Creepshow (1982)

Director: George Romero

Starring: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Vivica Lindfors

When I said that “Cujo” should have been filmed as a short story, this is what I had in mind, that it should have been part of an anthology film like “Creepshow.” Telling five stories of revenge and just desserts, “Creepshow” plays upon basic human fears to give its outlandish stories a very real, blood-curdling sense of dread. Aside from the frame story which involves the boy (played by Stephen King’s son) who gets caught reading the horror comic by his father (Tom Atkins), “Creepshow” is divided into five chapters of Romero/King collaborative efforts, all done as a fitting tribute to the old EC horror comics.

The first tale is “Father’s Day,” starring Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, and Ed Harris (in one of his earliest film roles). This is the story of the Grantham family, rich, spoiled, and just plain mean-spirited. Other than the fact that this is Father’s Day, today is special for the Granthams for a much more sinister reason. Seven years ago, the most inhuman monster among them (Nathan Grantham), was murdered by his daughter Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors) because she could no longer stand to look after this man who put her down and treated her like the help at every turn, and who almost certainly had killed his daughter’s lover to ensure that she would not leave his side. Unexpectedly, during Bedelia’s routine of meditating in front of her father’s grave, his reanimated corpse rises up to strangle her, and goes on to kill the rest of the family. He just wanted his Father’s Day cake! Although this segment is generally well-made, the fact that there are no characters to feel sympathy for (aside perhaps from Ed Harris’s ill-fated Hank) makes it difficult to work up any enthusiasm when the mayhem begins. Am I supposed to be glad that this monster of a man got his revenge? At least the soundtrack is good.

The second story is “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” starring the one and only Stephen King as the title character. One night, Jordy witnesses a meteor falling to Earth. Being the typical slack-jawed yokel, Jordy must investigate at once! First thing he does, sure enough, is touch the darn thing. Realizing it to be rather hot, he douses it with cold water. While he’s doing this, Jordy is already picturing in his mind a scenario which has him presenting the meteor to the local university for some quick cash. He’d do well to ask for more money than he’s pondering but, for an idiot, Jordy has quite an active imagination. However, to his dismay, pouring water on the meteor has split it into two pieces. Now you’ve gone and done it, Jordy! He picks up the two meteor halves, the second of which gets some of its blue slime on his hands. While watching some pro wrestling on the TV (and, yes, that is current WWE owner Vince McMahon’s voice as the announcer), Jordy notices what looks like plant life growing from his hand. Before long, it spreads all over his body, the house and the yard. Eventually, when the plant life has completely covered Jordy’s body and distorted his voice, he decides that he can’t go on anymore and takes his own life with a shotgun. Whether you like this chapter or not depends entirely on your opinion of Stephen King’s performance. You may find him far too over-the-top for your taste. I, on the other hand, love Jordy Verrill for the cartoon character George Romero intended him to be. Indeed, King apparently was playing the role seriously until Romero told him to play it as if he were portraying Wile E. Coyote.

The third story (and my personal favorite) is “Something to Tide You Over,” starring Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, and Gaylen Ross (who worked with Romero previously in 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead”). As Richard Vickers, Leslie Nielsen is deliciously evil. Richard is a wealthy son of a gun. He’s got a mansion overlooking the beach, and a security system that screams paranoia. Richard’s paranoia is topped only by his jealous rage when he learns of his wife Becky (Gaylen Ross)’s affair with Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson). Richard’s solution to the problem is as elaborate as it is insane: He decides to bury the lovers up to their necks in sand and allow them both to drown when the tide comes in… but not before leaving Harry with a TV and a VCR so that he can watch as Becky’s fate draws nearer. Richard returns later to retrieve the TV, and is a little shaken when Harry’s body cannot be found. Surely, the tide must’ve carried him off. Well, of course it didn’t, and don’t call him “Shirley.” In fact, Richard is soon confronted by the zombies of Becky and Harry, and he is soon buried up to his neck, his fate sealed, just as theirs were. For Nielsen’s turn as the villainous Richard alone I love, love, LOVE this portion of the movie.

Story #4 is “The Crate,” starring Hal Holbrook and Adrienne Barbeau. Holbrook plays Henry Northup, a very timid creature whose every waking moment is controlled by his nagging wife, Wilma. Adrienne Barbeau is really effective in portraying Wilma as an annoying wife and that party guest who just embarrasses the hell out of everyone, so much so that you wish you could kill her yourself. Henry imagines a few scenarios in which he indeed does just that, only to have her snap him out of his daydreaming spell. Henry’s pal Dexter (Fritz Weaver) gives him a real chance to be rid of this woman when Dexter and the janitor at the university discover an old wooden crate that’s been hidden away underneath the basement staircase since 1834. That, and the nails, chains and padlock don’t seem to indicate to anyone that whatever’s inside was probably meant to stay there. A monster pulls the janitor in and eats him, leaving the man’s blood all over the laboratory. The monster also eats a grad student before Dexter flees to seek Henry’s help. Seeing a golden opportunity, Henry drugs Dexter, calls Wilma over to the university, and feeds her to the monster before disposing of it and the box it came in. Unfortunately, as the closing seconds indicate, Henry’s job may not have been as thorough as he believed, as the monster (very much alive) breaks out of its box. A pretty decent effort, especially on the part of Hal Holbrook. “The Crate” is, however, nowhere near as much fun as the chapters before and after it.

The fifth and final segment presented for our amusement is “They’re Creeping Up On You!” This one stars E.G. Marshall as Upson Pratt, a ruthless business tycoon with an insect phobia. At first, he merely encounters one or two cockroaches, and disposes of them easily with bug spray, his shoe, or his garbage disposal. But, eventually, the roaches begin to invade in greater numbers, appearing in the lights in his ceiling, on the mattress of his bed, coming through the kitchen sink and, most disturbing of all, hiding in his bran flakes! He demands that White (David Early) come instantly to fix his bug problem, but eventually even that becomes impossible when the building suffers a blackout, White is stuck in an elevator, and Pratt is left to struggle with the multiplying number of cockroaches in his high-tech, colorless and (apparently not so) germ-free apartment. The segment concludes with a large group of cockroaches emerging from the dead body of Upson Pratt. Probably the only genuinely creepy segment of the movie, this one gets high marks from me for both that aspect and for E.G. Marshall’s performance.

“Creepshow” was released in theaters in the fall of 1982, when I would have been about seven months old. Being able to count the 2007 double-feature “Grindhouse” as one of my greatest theatrical experiences, and already being impressed by this movie on DVD, I can safely say that I would have enjoyed seeing “Creepshow” at the theater had I been of age. The acting is caricature-based, not character-based. These are not meant to resemble actual human beings, but comic book panels made flesh and blood. The morality tales they serve are the only thing that’s real, and that’s the way that “Creepshow” should be.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Good work! You are right on the money in saying that the acting is caricature-based and not character based. It has to be worth watching just for the great appearances of some “character” actors no longer with us today.

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