When an angry Father throws away his son’s comic book in a fit of rage, the binned comic presents us with five tales of horror, including zombies, alien plants, a million bugs and a crate that should never have been opened…
Anthologies have been a staple of the horror genre for years. These bite sized tales of terror, often stand alone fables bookended by a framing narrative structure, have been scaring audiences since far back as 1919 (Eerie Tales, directed by Richard Oswald is often credited with being the first). They enjoyed a brief burst of popularity in the 1960s, with the release of Black Sabbath (1963), Dr Terrors Night of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967), among others. In 1982 George A Romero and Stephen King brought us the incredibly fun Creepshow, which has become the touchstone of the sub-genre for all modern releases of such films, like Trick ‘r’ Treat and VHS.
Creepshow is a homage to E.C horror comics of the 1950s. Many parents were unimpressed that their offspring were devouring these ghastly, colourful tales of woe, which is the set up for the framing structure of the film. Young Billy (played by Joe King, Stephen King’s son) has his comics thrown away by his Dad (Tom Atkins, minus his natty Halloween III moustache). At night his comic book comes to life and presents us with five tales of terror; ‘Father’s Day’ in which a family of bickering, money grabbing unlikable types have their Father’s Day dinner interrupted by the rotten zombie of said Father, desperate for the cake his murder denied him of. In ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ a backwards hick farmer discovers a meteorite on his land, which has a very odd effect on him when he comes into contact with a green substance encased in the rock. ‘Something To Tide You Over’ tells the tale of a vengeful psychopath who goes to great lengths to punish his wife and her lover, before finding karma to be quite the bitch. In ‘The Crate’ a henpecked husband finds that the contents of a long forgotten crate from an Arctic mission from 1834 may hold the solution to his marital problems. The final tale is ‘They’re Creeping Up On You’, in which a reclusive, cruel millionaire finds his spotlessly clean penthouse apartment is overrun with an infestation of cockroaches during a lightning storm. The second bookend of the story returns us to young Billy who, fed up with his Dad’s mistreatment of him, has purchased a VooDoo doll from the comic book. While Billy repeatedly stabs at the doll, in the kitchen downstairs his Dad begins to grimace in pain.
Like all anthology films, some stories are stronger than others. ‘Father’s Day’ is quite forgettable as an opener, with the saving grace being the gruesome makeup of the zombie father and the performance of Viveca Lindfors as the bitter and abused Aunt Bedeila. (Bonus points also for a young Ed Harris’ dancing skills). ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’, which starred Stephen King himself as the titular farmer was maybe a bit too silly, and for a film which relishes in black comedy there wasn’t enough of the black in the comedy here. The segment was too short to really build up much sympathy for his character. Although it does feature an actor called Bingo O’Malley, which is my new favourite actor name ever. Things kick up a notch with the next two segments. ‘Something To Tide You Over’ is a perfectly nasty little tale, with Leslie Nielsen playing gloriously against type as the vindictive and insane Richard Vickers and Ted Danson is good value as the doomed lover. This segment makes the most of having two strong actors to carry it and and makes great use of it sets. ‘The Crate’ is also excellent. The design of the creature in the crate is fantastic (Perhaps not surprising, as Tom Savini did the special effects for the film, as well as having a small cameo) and the cast bringing their best. Hal Halbrook as the put upon Henry Northup who fantasises about killing his emotionally abusive wife Wilma is very believable. Adrienne Barbeau as Wilma is brilliantly obnoxious. These two segments are the strongest. ‘They’re Creeping Up On You’ is entertaining, but a slight letdown after the previous two stories. As to how disturbing you find this one depends on your tolerance for lots and lots of insects. Personally I have a greater fear of drowning, which I guess is why ‘Something To Tide You Over’ affected me more. E.G Marshall has fun chewing the scenery as the unrepentant Upson Pratt and the army of cockroaches is pretty grim.
Stephen King and George Romero had been wanting to work together for years before making Creepshow and they compliment each other well. Romero did a great job of recreating the feel of these old comic books, all bright, lurid visuals and jarring zooms, while King has written a series of snappy tales of various levels of campy, cheesy, scary, silly and schlocky. Tom Savini on effects duty is always good value for money. Between the three of them (and the impressive cast) they managed to emulate the comics they were paying homage to perfectly. Creepshow is arch, macabre and silly. None of these is a bad thing.
Words: Felicity Burton