There’s something I just absolutely love about the anthology format in consumable media. Whether they be in film, television, comic or novel form, I’ve always been particular toward the economy of time that a great anthology provides. Stephen King’s “The Skeleton Crew” is a fantastic collection of works, many of which have been adapted with mixed results (E.g. The Mist, Lawnmower Man). Some of my favorite television shows have been anthologies: the Twilight Zone is a prime example of what good storytelling can accomplish within the limits of a 30 minute (closer to 22 if you exclude commercials/advertisements) episode. Additionally, some of my favorite horror movies are in this same vein. Creepshow (1982) is one such film and manages to hold my attention still after all these years.
Before we get into Creepshow itself, I want to briefly mention the HBO show Tales from the Crypt, itself based on the E.C. comics of the 1950’s. Tales from the Crypt fascinated me with its presentation of twisted morality tales. The main characters, under normal circumstances considered protagonists, would guide the episode down to the inevitable twist of a knife, the roar of a chainsaw, or whatever other cruel irony awaited them. Because the stories were told from the position of the amoral protagonist, the viewer found themselves in the unenviable position of both rooting for AND against the characters. Each of these standalone stories was bookended with an introduction by the Cryptkeeper (voiced by John Kassir) who would throw a constant barrage of horror styled puns designed to create levity for the episode. As a child, heck, as an adult, I got a kick out of hearing how many ways the Cryptkeeper could make a pun out of the word “ghoul”. It’s odd too, because somehow those opening credits ALWAYS freaked me out (Danny Elfman… god, the soundtrack to my 90’s… and 80’s if you count Back to School and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure). Yet as soon as the Cryptkeeper showed up and started throwing out puns about “ice scream”, the dark, dusty dungeon where he presented his tales didn’t seem so scary anymore.
There’s relevance in elaborating so much on Tales from the Crypt. I started renting movies on my own in the mid-90’s, during the height of the show, and I naturally gravitated toward the horror section. One of the movies I picked up during this time was Creepshow (1982). What drew me to the film originally was the amazing box art with a ghoul handing out a movie ticket.
What stuck with me after watching the movie was how much it mimicked the E.C. comics anthology style of presenting standalone stories told through the eyes of amoral protagonists and inevitably led toward the twist of a knife, the roar of a chainsaw, or whatever cruel… wait, sound familiar?
Directed by George Romero (Night of the Living Dead, 1968) and written by Stephen King (Carrie, Christine, Skeleton Crew, The Shining, It, yadda yadda yadda…), Creepshow is comprised of five different stories, tied together with a sixth story acting as the thread to unify them. The wraparound story depicts a father who throws away his son’s comic, a book based on E.C. comics and aptly titled “Creepshow”. Within the pages of the comic and through brief animated segments, a cryptkeeper styled character makes its presence felt. Each of the remaining five tales (“Father’s Day”, “Something to Tide you Over”, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, “The Crate”, and “They’re Creeping up on You”) are presented as stories directly from the pages of the son’s thrown away book.
Romero does such an excellent job playing up the “comic book” aesthetic of each of the stories. Many of the shots he uses are framed in comic frames with subtitles like, “Meanwhile…” or juxtaposing a still frame of one part of a phone conversation next to the still talking frame of another character. Additionally, he begins and ends each segment as though it is being read from a comic book; the scenes transition to and from an animated cell of the frame. Not only that, but Romero manages to do something that I’m incredibly fond of in the film: during emotional high points of each of these stories, he utilizes colorized tints to emphasize the surreal aspects of the particular shots. Take, for example, one of the defining moments in the segment, “Something to Tide you Over”. As Henry (Ted Danson) is drowning, Romero implements a red tint around Henry’s head. Romero does this throughout the movie and, personally, I feel it’s incredibly effective in heightening the comic book feel of the film.
The effectiveness of each story, from my experience, is based purely on personal preference. In preparing for this article, I watched the film again with my wife. Though I’m perfectly okay with the sometimes wooden or exaggerated acting (because of the comic stylized feel), she felt that some of the segments were too cheesy. She used “Something to Tide you Over” and “Father’s Day” as examples of segments she disliked the most and instead prefers “The Crate” as her favorite story. However, she does slightly modify her assessment for creepiest: “They’re Creeping Up on You” wins that one hands down. I, on the other hand, love the absurd humor of “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” and “Father’s Day”. In “Jordy Verrill”, Stephen King plays the title role as a simple minded farmer who happens upon a meteor that lands on his property. Stephen King is such a terrible actor and I love EVERY minute of his performance. There’s a reason “meteor shit” is part of my vocabulary.
I won’t say this film is great, but it’s an integral part of my horror film collection. There are so many things to appreciate about this film. Stephen King, makeup horror icon Tom Savini (with a small cameo at the end), the other famous actors, the comic book aesthetic and, of course, the great George Romero. The same George Romero who would later create the anthology series, “Tales from the Darkside”. That show would later be turned into a movie, “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” (1990) with many of the same crew as the original “Creepshow” and is considered to be, at the very least, a spiritual successor to George Romero’s original film.
As an added bonus, the creators of the film later released a Creepshow comic book tie-in which I, of course, snatched up. It includes all of the stories in comic book form and is incredibly faithful to the film itself.
Overall, Creepshow is a wonderful anthology film and is required viewing for all fans of the horror genre. It manages to maintain the spirit of E.C. comics and their twisted morality tales, and also served as a foundation for later televised horror anthologies, starting with Tales from the Darkside (sometimes known as the Creepshow television adaptation) and later into the pun-derful Tales from the Crypt. If you happen to see it on cable, Amazon, or Netflix, be sure to check it out!
And until next time, Boys and Ghouls… I’ll scream you later! hHahhahHAhahahahhahaha!
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Brandon is one of the hosts of Apathetic Enthusiasm. Check him out every Tuesday right here on Geekade!