At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Creepshow “82”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror Comedy Anthology/ Stars: Joe King, Iva Jean Saraceni, Tom Atkins, Marty Schiff, Tom Savini, Jon Lormer, Viveca Lindfors, Elizabeth Regan, Warner Shook, Ed Harris, Carrie Nye, Peter Messer, John Amplas, Nann Mogg, Stephen King, Bingo O’Malley, Leslie Nielsen, Gaylen Ross, Ted Danson, Richard Gere, Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Don Keefer, Robert Harper, Chuck Aber, Christine Forrest, Cletus Anderson, Darryl Ferrucci, E. G. Marshall, David Early; Voices of: Mark Tierno, Ann Muffly, Ned Beatty/Runtime: 120 minutes

I think it’s safe to say that, contrary to popular opinion, a pair of creative icons making the choice to join forces on a project does not always mean instant success (see the movie Gene Hackman and Dan Aykroyd made in 1990 for an example). However when the pair of creative titans happen to be iconic helmer George A. Romero and writer Stephen King and the catalyst for their partnership is a limitless love for horror then I can safely say that magic is in fact quite possible. Indeed due to a mutual love of iconic EC Comics and the anthological cinematic adaptations like 1972’s Tales from the Crypt (we had a little bit longer to wait for the HBO show), these 2 horror titans decided to try and see if they could conjure up a fairly distinct slice of horror cinema unlike any other that had been seen before and which would set a precedent for horror anthology movies (to which only one horror anthology movie has in the years since even managed to come close to being on the same level as). The resulting collaboration, and today’s movie that I am reviewing, 1982’s Creepshow thankfully proved to be lightning in a bottle. Indeed Romero’s helmsmanship is solid, the script from King is cheesy in the best ways, the effects from Tom Savini make you feel like you are literally watching a visual comic book, and the strong work from the very talented cast all merge together in a way that results in Creepshow being one of horror cinema’s most delightfully offbeat as well as just plain engaging entries.

The plot is as follows: The wraparound narrative, and by extension the film itself, gets underway as we see a tough as nails if not slightly abusive and controlling dad is in the middle of giving his young son Billy a load of grief for reading a comic book that dear ol’ Dad views as being no more and no less than complete and utter “horror crud” (and he doesn’t use the word crud). From there, we are literally transported into the world of the comic and presented with a quintet of stories. This starts with one known as Father’s Day that provides the viewer with a look at a well-to-do family known as the Granthams. A family whose traditions include drinking, whining, dancing 80s style, and gossiping about a wide variety of topics. Of particular interest however are the stories told about the family matriarch, one Aunt Bedelia, who happens to be a slightly unhinged and fond of drink woman who every Father’s Day (hence the title of the story) reunites with the rest of the clan at their family estate, but before doing so pays her respects at the grave of her dearly deceased dad Nathan. A man who killed her lover a long time ago and who she killed in a fit of rage over the whole affair. Yet this year things are about to take a turn for the macabre courtesy of dear ol’ Dad coming back from the dead and refusing to stop at nothing simply to get his yearly Father’s Day cake. From there we get to bear witness to “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”, a saga that deals with our titular simpleton as he sees a meteorite fly through the sky, promptly land on his property, and scoop it up thinking it’ll make him a nice wad of cash. Unfortunately things don’t exactly go to plan and soon Jordy finds himself seeing green (literally) courtesy of something seeping out of the meteor. From there we get  “Something to Tide You Over”, a saga about a jilted yet controlling and slightly quasi-sorta psychotic husband by the name of Richard who, upon catching his wife Becky in an affair with a younger man named Harry, enacts his vengeance in one of the most twisted ways possible. However we soon see the tide turn against him when the pair reunite in order to provide Richard with his just desserts. Next up is “The Crate” which sees a pair of college professors and dear friends by the names of Henry and Dexter respectively as they each become aware of an enigmatic crate that is found under the basement stairs in a building on campus. Yet whilst Dexter sees the contents of the crate as something that needs to be destroyed, Henry sees it as just the thing he’s been needing to help him deal once and for all with his alcoholic and extremely obnoxious spouse Wilma. From there we get “They’re Creeping Up on You” which tells the story of Upson Pratt. Mr. Pratt we are quickly able to ascertain is a vile yet secluded wealthy businessman who is a neat freak in every sense of the word and who is fixated on getting rid of any germs or critters that may infect his spotless apartment. Thus whilst a horrific rolling blackout inflicts itself on the city, Pratt spends his night both being a jerk to people over the phone as well as eliminating a squad of roaches that keep showing up through his apartment. It isn’t long though before Mr. Pratt discovers not only that the ability to fight back is not limited to just people, but also that just because you kill one doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous others waiting and ready to avenge it. Finally, we see the movie conclude its beginning story in a way that will make controlling parents everyone possibly rethink their parenting technique a wee bit. Suffice it to say that by the time these stories are done, you may have laughed, you may have chuckled, but you will most assuredly squirm and be left fairly and pleasantly surprised at where these distinct narratives choose to take you, the viewer.

