In 1982, acclaimed horror writer Stephen King teamed up with Living Dead director George A. Romero and the wizard of gore himself, Tom Savini, to collaborate on a horror movie. These scary Megapowers went on to create Creepshow, an anthology of short horror films that payed stylistic tribute to old school EC comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. This movie was released a good 7 years before HBO got a similar idea with their TV show named after the former comic. Does this collection of creeps still hold up? Lets have a look.
The film opens on the same dickish, borderline abusive dad that you see in EVERY Stephen King story as he yells at his kid for reading horror comics. After his father tosses the book in the trash and heads downstairs to pound a few beers, the little kid curls up in bed and is greeted by a friendly neighbourhood horror face to draw him out of the movie's framing narrative, through animationland and into the opening credits. After which, we start the first story of the evening, Fathers Day.
We are introduced to a gathering of New England shitheads as they await the arrival of their wealthy Aunt Bedelia. As they explain to Ed Harris, who married into the gang, the story goes that Bedelia inherited her fortune after she clocked her father, Nathan over the head with an ashtray and murdered him while he was yelling for his Father's Day cake. The whole family is actually cool with it, because Evil Bernie Sanders was a real dick and Bedelia is a lot more generous to the rest of the family. Things start to take a turn for the creep when Bedelia (Played by a somewhat Latvian-sounding Vivica Lindfors) wanders out to her father's grave in a drunken haze and starts waving out curses until WHOOPS! Nathan pops out of his grave and just kinda...chokes Bedelia out. Most zombies risen for the grave are after some sort of particular goal, and this one hungers for meaty and delicious CAAAAAAAKE.
Ed Harris wanders way from the party for a smoke and ends up stumbling into the cemetery, like an idiot. He finds Bedelias discarded bottle of whisky, and because this is a night for violating horror movie rules, takes a slug. The alcohol barely even touches his lips before he topples back into the freshly vacated grave, finds Bedelias body and gets squished by a falling headstone. I'm not even sure that Nathan could be blamed for that. I think it just sort of happened.
As the remaining family memebers start to grow wary of missing guests, the family matriarch Sylvia wanders off in search of a family friend, Mrs. Danvers. She finds her body and almost immediately gets her head twisted off like a bottle cap. The final surviving children go to investigate the noise and find Zombie Dad holding Sylvias head on a platter, covered in candles. Guess he got his cake. Wouldn't it make more sense for him to pull this on Bedelia, the woman he actually had a grudge against? Whatever. The kids mug for the camera and the first segment ends.
At this point I have to call to attention the odd letterboxing and lighting that is used throughout the film. Frequently the more surreal scenes such as flashbacks or imagine spots are done with cartoonish overlays and hazy filters. Usually when something horrific is happening, a spiralling or jagged, comic bookish background springs up behind the actors or monsters to make the whole thing seem like something read off of a page. The effect kind of ruins the terror aspect of these moments, though there is a certain kitsch value to be taken from it, which sort of goes part and parcel with the old EC Horror comics.
The next story is “The Lonesome Death of Jordi Verril, where we get to enjoy Stephen King himself in a one man show. This is by far the goofiest of all the stories, with King playing a backwoods redneck investigating an asteroid that crash lands in his front yard, hoping that he can sell it. His attempts to cool the space rock down with a bucket of water cause it to crack open, spilling out a blue liquid that Verril memorably refers to as “Meteorshit!” Within an hour, everything that the liquid has touched is starting to grow strange unearthly plant life, including Jordi's fingers. This is why we wear gloves, kids.
The only actors aside from King in this story are portrayed briefly in imagination spots or hallucinations, letting Stephen flex his acting chops. And BOY! What acting chops he has! King is admittedly playing a dingus, but the subject matter and tone set by the piece make the whole thing kind of enjoyably ridiculous. One thing I do have to laud in this segment is the cinematography and shot construction. The whole thing is shot like a 50's horror movie, complete with long range static shots of action moving through the frame and silent pans across the set, as more and more of Jordi's homestead is taken over by the vegetation. This homage is reinforced by the TV that constantly plays black and white movies throughout the story.
There isn't much left to talk about. Verril looks more and more like the Grinch as his conditions worsens, causing him to conclude that he is a goner and has a bath against the advice of his...father's...ghost? What.
Anyways, by the morning, Verril's house is completely overtaken by the growth and Jordi has been reduced to a shambling pile of moss. He blows his own brains out with a shotgun as the news forcasts plenty of rain for the next two weeks.
The next segment is “Something to Tide You Over” featuring Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen! Nielsen plays a control freak that has found out about the affair his wife has been having with Danson and plans bloody revenge. After confronting Ted and menacingly inspecting his VCR for a bit, Nielsen lures his wife's paramour down to the beach with the threat that he's already captured her and eventually sticks up Danson with a gun, forcing him to crawl into a hole dug into the sand and bury himself. The way he toys with Ted by making him think that he has a chance at escape if he co-operates is pretty diabolical and gets Ted nowhere. He is left buried up to the neck in gradually dampening water as high tide rolls in, with the knowledge that their mutual lady is suffering the same fate. Nielsen leaves them with a camera to record their fates and a friendly word of advice “You'd better hold your breath”
He retreats home, again taking refuge in his cameras and monitors as Danson and his wife both drown before his eyes. Finally shutting off the feed, Nielsen prepares for bed. Leslie Nielsen is probably the best actor in this film, carrying even his solitary scenes with the straight faced gravitas that made him such a successful comedian. He heads upstairs, not noticing the unnatural fog that curls around his house and the spooky blue lighting that has overtaken his lower floors. This character's reliance and obsession with cameras and monitors is (if you'll pardon the pun) very well documented, but it doesn't really come into play in the final climax, save the cameras not picking up his nocturnal intruders. The waterlogged corpses of Danson and Wife show up, gurgling out a beckoning to join them down at the beach. Nielsen attempts to flee from the water zombies/ghosts(?) but they just keep teleporting in front of him. Whatever this particular brand of undead monstrosity is, the creature effects are excellent, especially the flows of blue blood whenever Nielsen tries to shoot one of them. This chapter ends with a raving Nielsen buried up to his neck in the same predicament as his victims, yelling “I can hold my breath for a LONG TIME!”
