Creepshow (1982)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #8

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Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: November 12, 1982
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $8,000,000
Box Office: $21,028,755
Running Time: 120 minutes
Director: George A. Romero
Producer: Richard P Rubenstein
Screenplay: Stephen King
Special Effects: Tom Savini
Cinematography: Michael Gornick
Score: John Harrison
Editing: George A Romero, Pasquale Buba, Paul Hirsch, Michael Spolan
Studio: Laurel Entertainment Inc.
Distributor: Warner Bros
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Ted Danson, Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, Adrienne Barbeau, E.G. Marshall, Ed Harris, Stephen King, Carrie Nye, Viveca Lindfors, Warner Shook, Elizabeth Regan, John Lormer, Gaylen Ross, David Early, Don Keefer, John Colicos, John Amplas, Tom Atkins and Joe King as Billy

Creepshow Logo

♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] John Harrison Creepshow

[2] Gillian Gerardo Don’t Let Go

[3] John Harrison The Crate

[4] John Harrison Creepshow (Reprise)

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Assembling a respectable horror anthology can be a remarkably problematic endeavor. Segments have less time to leave their mark than full-length features and one dismal story can totally undermine the good work done elsewhere, ultimately compromising the whole experience for the viewer. Over the past twenty-five years, only Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye and Michael Dougherty’s Trick ’r Treat have truly managed the feat of consistency throughout their entire duration, while numerous other unfortunates have fallen to the wayside. Although George .A. Romero’s classy compendium is regarded by many as the big innovator of the genre, it was in fact British horror heavyweights Amicus and Hammer who pioneered the anthology with gleefully devilish efforts such as Torture Garden, Asylum, Tales From The Crypt and my own personal favorite From Beyond The Grave, amongst others leading the charge.

1950s EC Horror Comics

As well as the dilemma of maintaining consistency throughout the entire running time, many pretenders collapse at the very first hurdle. The dreaded wraparound has the undesirable task of weaving in and out of each vignette, thus creating the framework of the entire package. Its requirement is to ensure that it, not only hits the ground running on commencement, but also concludes the package agreeably at the tail-end. Moreover, it ordinarily has the shortest amount of time to be able to accomplish all of this. Thankfully when you are adapting the bite-sized fables of the legendary Stephen King, you have a certain advantageous starting point. Add to the mix the fact that Creepshow is inspired by the E.C. Comics of the fifties and all the stars are aligned for the definitive horror anthology.

The Creep

The opening bookend here sets the tone exquisitely. John Carpenter’s long-time favorite Tom Atkins plays a dictatorial father, who forbids his son to read horror comics and makes his point with the palm of his hand. The frustrated boy, played by King’s own son Joe Hill (also an award-winning horror novelist in his own right) is then visited by a wraith-like specter that materializes at his bedroom window, leading the audience through a lurid title sequence, accompanied by John Harrison’s delightfully mischievous and equally nightmarish grand piano score, and immaculately into our first demonic tale.

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This opening installment was penned by King particularly for the movie and features the scheming descendants of a parsimonious old patriarch who made his fortune through corruption and extortion, before being slain by his long-suffering daughter. The remaining brood gathers at his estate for their annual family shindig, all desperate for a slice of his lucrative pie. Not long has transpired before his reanimated cadaver (a marvellously incognito John Amplas) has pulled itself from its earthy slumber and is proceeding to pay a visit to the party to claim his long overdue slice of cake.

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There’s a great tense and grisly scene involving a youthful Ed Harris and a movement mimicking headstone which concludes with the inevitable sickening splat which is all the more horrendous for the fact that, despite again enlisting Tom Savini’s practical FX expertise, Romero chooses to leave this particular demise to your imagination and we shudder more because of his decision.

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Father’s Day provides the ideal appetizer and has a nice velocity to it. It gleefully showcases the marvellous creations of Savini and wastes no time in hooking us in, before pinning us in place until its delightful conclusion. Then, after an amiable comic book interlude, we are promptly positioned on the next page.

Father’s Day Judgement: 8/10

 

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Our next appointment is with King himself, as he steps in front of the camera for a rare leading part. Clearly the allure of inhabiting the membrane of a character from his own narrative was too potent. In truth he camps it up engagingly as Jordy Verrill – a mentally challenged hick farmer who witnesses a stray meteorite landing on his property, then promptly has visions of grandeur and slips into reverie, envisaging a visit to the Department of Meteors at his neighboring university and salivating over the prospect of paying off a bank loan with the proceeds of his discovery.

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Unbeknownst to our amiable protagonist, he has been polluted by a briskly spreading organism which progressively leads him to mutate into shrubbery. Never the sharpest instrument in the tool shed, Verrill cannot resist the siren-like call of his bathtub and, after scratching his itch, he regrets his folly instantaneously.

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Originally titled Weeds, this is my least favored of the five tales. That’s not to say it is without merit, on the contrary, it possesses wickedly dark humor and a spirit of playfulness which is impossible not to derive pleasure from. In addition King gives a spirited and animated turn as our ill-fated protagonist. It is simply that, alongside other entries, it fades vaguely although this is less of a criticism and more of a sign of the strength and consistency of its stable-mates.

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The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill Judgement: 7/10

 

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The Crate is next up and provides the meat in Creepshow’s metaphorical sandwich. The glorious ensemble features Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver and Adrienne Barbeau (a far cry from the sultry smoky-toned vixen she played in The Fog) and involves an old wooden crate discovered by Biology professor Dexter (played with neurotic brilliance by Weaver) which contains a ferocious and ravenous ape-like creature that hasn’t snacked in a century and a half.

