Movie Review: Creepshow

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Creepshow (1982)
Directed by George Romero
Starring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Stephen King, Warner Shook, Robert Harper, Elizabeth Regan, Gaylen Ross, Tom Atkins

One question that horror fans get asked a lot is “what’s your favorite horror movie?” I know a lot of fans do have a particular one that is their favorite. For me though, it really would be impossible for me to narrow it down to even 20, let alone a single one. But I do know that if such a list was ever conceived in my brain, somewhere near the top would be George Romero’s Creepshow. In fact, it is my favorite of all of Romero’s work, even above Night of the Living Dead. Maybe it was because I saw this in the theater at the time my obsession with the horror genre really started to explode. Maybe it was the great mixture of horror and humor. Or the way it blended the world of horror comic books that I read as a child into the movie world in such a beautiful way. Whatever reason it might be, or all of them, I have loved this film since I first witnessed it in the theater back in 1982, and I still love it just as much today.

creepshow poster.jpgAnthology films can be tough, since all the different stories need to stand on their own, but also come together as a whole. Have a couple of bad segments in there and it can drag the ensemble down. But no fear since this was written entirely by Stephen King and they are all so much fun. We get a wrap-around story about a mean father who takes away horror comics from his son, played by King’s own son Joe, who would go on later to become a success writer on his own. Tom Atkins plays the father and plays it perfectly. His line of “That’s why God made fathers” to his wife even emphasizes his attitude even more. One of these comics that he throws away, is entitled, appropriately enough, Creepshow.

The stories involve revenge (usually from the dead), something thought to be a treasure that is found to be deadly, and basically just how bad people finally get what they deserve in the end. Those were the kind of themes and stories that you’d find within the pages of the old E.C. Comics of the ’50s, such as in Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, or Haunt of Fear. The film has animated sequences that are used to go from what segment to the next, and they do it perfectly. There’s humor, horror, style, gore, and plenty of memorable characters with so many quotable lines!

I feel that one of the reasons Creepshow is better than one would think comes down to the actors. When the characters are a little over the top, that is because they are meant to be that way. It is a comic book after all. For example, let’s take the case of the country bumpkin Jordy Verill who has dreams of getting rich after a meteor lands on his property, in The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill. The character of Verill is played amazingly by King himself, where Romero gave him the direction to play Verill “like Wile E. Coyote from the cartoons”, which is exactly what he did. Over-exaggerates, stereotyped, but still so much fun to watch. This one of the two episodes that were based on an older King story, simply called Weeds, which was first published in Cavalier magazine back in May of 1976.

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In the Father’s Day story, Viveca Lindfors plays the old aunt that comes back to see her deceased father on this special holiday, except this time the meeting doesn’t go over as usual. But as she sits by her father’s final resting place, giving us a little soliloquy, giving the audience a little family history, it gives us such a deep insight to her character, bringing the character to life with so much anger and hatred that you really believe in what she’s saying. Even though the whole time she is just talking to a tombstone. At least for the moment.

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Leslie Nielson was usually known for his comedic roles due to his appearance in Airplane and the Naked Gun TV series, but his character in the Something to Tide You Over segment was a little darker. Yes, there was still a sense of humor he had, though very dark, his overall demeanor was that of a very mean man, one that does not care for people invading on his property, especially when that property is his wife. He jokes with Ted Danson, but you can just tell how serious he really is under that slight smile. For someone used to playing it for slapstick kind of humor, he is deadly serious here.

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My personal favorite story here was the second of King’s stories to have already been published. The Crate first hit the newsstands in the July issue of Gallery back in 1979, which was then adaption for this movie and follows it pretty well. Upon first seeing this in the theater, I was amazed at how much of it really got under my skin. The dread that settles in once we know (at least sort of) what is in the crate and what it can do, every time someone goes near it. Fritz Weaver, who plays the biology professor who witnesses the first…meal of the inhabitant, goes from playing a very cool and smooth teacher to one that becomes so hysterical that he can barely form words, literally on the brink of insanity. Hal Holbrook plays his friend and fellow professor, that comes to his aid when he realizes that this outrageous story may just help him get rid of his own monster…his wife, played wonderfully by Adrienne Barbeau. Holbrooks performance is just brilliant. Near the end of the story, when his deviant plan is almost finished, he can’t help but start to giggle! Once again, a great bit of character development that really helps with the story.

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And lastly, the character of Upson Pratt in the last story, They’re Creeping Up On You, is a personal hero of mine. His ‘Go-Fuck-Yourself’ attitude is just a riot to watch on screen. Truly not giving a shit about anybody around him, determined to make sure that people are doing their job to the fullest, his portrait really would be in the dictionary for “asshole”. E.G. Marshall breathes life into this cantankerous old codger with such charm that you can’t help but laugh at him as he demoralizes his employees and others around him. His lines are sheer classic and are ones that I often quote. Of course, we know by now that a character like him is not going to survive by the end.

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There are a few other elements that were essential in making this film as good as it is. The most notable is the incredible work of makeup man Tom Savini and his crew. At this time, he was at the top of his game and his work here is just astounding. From creating the zombied remains of Nathan Grantham to the creature concealed in the wooden box, Savini’s exceptional work raises the scare factor up to 11. Even while some of the gore was defused a bit with the tinted lighting and comic book backgrounds, it never takes away its effectiveness. The bite wounds that poor Charlie Gereson gets when he messes with the crate creature (which Savini named Fluffy) made a lasting impact in my brain and was there in many dreams after my first screening.

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One other piece of this terrific and terrifying puzzle that makes it rise to the top of my all time favorites is the music by John Harrison. While some might know Harrison as the zombie from Dawn of the Dead that gets a screwdriver shoved in his ear, as well as becoming an accomplished director on his own, I will always remember him for this incredible score that he created here. Like the movie itself, some of it is cartoonish while other pieces are just damn eerie. For a guy to take the Camptown Races diddy and actually make it creepy, that is some talent there. The simple but effective piano theme he uses throughout The Crate story just brings chills over me each time I hear it. The opening track alone, accompanied with some evil laughs, make it one of my favorite scores. It really epitomizes what a horror soundtrack would sound like for a horror comic book. I don’t think the film would be nearly as effective hadn’t not been for this music.

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And of course, how could we forget about our lustrous director himself, George Romero. This was also when he was a force to be reckoned with. Working with such talent like King for the words, Savini for the effects, Harrison for the sounds, not to mention so many other talented people that brought this comic book to life, Romero was the one in charge and made this film the way he wanted to and showed Hollywood that he could make a great film that actually could make money.

The tagline for this movie is “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared” and I don’t think they could have come up with a better one than that. It has everything a horror fan could want, from laughs, gore, the incredible dialogue, the suspense, and downright creepiness. It is one of those films that if I was ever channel surfing and I came across this title, I would be watching it until the end. Even if I just watched it the day before. That is why it will always be in my top something or other.

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