Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Creepshow (1982) review


Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup), Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup), Fritz Weaver (Dexter Stanley), Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers), Carrie Nye (Sylvia Grantham), E.G. Marshall (Upson Pratt), Viveca Lindfors (Aunt Bedelia), Ed Harris (Hank Blain), Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth), Stephen King (Jordy Verrill), Warner Shook (Richard Grantham), Robert Harper (Charlie Gereson), Elizabeth Regan (Cass Blain), Gaylen Ross (Becky Vickers), Jon Lormer (Nathan Grantham), Don Keefer (Mike the Janitor), Bingo O'Malley (Jordy's Dad/Dept. of Meteors Guy/Doctor), John Amplas (Nathan's Corpse), David Early (White), Nann Mogg (Mrs. Danvers), Tom Atkins (Stan), Iva Jean Saraceni (Billy's Mother), Joe King (Billy), Marty Schiff (Garbage Man #1), Tom Savini (Garbage Man #2)

Directed by George Romero

The short Version: Tongue is planted firmly in cheek for this gruesome giggler, an EC inspired celluloid comic book marrying yuks with yucks. It's five tales of terror plus one fright-filled framing device concerning vengeance from beyond the grave, voodoo dolls, things in crates, creepy-crawlies, and close encounters with "meteor shit". With its menagerie of  multi-colored comic panels, big name stars, and jovially macabre ambiance, Romero's vividly realized comic quintuple is one you can't put down.

Five terrifying tales of terror rise from the pages of a ghoulish Creepshow comic book after a boys strict father tosses it out in the garbage. Upon perusing its pestilent pages -- a crotchety, murderous, and maggot-covered man returns from the grave for a special Father's Day gift; a country hick comes into contact with the contents of a meteor; an insane TV executive takes revenge on his cheating wife and lover by burying them up to their necks on the beach just as the tide is coming in; a horrifying discovery is made at a university when a 150 year old crate is found hidden under a staircase; an undignified businessman who hates everybody is visited by thousands of cockroaches in his germ proof apartment. It's all wrapped up with the domineering dad from the framing device feeling a sharp pain in his neck.

Two of the horror genres big-leaguers, George Romero and Stephen King, combined their penchant for fear-filled storytelling to create a quintuple of jolting tales of horror. Making it a terror triumvirate is Tom Savini and his splattery, monstrous brand of makeup effects. For these men, CREEPSHOW marked a few firsts -- Romero got his biggest budget ever up to that time, his best cast of actors, and major studio distribution; Stephen King was making his acting debut (other than a cameo in KNIGHTRIDERS) as well as writing stories written specifically for the big screen; and Tom Savini was getting the chance to create an actual monster for the first time in his gore-laden career. For the famous effects artist, the opportunity to do a bonafide monster wasn't the only first offered him at that time.

Just as the CREEPSHOW production was gaining ground, Savini was planning to make his directorial debut for producer William Friedkin on a project titled 'Night of the Burning Moon'. According to Savini, Friedkin couldn't wait for the anthology to wrap. The enterprising effects man felt loyalty towards Romero, so his gut told him to stick with the Laurel/UFD project; and he seems to have made the right decision since the Friedkin film (described as a murder mystery) never got off the ground.

CREEPSHOW is an $8 million EC styled comic book brought to ghoulish life over the course of a three year period. Romero and producer Richard P. Rubinstein visited Stephen King in Maine in late summer of '79 to discuss making a movie together. A deal for Romero to helm SALEM'S LOT had fallen through, so King offered him something else of his choosing. Romero chose THE STAND. Considering its epic scope, it was decided they should collaborate on something else in the interim with the hope of earning enough money to do justice to THE STAND with the aid of major studio backing. The genesis of Romero's CREEPy classic began.

The original aim was to have a multitude of situational horror skits done in experimental formats; one would be B/W, another would be full widescreen, another would be in 3D, etc. King came up with the format that was settled on -- a comic book approach -- and also the films title. The initial plan of approximately 10 skit-like tales was shortened to five in a more linear style akin to the grotesque, blackly humorous, and controversial EC comic stories of the 1950s.

