Creepshow (1982)

The late George Romero is known largely for his contribution to the modern concept of zombies being shambling, flesh-eating mirrors of ourselves. Despite their popularity at this point, all of the Dead movies were low-budget features that did modestly well at the box office due to Romero's (and the series's) core fans.  Romero himself made quite a number of different films in his career, but only one became a truly massive hit: Creepshow.

Part of the reason for this is that he teamed up with Stephen King, who was just as popular in the early 1980s as he is now.  Perhaps even more so, since a number of his books had been adapted at this point, to mixed success.  What Creepshow did was allow King to team up with one of his idols and write the script as well.  The film ended up being both a tribute to the old-fashioned horror anthology as well as EC Comics, using several of their artists for the poster art, comic panels and animation in the film. The result was not only a film that was a gift to horror fans, but also accessible enough for mainstream audiences.

We begin in a suburban house during the Halloween season, with an angry father (Tom Atkins) berating his son Billy (Joe Hill) for reading what he considers "crap," said crap being a comic book called Creepshow.  His mother (Iva Jean Saraceni) stands sheepishly by, even Stan slaps Billy when the latter wisely brings up that what he is reading is not as bad as the magazines his father keeps hidden away.  Stan throws the magazine out, and Billy comforts himself as the Creep appears at his window, and we begin to experience the five stories contained within the comic.

"Father's Day" concerns a family getting together for the named day to celebrate with their Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors).  For the benefit of Hank (Ed Harris), who has recently married into the family, Sylvia Grantham (Carrie Nye) recounts how Bedelia is said to have murdered her father Nathan (Jon Lormer) 10 years prior to the day and how they get together every year to commemorate the event.  Unfortunately, an added guest will be coming to the party this time around.

The second story is "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill", in which the title character (Stephen King) is lucky enough to have a meteor land on his farm.  While he dreams of the riches that he will have when he brings it "up to the college," he accidentally breaks it open, letting forth an alien weed that covers everything, including him.

Next up is "Something to Tide You Over".  Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson) has been having an affair with Rebecca (Gaylen Ross), the wife of Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen).  Vickers turns out to have a peculiar idea for revenge: bury the lovers up to their necks in the sand, and make Harry watch on a video monitor as Becky drowns, shortly before he suffers the same death.  Unfortunately for Vickers, death may not be enough of a barrier to keep the lovers themselves from having their own revenge.

In "The Crate", college professor Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) has a problem with his loud, drunken and verbally abusive wife Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau) holding him back both socially and in his career.  Too reserved to do anything more than fantasize, his chance to rid himself of Wilma comes along when a janitor (Don Keefer) at the university finds an old crate under some stairs.  The janitor and Professor Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver), Henry's best friend, drag it out and open it, finding to their horror that it contains a very resilient and hungry creature.  When Dexter tells Henry what happened, Henry concocts an idea to both get his friend out of trouble and finally, once and for all, rid him of his shrew of a wife.

The final segment, "They'll Creep Up on You", focuses on a man named Upson Pratt (E. G. Marshall) who has secluded himself in a sterile penthouse.  Despite all his efforts, cockroaches seem to keep getting in.  His efforts to rid himself of the growing problem are hampered by a blackout and the fact that, in truth, anyone he could reach out for to help would sooner see him dead.

And, of course, in the end, Billy gets back at his dad in a rather creative way for throwing out his comic book.

When I was a kid both my parents worked, so my mother would often drop me off to spend my days at the local library during the summer.  The comic book tie-in to Creepshow is one of the things I would frequently read while there, especially "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" and "The Crate".  I always thought the comic book was more lurid than the actual movie.  I have to admit, when I finally saw the movie toward the late 1980s, I was initially disappointed by how goofy it was compared to how the comic played it relatively straight.

Some of my original concerns have become, as I've grown more appreciative of what the film was doing, among the many reasons I love this movie.  The reds and blues and strange, psychedelic backgrounds when many of the segments come to an end remind the viewer that this is a live comic book, as does much of the framing.  George Romero truly decided to do something different here, and, except for the last segment, it really doesn't look like anything else he has done.

One of the problems I originally had (and which a number of people have had) was Stephen King's acting, but in truth he doesn't do a bad job.  The character is meant to be a wide-eyed, slow rube, and King manages to pull it off.  Most of the time casting him as an actor is just a stunt, but it works here.  The only other time I can say that is his cameo as a "cleaner" in Sons of Anarchy.

At the time Creepshow was made, Leslie Nielsen, originally a dramatic actor, had been reintroduced to a new generation via Airplane! and Police Squad! as a comedic talent.  In fact, except for fans of Forbidden Planet, this is about the only way he was known.  He shows his range by playing the insane Richard Vickers, who is truly the most frightening thing in the movie other than the cockroaches.  Ted Danson was also just about to begin his long run on Cheers, so we get to see him out of character here as well.  Together, they make up one of the strongest segments.  Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau and E. G. Marshall pull off their roles effortlessly, and it appears they are all having fun rather than showing up for a paycheck.

As for the segments, they are deliberately paced.  "Father's Day" has a memorable ending, but otherwise isn't that great, while "Jody Verrill" is largely meant to have a role for King to play.  The final three are horror gold, especially the last, when instead of going for the garish colors Romero goes for straight-on body horror.  And let's not forget Tom Savini.  He's not just the garbage man at the end, but the one responsible for the monsters and all the makeup effects.

Romero worked with Richard P. Rubinstein on this, and, along with occasional stories from Stephen King and others, went on to work with him (and Savini) on the late-night '80s series Tales from the Darkside, which eventually spawned its own anthology movie.  Two more Creepshow movies were produced, again adapting King stories, but rather disappointingly, as Romero was only present for the first.

Creepshow (1982)
Time: 120 minutes
Starring: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Stephen King, E. G. Marshall, Fritz Weaver
Director: George A. Romero


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