In this week’s Cronick’s Couch, get “Creeped” out on AMC, take a trip to Florida with Willem Dafoe, discover the depressing private life of a former “SNL” cast member, and learn if HBO’s “The Outsider” falls into the good or bad category of Stephen King adaptations.
Cable and streaming services
Creepshow (Not rated, 2019, six 40-minute episodes, all six episodes available on Shudder now or watch 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC): Most people will list “Night of the Living Dead” or “Halloween” as influences on their love of horror movies. For me, it was “Creepshow.”
When I was 11 years old, I remember convincing the neighborhood video store clerk to allow me to rent this 1982 R-rated flick. And I was obsessed. After renting it for probably the 10th time, he told me I wore the tape out and eventually gave it to me as a gift.
To me, it became everything a horror movie should be: scary, violent and, most of all, fun. It was a dream team of creators: It was horror icon’s Stephen King’s screenwriting debut as he adapted two of his own short stories; “Night of the Living Dead” creator and horror legend George A. Romero directed it; Tom Savini, then the best horror effects creator on the planet, was in charge of the visuals and makeup; and the film’s ensemble including Hal Halbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson and King himself were all familiar faces and perfect for the five stories that offered everything from campy sci-fi to downright horrific tales all brought together in the form of a living comic book, a homage to horror comics from the 1950s.
Now, “Creepshow” is on TV, and Shudder — a streaming service dedicated to horror — nailed it in every way. Six episodes feature two 20-minute tales in each package and are filled with the cheesiness, humor, cleverness, comic violence and scary moments to make any “Creepshow” fan grin ear to ear.
The tone is perfect, and so is the casting, including a return by Barbeau in the first episode about a local yokel who drinks slimy beer and be-comes a monster, a terrific reminder of King’s hilarious tale of a meteor landing in his farm in the original. Other actors include David Arquette (“Scream”), Tobin Bell (“Saw”), Giancarlo Esposito (“Breaking Bad”) and Tricia Helfer (“Battlestar Gallactica”).
Other notable moments in the TV version include “The House of the Dead,” where a girl’s dollhouse comes to life featuring Cailey Presley Fleming, the current Judith Grimes on “The Walking Dead”; “The Finger” gruesomely and hilariously works as DJ Qualls (“Road Trip”) finds a finger that grows into a creature that becomes his loyal pet; and “All Hallows Eve,” where a group of children who died prematurely come back to terrorize their town every Halloween.
“The Walking Dead” Producer Greg Nicotero handles producer duties here, as well, often directs episodes and has really mastered what “Creepshow” should be, adapting stories from King and other great horror writers in terrific fashion.
“Creepshow” will make you laugh, give you chills and, most im-portantly, prove that remakes and adaptations can be done well in the right creator’s hands.
The Florida Project (Rated R, 2017, 115 minutes, Net-flix): “The Florida Project” may not be for everyone. It might be too real, too slow, too much like life, too uncomfortable for those who want to ignore the plight of the less fortunate, too unique in its storytelling as it steers away from the narrative form of movie storytelling we are used to, too artistic in scope for those who think movies like “Stuber” are entertaining.
But if you’re the type of movie watcher who likes to be challenged, who likes to be pulled into a world that may be foreign to you and possi-bly painful, who can empathize with others, then “The Florida Project” is an absolute gem.
Indie film Director and Writer Sean Baker, with the help of Writer Chris Bergoch, takes us to a motel in Florida that is inhabited by a mix of adults struggling with hard times including drugs, alcohol, poverty, homelessness, sexual abuse, crime and, often, all of the above.
And while the adults may be the root of the problem, Baker’s focus is on the children, whose lives are impacted so deeply it will be a miracle if any of them break the cycle.
In particular, “The Florida Project” focuses on Halley (Bria Vinaite), a single mother to a precocious 6-year-old named Mooney (Brooklynn Prince), an adorable troublemaker who spends most of her summer days unsupervised with her motel friends, engaging in mischief and learning about life in the worst ways possible.
The only adult who seems to have any compassion is the manager of The Magic Castle Motel, Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe), who keeps one eye on the kids while never letting them take advantage of his kindness.
While Baker’s and Bergoch’s story is intriguing, eye-opening, depressing and even humorous at times, it’s the performances that make “The Florida Project” worth visiting, an amazing feat considering nearly everyone in the cast — Dafoe obviously excluded — never acted in any-thing before. You expect performances like this from Dafoe, and this is one of his best, but you don’t expect performances like this from a 6-year-old, but Prince is literally breathtaking here, a testament to Baker’s direction. Never once do you feel like anyone is acting here. The per-formances are as genuine as they come, something you won’t find in any blockbuster.
