Father’s Day is this weekend and it’s hard, if you’re a horror fan, not to think of Creepshow. The holiday plays a special role in the 1982 horror anthology movie which marries the mind of Stephen King with the mind of George A. Romero. The movie is an ode to the old Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror comics.
There are five segement stories with a frame story in which an browbeating father played by Tom Atkins criticizes his son for reading “garbage” like the fake Creepshow comic. He throws it out in the trash but then his son, played by King’s own son, Joe Hill (as Joe King) sees the Creeper outside his window and smiles at him.
The first story does focus on Father’s Day as a high society family meets in a mansion awaiting the arrival of Great Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors). Sylvia Grantham (Carrie Nye) is meeting with her nephew, Richard (Warner Shock) and niece, Cass (Elizabeth Regan). They tells Cass’ new husband, Hank (Ed Harris) a dark story about how Bedelia killed her father, Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer).
Nathan was very domineering and is believed to have ordered the murder of Bedelia’s much older boyfriend by making it look like a hunting accident. Angry that the family is always after his money, he sits at the head of a table in a dining room banging his cane on the table demanding a cake for Father’s Day. And Bedelia walks out and bludgeons him in the head with a marble ashtray. (If you watch the movie very closely, the ashtray makes an appearance in all subsequent stories.)
Every Father’s Day since then, Bedelia makes the drive to the family estate where Nathan is buried and as Sylvia says they can set their clock to it as she arrives at the same time each year. Yet, this year, when she arrives as she unloads her anger at Nathan, his reanimated corpse rises from the grave demanding that he gets his cake. And as those in the household don’t know, their lives are at risk as the corpse goes looking for his cake and gets it.
The second story is probably the weakest of the movie. It’s called “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” and it’s based on King’s short story, “Weeds.” And it features King as the simple farmer country boy Jordy Verrill. This one has a more dark comedy tone to it and maybe it’s because Romero realizes King wasn’t good at acting, it’s played more for laugh. King, himself, has later commented that his acting hasn’t been the best and this role probably should’ve been played by a different actor.
A meteorite lands on Jordy’s property and he feels he can get some money out of it by selling it to the nearby college. But when he foolishly tries to pick it up with his bare hands, he gets blisters by the burn. So, he pours some water on the meteorite causing it to crack open. Thinking it’s a lost cause now and hoping to glue it back together, he goes back in to watch TV and drink beer.
But the meteorite is causing everything that has touched it to start to growing grass at a very accelerated rate. That includes grass growing on Jordy’s hands and everything he has touched all over his body and his farmhouse.
The third story is better as it’s titled “Something to Tide You Over.” It features a middle-aged wealthy man, Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielsen) arriving at the house of Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson) as he confronts him by having an affair with his wife, Becky (Gaylen Ross). Vickers’ wealth is never explained but his knowledge of electronics (TV and video recorders) suggests it may be in that field. Vickers tells Harry to come with him to save Becky’s life as he plays a tape of the woman in distress.
Vickers drives him out to his private beach near his house where he makes it appear that Becky has been buried in a grave on the beach. But it was a ruse to get the jump on him. At gunpoint, Vickers forces Harry to get in the hole and buries him up to his neck. He sets up a TV and a video recorder and shows Harry footage of Becky also buried in sand up to her neck as the tide comes in.
Vickers leaves Harry to his death and goes back to his house where he watches the footage of Harry and Becky drowning as the tide comes in drowning them, laughing like a maniac. But later when the tide goes back out, he goes back to the beach only to notice that Harry’s body has been apparently pulled out by the tide. As night falls, he returns home to take a quick shower and call it a day but he soon finds out what happened to both Harry and Becky.
The fourth story, “The Crate” is also based on a King short story. It’s set during late summer at the fictional Horlicks University, possibly the same one Jordy was interested in selling the meteorite to. A janitor, Mike Latimer (Don Keefer) discovers a wooden crate hidden behind the grate under a staircase in a basement of a building. It’s from an artic expedition in 1834. He calls a professor Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver) who is at a neary social gathering with his colleague Professor Henry Northup (Hal Holbrook), whose loud and drunk wife, Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau) is busy making a scene by screaming to any and everyone, “Just call me ‘Billy!'”
Dexter goes to the building where he and Mike pull the crate out and bring it into a classroom. Out of curiosity, they pry it open to look inside. But Mike sees the eyes of a creature thinking their gems and reaches in only to be attacked and eaten. Dexter runs out and bumps into a grad student Charlie Gereson (Robert Harper) who seems skeptical. They find out the creature has moved the crate back to the hiding spot under the staircase where Charlie is attacked and devoured.
This leads to Dexter going to Henry’s who is getting a bunch of emotional abuse by Wilma. But she’s left for the night as Henry and Dexter were scheduled to have their regular chess match. Hearing the story, Henry seems to come up with a way of dealing with the problems at the college and at his home.
The fifth and final story is “They’re Creeping Up On You” and it’s not for the faint of heart, especially if you don’t like bugs, especially cockroaches. Set entirely in the high-scale penthouse apartment of wealthy businessman and eccentric Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall), who is a cross between Howard Hughes and Mr. Burns. The segment starts with Pratt killing a bug and throughout the movie notices more and more cockroaches around his apartment.
This leads him to call the building superintendent on vacation in Orlando, Fla. and threatens to fire him if he doesn’t seen maintenance man, Mr. White (David Early) to his apartment to arrange an exterminator immediately. Mr. White is the only other person we see through a high-tech keyhole. As a heavy lightning storm begins outside, Pratt learns of a hostile corporate takeover by his company that caused a business rival, Norman Castonmeyer, to committ suicide. Delightful of the news of the takeover and death, Pratt is later called by the widow and shows no sympathy.
But he soon notices more and more cockroaches in his food and other places. All this comes as a rolling blackouts throughout the city causes the building to have problem. Mr. White informs Pratt is might be longer for the exterminators to arrive. But we soon see that Pratt gets just what he deserves.
Like most of Romero’s works, it was filmed in and around the greater Pittsburgh area. Filming for the college scenes were completed at the Carnegie-Melon University as Romero was an alum. Romero and King obviously are having some fun with the stories. If you want serious horror, watch The Omen or The Exorcist. Casting actors Holbrook, Weaver, Marshall, Nielsen, Nye and Lindfors who were all known for more serious work and putting them in roles in which there’s a lot of blood and gore happening is a reminder that sometimes we just need to scare ourselves silly. The movie is also some early roles for Harris and Danson who are cast along with other actors, Atkins, Barbeau and Tom Savini who are more used to appearing in sci-fi and horror movies.
Savini plays a garbage man in the frame story who also did the make-up and special effects. For the scene in which there are thousands of cockroaches, Savini went to the grocery store and got a bunch of nuts and raisins to appear to be with the real ones to make it look like there were more.
Even though Creepshow received favorable reviews, it was only a modest hit grossing $21 million against a $8 million budget. This is probably why the sequel Creepshow 2‘s budget was cut more and half and distributed by the now defunct distribution company New World Pictures as the first was released by Warner Bros. A third movie, Creepshow 3, with no involvement by Romero nor Kign was released direct-to-video and got negative reviews and I haven’t seen it. Savini later said Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is really the unofficially sequel as the movie contained a darker tone than the syndicated series as well as a story based on King’s “The Black Cat” with a screenplay by Romero.
Savini’s collaborator Greg Nicotero has developed an anthology series on the streaming service Shudder which has ran for three seasons so far. Some of the episodes are based on King’s stories and have actors such as David Arquette, Giancarlo Esposito, Keith David and Ashley Laurence to name a few appearing in episodes.
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