Sometimes, a movie is so perfect that you can’t objectively discuss it. Creepshow is that kind of movie — a perfect combination of portmanteau, E.C. comics, goopy special effects and gross-out humor. It’s also the perfect melding of some of the greatest talents in horror — George Romero, Tom Savini, Bernie Wrightson and Stephen King.
This film is King’s screenwriting debut and consists of five short stories (two based on King stories) and a framing element where Billy (played by King’s son Joe Hill) fights with his father (Tom Atkins!) over his horror comics. Soon, the Creep himself comes to his window, asking Billy to come closer as he transforms from a practical effect (that uses a real human skeleton) to animation (done by Pittsburgh-based group The Animators, who also did the Tom Petty video for “Running Down a Dream”).
In the first story, Father’s Day, Nathan Grantham is the old man of the family, rich from a life of murder, fraud and extortion. Finally, on Father’s Day, his long-suffering daughter Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors, A Bell from Hell) finally rises up against a lifetime of abuse and torture (he even killed the only man she ever loved) and kills him.
Every year on Father’s Day, his family gathers to celebrate his life. And by that, I mean that they talk about how much they hated him. There’s Sylvia (Carrie Nye, wife of Dick Cavett), Richard, Cass and Cass’s husband Hank (Ed Harris, showing up in another Romero film after his star turn in Knightriders).
Bedelia is late, but she has to stop at the cemetery and see the grave. She’s drunk — again — and spills her whiskey all over the headstone, which brings her horrible father back from the dead. One by one, he wipes out his family, all while screaming for his Father’s Day cake. Well, he gets it.
Some minor trivia here — Nathan’s corpse is played by John Amplas, who is a noted theater teacher in Pittsburgh. However, you may know him better as the title protagonist of Romero’s classic Martin.
Up next, The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill is nearly a one-man show for King. Based on his story Weeds, it’s a Lovecraftian tale (think The Colour Out of Space) of a meteor destroying a simple man. It also has some great old WWWF footage and an appearance by Pittsburgh stage legend Bingo O’Malley.
Something to Tide You Over is a very E.C. Comics story, where a wife (Gaylen Ross) and her lover (Ted Danson from TV’s Cheers) finally get caught by her husband (Leslie Nielsen in a rare villainous role). It’s a simple story told well with incredible effects from Savini, as instead of just zombies, he creates seaweed and salt water damaged undead monsters.
The Crate is the real crowd pleaser of the film and is based on the King short story of the same name. Between Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver and Adrienne Barbeau, it’s packed with star power. And the actual beast inside the crate is a Savini tour de force, a perfect monster. There’s also a cameo by Romero’s ex-wife, Christine Forrest.
Finally, in They’re Creeping Up on You, E.G. Marshall rules the screen as Upson Pratt, a Howard Hughes-like man who lives in a sealed apartment because he’s deathly afraid of insects. As in any E.C. Comics story, what you fear the most is what will destroy you.
There’s an interesting object that keeps showing up throughout the film — a marble ashtray that shows up in nearly every scene. It’s the one used to kill Nathan in the first story, but it keeps reappearing. Is it the Loc-Nar of Creepshow?
If you’re from Pittsburgh, Creepshow is a tour of home. There’s an abandoned girl’s school in Greensburg that was used for the majority of the shoot, as well as Carnegie Mellon University, Romero’s own backyard in Shadyside and a mansion in Fox Chapel. The only non-Pittsburgh setting was a New Jersey beach for the drowning scenes.
Soon after the film was released, a comic book adaption was released, with art by comic legend Bernie Wrightson. It was a prize possession of mine throughout my teen years and I dog-ear read it, nearly tearing off the cover.
The prop comic in the film was actually created by E.C. Comics vet Jack Kamen, as was the poster for the film. King had wanted “Ghastly” Graham Ingels, but he refused and Kamen was recommended by former E.C. owner (and publisher of MAD) William M. Gaines.
People love this film. There’s a Creepshow Museum dedicated to the movie that’s packed with replicas, posters and autographs from the stars of the film. And there’s a ton of merch for the film — Fright Rags has released numerous t-shirts; I’ve worn out this one from Pizza Party Printing; Horror Merch Store has masks of Fluffy from The Crate and Nate, as well as the soundtrack; and there’s even action figures of Nate, Harry and Becky (from Something to Tide You Over) from AmokTime!
Synapse Films even released Just Desserts, a making-of film that has interviews with nearly everyone involved that you can find right here.
Creepshow truly is the most fun you’ll ever have being scared. It was followed by two sequels of diminishing quality, but it’s held up for over thirty years. It’s a movie I bring out and watch at least once a year. And now that Shudder is celebrating featuring Stephen King movies on their streaming service, you can watch it whenever you want!
UPDATE: The Creepshow Museum doesn’t just have replicas! They have screen used props, original production materials and many one-of-a-kind items as well. I really appreciate them reaching out to us and setting the record straight!