In 1982, the genius of George Romero finally earned the recognition of Hollywood. Coming off of the lackluster 1981 feature Knightriders, George Romero was given a substantial $8 million dollar budget to create Creepshow, a big screen adaption of the accompanying “Creepshow” graphic novella written by Stephen King. At the time, it was a monster horror partnership with high expectations. Malevolent Dark briefly covered Creepshow in its The Definitive Best – Top-10 Horror Movies of 1982.
An Anthology of Horror
Creepshow leverages the standard anthology format to tell five tales of horror. King and Romero wrap the 5 tales with an underlying story of a young boy named Billy Hopkins. Much to the chagrin of his puritanical father, played by horror icon Tom Atkins, Billy devours the latest issue of the “Creepshow” comic book. Much of this side-story depicts the struggle between Billy and his heavy-handed father and eventually, Billy’s revenge.
Romero leans heavily on the comic metaphor by using extreme visual technics to either frame shots, or provide brightly colored back drops during key moments in the film. He also uses visually impressive transition between hand-drawn animation and the real world. These techniques had been well established by the time Creepshow was filmed; however, their application in this film really stands out as a clever way to transition between Billy’s story and the rest of the anthology.
the first story in the anthology, “Father’s Day” sets the stage in a stately manor. A family gathers to celebrate their deceased patriarch, Nathan Grantham, on Father’s Day. Nathan Grantham built his family’s fortune on bootlegging, crime and murder. Romero quickly reveals that Nathan’s moral sensibilities took root in the his off-spring. We also learn that Nathan Grantham was emotionally and verbally abusive. He directed much of this to his daughter Bedelia. After a stroke, the abuse gets worse. Bedelia suffers his wrath as she is forced to care for him. Nathan arranges the murder of Bedilia’s lover in order to shackle her to her duties as a caregiver.
Bedlia boils over with rage until finally she crushers her fathers skull with a marble ashtray as he clamors for his father’s day birthday cake. She believes that she has freed herself from his grip, but Nathan’s evil is so strong that it survives beyond the grave. Nathan Grantham will have his cake!
Stephen King pens a simple tale of betrayal and revenge for his first vignette. Romero manages to provide it with the proper showcase to demonstrate his style. Furthermore, “Father’s Day” showcases Ed Harris with a little Saturday Night Fever. it’s easily one of the best sequences in the film. This moment, as well as several others, showcases Romero’s ability to effortlessly inter-weave comedy through his horror narrative. All in all, “Father’s Day” acts as a fine roadmap for what is yet to come.
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
The next chapter features Stephen King himself as the dim-witted Jordy Verrill. Jody, lives a simple life out on a farm. One evening, a meteor streaks overhead and crashes in his field. Using his incredible logical facilities, Jordy wastes no time touching the meteor with his bare hands, thus burning his fingers. His second move is to try to cool the meteor off with a bucket of water. The meteor cools too fast, and promptly splits in two, as do his aspirations to sell the meteor to the local University. Soon after the event, a thin green moss like organism begins growing out of control.
Jordy notices this green funk starting to also grow on his fingertips where he burned them playing with meteor. He also has the funk growing on the tip of the tongue that soothed those fingertips immediately after they burnt.
Malevolent Dark would love to tell you that there is more to this story, but there simply isn’t. None of that should indicate that the story is no good. Taking a trip down memory lane, when it first came out, it seemed that this chapter garnered the most dislike. Decades later, this scene actually retains a certain 80’s charm and nostalgia. George Romero and Stephen King go more a more overt comedic overtone that manages to work just well enough. King does a great job portraying the simple-minded fool that defines Jordy Verrill.
Quite frankly, this tongue and cheek approach to the story endears the audience to Jordy Verrill in a way that makes the ending all the more sad. While not as outright horrifying as some of the other tales in Creepshow, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” still packs an unexpected punch.
Something to Tide You Over
After the sad song of Jordy Verrill, George Romero and Stephen King change up the tone. This time the story revolves around a trifecta of talent. Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson)has an affair with Becky Vickers (Gaylen Ross), wife of the rich and arrogant Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen). Its probably not necessary in these parts, but avid horror fans will recognize the name Gaylen Ross from the Romero classic Dawn of the Dead. She can also be found in the 1982 camp slasher, Madman.
Here, George Romero shifts hard from the lighthearted golly-gee humor from the Jordy Verrill tale into something much more obscure and dark delivery. Its the type of humor that only a man like Leslie Nielsen can execute effortlessly. The humor comes not from jokes, but in the cold hearted bravado of his character, Richard Vickers. In the story tells the tale of a man bent on revenge for the infidelity of his wife, but the revenge trip doesn’t stop there. There are consequences for evil, even when the evil is justified one’s own mind.