Filming of CREEPSHOW began in July of 1981 using a vacant school and its gymnasium as a studio (the Penn Hall Academy in Monroeville), and lasted for 17 weeks wrapping up sometime in November of that year. UFD, or UFDC (United Film Distribution Company) put up the entire budget, but Warners was handling distribution duties. UFD also distributed DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), one of the most financially successful independent films of all time; the success of which led to a three picture deal consisting of KNIGHTRIDERS (1981), an unmade 50s style SciFi spoof  'Invasion of the Spaghetti Monsters', and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985).

As for the finished product, CREEPSHOW turned out to be a frightfully well made fear feature. It's one of those rare occasions where the filmmakers passion for the material blazes across the screen. Easily one of the most unusual horror movies of the 1980s, it wore its gruesome EC (an Entertaining Comic) badge with bloody honor. If ever a film was labeled "a comic book come to life", CREEPSHOW takes that literally. It's not just in the EC styled dark humor, but in the garish lighting effects, quirky backgrounds used to elicit mood, and comic book panels utilized at key moments to help propel the story; all sending the viewer into a state of unease, or laughter. There's even animation used to bridge one story to the next. The inferior sequel from 1987 used animation in a similar fashion, but with less than stunning results.

Anthologies had always been a mixed bag, and CREEPSHOW does nothing to change that; yet even its lesser segments have moments of vibrancy about them. Despite shortcomings, virtually every comic colored frame evokes its devotion to the material. There's not been another filmic compilation like it before or since. Most anthologies have at minimum, fours stories in them. CREEPSHOW adds one more bringing the tally to five plus wraparound segment. Which brings us to the morality parables that make up this fright-tastic showcase of horror....


Stan scolds his kid, Billy, for having a gory horror comic his mother bought him. Threatening the child with an ass-beating if he ever gets hold of another "worthless piece of shit", Stan then disposes of the skin-crawling comic in the garbage. Not long after, Billy (Stephen King's son, Joe) is visited by The Creep (named Raoul by Savini). Turning to animation, this skeletal storyteller whisks us away to the trash can where the first issue of Creepshow resides. We never see Stan, Billy, or his mother again till the end. Between each tale, the comic -- in animated form -- flips its pages cuing the start of a new story. The first yarn to be spun takes place on a celebratory day for the patriarchal heads of household everywhere....


A dysfunctional, yet wealthy family gather once a year to celebrate the death of their murderous patriarch. On this particular day, the annual dinner is visited by an unexpected guest from beyond the grave who fancies a very sweet just dessert.

'Father's Day' was one of two CREEP tales written specifically for the movie, as well as one of two living dead segments. Simplicity in design, it benefits from kooky performances from a smorgasbord of unlikable people; most especially Viveca Lindfors delivering an emotional graveyard rant. There's some choice 'boo' moments and stingers here; these setting the proper macabre mood for the rest of the film. If the story doesn't grab you the visual style will. Ironically, Nathan Grantham, the decomposed, maggot-infested walking corpse isn't interested in eating flesh like so many zombies of the day; no, this one desires a mere cake that was denied him in his miserly, criminal-filled life. This tale embraces the darkly humorous, ghastly, playful nature of the old EC comics and their morality play templates; and unlike those stories the filmmakers took for their inspiration, the narrative of 'Father's Day' isn't exactly an evil being righted. The last shot has become one of the signature pieces of horror cinema imagery depicting the uninvited guest of horror finally getting his just dessert.

Tom Savini's makeup is fantastic. John Amplas (the title vampire in MARTIN [1978]) was inside the zombie suit save for a closeup where he's covered in maggots. Reportedly Amplas wasn't too keen on having larva on him, so a career with Fulci was definitely out. Debbie Pinthus wore the zombie facial appliance for that bit. His "grave" -- complete with Styrofoam headstone -- was only the finest in living dead decor replete with carpeting, wooden walls with lights, and a ventilation system. The tongue-in-cheek atmosphere is firmly, and satisfactorily established with this episode. The ashtray that sets this shocker in motion creeps up on you in the other stories as an in-joke.


A meteor crashes near the isolated farmhouse of a hick Maine resident. Figuring this object from outer space will bring him enough money to pay off a bank loan (a whole two-hundred bucks!), the yokel is compelled by his notion of good luck to touch the outer shell of the space rock. Leaving a clutch of bumps on his hand, it spreads, slowly turning him into a walking weed.

