Creepshow (1982) — A gateway horror anthology

creepshow

“It may be on some subjects that I’m not entirely sane. The subject of what is mine, for example, I’m not sane… at all.”

Tom’s rating: If you were 12-13 in the early ’80s and had a friend who had HBO, then this is pretty much a part of your personal narrative… and we should talk.

Tom’s review: The other day we had a friend who dropped by and when they left, they also left a little visitor that hitched a ride on their backpack. My wife and I were immediately horrified when we saw a baby cockroach skitter across our kitchen counter. We’ve spent a lot in pest control to make this very thing never happen. I’ve never seen my wife smack down so fast and furiously with the palm of her bare hand, than I did at that moment. It was also at that moment when I looked up and made eye contact with my oldest and said, “They’ll creep up on ya.” They had no idea what I was talking about, so it was followed up with, “You and me, right now, we need to watch Creepshow.”

I wasn’t even a teen when Creepshow came out, but my friend had HBO where Creepshow was being played daily and easily accessible to my younger eyes. Come to think of it, Creepshow was most likely one of the very first quote unquote horror shows I had ever seen outside of Carrie and Friday the 13th. That coupled with myself having purchased a few horror comics, similar to the boy in the intro of the movie, made Creepshow ring kind of a twisted true. I mean, my dad was never brash and restrictive like that, and I never made a voodoo doll of anyone (at least that I’ll confess to), but, hey, for a 12-13 year old kid… I keenly understood the emotions being conveyed.

The tagline for the horror anthology known as Creepshow was always “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared.” I was reminded of this while rewatching it all these years later as my stupid kid kept pointing out my stupid smile while I was watching. I think my oldest had more fun watching me watching the show than actually watching the show itself. Sure, my kid enjoyed watching Creepshow, but some of the movie really failed to hold their interest. At least now they know why on every Father’s Day I always say in my creepiest voice I can muster, “It’s Father’s Day, and I want my cake!”

Watching it again all these years later, I was a little upset that Aunt Bedelia was so frozen in horror as the tombstone took a full minute to fall on her head. Really? The costuming on Steven King’s Swamp Monster did not age well at all. What kind of Walmart Fabric Section Monster is this?

I was doubly mad that Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth) didn’t take down Leslie Nelson (Richard Vickers) instead of being convinced to dig his own grave. The annoying wife trope from The Crate smacked a bit more sexist to me. The blatant racism and upper-class bull crap of Upson Pratt stung three times as hard as it did in the ’80s. In other words, times have changed… and this movie definitely has not.

All that said, the one storyline from the anthology that always stood out among the others and still sands out is The Crate. It is the vignette that defines this movie. I mean, just look at the artistry of the blood scrapes and ooze on the floor that look genuinely real. It wasn’t just splattered haphazardly. You can tell they really thought about how it would look when a monster wouldn’t leave his crate behind as it moved across the floor, full with blood. And then there’s the chess game strategy of a soft spoken college professor who fantasizes about killing his annoying wife being played out with absolute terror as he literally uses the most horrible of situations to his advantage. I mean, it was funny; it was horrific; it featured a great monster; but it was also just a really well written short story by Stephen King.

When all is said and done, Creepshow is definitely about goofy shock and shlock, AND — I finally pinned it down — it really is “creepy.” The music score, the pacing, the subject matter, the dark side of human behavior, all of it, all while being funny! It’s a terribly fine line to walk between satire and horror, and Creepshow crosses back and forth across it like a skilled acrobat.

Drew’s rating: For a knockoff Tales from the Crypt, it’s not bad. Could use a more spirited host, though. This guy’s no Cryptkeeper.

Drew’s Review: We’ve talked before about the enormous impact that EC’s horror comics from the 1950s had on an entire generation of filmmakers, authors, and artists. So what happens when two of the biggest names in horror (George Romero and Stephen King) team up to do an homage to the comics that inspired them? Well, you get Creepshow, a Tales from the Crypt-esque movie filled with gruesome stories of revenge, betrayal and poetic justice.

As with past anthologies, we’ll look at each segment individually. The framing sequence owes the greatest debt to Creepshow‘s influences, as a father angrily punishes his son for reading tasteless horror comics. Alone in his room, the boy sees a similar-but-legally-distinct Cryptkeeper nameless ghoul beckoning from outside his bedroom window. Approaching, the boy is treated to the following tales of terror…

“Father’s Day” — As they do every year, the wealthy and annoying members of the Grantham clan gather at the family estate to commemorate the death of patriarch Nathan, a wretched S.O.B. whose constant belittling drove his daughter to snap and kill him with an ashtray. This year, though, daddy’s coming home to teach his spoiled heirs a lesson… The first segment really sets the tone for the rest of the film as far as what you can expect: it isn’t deep, it doesn’t make you think, it’s just schlocky horror with a couple of jumps, some decent makeup (for the time), and a gruesome final scene that might also make you chuckle slightly. If that’s what you signed on for, good news: the rest is like this. If you were expecting something more subtle or meaningful, turn this off and reach for a Sheridan Le Fanu book.

