Arch zombie-meister and genuine horror legend George A. Romero and Stephen King were always a stone’s throw away from collaborating together to the point where George was even set to make King’s literary monolith The Stand at one point. That, of course, never happened but after numerous near misses, Mr. Romero finally got to bring King to the screen with the deeply interesting, if slightly forgotten The Dark Half.
However, there was one other collaboration…
Back in 1982, both King and Romero (with legendary special effects deity Tom Savini in tow) pooled their love of the lurid 50’s EC horror comics titles such as Tales From The Cypt and Vault Of Horror to produce Creepshow, a colourful and campy love letter which featured five original stories scripted by King (his screenwriting debut) and gaudily shot by an enthusiastically game Romero to vastly amusing effect.
Presented in a insanely over the top, comic book style that features actual comic book framing (decades before Ang Lee brought on epilepsy attacks with the bravura editing of Hulk) and utilising more Dutch angles than an architect in the Netherlands; Creepshow is a perfect representation of “spook house” horror, which isn’t exactly what you’d call terrifying but instead is more blackly comic and gruesomely camp.
The first story, “Father’s Day” is the most basic concerning a rich, snotty family’s murder tinged legacy of a murdered patriarch on the titular date which contains a magnificently classic “thing from the grave” design (no post-modern Romero zombies here) who wants his cake and the unforgettable sight of an alarmingly young Ed Harris disco dancing. The second tale, “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verill”, finds King himself broadly portraying the dungaree wearing titke bumpkin as he finds a crashed space rock on his property and proceeds to gradually sprout grass wherever he covered himself in “meteor shit”. “Something To Tide You Over” concerns Leslie Nielsen in a hideous array of leisure wear as a psychotic, jealous husband who plans a horrible fate for his cheating wife and her lover (Ted Danson of all people) only to have it backfire with supernatural consequences. The penultimate short, “The Thing In The Crate” involves a short, hairy, voraciously hungry critter escaping from a chained up box that turns up at a university to make a literal meal of anyone who comes close to it while a hen pecked husband sees an opportunity to get rid of his awful wife. The final tale, dubbed “They’re Creeping Up On You” deals with an asshole, germaphobe billionaire holed up in his state of the art penthouse trying to fend off an apocalyptic cockroach infestation.
As you can tell from the descriptions above, subtlety is not even close to being Creepshow’s primary concern and even goes as far to bathe the screen in harsh gels for horrified reaction shot, the cinematography mirroring the very panels of a horror comic as a character screams in the face of his terrible (if usually deserved) fate. EVERYTHING is broad here (in the case of King’s acting, probably TOO broad), with Romero obviously enjoying the Hell out of ditching his usual realistic style (this is the guy who made the pseudo-vampire film Martin after all) and going hell-for-leather by pushing the envelope into giddily entertaining extremes.
It’s a good job the impressive cast is game too; take Leslie Nielsen for example, hamming it up without remorse, whether insidiously plotting in a hideous Fred Perry velour tracksuit or screaming with hysterical laughter when his revenge takes a seaweed encrusted turn, or E.G. Marshall as the insect plagued business man, aggressively going for the brass ring of old-rich-white dude doushe baggery. Best of the bunch though is cult queen Adrienne Barbeau as tyrannical, booze-soaked harpy and prospective monster chow, Wilma Northrup, who hoovers up all the best lines like an 80’s yuppie and screeches them directly into a poor Hal Holbrook’s face.
Abd yet, the filmmaker probably having the MOST fun is Tom Savini; freed from the elaborate gore gags his slasher movie output would usually entail he dives headlong into crafting memorable horror characters like the skeletal, ghostly Creep who “hosts” the film or the tasmanian devil-like crate monster Fluffy (Savini’s personal favorite) and gets to do something more imaginative than a simple machete to the face of a screaming co-ed.
All laced together by one of my favorite horror scores of all time (the main theme is pure genius while the sinister perverting of “Camptown Races” that accompanies Nielsen as he triumphantly gets one over on Danson is sublime) the film does suffer from the problem all anthologies have by having one notable weak segment (sorry King, it’s Jordy Veril by a length) but the wraparound featuring abusive dad Tom Atkins being a slap happy dick to his horror loving son (King’s own son Joe Hill) more than makes up for it.
“The Most Fun You’ll Have Being Scared!” chuckles the tag line on the poster – perfectly capturing the tongue in cheek nature of the flick – and while sticks-in-the-mud may debate the scared part, this film is a crate full of fun with giggles to spare.