CULT CORNER: Creepshow (1982)

This tribute to EC Comics from George A. Romero and Stephen King deserves another look according to Dylan. 

Who made it?: George A. Romero (Director), Stephen King (Writer), Richard P. Rubinstein (Producer), Laurel Entertainment.

Who’s in it?: Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Stephen King.

Tagline: “Jolting Tales of Horror!”

IMDb rating: 6.6/10.

Over sixty years ago, there was a regular comic for children with a rather unsuitable premise. Basically, a rotting skeleton told tales of horror and murder, introducing each with a couple of puns. Stories included zombies rising from the grave, the grisly demise of the protagonist, and monsters of every variety, all garnished with jet-black humour.

Of course, this raised a few eyebrows amongst many in society, and the moral outrage aimed at Tales from the Crypt and similar work released by the EC Comics company led to censorship rules being instigated by the industry. By that point, a whole host of horror creatives had been inspired by these stories, and their influence remains to this day.

Mid-eighties flick Creepshow is essentially an EC comic bought to life, with five different stories of gleeful terror. Switching from horror to comedy in the blink of an eye, the tales range from “They’re Creeping Up on You,” about a rich old man plagued by cockroaches, to “Father’s Day,” concerning a zombie desperate for his annual cake. Written by the one and only Stephen King, directed by legend George A. Romero, and with make-up effects by Tom Savini, this is a horror fan’s perfect storm.

What strikes you about the film on first viewing is how unexpectedly good it is. Creepshow has a surprisingly strong cast, who create some very memorable characters. Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Leslie Nielsen, and even Stephen King himself all make an appearance.  It is genuinely chilling in places, with the best example being “Something to Tide You Over.” Nielsen’s character couldn’t be further away from Frank Drebin, and he gives a terrifying performance as a cuckolded husband dragged to the edge. Romero directs with the intent of making the picture as much like a comic strip as possible, and it all works.

The anthology format is spot-on for horror, and, in my opinion, why King’s best work are his short story collections. With a short, sharp shock, you can pull the rug out from underneath the audience without them worrying too much about the mechanics of a zombie or an evil plant. The framing device involves the pages of Creepshow literally coming to life via Michael Gornick’s extremely colourful lighting, and each story fades into pen and ink at its conclusion. The movie is incredibly graphic in places, with heads being lopped-off, people gorged and maimed on screen, and even an old man being eaten by insects.

But the film is never disturbing. It highlights how horror films should never be taken too seriously, and that the people behind them are rarely disreputable. Creepshow is made by those in love with the original stories, and is in many ways a return to their own childhood. In certain scenes you can almost hear the crew giggling in the background, and it becomes just as entertaining as it is horrible. For even when the movie becomes graphic, it is always in the most preposterous way. There is an extremely thin line between horror and comedy, and when it’s crossed badly, you get a terrible film of either genre. However, those that embrace this fact will make something truly memorable: The Evil Dead (1981), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and a huge chunk of Tarantino are prime examples. And from this, we see why the furore over the original EC comics missed the point. Whilst I can appreciate that they are still not the most suitable reading material for young children, they are not the sign of society taking a dark and evil turn, but tales you should laugh at.

It demonstrates so clearly that a lot of horror movies should be taken with a pinch of salt. One of the problems with some (though not all) of the titles in the recent Gorno craze is that a lot of them are cynical attempts to make money by making violence for violence’s sake. Taken out of its point in history, I Spit on Your Grave (1978) really is just murder and rape. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was never actually very gory, and so a blood-splattered remake adds nothing to the story.

Creepshow truly is a comic come to life, and whilst it may be an anomaly in these days of serious graphic novel adaptations, it does deserve a place not just amongst other horror greats, but with films like Spider-Man (2002) and Sin City (2005). It has to be taken for what it is, and it’s hard to see how the source material could have been taken to the screen in a more successful way.

Best Scene

Anyone else hate bugs?

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Stephen King carried a toy figure of the character “Greedo” from Star Wars on theCreepshow set for good luck.
  • A sign leading to “Castle Rock” (King’s trademark fictitious town) appears at the very end of the segment “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” among other signs.
  • Ted Danson, who played Harry Wentworth in “Something to Tide You Over”, said in a TV interview that his daughter was on the set during the scene where his character returns from the dead encased in rotting flesh and seaweed. He purposely tried avoiding his young daughter out of fear of scaring her. Finally, despite his best efforts, she went up to him, looked at him and simply said, “Oh, hi Dad.”
  • The prop 10-cent Creepshow comic book featured in the film was drawn and inked by veteran artist Jack Kamen, one of the artists for the original EC crime and horror comics of the 1950s. Jack Kamen also created the comic book-style poster for the film, which was also featured on the front of the Plume Creepshow comic book adaptation (which Bernie Wrightson, another prolific horror comic artist, drew and inked the interiors for).

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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