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” swaps a good portion of its horror for humor, as a dimwitted hick (played by Stephen King!) finds a meteor that crashed on his property. His dreams of selling it to the local college’s “Department of Meteors” evaporate when it breaks open and spills goo all over him, but soon he has bigger problems: uncontrolled plant growth that has him looking like the unholy offspring of Gomer Pyle and Swamp Thing. It’s funny to watch Stephen King do his best inbred hillbilly, and the short running time helps this segment a lot: too long and the joke would start to wear thin, but watching the poor dumb bastard get gradually covered while his genius plans of ignoring it to watch wrestling and drink beer, as well as immersing himself in water, fail to get results. Funny, if not at all scary.

In “Something to Tide You Over,” a jealous husband learns his wife is stepping out on him, so he buries she and her lover up to their necks at the beach and lets the tide come in, complete with video monitor so the other man can witness his lover’s demise. The plan works perfectly, but if you’ve ever seen a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you’ll know that a watery death isn’t always the end of the story. This one’s kind of interesting if only to see Leslie Nielsen in a non-comedy role. He does an okay jealous husband, completely over the top of course, but that’s kind of the point. The special effects are laughable and sometimes don’t make any sense (one second Ted Danson’s facing incoming waves, the next his head is under three feet of water and he’s still alive by then?), but not too bad overall. Probably one of the weaker segments, though.

Conversely, “The Crate” is arguably the best story, though that doesn’t stop the monster from looking like Harry (of “and the Hendersons” fame). A janitor finds a wooden crate hidden under some stairs in an old campus building, with “Arctic expedition” and the year 1847 stamped on it. It turns out to contain an immortal monster who messily devours the janitor and a grad student. Inconvenient, but one professor sees the perfect means of getting rid of his domineering shrew of a wife. Like I said, this one’s enjoyable… there’s some pawky humor, a little blood for those who like that kind of thing, and a decent level of suspense. Not the most unexpected of endings, but you can’t have everything.

We close things with “They’re Creeping Up On You!” featuring a heartless (notice a trend here?) businessman who is concerned that cockroaches seem to be getting into his hermetically-sealed penthouse. You’ll no doubt be shocked to learn that they eventually start pouring in in huge numbers, exactly at the same time a blackout hits the city. I don’t know, this one felt kind of uninspired to me. It’s fun to see what passed for cutting-edge technology in 1982, and the ending is definitely gross if that’s your bag, but I felt like it sent the movie out with more of a whimper than a bang. Afterward, we return our attention to the boy from the framing sequence for a last tidbit of horror before the credits.

I personally got a decent amount of enjoyment out of this film, but you have to have a taste for its brand of sensationalistic horror. The Stephen King pedigree might lure potential viewers into thinking Creepshow contains a lot of abstract terror and unknowable Lovecraftian evil. Let’s dispel that notion: it’s an homage to old comics that endeavored to be as shocking, funny, tasteless, colorful, and above all entertaining as possible… not deep or thoughtful. In that, Creepshow mostly accomplishes what it set out to do. If that sounds wishy-washy, well, too bad — only you know whether that’s what you’re looking for or not. If it is, though, then have we got a show for you…

I know what you’re thinking: yes, this is the man who wrote The Dark Tower.

Intermission!

  • Tom Savini is the makeup/special effects guru for the film. Savini had previously worked with George A. Romero on numerous films, including the “Living Dead” series, and gained widespread acclaim for his realistic-looking gore. He has a cameo in this film as one of the garbage men in the final framing sequence.
  • A sequel, Creepshow 2, was produced in 1987 with Romero’s and King’s involvement. In addition, Romero produced an anthology TV show with a similar premise called Tales from the Darkside. Creepshow 3 was produced without input from Romero or King, and Tom Savini at one point stated that Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is the “real” Creepshow 3.
  • Tons of little Stephen King references sneak in all over the place, including a road sign mentioning Castle Rock (a fictitious town from many of King’s stories) and a married couple named Tabitha and Richard (Tabitha is Stephen King’s wife, Richard [Bachman] is a pseudonym of his).
  • Likewise, some elements appear in multiple segments… for instance, the ceramic ashtray used to kill Nathan Grantham can be seen in all four of the other stories.
  • This is obscure even by my standards, but apparently the reason Nathan rises from the dead is because Bedelia spills whiskey on his grave. In Gaelic, the word “whiskey” translates as “water of life,” and the novel Finnegan’s Wake involves a man who returns from the dead when someone spills whiskey on his body at the wake.
  • I’ve got no sympathy for the guy squished by a falling tombstone because he has all the time in the world to get out of the way. I timed it: 43 seconds from when the stone first starts shaking to when it crushes him. That’s just Darwin at work.
  • I had never before heard “having your ashes hauled” used as a euphemism for getting some. Did they invent that just for this movie?
  • Maybe it’s just me, but the scene where Northrup imagines killing his wife is hilarious just because of how enthusiastic everyone is afterward. “Hell of a shot, Henry!”
  • You know, if I captured an immortal monster in a crate, I don’t think I would just leave it sitting under the stairs at my alma mater. Damned irresponsible if you ask me.
  • If you ever see “Ship to Horlicks University” or “Artic Expedition” on a crate in a show or a movie, that’s a head nod: See Season 5 Episode 1 of The Walking Dead or the movie Jason Goes to Hell.
  • The 80’s was the time before DVD-extras, but you’re in luck! The fanbase for this film can watch Just Desserts: the Making of “Creepshow” for a solid behind the scenes look.

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