October Horrorshow: Creepshow

I’m about to write something that will call into question my credibility as a reviewer of horror films. I believe Creepshow is the best film George Romero directed. Blasphemy! What has led me to such low depths; to such sacrilege against Romero’s groundbreaking classic, Night of the Living Dead? How could I possibly elevate Creepshow not just above the incredible Night, but also above Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead? It might have something to do with the writing.

Creepshow, from way back in 1982, was directed by Romero, but the screenplay was written by Stephen King, who, by 1982, already had eight bestselling novels to his name. Most of Romero’s films, and all of his Dead films, credited Romero as a writer, so that makes Creepshow a departure. But, while Romero is a fine director with a head full of ideas, his writing hasn’t always been the best, often descending into b-movie schlock.

Creepshow is an anthology horror film, consisting of five short films wrapped by a simple bumper story. The five main stories are shown to be drawn from a fictional horror comic called Creepshow, an analogue to the old EC horror comics of the 1950s. As such, Creepshow, the movie, is an homage to those classic comics. King was obviously a fan, as three of the stories, Father’s Day, Something to Tide You Over, and The Crate, feature revenge, infidelity, and spousal tropes the old EC comics relied on heavily. The other two stories, The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, and They’re Creeping Up on You, feature single characters.

Father’s Day and Something to Tide You Over aren’t all that special as film segments, but they would have done just fine as episodes of Tales From the Crypt.

They’re Creeping Up on You is the final of the five main stories, and, if one has a problem with insects, the most shudder-inducing.

An old, rich businessman, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall), lives in a hermetically sealed apartment in Manhattan. The apartment is sealed tight, yet big, nasty, New York cockroaches keep finding their way in. Pratt is a cruel bastard. Over the course of the segment, viewers get to hear how he handles his business over the phone. The more of a bastard he becomes in the eyes of the audience corresponds to the amount of roaches that plague Pratt onscreen. By the end of the segment the audience will have seen enough roaches to last a lifetime. This segment is excellent because Romero knew how to use the roaches to effect, playing off all the generalized fears people have of insects. I’m glad there aren’t all that many horror flicks about bugs.

Before we get treated to E.G. Marshall and his six-legged costars, we get The Crate, which King adapted from one of his own short stories. A janitor at the local university (Dan Keefer), stumbles upon an old crate from a 19th century Arctic expedition. The janitor calls a professor from the university, Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver), and the two pry open the crate. Big mistake. Inside is a ferocious, baboon-like beast with about a hundred teeth and razor sharp claws. I won’t give away how things play out, but of all the segments in the film, this was the bloodiest, and the most mysterious. Where did the expedition find this creature? How did the get it in the crate? How did it end up stashed under a stairwell for 140 years? How did it stay alive all that time? No answers are forthcoming, but that’s okay. Such an enticing backstory works wonders at drawing in a viewer. This segment also features Hal Holbrook as another professor and Adrienne Barbeau as his acid-tongued wife. The scenes they share together are truly precious.

My favorite story in Creepshow is The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, which King also adapted from one of his stories. In it, Jordy Verrill (King himself, in his debut as an actor) finds a meteorite in his fields. Jordy is a dummy, played to comedic perfection by King. Being the dumbass he is, Jordy accidentally releases a glowing ooze from the meteorite. This ooze causes an outbreak of alien plant growth that puts kudzu to shame. The rest of the segment consists of Jordy in his house as it is all swallowed up by the plants.

King’s Jordy is a real treat. Just about everything he says made me laugh. I think it’s quite something that in a film featuring the likes of E.G. Marshall, Hal Holbrook and Ed Harris (who had a small part in Father’s Day), it was Stephen King who was the standout performer.

When I think of horror anthology films, I tend to think of them featuring stories from a variety of filmmakers and writers. This can lead to inconsistent quality. But since Romero directed, and King wrote, every segment in Creepshow, there’s never the jarring differences that trouble something like the V/H/S series of films. But that isn’t to say all the stories in Creepshow are the same. There’s sci-fi, murder, a monster, a plague of insects, and a handful of vengeful zombies. There’s a bit of hokiness here and there, but overall Creepshow is an excellent horror film.