The least morbid of this fearsome fivesome is this story of a down on his luck, but none too bright backwoods loner and his close encounter with "meteor shit". Stephen King is one of two performers (Bingo O'Malley does triple duty as Jordy's dad, the 'Dept. of Meteors' guy, and the doctor) in what is ostensibly a one-man show. The entire segment revolves around King's character, and he pulls it off with an amazing amount of conviction. It's hard not to like his infectious, over the top, cartoonish performance; just this episode is the odd one out, so to speak. It does provide some diversity from the zombies, monsters, and killer bugs. At this time, King had been itching to direct, so likely his bravura essay of an overalls wearing hillbilly was the impetus -- and MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986) being the unfortunate result -- for that sole directorial outing.

The increasingly growing alien fauna was made from yak and horse hair, dyed green, and glued to King's body. The full-body suit was worn by Savini's young makeup apprentice, Darryl Ferrucci. Stephen King published his short tale, "Weeds" in the May 1976 issue of the men's magazine Cavalier. Its adaptation here took the serious, gloomy nature of his original piece and turned into a comedy with a few dark touches leading up to its downbeat denouement.


"It's Showtime" when a cheating wife and her lover are up to their necks in beach sand after a demented TV producer devises a ghoulish method of revenge for the both of them. Retribution is sweet... and salty as the water-logged, seaweed smothered lovers return from beyond the sea to exact some vengeance of their own.

Written specifically for the movie, this second of two zombie entries is notable for featuring Leslie Nielsen (who hasn't been this evil since DAY OF THE ANIMALS [1977]), Ted Danson (who was unsure whether or not his then new show CHEERS [1982-1993] was going to survive past one season), and, albeit briefly, Gaylen Ross (Francine from DAWN OF THE DEAD [1978]). Nielsen is the highpoint with his obsessiveness towards electronics and his wife; or, as he refers to her, his property. This segment is the most suspenseful, as well as the most tragic considering the amount of sympathy derived for the doomed lovers. It's arguably the most mean-spirited considering the excruciating method of revenge carried out, made all the more repulsive in that Richard (Nielsen) videotapes the whole thing. It's repetitive of the first story, but at the same time, has more to offer expositionally. Differing itself from the previous segments, 'Something To Tide You Over' maintains a serious tone till the end when some horrific tongue in cheekness rises from the material.

For the beach burials, Danson was actually sitting in a chair below a hole in the ground with a plate covering the surface and sand laid over it. Some of this sequence was shot on a beach in New Jersey, but the house interiors were done at the gymnasium back in Pittsburgh. There wasn't even a real house on that barren beach. It was a matte painting. The burials at sea were shot on a real beach. A three tiered wave machine was put to use for the effect of rushing waves consuming Danson and Ross.


A 150 year old crate is found underneath the staircase of Horlicks University by unlucky soul, Mike the janitor. He immediately contacts Dexter Stanley about the antiquated find. The contents prove to be very much alive... and very hungry.

The lengthiest (approx. 37 minutes), bloodiest, and best story of Romero's movie is found in 'The Crate'. Benefiting from some spectacular performances and great gore, the plot is essentially a murder mystery married to horror movie conventions. Dexter (Fritz Weaver) is a university professor who learns more than he ever wanted to know upon opening the creeky wooden box of the title. Meanwhile, Henry (Hal Holbrook) is a miserably henpecked husband seeking salvation from his eternally inebriated wife, Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau in lovably obnoxious form). Henry frequently daydreams about killing her, so the flesh-hungry monster residing in the 'The Crate' is his real-life solution. Having already made a mess of things from the consumption of two members of the university, Henry only has to get his loudmouthed significant other under the stairs. Arguably the scariest segment, the actors sell their wares totally straight for the duration. Both Fritz Weaver and Holbrook are a veritable Cushing and Lee, and nothing short of fantastic. Barbeau, too, is absolutely fabulous as the traumatizing, mentally abusive wife.

Fluffy, the thing in the crate, was the first time Tom Savini built an actual monster for a movie. His 17 year old assistant Darryl Ferrucci was inside the yak hair covered suit that came down to his waist. A cable-controlled head, puppet version, and mask for an underwater shot (not seen) were made. The remains of Wilma were also supposed to have been seen, but this shot never made the final cut. King's screenplay for this segment was adapted from his original short subject, 'The Crate' published in the July 1979 issue of Gallery, another men's magazine. The crate creature was inspired by the Tasmanian Devil of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons.