Instead of simply shooting Harry for his indiscretion, Vickers masterminds something far more sinister. Richard informs Harry that he has done something with Becky and that Harry will only find out what happened if he accompanies him to the beach. There Harry finds only an empty hole in which Richard tells Harry at gunpoint to jump into the hole and bury himself up to his own neck. Once completely encompassed by sand, Richard plays a video of Becky succumbing to the same fate. Here Harry learns that when the tide comes in, he will meet his doom.
To be clear, that is not all, but to tell more would ruin the vignette. Again, Romero and King tell an abbreviated tale, but still a tale that starts quickly and ends fantastically. The underwater shot of Harry Wentworth succumbing to the tide stands as one of the more more iconic shots in Creepshow.
The fourth chapter of Creepshow may be considered among the best. Again, the producers pack this story with talent. Hal Holbrook plays Henry Northrup, a even keeled professor with a shrew for a wife. The immaculate Adrienne Barbeau plays his verbally abusive spouse, Wilma Northrup. The downtrodden Henry often fantasizes about killing Wilma. In addition to the fantastic casting, this story accentuates the talents of special effects master Tom Savini. In this story he stuffs one of his most memorable creatures ever to hide in a crate under the stairs.
A janitor happens across a crate hidden behind a metal grate in the basement of the University. The side of the crate says Arctic expedition, 1834. He calls Biology Professor, Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver) to come take look. Upon opening the crate, they find ‘Fluffy’ as Tom Savini affectionately calls it, a gorilla like monster with a mouth full of huge razor like teeth. Fluffly quickly makes a meal out of the janitor. 148 years is a long time without a meal.
Clearly distraught, Dexter rushes to the door of Henry to discuss the horrors that he had seen, but Henry feigns concern. He has other plans. If there really is a monster under the stairs, maybe this is his opportunity to get rid of his abusive wife Wilma, once and for all. Henry drugs Dexter and leaves a note for Wilma to meet him at the University. The question is, will Henry’s diabolical plan play out the way he imagined?
They’re Creeping Up on You
George Romeo famously gravitates towards “Eat the Rich” style stories as in Land of the Dead (2005). With the help of Stephen King, he continues this trend in Creepshow. “Father’s Day” depicts how slimy a family born of ill-gotten gains can become. Infidelity amongst the well-to-do permeates “Something to Tide You Over”. Even the crate dwells in the realm of the educational aristocracy and demonstrates how nasty their personal lives can be. “They’re Creeping Up on You” presents more of a retelling of Ebenezer Scrooge, but instead of three ghosts offering a path to salvation, a couple of million 6 legged beasties exact a more definitive fate.
Upson Pratt, played by E.G. Marshall embodies everything cruel and unusual about capitalism. He oozes narcissistic sociopathy that makes the audience hate him in less than 30 seconds. He clearly will stomp on anyone without a second thought. This becomes crystal clear as he chides the wife of a former employee. Her husband recently took his own life because of the ruthless pressure that Upson Pratt put on him. He glances over at a dead cockroach as she seethes.
Upson Pratt is a consummate neat freak that hates bugs. Much like he considers his his insignificant employees, bugs are something to crush under foot. To manage his mania, he lives in a surgically clean penthouse of pure white. He disinfects everything and own almost no dirty possessions other than those of his own vanity. He has isolated himself from the bugs of the world and the dregs of society. However, unwittingly, he has also devised a prison for himself. One day, the scum of the earth will revolt and there are too many cockroaches to step on.
The Triumph of Creepshow
Anthologies often get a bad rap. They never make everyone happy. All too often, a critic will fixate on the one chapters weakness and use that point and drill the entire work into the proverbial ground. The truth of the matter is that of the many anthologies out there, Creepshow may be the best fully integrated compilations of horror stories ever made. Stephen King and George Romero intentionally keep the stories light so that they can get in and out of them without being encumbered by having to develop a complex plot in 20 minutes.
Still, in their simplicity, Romero and King still manage to weave a moral into the fabric of the stories without being too forthright about the enterprise.
The special effects by Tom Savini are spectacular, even though they they are somewhat reserved. The cinematography and editing are fantastic. George Romeo assembles an awesome cast. Romero serves a worthy five-course meal for both casual and avid horror fans. Utimately, Creepshow deserves its place as one of the best horror movies of 1982.
Creepshow (1982) - An Awesome and Underappreciated Romero Classic - Malevolent Dark
Director: George A. Romero
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33