The setting of Kissimmee is essential. Here is a hotel full of trouble, poverty and major issues just miles away from Walt Disney World, where people in much better life scenarios spend endless amounts of money in a make-believe world that may be the only escape for people in such dire straits like this. The contrast is brilliant.
“The Florida Project” was featured on the Top 10 films list of the year by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute, but few saw it despite Dafoe earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination, an award he probably would have won any other year Mahershala Ali wasn’t in “Moonlight.”
Now, thanks to Netflix, maybe more people will discover this overlooked masterpiece of filmmaking. Like I said, it might not be for everyone but “The Florida Project” should be required viewing.
Cracked Up (Not rated, 2019, 95 minutes, Netflix): Any fan of “SNL” not only knows Darrell Hammond but loves him. Like the late Phil Hartman, Hammond was the utility guy, the comedian/actor who had an endless arsenal of characters propelled by his spot-on impersonations of everyone from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sean Connery to Phil Hartman.
But what many people don’t realize is that Hammond, like Hartman, suffers major psychological problems. “Cracked Up,” a documentary di-rected by Michelle Esrick, captures the “SNL” veteran’s highs and lows, and while moving at times, it feels disjointed, out of whack and in going for a raw presentation comes out feeling cheap.
Make no doubt about it: Hammond’s story is one worth telling. Abused as a child, Hammond’s psychological problems run deep. The abuse led to cutting, hospitalizations due to psychiatric issues and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder and eventually posttraumatic stress disorder. He also suffers from horrible flashbacks and drug dependency.
And while all of this is intriguing, Esrick’s direction is not. Slow mov-ing with a 95-minute run time that feels twice that long, “Cracked Up” does feature some solid interviews with family and friends, but it fails to get former cast members and Hammond’s co-stars with the exception of “SNL” creator Lorne Michaels, who doesn’t say much. Hammond himself seems to hold back, never really putting down his defenses for a moment. His interviews seems calculated, including those with a longtime friend.
The narrative is mostly told through rehearsals of his Hammond’s one-man play based on his memoir “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F---ed,” which comes across as a boring, self-indulgent mess, never showing how the run was so stressful that Hammond had to be hospitalized twice during its run.
“Cracked Up” had all of the ingredients to be a super documentary: a well-known star, major problems and life after dealing with them. Un-fortunately, it comes across as a low-budget, TV episode instead of the great film it could have been.
Not worth your time
The Outsider (Not rated, 2020, 10 hour-long episodes, HBO, HBO Max): Fans of Stephen King no there are three categories of his movie adaptations: Good, Bad and Unwatchable.
“The Outsider,” HBO’s adaptation of King’s 2018 novel falls in the middle category and maybe slightly above. The surprise here is the speed in which this was produced, hitting the screen just two years after publishing … maybe they should have taken more time.
The problem, which is typical with King and many book adaptations, is the source material reads better than it translates visually. That is certainly the case here.
King’s plot revolving around the investigation of a gruesome murder of a boy in the Georgian woods, the mysterious force surrounding the case and how a respected member of the community is blamed for the crime, is not King’s best work, but it’s decent and better than this miniseries.
Another problem that usually arises is that creators cannot cram a book’s worth of material into a movie or miniseries. That is not the case here. In fact, “The Outsider” is too long. If they can decently tell “It,” a whopper of a page-turner in about five hours, “The Outsider” certainly doesn’t need 10 hours to tell the story.
The sadness here is the potential “The Outsider” has. The cast is solid. The writing sometimes inspired and, the ending is pretty good, breaking another King trend of bad endings … even if this finale goes on twice as long as it should have.
Don’t let the previews fool you: Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) is a main feature of the plot — he’s the good guy accused of bad things — but he only appears in two episodes. Ben Mendelsohn (“Captain Marvel”) leads the cast as the detective trying to put together this odd jigsaw puzzle of how a man accused of murder can be in two places at one time, making a relatively one-note character real and relatable. And Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) is terrific as an eccentric, brilliant private investigator on the spectrum. She may be the sole reason to take the plunge here.
Despite the great cast and decent plot, “The Outsider” just can’t get out of its own way. It lags, tells the audience more than it needs to know, rarely surprises and never scares. There are plenty of reasons to subscribe to the new HBO Max streaming service … this isn’t one of them.