Personally, I like the interpretation that Leslie Nielsen was actually crazy the whole time and that there were no ghosts. His subconscious guilt just got the better of him and he buried himself in the sand.
Next is “The Crate”. This one kicks off with some janitorial mook who is doubtlessly not long for this world discovering a hefty wooden box under the stairs at a university and decides to drag it out for reasons known only to him. Meanwhile, we head out to our second Vermont-esque regalia of the evening. This one is ruined not by a zombie, but just one of the professor's mouthy drunkard of a wife as portrayed by both Adrienne Barbeux and Adrienne Barbeux's cleavage. She manages to bitch out both her husband, Henry and his friend before staggering home, leaving Henry (Hal Holbrook) to fantasize about her death at his hands. His friend, Stanley is called to the university by Janitor to help with the Crate. Looking it over reveals that it was from an Arctic Expidition over 147 years ago, and doesn't seem to have been opened in all this time. They decide to crack the locks off and have a look, just as the box starts to chatter. Janitor mistakes what are clearly a set of eyes for jewels and just sticks his hand right on in there, paying for his haste by being immediately devoured by some big old baboon thing. Stanley flees the scene, gibbering like a lunatic until he runs into a student, all the while practicing his Curly impression. Meanwhile, the muppet from the box scoots back under the stairs and leaves a trail of blood for the two to follow back to it's crate. I guess it just likes the box. The student is far too inquisitive for his own good and gets quickly eaten as well, sending Stanley back into hysterics.
The sweaty, stressed out professor runs to Henry, who takes him upstairs and listens to the whole story. An idea is forming in his mind as he knocks Stanley out with sleeping pills and leaves a note for his wife, heading up to the university on foot to clean up the mess left by the two victims. The note he left lures his wife to the school with the promise of gossip and drama while she drinks what appears to be a mixture of whisky and milk that makes me gag. Henry baits her into creeping under the stairs, seeing this as a healthy alternative to divorce. Initially, the monster seems to be absent and we are treated to one last bout of bitching, until it pops out Jack-in-the-Box style and consumes the wife. The segment ends with Henry chaining up the box and dumping it into a nearby quarry, assuring Stanley that everything is taken care of. Stanley agrees to keep the whole ordeal a secret and he and Henry play chess, just as the submerged crate shatters and the creature inside breaks loose.
The Crate's strongest asset is the dialogue and performances from it's lead actors, though the scares are nothing substantial. The monster stops being scary as soon as you get a good look at it and the only tension comes from when it's going to pop out of it's box next. It's the most "Middle of the Road" of the stories with little to redeem of condemn it.
Our Final tale of the evening is the quick little vignent “They're Creeping Up on You”
E.G. Marshall plays Upson Pratt, a germophobic millionaire who lives inside of his hermetically sealed apartment, conducting business takeovers and every facet of his life from a wide control panel. Marshall plays a very charismatic and fun to watch monster, as it is made very clear that Pratt is a racist, self-centred asshole through the treatment of his employees and the glee he exhibits when he hears the subject of a takeover has shot himself. His encapsulated lifestyle is interrupted by a steady trickle of roaches that start to appear throughout his apartment, as the widow of his indirect victim curses his name over the phone. There isn't much content to this story, as more and more roaches pour into his apartment, coupled with a power outage to make things more horrific. Marshall's performance sells it though, making the earlier parts of the story feel like something out of one of the more bottled episodes of The Twilight Zone, or more appropriately, The Night Gallery.
The effects on this one are very minimalistic up until the end, when the comicbooky letterboxing returns and the roaches swarm into Pratt's panic room as the widow's curses ring out over the speakerphone. The lights come back on to reveal that the biblical swarm of roaches has disappeared, leaving only the twitching corpse of Pratt. We get one final gross out as it turns out his corpse is just a bag of bugs, and the last story ends.
The movie is bookended by the plight of the young boy, who sent away for an item from the comic: A real voodoo doll that he uses to torment his abusive father with. The camera backs out, the cel shading from earlier creeps into the scene and this is revealed to just be another story in the creep show. Slide into credits.
While the union of King, Romero and Savini is an excellent one, I have a feeling that a few more minds contributing to the project would have been beneficial. With the exception of perhaps The Lonesome Death of Jordi Verrill, all of these stories are relatively uniform in tone and style. The whole idea of an anthology series or film is to showcase the works of different filmmakers and writers, but every work in the film is written by King and directed by Romero. Why not get Carpenter or Craven up in here? Maybe get King and Dean Koontz to stop throwing punches at each other every time they're in the same room and ask him to contribute? Oh well. Father's Day is easily the weakest of the 5 stories, with the best going to either Something to Tide You Over or They're Creeping Up on You for the performances from the villainous leads. This is still fun. Creepshow is a tonally schizophrenic, goofy mess and dead fun to watch close to Halloween