"Creepshow" (1982) Review
“The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared!”
— The tagline for Creepshow
When I think of famous taglines for film posters, they tend to come from horror films. I think that’s because the people marketing them look for short, but brutally effective phrases. The best one I can think of will always belong to Alien for “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream,” with a possible runner-up belonging to the 1986 remake of The Fly with the wonderfully simple “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” (which is actually a line from the film, delivered by Geena Davis). But Creepshow’s tagline will always be one of my favorites for one simple reason: It’s the epitome of truth in advertising. It’s the most fun I’ve had being scared, and ranks among my favorite horror films of all time.
To be fair, it’s a horror anthology film, with pretty uneven segments on the whole. If you want more context on why this is one of my favorite horror movies ever, just click here to read a post I made around the time George Romero, the film’s director, passed away last year. In brief, Creepshow was the movie that got me into horror movies, so I owe it a debt for all time.
But even if you’re not in the same boat as me and don’t owe a debt to Creepshow for all time, it’s still a blast. There are films where you can feel the raw enthusiasm that the director and the writer have for the material, and Creepshow lands firmly in that category, and mentioning the writer at this point feels very important. While I love George Romero and believe he’s an absolute legend in the business, a lot of this film’s tone and wild creativity comes from the fact that one of the most famous American horror authors of all time was a huge fan of Romero’s movies:
In other words, one of horror cinema’s titans got together with one of horror literature’s titans to make a movie while they were both in their creative prime. Even if you’re not in love with the results, that’s a hell of a match up. The film was deeply inspired by 1950s horror comics, and these two men collectively leaned into that influence as hard as they could. Some shots have comic book style borders around them. Others have completely unrealistic red/blue lighting to heighten the color scheme to the absolute limit. The style on display is a blast, but it’s the whole package that makes this movie so much fun.
The movie has a framing device about a boy (played by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son) whose father (Tom Atkins) throws out his horror comics. A shadowy figure in the night beckons to the boy, who reveals all of the stories inside of the comic book, one by one. It’s a framing device that’s pretty light on story, but it gets things rolling as the film’s five segments play out (along with an epilogue to wrap up the framing story).
The first segment is probably the weakest, but has one of the best payoffs as well, so I can’t complain too much. Simply titled “Father’s Day,” it’s about a group of despicable and wealthy people who gather to visit their even richer Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors) to stay in her good graces each year. The gathering goes awry when Aunt Bedelia visits her father’s grave, part of the whole annual gathering. Bedelia killed her own father on Father’s Day, and well… Dad’s back, and he wants one thing, and surprisingly, it’s not what you think.
The segment is pretty thin and takes a while to get going, but the ending of the segment is one of the best parts of the entire movie, a truly macabre punchline that perfectly sets the tone. It also has a young Ed Harris awkwardly dancing in a living room, and that’s something you should probably see in your lifetime.
The second segment is a bit of sticking point for me. Titled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (a title that’s a not-so-subtle homage to Bob Dylan), it’s about a farmer who finds a meteorite and discovers that the substance inside of it causes green grass to grow on anything it touches. Unfortunately for Jordy Verrill, that includes him after a bit gets on his fingers. I’m a huge fan of body horror, and this segment is really creepy in concept.
However, the execution is bonkers. The fun horror tone gets stretched to the absolute limit here, especially since the ending is just straight up tragic/mean. But what ups the complete madness on this one is the actor playing Jordy Verrill: Stephen King. And if you think that’s weird, just wait until you see how he plays the character. It’s a strange segment, but the strength of the concept really works well to pick up the slack.
The third segment is where things get great though. Besides having a fantastic title in the form of “Something To Tide You Over,” it has the best performance in the entire movie from the legendary Leslie Nielsen. Don’t think that he’s playing comedic relief though. He’s the villain of the segment, Richard Vickers, and he’s absolutely terrifying. Richard confronts a man named Harry (Ted Danson) about sleeping with his wife, Becky Vickers (Gaylen Ross). Richard traps Harry into a horrifying scenario to punish not only Harry, but his unfaithful wife as well.
The segment is brutally suspenseful, and while it takes a slightly predictable turn at towards the end, it never stops being effective. And just like “Father’s Day,” this one ends on a fantastic visual punchline.
The fourth segment is the best though. This isn’t just my personal opinion, but the opinion of basically everyone who watches Creepshow at some point. The segment, “The Crate,” is a great bit of horror mixed with relentless dark humor. It’s a good thing that “The Crate” is fantastic considering it’s the longest of the five, and it’s the one that feels like it got the most attention during production. Nothing here fails, everything just works.
“The Crate” also benefits from having a simple setup that’s properly complicated by its characters. A janitor at a college discovers an old crate and shows it to Professor Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver). Both are baffled by its existence, and only Dexter has the chance to be horrified by the crate’s contents after a beast inside eats the janitor. Dexter has a big problem on his hands, and confides in his best friend, Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook) about it. Henry has a different problem though, namely his wife Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau), a rude and awful woman. And to Henry, the monster in the crate is a definitely a problem and a solution, all in one.
It fascinates me that Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau are in this segment together due to the fact they’d been in John Carpenter’s The Fog together only two years earlier playing wildly different characters (come to think of it, the father from the framing device, Tom Atkins, was in The Fog as well, that’s weird). They share some incredible dark comedy scenes together in Creepshow and the whole segment goes off without a hitch.
The final segment is a step down from “The Crate,” but it’s not a bad one either. It leans a bit hard into shock gore for its own good, but “They’re Creeping Up On You” feels like the most George Romero segment of the whole movie. “They’re Creeping Up On You” features some of the social commentary that made Romero’s zombie films so famous, but it’s a bit too on the nose to feel as revelatory as those zombie films were in their day.
Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall) is an incredibly wealthy recluse that lives in a completely sterile apartment. He’s unrepentant for the lives he’s destroyed over the years in the name of business, but he has a problem: A cockroach. It keeps showing up in his apartment, and it won’t die. And neither will the other cockroaches that slowly but surely make their way into the apartment as a very literal metaphor unfolds about how a man that views people as bugs to squash is suddenly faced with those bugs coming to haunt him.
You can reasonably guess how this segment ends from just that description, but watching a rich old bastard get comeuppance from an abundance of cockroaches feels way WAY more cathartic right now than it ever did before. Now that I think about it, maybe the blunt-force metaphor was built better for the 2010s than any timeframe before it, but now I’m projecting way too hard.
If none of that sounds appealing to you in the slightest, I get it. Horror anthologies are an acquired taste, especially one so specific and strange as Creepshow, but this ranks near the top of the best horror anthologies I can think of. It’s wild and mad tone makes it a riot to sit through and segments like “Something To Tide You Over” and “The Crate” are truly incredible. The other segments aren’t slouches either and provide plenty of fun, but they do sit in the shadows of the two great segments. When it comes to fun horror films, this is easily my favorite one.
All that being said, I still can’t believe that Stephen King is in this movie and performs the way he performs I mean, seriously. It’s just too damn weird.