If you think about it it’s almost bizarre to think that Creepshow even exists. It’s five stories and a wrap around tale all by at-his-peak Stephen King, it’s directed by George A. Romero at his most confident, King stars in it, as does his son, Joe Hill. There’s also a host of great actors: Hal Holbrook, Ed Harris, Adrienne Barbeau, E. G. Marshall, Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen when he was still a straight actor. It’s also got Tom Savini and his amazing practical effects at his most creative and playful. It’s basically a beautiful gift to horror fans. How is this even a thing?
Creepshow starts as a weird reflection of my own childhood. A horror obsessed kid has his favourite comic, the EC inspired Creepshow, thrown out by his father who doesn’t want any such filth in his house. Back when I was a child my father also had a fanny fit about the first issue of Fangoria magazine I’d bought. How could I have such vileness and depravity in his house? He threw it out and told me I was to never buy that magazine again. Much like the kid, played by Joe Hill, in Creepshow I decided that my father had no moral authority over me so fetched it out of the bin. Unlike the kid I didn’t decide to kill my father with a voodoo doll, even though I might have thought about it at the time. Instead I just got my mum to order me a monthly subscription and covered my bedroom walls with the “Scream Greats” pull out posters which came with each issue. Dad never mentioned Fangoria again.
The first story proper is probably the weakest story of the five, which is a good thing as the only way is up after that! “Father’s Day” concerns the returning corpse of a family tyrant desperate for his cake. Sure it’s got some early work from Ed Harris but the walking corpse make-up is decidedly rubbery and there is some truly terrifying disco dancing. The comic book styling is immediately apparent though. Romero freezes shots, turns them into comic panels and slides them along as a transition into the next scene. The lighting in moments of horror will flip to primary colours and action graphics will swirl out from behind characters as they look on in shock. It’s a little bit clunky and old fashioned nowadays with modern technology being able to do so much better and easier, but it’s also incredibly charming and, to this old horror comic fan, strangely comforting.
The second story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is, by some margin, the silliest story here. Basically a one hander about a simple farmer who is infected and mutated by some florescent green meteoroid space plant, I can never work out if Stephen King as the farmer is it’s biggest asset or it’s biggest problem. To say King plays it broadly is something of an understatement. With his face in full gurning-simpleton mode and speaking more like a cartoon than a real human being, King is about as far away from a proper actor as you can get. And yet there is still something tragic and weirdly heartfelt about Jordy Verrill as he remembers his life full of mistakes and imagines what it could be. Also the eleven year old me loved King in this so maybe this is one aimed at the kiddies, even if it does end with (spoiler) Verrill blowing his mossy head off with a shotgun.
“Something To Tide You Over” treads the familiar ground of revenge from beyond the grave. So familiar in fact partly because we just had this two stories ago in “Father’s Day”. However this story is much tighter and filled with incident. It helps that the two stars, Ted Danson and Leslie Nelson both known for their excellent comedic acting, take the story so seriously. Nelson is the angry older husband getting revenge on his wife and her lover by burying them in the sand and watching them drown in TV as the tide comes in. He is a cold hearted son of a bitch. His motivation has nothing to do with love or heartbreak, he only sees his wife as his property that Danson has the cheek to try and take. Danson goes through a range of emotions from cool, above it all boy-lover to a man begging for his life as he’s literally up to his neck in it. The scenes where Danson and Gaylen Ross have the tide coming in and the water splashes over them are particularly effective as, no matter how many safety regulations they had in place, the actors must have genuinely been half drowned for the sake of this creepy little tale. I also love the soggy, water logged zombies at the end, with their puffy blue skin all covered in seaweed. They are kind of ridiculous looking but so much fun with their waterlogged voices and dark green blood pouring down their faces.
And that’s what is so great about Creepshow. Yes it is dealing with murder, revenge, the undead and weird monsters but it’s done not so much as as a comedy but with its slippery black tongue planted firmly in its rotting cheek. Horror here is not trying to scare you but delight with its bizarre, fast paced and wonderfully macabre little tales.
“The Crate” is the perfect example of this. The story is simplicity itself: a university Dean finds an old crate which contains some ancient beast brought back from a find two hundred years previously and dumped in a cellar*. The creature munches his way through some of the faculty before another professor realises this might be the perfect way to get rid of his nagging, spiteful wife. The monster itself is a fur ball throwback to a cross between a yeti and a particularly mean Muppet. It could almost be endearing (on set the crew loved it so much they gave it the nickname Fluffy) if it wasn’t so vicious and bloody in its attacks. It tears through throats like they were butter and drags the corpses away to be eaten whole in the comfort of his crate. Then there are the performances. Hal Holbrook is so perfect as the educated man imagining violent deaths for his wife. He is down trodden but surprisingly calculating when push comes to shove (literally, he shoves his wife into the crate). Adrianne Barbeau, as always, is superb as his mean, drunk, belittling spouse. She is so different from Holbrook that you wonder how he could have ended up with her, and yet despite that you can see how he was attracted to her – she IS fun, her differences must have been appealing once upon a time. However you are totally on Holbrook’s side by the time he decides she should be Fluffy’s main course. This is the great thing about Creepshow, it can take the idea of a husband wanting to kill his wife and make it hugely entertaining.
The final story, ¨They’re Creeping Up On You¨ is the”greatest story here and also a showcase of Romeroś direction at its very best. E. G. Marshall goes for broke as a neurotic millionaire locked away in his hygienic ivory tower, under attack by an infestation of cockroaches. It is one actor in a white room and little else, but you learn everything you need to know about this contemporary Scrooge. you learn how he relishes in people’s misery, how his business deals are all the better if someone else suffers (hmmm…. where have heard that before?), and the abject terror he has with anything that is in the slightest bit unclean. The realisation he has that the muesli he has been eating contains more than just raisins is the most horrific moment here and that’s before the cockroaches start pouring out of every orifice.
This last story always freaked me out enough as a child. So much so that I would stop the tape before getting to it. Not sure I know why this was. Maybe it was the idea of all those bugs waiting for me in the bed or the thought of finding cockroaches in my Ready Brek. Maybe the story was too dark for my young mind.
Not so nowadays, this last story in particular but Creepshow in general is just great. Go on, show it to your kids, creep them out a little.