An unscrupulous, callous, despicable businessman with a fear of germs lives alone in a hermetically sealed penthouse apartment. One dark and stormy night, he's visited by some unwanted guests -- thousands of cockroaches.

It's another solo performance (with a brief appearance by David Early and three voices on a telecom), but this time from E.G. Marshall as Upson Pratt. Marshall totally devours every frame of the near 16 minutes he's onscreen despite stiff competition from thousands of roaches imported from Trinidad. The locale is unusual with its monochromatic color palette offset by the blackness of the outside. Originally, Pratt's domicile was to have been much more elaborate and colorful. An angry, bitter man, Pratt vies to surpass Leslie Nielsen's scumbaggery of story three. However, we never see Pratt actually harm anyone, but his nonchalant, cavalier attitude towards the pain and death of others he's been privy to makes him a prime comeuppance contender. Marshall's death scene is the nastiest, most spectacularly gruesome of all the just desserts meted out during CREEPSHOW's two hour running time. If you're bothered by bugs, this nightmarish tale will do little to curb your Entomophobia.

Initially, it wasn't just cockroaches that were creeping up on you; spiders, beetles and other creepy crawlies were among the 'cast of thousands', but was scrapped to focus solely on roaches. King had a replacement segment about a hitchhiker in case the roach story had to be fumigated. Incidentally, the sequel from 1987 included a story about a zombie hitchhiker. The roaches were such big stars, they had their own trailer, and quite a gourmet selection of edibles such as bananas, lettuce and dog food. To make certain shots appear more roach-filled than they actually were, peanut shells painted black enhanced the illusion to an alarming degree. The roaches may have been treated like VIB's (Very Important Bugs) during their month-long stay in their roach motel, but they never checked out -- being sent to that pest paradise in the sky via a gas bomb.

The animated segues between the segments were done by Rick Catizone, a professional animator who also aided in sculpting Fluffy for 'The Crate'; and also a discarded stop-motion animated hand for 'Something To Tide You Over'

A handful of matte paintings and opticals enhanced the world of horror created by Romero and his crew. Examples of these include making an eight foot portion of a styrofoam cliff seen during the finale of 'The Crate' seem much bigger than it was with the assist of a Dan Curry matte painting; an eerie moon-lit sky in 'Father's Day'; Leslie Nielsen's house in 'Something To Tide You Over' was only a matte; the city skyline in 'They're Creeping Up On You'; and Jim Danforth contributed a matte painting for the closing shot in 'The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill'.

Romero's anthology was quite an ambitious endeavor. It paid off in the long run debuting at #1 for one week and making over $21 million domestically; a respectable number, but didn't lead to Romero helming his intended epic version of 'The Stand'; which was ultimately turned into a TV mini-series in 1994. Additionally, Romero never got the film version of Thomas Block's novel 'Mayday' off the ground, either. Concerning zombies on an airplane, it would have been right up Romero's alley considering the decades long kinship he's had with the living dead. An inferior, smaller scaled sequel to CREEPSHOW followed in 1987. Only three stories were shot this time out. The tales concern a wooden Indian coming to life; a group of young adults trapped on a lake by a flesh-eating oil slick; and the last annoying story sees a woman menaced by a man she'd run over earlier in the evening. CREEPSHOW 3 made its presence known in 2007 and was greeted with vitriol by those who managed to sit through it.

A movie tie-in graphic comic book of CREEPSHOW came out before the film did in the summer of 1982. Jack Kamen did the cover and Berni Wrightson did the artwork. I used to have this comic, and read that thing many times over. Upon finally seeing the movie, I noticed there were some things in the graphic comic that wasn't in the film. The first time I saw CREEPSHOW was on video in 1983. My dad was at a girlfriends house and left me home alone to hold the fort. With a triple bill of terror consisting of CREEPSHOW (1982), Q (1982), and the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), I never left the center of the bed. For an eight year old, that was one gloriously terrifying night of horror; and just like the movie tagline, CREEPSHOW is the most fun you'll ever have BEING SCARED!

This review is representative of the Universal UK 2 disc DVD set.
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