Happy Halloween: “Creepshow” & “Creepshow 2”

CreepshowPoster.jpgHalloween is scary. It’s when the dead walk amongst the living, mischief fills the air, and when things go bump in the night. Halloween is also ridiculous, as drunken people bumble through the streets dressed in costumes, and candy makes sticky the face of every loud kid dressed as a pumpkin. Creepshow and Creepshow 2 represent the best of both worlds. The brainchild of horror master Stephen King and director George A. Romero (a horror pro in his own right, Night of the Living Dead), 1982’s Creepshow and 1987’s Creepshow 2 embody all things freakish, frightening, and campy in true Halloween fashion. Meant as an homage to the scare comics and B-movies of the late ‘40s and ‘50s, both films feature animated sequences, comic book panels, plots thin enough to see through, and enough blue and red lighting to let the audience know when something is supposed to be dramatic.

Creepshow consists of five spooky vignettes: “Father’s Day,” “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” “Something to Tide You Over,” “The Crate,” and “They’re Creeping Up On You!”  The film is bookended by scenes of a boy named Billy, played by King’s son Joe King, who takes some flak from his father for reading the “Creepshow” comic book. When Billy’s dad throws the comic in the trash, that’s when all the fun begins. 

In the first story, “Father’s Day,” Old Aunt Bedelia is thought to have killed her father years ago on father’s day, and now she returns to his house every year on that day to celebrate. From flashbacks we learn that the only thing her father loved more than berating his daughter, was his father’s day cake. So when dear old dad comes back from the dead, he has nothing to say about the patricide but only asks, “Where’s my cake, Bedelia?” After spooking the rest of Aunt Bedelia’s family, you better believe that at the end of twenty minutes our favorite zombie gets himself a cake…to die for!

“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” is a favorite of mine, as Stephen King himself stars as Jordy Verrill, and makes his way through the dialogue reacting and mugging as if he’s in the world’s worst silent film; but it’s okay, King’s in on the joke. Dopey farmer Jordy discovers a meteor has crashed on his property and sees it as an excuse to profit, which we learn from his dream sequence in which he heads to the local college’s “department of meteors” and demands no less than $200 for the rock; Jordy’s no fool. Excited, Jordy touches the rock and burns his fingers, sucking on them to heal the burn. After pouring some water on the meteor to cool it, the rock cracks open and leaks blue liquid into the ground. Over the course of the episode we see a strange green plant growing over all of Verrill’s property, his home, and even himself. Deciding to forgo seeing a doctor (thanks, dream sequence!) Jordy takes a bath instead, and is forced to face the consequences. The majority of this vignette is an excuse for Stephen King to goof off, but the last shot of the alien flora’s progress paired with some telling voiceover reminds us that Creepshow is a horror movie after all.

galleryCreepshow is a pretty low budget film, so most of the film’s “stars” won’t ring any bells, but “Something To Tide You Over” is the exception. Leslie Nielson (Airplane!) plays Richard Vickers, a vindictive husband who buries his wife and her lover Harry, played by Ted Danson (Cheers), up to their necks on the beach during high tide. Nielson is eerily polite in his murderousness, grinning and speaking agreeably with young Danson who pleads for the life of himself and his lover to no avail. Later that evening, Richard returns to the beach to check up on Harry and his wife, but finds the two missing. He chalks it up to the tide dragging them out to sea, but he knows that’s not true. When Richard returns home to shower, he is interrupted by the sound of someone moving around his house, but none of his many security cameras seem to catch anything. Eventually his seaweed-laden, waterlogged victims confront Richard, and the story ends with Richard threatening that he can hold his breath, “for a long, long time!” He’ll have to hope so! 

Up until now, Creepshow is mostly all fun and games with the slightest sprinkle of scary on top. The story, “The Crate” changes things. It tells the tale of a mysterious old crate lurking under the staircase of a college and soft-spoken professor Henry’s problem with his shrill wife, and how the two things come together. This vignette is no different than the others in the corny lighting or special effects, but the tone of this story is a much graver one. After a call from a janitor, a professor, Henry’s friend Dexter, goes over to the college and attempts to open a hundred-year-old crate. After the creature within the box manages to gobble up the janitor and a grad student, clothes and all, Dexter runs over to Henry’s house to tell him all about it. Henry does what any friend would do and drugs Dexter, heading over to the school to clean up the mess left by the monster. He checks under the stairs, and yes, something under there is stirring. Job done, Henry calls up his wife, Wilma and feeds her a fake story about Dexter and a young girl to get her over to the school. Although Henry seems whipped, we know his true feelings towards his wife (return of the dream sequences!), so you don’t need three guesses to know what happens next. Henry returns home, confident, assuring a conscious Dexter that everything has been taken care of. But, in true horror movie form, sharp teeth and a thirst for blood never really die.

