George Romero and Stephen King are two of the most highly regarded masters of horror. With Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Romero not only forged a half-century’s worth of zombie lore, he also redefined the horror genre on film, and King’s novels became an anthology of terrors of the extraterrestrial, paranormal, and domestic persuasion, with quite a few being turned into excellent films like The Dead Zone and The Mist. For the two to find each other would not be unheard of, but for the two of them to collaborate was a worthwhile conceptual synergy, and Creepshow is the fruit of their passions.
Borrowing a page from the Tales from the Crypt comic books, Creepshow is not one film, but several vignettes tied together via a fictional comic book. Here’s a look at each segment:
The segments are bound together by brief cartoon snippets with a protagonist, ‘The Creep’, turning the pages of a Creepshow comic book. The main feature bookending the film is distinctly not substantive, featuring a little boy lamenting his father’s aggressive dislike of horror comic books. He gets revenge, of course, but the whole segment doesn’t say much about abusive parents getting their comeuppance.
The miserly patriarch of a well-to-do family is murdered by his long abused but equally detestable daughter. Seven years later, he comes back to take care of some unfinished business.
The plot is formulaic, but between the despicable characters, crusty corpse, a young Ed Harris, and some pretty nasty kills, it totally fulfills its pulpy, schlocky possibilities. Perfect for zombie aficionados.
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
Stephen King portrays a yokel who discovers a meteorite and dreams of using it to pay off his bank loan. A liberal application of water to cool the celestial mass reveals that it may be carrying a particularly invasive ‘guest’.
The premise is based on a short story previously published by King and shares some thematic territory with his other work, but even through his overly wordy delivery he manages some verisimilitude in his performance, or at least enough to have his campy character engender sympathy. It’s the sort of ‘man fighting insurmountable odds’ story I like made better by a bleak ending. This one’s for fans of speculative fiction like Day of the Triffids.
Something to Tide You Over
A wealthy, cuckolded husband discovers his unfaithful wife and her lover and comes up with a psychotic but ingenious punishment. Of course, no bad deed goes unpunished, and that includes all parties involved.
Though the theme of come-uppance is used frequently in Creepshow, this one is easily the best. Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, and Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead take the material seriously and earn some slow-burning chills in a segment that couldn’t be done better. Danson and Ross are good, but Nielsen absolutely kills it as the psychopathic husband. You’ve never seen this side of him before.
This segment shares some similarities with Father’s Day, but this one has as much emotional depth as you could expect from a self-conscious feature such as Creepshow.
A college custodian discovers a wooden crate hidden under the basement stairs for over a century and brings in one of the college professors to investigate, discovering that there’s something horrible inside. Naturally, one unscrupulous individual sees a great chance to use it for personal gain.
With some excellent production design, this segment emerges as the overall creepiest. The ending doesn’t come as a surprise, but anyone who greatly dislikes being nagged, or at least interesting movie monsters, is bound to get a satisfying thrill out of this one, especially because horror vixen Adrienne Barbeau turns in one of her better performances. Amateur Cryptozoologists especially will love this.
They’re Creeping Up on You!
A ruthless businessman, whose fear of germs rivals Howard Hughes, locks himself in his hermetically sealed New York City apartment during a lightning storm. Despite his precautions, he discovers that he has several thousand intruders. Or does he?
Gut reactions to this segment will depend entirely on your fears, but beneath this, there is a not-so-subtle parable; the protagonist finds himself victimized both by his fears and by some little friends who could just as easily stand in for the people he’s stepped on fighting his way to the top. True to form, it’s a bit too campy to function entirely as a paranoid thriller, but it’s the closest Creepshow gets. Insectophobes, get ready to squirm.
All of the installments, with the exception of The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, are pulpy morality tales of people either accidentally or purposefully urging their come-uppance via dark powers beyond their control. Each segment might not have enough meat to stand up to a full narrative feature, but Creepshow wields this as a strength; since no segment is longer than 30 minutes, one that is disliked will soon be bypassed, and each viewer is nearly guaranteed that they will like at least two of the five and probably more.
Stylistically, the film vacillates gracefully between playing it straight, a touch of camp, and full-blown comic excess, most clearly exemplified by the occasional garishly-lit close-up of a character against an obviously fake background. How does that work for the film? Because Creepshow is an unending torrent of pure Lovecraftian terror, and even if all the segments are not equally strong, each has undeniable moments of first-rate horror that easily touch upon a plurality of possible audience fears, from drowning to insects to creatures of lore, and it does so with such obvious love and cheekiness that it’s impossible to fully establish the idea of a tone, let alone commit to one.
At the time Creepshow was made, Romero was at the top of his game, and with King providing the stories, some from his previously published works and others written directly for the movie, Romero makes it clear that his talents don’t extend only to his own work. While both Romero’s and King’s work would be less successful afterward, the film is a testament to both of their talents, and though they would not attempt the same marriage again, even if both returned for writing duties on the less successful sequel, Creepshow remains unadulterated, and perhaps the perfect film for the horror fan with a short attention span.
Though an anthology of the three-film trilogy is sadly unavailable, a definitive two-disc edition of Creepshow is an option for any understandably obsessive fans.