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After it consumes both a janitor and student without any apparent indigestion a paranoid Dexter transports the crate to an old friend. Enter brow-beaten Henry (Holbrook) who, no longer satisfied with romanticizing over bumping off his overwhelmingly unpleasant spouse Wilma (Barbeau), devises a devilish plan to sacrifice her to the famished beast and rid himself of her forever.

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After providing the voice-over for many a teenage boy’s masturbation as Stevie Wayne, here Barbeau provides the grating narration of our worst nightmares. It is she who plays the true monster of this piece and does so exquisitely that, by the time hors d’oeuvre is served, we can’t help to feel sorry to see her depart. Mischievous and congenial, The Crate is perfectly suited to its midway slot and leads us smartly to my personal darling.

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The Crate Judgement: 8/10

 

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The late great Leslie Nielsen has now become immortalized in history as one of the finest comedic actors to ever grace our screens and few can boast of consistently tickling our funny bones as he. However, here he plays it straight alongside the equally dependable Ted Danson and, in a brief role, Gaylen Ross who Romero had worked with previously on Dawn of the Dead.

Leslie Nielsen in Creepshow

Richard Vickers (Nielsen) is a well-to-do psychotic playboy who, in pre-meditated fashion, lures his wife Becky’s illicit lover Harry (Danson) to his well-equipped beach dwelling in order to exact measured retribution on them both. She is already suppressed by sand up to her pretty little neck beneath the high-tide line and, after a few early mind games by Richard, Harry speedily follows suit. He naturally vents his frustration at the inconvenient situation and this is where the two leads’ chemistry is at its most telepathic. They feed freely from the other’s vigor resulting in some superb interactions, although visibly Leslie is having a tad more fun as Ted is too busy fending off an unwelcome and persistent crustacean). Then the tide comes in.

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Revenge, naturally, is the order of the day as the seaweed-sopping soul mates promptly return from the dead to teach Richard a little lesson of his own. Featuring two fine actors whose vocally sparring is a joy to behold, this is my personal highlight from a fiercely spirited bunch.

Something to Tide You Over Judgement: 9/10

 

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I feel it necessary at this point to break from the structured analysis briefly and tell the story of a friend who encountered an enormous roach in the lavatory on a night not totally unlike this one. He told of his revulsion and of the overwhelming necessity to, in his own words, “splat the motherfucker” and splat it he did before continuing with his evening unperturbed, albeit with security now on DefCon 2. Well, that was just one, admittedly intimidating, roach. Now imagine a subdivision of like-minded critters all hell-bent on using your body as a breeding ground. Begun itching yet? Germophobes and insectophobes may want to avert their eyes for the next few stanzas.

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Our final puzzle piece concerns another neurotic playboy, Upson Pratt (a wonderfully mean-spirited E.G. Marshall). This disconnected magnate has no time whatsoever for exchanging niceties with time-wasters. Imagine Scrooge only, instead of receiving visitation from a trio of ghouls, here it’s thousands upon thousands of armored bugs. One of these pesky assailants is troublesome enough to exterminate with its crispy, almost impenetrable, shell withstanding more punishment than most and they are known for being both robust and persistent.

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Things steadily spiral towards cataclysm as his penthouse becomes the favored congregation spot for our uncredited extras. Pratt’s already tenuous grip on reality begins to loosen and the resourceful playboy attempts to fight back, although not before a hilarious exchange with a sumptuously sarcastic exterminator via intercom. His best attempts piece are ultimately to no avail as the magnitude of eight-legged tormentors pour in through the ventilation in his supposedly impenetrable fortress, hell-bent on taking up residence inside his sorry shell. It’s a suitably claustrophobic closing segment which leaves our skin crawling and leads us to one last hurrah from Romero.

They’re Creeping Up On You Judgement: 8/10

 

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Wrapping up proceedings we find ourselves back in the ever scalding hands of our fascist father, who is made to regret taking the hard-line with his son courtesy of a voodoo doll purchased from, you guessed it, the horror comic he threw in the trash earlier. Foolish move. As wraparounds go, it is reasonably slight and only ever amounts to around five minutes of screen time. Having said this, when you consider that Creepshow runs for a full two hours, Romero’s decision to keep it brief is fully justified and no time spent with Atkins is ever wasted.

Wraparound Rating: 8/10

 

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Creepshow represents something of an anomaly for a horror anthology. It succeeds in being the sum of its parts and, while most anthologies struggle to maintain this level of quality for three segments, let alone five, it never dips in quality. Despite Trick ’r Treat coming pretty darned close to stealing its thunder, none have surpassed Romero and King’s masterpiece in over thirty years and that is not an achievement to scoff at. The eighties were almost overloaded with classic genre movies but few are quite as charitable as this and fewer still stand up so well to subsequent views. Quite simply, it is a film that no self-respecting horror aficionado should be without, and woe betide any father who takes the executive decision of throwing it in the garbage.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: There is plenty of tongue-in-cheek splatter on the platter and it feels as if Savini really enjoyed his time with Creepshow as he is kept more than a little busy. We are provided with ravenous cadavers, crate-lurking critters, perished pond-scum, cockroach exit wounds, iced heads bearing candles, wide open facial cavities, and all manner of other gruesome delights. Meanwhile, any keen gardeners amongst us may find the culmination of Jordy Verrill’s lonesome plight a tad too distressing to watch.

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A Voyeur’s Tribute to Adrienne Barbeau

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Keeper of the Crimson Quill

Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2015)

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