Last but not least, the Creepshow anthology comes to a close with, “They’re Creeping Up On You!” The other stories that make up the film are ones based almost completely on fantastical happenings; so many pieces have to fall into place for the horror to ensue. That is not the case with this final story. The simplest of the five, “They’re Creeping Up On You!” is about rich, obnoxious, OCD businessman Upson Pratt trying to cope with a few bugs during a blackout. The whole story stays in one setting and takes place within about an hour, and is by far the most frightening part of the movie. At first it’s only one or two cockroaches on the floor. Pratt sprays them, they die, and he can continue yelling into the phone. But they keep coming. There are roaches in the jukebox, the cereal, coming out of the drain, and worse still, the blackout means the exterminator is stuck in the elevator. The combination of knowing that the roaches are real, hundreds had to be imported from Madagascar for the film, and that there is no real reason that this happens to grouchy Upton, gives the audience the feeling that this could happen to anyone, to us. Upton meets his end in a way that’s expected, but no less horrifying, and completely justifies the title Creepshow.

With our tales of horror finished, we return to Billy’s comic book being picked up by garbage men the morning after the fight with his dad. The guys discuss buying some of the send-away stuff in the back of the book, x-ray glasses and the like. Inside, Billy’s parents sit downstairs, and his dad wonders if maybe he was too hard on Billy, when he gets a sharp pain in his neck. The garbage men notice one of the items has already been sent away for: a voodoo doll! Cut to Billy grinning as his father howls in pain, and the ghostly credits roll.

Creepshow2poster.jpgCreepshow 2 is a different kind of monster. Stephen King and George Romero return, though Romero helps write this one and leaves the directing to Michael Gornick. With only three stories instead of five, most of the stylistic choices remain the same as the original, with slightly better graphics thanks to the five-year difference, though definitely lacks some of the first film’s humor. The first vignette is “Old Chief Wood’nhead”, about a storefront wooden Indian statue that takes revenge on three hooligans, after they murder the store clerk and his wife. The second, “The Raft”, shows four teenagers who drive to a lake expecting good times, but find themselves trapped on a raft in the middle of the lake by a carnivorous blob that won’t stay full. These first two stories present themselves as being what they are, and absent of the campy wit, that amounts to bad horror stories. An animated opener about another kid named Billy with a love for “Creepshow” comics, being harassed by some older boys feels awkward, juxtaposed with the take-it-at-face-value nature of the stories. But with the start of the third and best vignette, “The Hitchhiker”, the basic horror story format works perfectly.

In “The Hitchhiker”, a rich woman, Annie, wakes up late from having an affair and tries to return home before her husband does. She gets distracted while driving and swerves on the road, hitting and killing a hitchhiker. Annie decides that getting home first is what’s most important, and vows to only tell the police what happened if she can’t live with the guilt. As she drives the hitchhiker won’t leave her alone. Annie runs over him, slams him into trees, and flings him off of her car time and again, but he keeps coming back murmuring, “Thanks for the ride, lady.” Shiver. The man’s increasingly bloody face paired with his determination is what makes this simple story so terrifying. This guy is a zombie, no doubts about it, but even when his head is clearly smashed enough to destroy the brain, the only thing that keeps a zombie dead for good, he just keeps on coming. With car mangled and spirit broken, Annie finally makes it back home, albeit pretty late, only to find that her husband has yet to arrive. There is a moment of calm, of relief, right before she hears the one phrase she fears the most, the one takeaway from this movie that definitely won’t leave you as time goes by: “Thanks for the ride, lady.” This last story alone proves that Creepshow 2 is no sophomore slump.

Creepshow and Creepshow 2 are a celebration of campiness and horror and how the two together define scary movies. The films are reminiscent of old favorites like the “Tales From The Crypt” comic book and Jack Arnold’s 1954 movie Creature From the Black Lagoon. Romero and King are fanboys, and therefore completely aware of the ridiculousness of every line and every shot in every scene, but they still try to put the Creep in Creepshow. Try these movies out if you’re looking for something fun and fearsome to watch on Halloween, without having to peek out from behind your hand. Kick back and have a laugh, but keep the lights on.

Happy Halloween! 

Article by Nia Howe-Smith

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