Two macabre masters – writer Stephen King and director George A. Romero – conjure up five shocking yarns, each a virtuoso exercise in the ghouls-and gags style of classic ’50s horror comics. A murdered man emerges from the grave for Father’s Day cake. A meteor’s ooze makes everything…grow. A professor selects his wife as a snack for a crated creature. A scheming husband plants two lovers up to their necks in terror. A malevolent millionaire with an insect phobia becomes the prey of a cockroach army. Add the spirited performances of a fine cast (Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, E.G. Marshall and King himself) and the ghoulish makeup wizardry of Tom Savini. Let the Creepshow begin!
eyelights: They’re Creeping Up On You. Leslie Nielsen. Adrienne Barbeau. Fritz Weaver’s amazing gibberish. Tom Savini’s low budget special effects work. the pulp comic style of the film.
eyesores: Father’s Day. the hoakiness that’s two steps removed from camp.
I have a weakness for George Romero. While not all his films are terrific, he’s an auteur who always worked on the fringe, under subpar conditions, and yet managed to make a few landmark pictures ion the process – despite the odds. The fact that two of his films, ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’ are some my favourites, helps.
I also still have a fondness for Stephen King. Even though I’ve lost interest in the last decade or two (partly due to the many horrible adaptations of his works, partly because of his own poor choices), I retain great nostalgic feelings for the books I read in high school and some of the more brilliant translations of his oeuvre to the screen – big and small.
In both cases, when they’re at the top of their game, they’re peerless.
One would immediately think that a pairing of the two horror icons would likely usher in remarkable results. And I suspect that this would be the initial pull of ‘Creepshow’, which is theirs first collaboration (followed by ‘Creepshow 2’ and ‘The Dark Half‘). However, ‘Creepshow’ ends up feeling like a half-hearted effort more so than a fully realized vision.
I don’t know much about it, but the film is apparently supposed to be a tribute to those old horror comics from the ’50s, in particular by EC Comics, which published ‘Tales from the Crypt’. This makes complete sense because the picture has a comic book flavour to its presentation, including animated connecting bits, showy paneling, and even a mascot not unlike The Cryptkeeper.
In that respect, it’s a success: it really does give one the allure of watching one of those old comics come to life, with multiple short stories of various flavours in one volume. Except that, if one remembers those comics, they weren’t exactly spectacular: there were good ideas, but the writing wasn’t stellar, and the artwork was frequently sorely lacking in skill on many levels.
In emulating the style of these books so closely, Romero and King were not only channeling fond childhood memories, they were obviously gambling that audiences would also enjoy this fringe genre. The reality is that it’s an acquired taste, which is why these comics were popular with certain people, but not most. And yet they let their shared passion lead them.
That’s to be commended , and audiences rewarded them with very healthy box office numbers, to the tune of more than double its production budget; it was the sleeper hit of 1982. It has even grown a cult following over the years, not just in North America but internationally as well – where it received relatively lavish treatments on home video.
My first exposure to the film was via the comic book adaptation, which was released in conjunction with the movie back in 1982 (but a few months earlier, no doubt to plant the seed early). What I remember most about it is the second story, ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’, because its concept (combined with Bernie Wrightson‘s inimitable art), totally creeped me out.
I was very sensitive to such macabre stories and eerie visuals back then. Even though I was repulsed by what I saw, I kept going back to it anyway, furtively taking peeks into the comic book while my dad and I were browsing about the smoke shop in a west end shopping ctr. I never bought the comic book, finally, but I will never forget having seen it.
I didn’t watch the movie until many years later, of course – I was far too young. And by the time that I did see it, I really didn’t understand its appeal; I didn’t find it all that scary, and it wasn’t serious enough that I could buy into what I was seeing – it was peppered with layers of tongue-in-cheek humour, a mix that I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around.
Of course, I was a different person then…
These days, having now seen the film a handful of times, I can express both enthusiasm for the intention of the filmmakers and disappointment with the end result; I am mildly enthusiastic at the thought of watching it, but my experience is always lackluster – there’s just something missing, something not quite right.
But at least it serves up a variety of different tales, enough that one invariably makes up for another:
“I took care of it. That’s why God made fathers, babe. That’s why God made fathers.”
1. Prologue: This opening segment serves to connect the viewers to the readership of horror comics, by showing the alienation of the kid who’s reading them – he’s berated by his parents for reading such trash and has his comic book, in this case titled ‘Creepshow’, taken from him. No doubt most people drawn to so-called “trash” will relate.
Unfortunately, the whole cast overacts like karazay, in particular Tom Atkins. Perhaps this was intentional, with the idea of signaling that the film wasn’t to be taken too seriously, but it makes for a painful overture. 4.0
“I want my cake, Bedelia!”
2. Father’s Day: This is about a family who are impatiently waiting around to start their annual family dinner, which takes place every year on the third Sunday of June. The eccentric Bedelia, who is habitually late for these gatherings, stops into the cemetery to visit her father’s tomb, as she does every year – given that the family patriarch died on Father’s Day many years prior.
