It’s curious that Creepshow is so keen to establish an EC Comics style, right down to the page frames and inked opening and final shots of each story, as George Romero’s patchy approach is exactly not the way to produce a consistent aesthetic. Compare this to the more full-blooded engagement with split screen and attempts at visual immersion of Ang Lee’s Hulk two decades later, and subsequently the likes of Sin City, The Spirit and 300, and Romero’s movie looks rather malnourished. In a way, though, this cobbled-together vibe is also perfectly suited to movie. Like most anthologies, the quality of its episodes is wildly variable. Add to that very spotty performances and tonal lurches (including those of humour) and you have a grisly mess, if one emphatically short on scares.
Michael Gornick acted as Creepshow’s cinematographer, and only ever performed those duties on Romero movies. He would graduate to directing, albeit relatively briefly, and producing; his sole feature was, appropriately, Creepshow 2. The stylistic approach is never as encompassing as it really needs to be if it’s to embrace the EC look; a few red and green filters are definitely a help, but they shouldn’t be the be all and end all. You’re left with a part-real world aesthetic that absolutely worked with Romero’s Dead movies, but doesn’t so much here.
Then you have Stephen King, whose original screenplays were few and far between, but mostly to be found during this decade. His work for Creepshow is, well, a mixed bag. Two of them, the second and fourth, are adapted from short stories, and I can certainly believe the latter works better on the page. King undoubtedly gets the idea of the anthology format, though, even if the payoffs are sometimes variable (one might charitably suggest he recognises that, in any anthology, some of the entries are expected to suck, at least slightly). And, of course, we also get King the thespian…
Prologue and Epilogue
The scene setter and its conclusion are appropriately twisted, tackling head-on the criticisms of EC by parents concerned at the degeneracy they encouraged and the corruption of their target audience’s morals. And you know what… they’re right! As personified by ’70s porn-tache supremo and Carpenter man Tom Atkins – here shorn of his face fungus – dad berates Billy (Stephen King’s son Joe, now more commonly known by his penname Joe Hill), who is indignant and unbowed. He exclaims “I hope you rot in hell!” The epilogue finds pater feeling peaky on account of the voodoo doll Billy sent for from an ad in the comic, which he’s now sticking it to as an effigy of his father. It’s an effectively brief wraparound, notable for a very crap floating Creep (much better realised in the subsequent animated titles) and makeup guy Tom Savini as a garbage man.
A one-note yarn that’s all setup and payoff, with no filler between the sandwich. Indeed, it’s most memorable for an early Ed Harris movie appearance (coming off Romero’s Knightriders). Albeit, he’s the second on the hit list of reanimated corpse Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer). King can’t even be bothered to give a decent reason for the corpse rising then and there. The cadaver effects are decent enough under the red/green filters, but decidedly less so elsewhere. Admittedly, “Where’s my cake?” is a marvellous murderous monster catchphrase. Also in the cast – and probably the best performance here, none too hard with several of the actors – is Viveca Lindfors, later decidedly sinister as Nurse X in The Exorcist III.
The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill
Another that’s rather one-note, it was originally King’s short story Weeds, published in Cavalier magazine in May 1976. The Colour Out of Space is cited as an influence (a forthcoming adaptation of which sees Richard Stanley return to feature making), but Romero takes a decidedly goofball tone, not his strongest suit, and King as an actor is… Well, he and Romero are tonally consistent, let’s put it that way. The title character is Forrest Gump if he found a meteorite that turned him into a plant person and then managed to blow his own head off.
It’s interspersed with various WACKY dream sequences where Jordy fantasises making a ton from selling the meteorite, or going to the doctor while he becomes ever more infested. One could imagine Sam Raimi pulling off the ghoulish giggles (indeed, one could imagine a far superior Raimi version of the movie top to bottom), particularly with Bruce Campbell in the King role (or even Ted Raimi).
Something to Tide You Over
One could also imagine Campbell in the Ted Danson role in this one, particularly with the usually ham Leslie Nielsen effectively cast as cuckolded villain Richard Vickers. This is easily the standout story, more so for the setup and execution than the payoff. Which is a bit of damp sea monster(s) as the drowned Danson and Gaylen Ross, returned from the dead and very much the worse for sea-wear, come for their murderer. Substitute their arrival for Peter Falk, and you’d have a great Columbo episode.
The conceit of manoeuvring Danson out to a lonely stretch of beach, having him bury himself on the promise he’ll get to see his abducted lover, and then switching on a TV showing her similarly buried with the tide washing over her is supremely twisted. Nielsen is especially strong portraying Vickers’ cheerful sociopathy throughout, fixing himself a drink to watch the lovers’ demise on his closed-circuit TV screens. And then there’s his final, hysterical laughter as he realises they have returned for him, and triumphant cry of “I can hold my breath for a long time!” as he too is buried on the beach.
The other short story adaptation, and structurally rather ungainly. It’s undeniably entertaining, but it lurches all over the place, with Adrienne Barbeau as a particularly unpleasant barracking wife. Her character has been expressly designed for maximum despicability, such that we can see why Hal Holbrook’s husband would want to kill her. But the method of this is so off-the-wall that it almost works sheer audaciousness.
A crate carrying a ridiculous ape monster from an 1834 Arctic Expedition – perhaps appropriately sent to Julie Carpenter, as it doesn’t look a million miles from the Sewer Monster in Big Trouble in Little China a few years later – is unpacked at Holbrook’s university, by another professor (Fritz Weaver) and an unfortunate janitor (Don Keefer), the latter quickly eaten. Weaver, fearful he will be blamed for the death and that of Robert Harper’s student, confides in Holbrook, who then lures Barbeau to the scene as its next meal. The off-beat vibe very nearly works – and again, you could quite imagine a full-blown feature in which Columbo has to solve the murder.
They’re Creeping Up on You
Probably best known as the one with the cockroaches bursting out of the guy at the climax. It’s a fairly solid effect, but the best part of the piece is EG Marshall’s gleefully vindictive businessman Upson Pratt, gloating over his various deals and the misfortunes of business partners as his expensive and secure apartment is gradually infested with roaches. There’s also an effective cameo from David Early as the employee being browbeaten by Pratt (one scene has him speaking to his boss through a hole in the door, offering a sarcastic veneer of respect). Ned Beatty also provides a voice cameo.
The main takeaway from Creepshow is that Romero wasn’t perhaps the ideal director for the material, enthusiastic but insufficiently versatile to translate EC’s cartoonishness effectively. He did seem to be experimenting with his range at the time (Knightriders is at best a cult curio), and his subsequent ’80s outings (Day of the Dead, Monkey Shines) would return to the barer essentials of the genre that made his name.