Let me start by saying that Creepshow is one of my personal favorites, horror or otherwise. I’m sure there are faults to be found, but ever since my father introduced me to this movie I’ve had an unabashed love for Creepshow. I think the same can be said for my father and brother as well, and the three of us quote it fairly frequently (it seems that good movies are always highly quotable). Creepshow is set up as an anthology, with a brief psuedo-short that bookends the five short films that make up the film.
Personally, I enjoy anthology films (which seem to be overwhelmingly set in the horror genre, such as Tales from the Darkside (1990) Cat’s Eye (1985) and the more recent offering Trick r’ Treat (2007)), if only because short films are often straightforward in their setup and delivery, and don’t require as much to be a solid piece of filmmaking. That’s not to say that a short film is superior to a full-length feature or vice-versa; they’re different animals and what works for one will not necessarily work for the other. And with anthology films, if one particular segment is terrible, the next one might be great.
Creepshow excels because all of the segments have their own charm (not to mention an excellent cast); this is largely because the whole affair is an homage to the classic horror comics produced by William H. Gaines’ EC Comics, namely The Haunt of Fear, The Vault of Horror, and the well-known Tales from the Crypt. Better still, Creepshow is a collaborative effort between horror-legends George A. Romero and Stephen King, both of whom created the film because of the influence of EC Comics had on them. Most of the segments have some sort of moral lesson, just as the comics they were inspired by did, and if you’ve familiar with HBO Tales from the Crypt TV show, you have a fairly good idea of the kind of stories each segment tells. To further reinforce the comic book inspiration, each segment starts and ends with an illustrated “comic book” image that transition into and out of the actual live action.
The first full segment, titled “Father’s Day,” is about an aging, wealthy, overbearing father (Jon Lormer) who drove his daughter (Viveca Lindfors) to murder him on Father’s Day with an ashtray* after he had her lover killed. This segment takes place 7 years after the fact, as the entire family, knowing that they owe their current wealth to “Aunt Bedilia” has a “celebration” every Father’s Day to mark the occasion. Hank Blaine (Ed Harris), has recently married into the family, and he and the rest of the family will soon find out how very badly Aunt Bedilia’s father wanted his Father’s Day cake.
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” segments stars Stephen King as a country bumpkin who discovers a meteorite in his backyard. Said meteorite happens to cause a bizarre plant growth that begins to cover literally everything. This segment is largely humorous, with several “dream sequences” where King’s character imagines the outcomes of his actions in a suitably ridiculous fashion. King gives a somewhat over-the-top performance here, and while still entertaining, this is probably the weakest segment.
“Something to Tide You Over” stars late, great Leslie Nielson, in an atypical role as a jealous husband who decides to get revenge on his wife and her lover (Ted Danson) by burying them up to their necks in sand on an isolated beach, telling them that when the tide inevitably comes in, they can make it if “you can hold your breath.” In typical EC fashion, revenge is exacted, and death proves no deterrent to those seeking it. It’s great to see Nielson in a non-comedic role, and he really shows his acting chops as a villain. Perhaps one of the better factoids about this segment is that the haunting, carnivalesque music that backs the segment is, in fact, “Camptown Races” played extremely slow and off-key.
“The Crate,” which is my personal favorite segment, stars Hal Holbrook as Henry, who is married to the insufferable Wilma “Billie” Northrup (Adrienne Barbeau). His only joy seems to be playing chess with his fellow professor Dexter (Fritz Weaver). When a janitor at the university calls Dexter in to examine an ancient crate he found under the stairs, neither of them could imagine that it contained something alive and hungry, leaving Henry to decide what to do with its contents. Adrienne Barbeau pulls off obnoxious in a way that would drive anyone out of their mind, and this entire segment is one of the scarier of the bunch, with some great scenes that stick with you.
“They’re Creeping Up on You” centers around Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, perhaps best known for his role in 12 Angry Men), a wealthy businessman who lives in a pristine, almost-sterile apartment in Manhattan. Almost sterile, except for the roaches that he can’t stand and can’t seem to get rid of. Through his angry phone calls and mutterings to himself it becomes obvious that Mr. Pratt feels that most of humanity is like the roaches he so loathes. On this particular night, however, Mr. Pratt’s concerns that the roaches, like his subordinates, are creeping up on him are not entirely unfounded.
These five segments are encompassed by a brief story entailing a angry father (Tom Atkins) who has just thrown away his son’s (Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son) horror comic, which is, of course, an issue of Creepshow**, which the boy is rather upset about. Keep an eye out for special effects guru and horror legend Tom Savini (who also did the special effects for the film) as a garbage man in this sequence.
Upon re-watching it for the umpteenth time for this review, I found myself grinning as soon as the familiar intro music started up; Creepshow carefully walks the tightrope of a film that deals with horrible things happening to people (some that rightly deserve it) and being a film that is extremely fun to watch and oftentimes funny, even if what is happening would never be humorous in real life (nevermind supernatural). Often overlooked by horror buffs now, Creepshow deserves credit for not only being an example of an anthology movie done right, but for its spot-on homage to the EC Comics that inspired it. Any fan of the HBO Tales from the Crypt should give Creepshow a watch, and if you’ve already seen Creepshow, give its less-than-perfect sequel Creepshow 2 (1987) a look as well. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have being scared.
* As a bit of trivia, this ashtray appears in every segment of the film, including the bookends.
** The comic used in the film was drawn and inked by none other than EC Comics artist Jack Kamen, who agreed to do it after another EC Comics artist, “Ghastly” Graham Ingels declined.