So-so PG-rated comic book
horror scripted by Stephen King and directed by George Romero. It looks great
but otherwise really isn’t much.
CREEPSHOW (1982) was George Romero’s comeback after 1981’s disastrous
KNIGHTRIDERS, and was a moderate success at the box office. Made by Romero’s
production company Laurel and distributed by Warner Brothers (Romero’s first
experience with a big studio), it was a sincere homage to the horror comics of
the fifties that inspired Romero and King. As such it works fairly well, with
five lurid, pulpy narratives involving zombies, ghouls and bugs, at least three
of which were adapted by Stephen King from his own short fiction (King likewise
scripted the now out-of-print comic adaptation of the film, impressively
illustrated by the great Berni Wrightson).
Inevitably, a sequel was made in 1987, scripted by Romero and directed by
CREEPSHOW’S cinematographer Michael Gornick, which I actually find more
satisfying than the original. CREEPSHOW 2 contains three segments (including an
adaptation of King’s nail-biting novelette "The Raft") as opposed to the five of
part one, and so was able to devote more time to each, and furthermore had an
honest-to-goodness R rating, something CREEPSHOW could have definitely used.
A young boy is caught by his father reading a horror comic called CREEPSHOW.
The enraged father throws it in the garbage, but a gust of wind blows it into
the street, where a Crypt Keeper-like ghoul hosts five gruesome stories from the
“Father’s Day” is first. The supremely bitchy Sylvia Grantham is throwing
a Father’s Day party in honor of the fact that her vile husband Nate is dead.
Flashbacks reveal that he was killed years earlier by Sylvia’s daughter Bedelia,
who was driven mad by her dad’s obnoxious cries of “I want my cake!” at a
previous Father’s Day gathering. But this party is to be different: during a
visit by Bedelia to her father’s grave, the old man’s rotting corpse bursts out
of the ground and rips off her head. From there the zombie heads to the
Father’s Day party with Bedelia’s head, decorated with frosting and birthday
candles, on a platter, and proclaims “I have my cake!”
In “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” a meteor crashes in the backyard
of Jordy Verrill, a penniless hillbilly. Jordy dreams of using the meteor to
pay off his debts, but makes the mistake of pouring water on it, thus cracking
it open. It disgorges “meteor shit” on the ground, facilitating the spread of a
malignant growth which quickly takes over the surrounding countryside...and the
body of Jordy himself.
“Something to Tide You Over” features loony TV producer Richard Vickers,
who, upon learning his wife Becky is having an affair with the dashing Harry,
vows to do her in. This he does by burying Becky in the sand on a nearby beach,
so as the tide comes in she’s drowned. Richard then lures Harry to his
beachside mansion and kills him in the same way. But just how dead are
Becky and Harry?
In “The Crate”, Dexter, a janitor, is rocked by the discovery of a
150-year-old crate under the stairs of the university lab where he works. The
crate houses a toothy creature with a taste for human flesh that devours several
of Dexter’s fellow janitors. When Dexter tells his buddy Henry about the
critter, the latter sees a perfect opportunity for getting rid of his
“They’re Creeping up On You” is the last story. The loathsome Upson Pratt
is a wealthy tycoon who lives in a hermetically sealed big city apartment. One
night his home is invaded by cockroaches that Upson can’t seem to get rid of;
there’s a blackout and Upson dies of a heart attack, but the roaches aren’t done
with his body.
The film closes with the conclusion of the wrap-around tale: the kid whose
CREPSHOW comic was thrown out by his father is pissed, and looking for revenge.
He gets it in the form a voodoo doll ordered from an ad in the comic--the kid
repeatedly stabs the doll in the neck, causing his old man to feel corresponding
pains in his neck.
If nothing else, CREEPSHOW was fairly unprecedented for its time. These
days comic book inspired movies are all the rage, some of which flaunt their
source material with self-conscious visual flourishes (most notably ‘03’s
deadening Ang Lee-directed HULK). In this film George Romero did just that,
with garishly colored lighting that in true comic book fashion changes color at
opportune moments and animated transitions that explicitly mimic the act of
turning a page. The result is a film that, if nothing else, is mighty fun to
The cast is game for the most part, performing in
deliberately histrionic, larger-than-life fashion, although Adrienne Barbeau as
the victim of “The Crate” overemotes, and Stephen King as the unfortunate Jordy
Verrill proves he’s no actor--although his son, the future horror scribe
Hill, is quite memorable playing the evil kid of the opening and closing
segments. Other cast members of note include Leslie Nielson in one of his last
“serious” roles, proving he can ham it up with the best of them; Ed Harris in a
small part in “Father’s Day”, following his breakout role in Romero’s KNIGHTRIDERS; and Ted Danson getting buried in the sand in “Something to Tide
You Over”, a role Danson these days pretends never existed.
Now for the bad stuff: the film, despite its visual flamboyance, is just
not very compelling dramatically. None of the five segments stand out, and all
are totally predictable. This was Romero’s first Hollywood production, which
may explain all the attention he devoted to surface details, with very little
paid to things like plot and character development. Plus the PG rating ensures
that the film is never as nasty as it should be; the horror comics it emulated
were considered shocking and taboo breaking in their day, whereas CREEPSHOW,
despite the best efforts of its creators, wouldn’t shock a fly.
Director: George A. Romero
Producer: Richard P. Rubenstein
Screenplay: Stephen King
Cinematography: Michael Gornick
Editing: Pasquale Buba, Paul Hirsch, George A. Romero, Michael Spolan
Cast: Leslie Nielson, Fritz Weaver, Hal Holbrook, E.G. Marshall, Adrienne
Barbeau, Stephen King, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Tom
Savini, Christine Romero, Tom Atkins, Joe (Hill) King, John Amplas, Gaylen Ross,