Now right off the bat I must say that this slice of cinematic pie, more than anything else, proves to be a loving ode to the brand of comics known as EC Comics from back in the 1950s, but particularly the series known as Tales from the Crypt (which also was the inspiration for the famous HBO series of the same name), The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear among others. A feat the movie manages to accomplish by its film helmer George A. Romero deciding to give the movie a look, vibe, and feel (to say nothing of color scheme) of an actual comic book. The E.C. comic book motif also works fairly well when you realize that the fact that this slice of cinematic pie is not necessarily scary is a creatively intentional choice. That is because the comics weren’t meant to be downright fright fests themselves. Sure they were squirm-worthy from time to time (a feat this slice of cinematic pie manages to duplicate heartily with the story They’re Creeping Up on You) and sure there were a few chills here and there (moments this slice of cinematic pie manages to give us in the story The Crate), but otherwise where this particular comic book company excelled was in giving its devoted readers stories that felt like The Addams Family in that sure they had typical elements that you might expect for a property in the realm of horror, but they were still done with a wonderful mixture of equal parts dark and very macabre humor and cheerfully cheesy camp. That is what a lot of reviewers didn’t really get either when this slice of cinematic pie first came out in 1982 or in the close to 4 decades since. Sure this movie is no masterpiece of either horror cinema or in just cinema in general, but honestly the creative talents that have been assembled either behind the camera or in front of the camera are fairly aware of that fact. Rather, they are just trying to make a gleefully ghoulish 2 hour film that is a tribute to one of the more underground yet iconic comic book companies out there and when you look at this slice of cinematic pie from that particular lens it’s clear that the creative team behind the camera managed to succeed. Another arena this slice of cinematic pie manages to work wonders in is in regards to this movie’s musical accompaniment. Indeed musical composer John Harrison’s cues do an absolutely brilliant job at being able to complement each of the 6 stories wonderfully to the point that the music in this slice of cinematic pie takes the viewers on an odyssey just as much as whatever is happening on screen at any given point in time. Yet for as great as he was, it’s sad to point out that Harrison only did a few movie soundtracks, each and every one of them for a slice of cinematic pie that was helmed by Romero, and it really is sad that he didn’t try to collaborate with anyone else because his work is always a highlight of the respective slices of cinematic pie they pop up in.

Now the other big factor that really lends to the wonderful mix of camp and macabre humor on screen is the immensely talented group of performers on screen. Indeed despite the film only having an 8 million dollar budget, this slice of cinematic pie was able to acquire such top-flight talent as E.G. Marshall, Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, and Leslie Nielsen to say nothing of familiar to the genre talent like Tom Atkins and Adrienne Barbeau and new kids on the cinema block at the time Ed Harris and Ted Danson and yet every single person in this cast does wonderful work with their respective roles. Yet even amongst all the talent on display there are a few standouts that I definitely feel are worthy of notice. The first of these has to be Leslie Nielsen in the role of Richard from “Something to Tide You Over” because he is honestly really good as a psychopathic villain. I mean I know most people remember Nielsen for his comedic work that made up the entire 2nd act of his career, but this is one type of character I wish we got more of from him. Yes he’s slimy and fairly despicable, but Nielsen really does make this guy darkly amusing and he does, no spoilers, get his comeuppance in a fairly schlocky fun manner. I also really appreciate the effort put into the character of Upson Pratt by E.G. Marshall in the 5th story. This is definitely not the easiest character to portray since he is easily the most despicable character in the film, but Marshall manages to take that despicability and wonderfully raise to a scale factor of about 11 so when you see him engaged in combat with his cockroach assailants you actually find yourself wanting the cockroaches to win since this guy really is just a mean piece of work. Finally, I feel that praise must be given to Hal Holbrook, Fritz Weaver, and Adrienne Barbeau for their respective roles in “The Crate”. I mean not only do all 3 of these highly talented performers give their respective story a bit of class, but they each do a wonderful job of making their characters distinct quirks that make them either easier to root for or jeer throughout. For Holbrook this means giving his character a sense of being controlled even though he’s secretly trying to break free, for Barbeau it means being as delightfully obnoxious and vile as possible, and for Weaver it means caring about his friend yet also wishing his friend would just find some courage whilst also being terrified out of his wit’s end by events that occur in the story itself respectively.

All in all I think it can safely be said that at the end of the day that iconic film helmer George A. Romero’s Creepshow is a loving throwback not just to the world of horror comic books in general, but also a tribute to the EC fans who continuously had their treasured tales critiqued by people who thought comic books were the root of all evil at one point in time. More than that however, I think Creepshow is easily one of the finest anthology horror slices of cinematic pie this side of the vastly underappreciated Trick ‘r Treat from back in 2007. Indeed with talent like George A. Romero at the helm, a script being penned by Stephen King, terrific effects work from Tom Savini, a top-flight score from John Harrison, and engaging performances from a truly game cast Creepshow is a fairly brilliant mix of pitch black comedy and macabre horror-lite elements that I can promise you will bring a smile to the face of anyone who has either read an EC comic book (or just a comic book in general) or is just in the mood to see a horror film that doesn’t just wish to regale you with a quintet of insidiously clever stories. Rather, it also aspires to just be the kind of movie you can sit back and enjoy with a big bowl of popcorn. It is looking at the film in that respect therefore that I can safely say that Creepshow is a bonafide success and will continue to be for years to come. On a scale of 1-5 I give Creepshow “82” a solid 4 out of 5.