It’s October. With Halloween hot on our heels, we thought it appropriate to take a look at legendary horror author Stephen King’s best, worst, and strangest translations from page to screen. Baby, can you dig your man?
Creepshow is Stephen King and director George Romero’s love letter to EC Comics, sort of a proto-Grindhouse in that it’s two big-name talents just having fun slumming it. The movie’s sloppy affection for the pre-code era spook comics published by William Gaines is pretty unrelenting, from the opening in which a father (perennial moustache dad Tom Atkins) screams at his kid (King’s son/NOS4A2 writer Joe Hill) after catching him with a Creepshow comic to the movie’s use of pseudo-comic panels at certain moments. Creepshow is by no means a great film, and, honestly, that’s the charm of it.
Made up of five different vignettes, Creepshow starts out pretty strong. “Father’s Day,” which involves the re-animated skeleton of a shady millionaire going after his equally scummy heirs while gravely demanding “…MY FATHER’S DAY CAKE, BEDELIA!” is beat for beat the kind of story you’d find in an old issue of Tales From The Crypt. Gruesome? Check. Increasingly elaborate kill scenes? Check. A faux-“ironic” ending? Oh yeah, baby. Something really cool that Romero does here (and in a few other spots later on) is his use of blue and red lighting. It first shows up when the skeleton of old man Grantham emerges from his grave. It’s a really striking effect that not only subconsciously replicates the experience of putting on crappy 3D glasses, but also because it highlights the unnatural intrusion of the supernatural into the “real” world in a pretty novel way.
The second installment, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” is something that has to be seen to believed. Not only is this story written by Stephen King, but he fucking stars in it. King’s Jordy, basically a Lil’ Abner hillbilly or demented SNL character Lorne Michaels would try to build a movie around, touches a crashed meteor that soon engulfs him and his property in an eerie green moss. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the most popular American novelist of the 20th century exclaim “METEOR SHIT!” Trust me. “Jordy Verrill” is the only segment in the movie that’s out-and-out funny, and it’s really a blast watching King do schtick by himself. Tom Savini’s special effects work here, and Jordy’s increasingly plant-covered body is especially excellent. This segment really feels the most like a King short story, probably because it was one.
Creepshow‘s kind of an odd duck as horror anthologies go, in that all of the shorts are written by King and directed by Romero. The side-effect of this, while the highs are high, is that there isn’t a terrific amount of story-diversity. This is pretty apparent in “Something to Tide You Over,” which feels somewhat derivative of “Father’s Day.” In this case, Leslie Nielsen plays a vengeful millionaire who buries his wife and her lover (Ted Danson!) up to their necks in sand and lets the tide roll in. As you’d expect, they come back as sea-zombies and pull the same trick on Nielsen. There’s nothing wrong with this section of the movie — Nielsen’s great as the sadistic husband — but it kinda makes you wish Romero’d have let some other folks have a shot at a few of the stories.
“The Crate” is the weakest of the lot and yet also still manages to bestow the gift of Adrienne Barbeau as a mean, horny drunk on a grateful audience. Whereas the other portions of Creepshow are all very to the point, “The Crate” suffers from too many characters and a needlessly complicated plot. Savini’s creature effects for the unknown thing inside the crate, however, are very good, and Romero wisely never lets us get quite a good enough look at it before it chows down on another victim.
Before it brings us back to the wraparound story, Creepshow shows us “They’re Creeping Up On You.” This one would feel right at home in an episode of something like Night Gallery, centered on a wealthy, cleanliness-obsessed old miser (E.G. Marshall) who lives in a hermetically-sealed penthouse. “They’re Creeping Up On You” is more or less a sizzle reel for some really cool bug effects, as a growing swarm of roaches overruns the apartment, climaxing with thousands of creepy crawlies exploding out of Marshall’s lifeless corpse. It’s awesome.
As a whole, Creepshow is thankfully greater than the sum of its parts. The movie delivers gloriously cheap thrills, the B-movie equivalent of a plastic skeleton’s arm landing on your shoulder in a high school haunted house. Creepshow is a heartfelt tribute to the schlock, the crap and tripe our moms wouldn’t let us have. Turn off the lights and have at it.
Check back tomorrow for our final essay on Stephen King stories on screen.