But with daddy’s death comes a terrible secret, one that will likely crash the party.
This was a tepid effort, with the actors all seemingly going for Razzies on purpose (the petulant father hammed it up so much that we all laughed at him). Furthermore, there was this moment when we had to watch them kill time; seeing Ed Harris do the “white man’s overbite” may give me nightmares for years. The make-up effects weren’t very good – you could tell that the monster was a rubber suit. But the dad’s line and the closing shocker were amusing. 5.0
“That’s a meteor. I’ll be dipped in shit if that ain’t a meteor!”
3. The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill: This one’s about a country bumpkin who finds a meteor in his backyard and sees its discovery as his path fortune and glory. Unfortunately for him, the meteor unleashes a pestilence upon him that will change his life forever. Through is all, Jordy is exactly the clichéd hick one might expect: silly and none-too-bright.
Written by Stephen King and starring King in what amounts to a one-man mini-play, this simply doesn’t work. I wouldn’t even blame King, who’s clearly a non-actor (King was apparently directed to look like Wile E Coyote when he falls off a cliff). It’s all about the beats: this is clearly meant to be humourous, but the comedy doesn’t work. Having said that, Romero is hardly a comic director. 5.0
“Oh I can hold my breath for a long, long time!”
4. Something to Tide You Over: This is the story of a wealthy older man who discovers that his spouse has been cheating on him with a younger ladies’ man. He kidnaps his spouse and forces the younger man (played here by Ted Danson) to do what he tells him to if he ever wants to see her again. Obviously, his plan will take an unexpected turn…
Leslie Nielsen was phenomenal as the vengeful man; he played the mixture of menace and comedy adroitly, clearly having a blast with the part. I would have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t seen ‘Spoorloos‘, which has clear similarities. Either way, ‘Something…’ wouldn’t have the same effect because it lacks all the build-up and psychological tension of the other.
Still, I wonder if Tim Krabbé, the author of ‘Het Gouden Ei’ (the novella on which ‘Spoorloos’ is based), had seen this short before writing his book. 7.0
“Oh, Henry, you are such a little kid! I swear to God you are! I mean where would you be without me to take care of you?”
5. The Crate: This one goes out to anyone who hates someone but can’t seem to get rid of them. A passive-aggressive man, whipped into submission by his loudmouth, alcoholic spouse, is enlisted to help his best friend clean up a slaughter in the basement of their campus, where a strange beast has been found holed up in a crate under the stairs. This hatches another plan in our protagonist’s mind…
Hall Holbrook looked fatigued (not inappropriately) as the meek man, and Adrienne Barbeau was hilariously over-the-top as the she-devil in question. The story is simple but effective, due to its cast. Fritz Weaver, in particular, did a stellar job of selling his character’s mind-numbing fear, babbling incoherently in such a superb fashion that I think he deserves an award for those moments. 7.0
“What’s the matter, Mr. Pratt? Bugs got your tongue?”
6. They’re Creeping Up On You: E.G. Marshall is pitch-perfect as a modern-time Scrooge, a detestable rich man who’s throwing his weight around from the security of his sanitized 3200$/month apartment. But he has one major weakness, and it’s a mysophobia that has him spraying and wiping everything in his germ-free home. Sometimes, you just can’t win…
I can never forget this short, because it’s actually quite effective – it’s the only one that takes itself seriously enough that it becomes eerie and intense at once. It also features a pretty memorable setting, the weird, almost Gilliam-esque, antiseptic apartment. Plus there’s the matter of the creepy-crawlies, which are enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. Ick. 8.0
“That takes care of that.”
7. Epilogue: This is a follow-up to the Prologue, in which we find the ‘Creepshow’ comic being tossed away with the morning’s garbage. Then we meet up with the family again, and realize that the argument of the night before has lasting repercussions.
This is very short, but it was satisfying to see the boy get his vengeance – in his own unique way. I loved the wink at comic book readers of the day, those who remember the ads at the back of these books, and was really pleased to see Tom Savini in a cameo. 6.0
All in all, ‘Creepshow’ is a fundamentally decent idea that got short-changed by an uneven tone and a poor production budget. The filmmakers’ intentions are good, but they don’t exactly manage to fully realize their vision – which is unfortunate, given that a combination of George Romero and Stephen King should be horror gold.
Still, it has its moments, and, as far as I’m concerned, it gradually gets better as it creeps forward. Either way, there’s enough to it to satisfy a variety of horror aficionados. But one can’t help to wonder what it could have been, instead of what it currently is – and what a modern iteration of such an anthology would be like.
Post scriptum: Romero and King would reunite for a sequel, in ‘Creepshow 2’, five years later. A third ‘Creepshow’ was released in 2006 but has absolutely nothing to do with its originators and was widely panned.
Date of viewing: Hallowe’en 2013