to recall if all of the music heard in the documentary is from the film score). Unlike other Synapse discs, there are no SDH subtitles. While Warner seems uninterested in producing a special edition of CREEPSHOW, the documentary and the other extras that Synapse has included in this package make it an ideal bonus disc for the domestic barebones Blu-ray, while some of the exclusive extras might also make it a nice companion piece for the UK special edition despite a little overlap.
The documentary is accompanied by two audio commentary tracks. Felsher, moderator of so many commentaries, goes solo here and discusses his desire to do the documentary on CREEPSHOW despite the lack of interest by Warner Bros. (acknowledging that the studio is more focused on other projects that are guaranteed to generate a lot of revenue, and that the studio would likely produce it in-house if they were interested). Upon hearing that Universal planned to release the title in the UK, he sent them the proposal despite the confirmed street date only a few months away. The company agreed to push the title back in order to include the documentary, and to utilize the HD master made them aware of rather than the 4:3 master they planned to use. He also notes that his budget for the project was small since the featurette was only for the UK as opposed to Warner who owned the North American and other territories outside of Britain; however, the lack of Universal's ownership outside the UK meant that he had rights to the documentary in other territories. He then discusses tracking down the various participants – not all of whom lived in Los Angeles – including Pittsburgh in the dead of winter and Toronto for Romero. The second track features actor Amplas, property master Bruce Alan Miller (SCREAM), and make-up effects assistant Darryl Ferrucci (NIGHTMARE), which happened to be the same lineup as the film's second audio commentary track on the Second Sight Blu-ray. As with the second audio commentary track on Scream Factory's release of SCARECROWS, the track here actually consists of three separate audio interviews conducted by Felsher that were edited to fit the running time of CREEPSHOW for the UK release and have now been reedited to fit the length of the documentary.
Also seemingly unavailable while Felsher was shooting the documentary was DP Gornick who appears in the supplementary featurette "Creepshow Days" (8:01) in which he succinctly discusses the year-long pre-production period, combining live action and animation, experiments with various scrips and lighting gels to produce the comic book backgrounds without opticals, and concerns for the safety of the actors during "Something to Tide You Over." Extended interview segments (23:45) not used in the film find Romero discussing the wraparound segment (curiously given little coverage in the documentary itself despite the participation of Atkins), Savini chiding Felsher for asking him "when" questions of which he has no memory, and Wrightson who recalls first hearing about the project from King himself. "Tom Savini's Behind the Screams" (26:31) features more of the behind the scenes video excerpted in the film, including gore outtakes and multiple neck twisting takes from "Father's Day", King in the make-up chair, Danson and Ross goofing around in make-up in "Something to Tide You Over", and Savini building the creature for "The Crate". A "Behind-The-Scenes of Creepshow Photo Gallery" slideshow (8:30) is also included.
In "Horror's Hallowed Grounds " (14:56), host Sean Clark visits a handful of locations since most of the sets were built in a school that is now a Siemens Energy Corporation building. He is joined by Atkins at the exterior of Billy's house and attempts to recreate angles as well as some comic panels when visiting the houses and university buildings seen in "The Crate" (he was not allowed on the estate used for "Father's Day" but makes use of some older video shot by a friend). The Pittsburgh-area "Vintage 1982 Evening Magazine" Segment (7:31) focuses on the stars and the creepy crawlies.
The most substantial extra turns out to be Fangoria Magazine's documentary "Scream Greats Volume One: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects" (52:54) which looks at Savini's work from MARTIN through DAY OF THE DEAD with heavy use of clips. Savini discusses his inspiration from Lon Chaney Sr. by way of the film THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES with James Cagney as well as the work of Dick Smith (the techniques of which the award-winning artist has always been willing to share freely), his desire to move on from gore effects to fantasy creatures (which leads to discussion of his directorial debut "Inside the Closet" for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE), and coming full circle with slasher films by "killing Jason" in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. Savini discusses his experiences as a photographer in Vietnam and the distancing effect of viewing anatomically-correct carnage through the camera as well as how he separates work and family life (or doesn't since home video footage shows his wife as guinea pig for some squib effects when friend Taso Stavrakis (KNIGHTRIDERS) was not available. The documentary also makes use of Savini's behind the scenes video on several of the films covered along with additional comments by Greg Nicotero (DAY OF THE DEAD) and actor Ned Eisenberg (DEADLY FORCE) about his death scene in THE BURNING. Even this short can also be watched accompanied by a new audio commentary with Savini and moderated by Michael Felsher. (Eric Cotenas)
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