Stephen King movies revisited: looking back at Creepshow

Our revisit of the screen adaptations of Stephen King arrives at Creepshow...

This article contains spoilers for Creepshow.

The film: A young boy is yelled at by his father for reading a comic book, Creepshow, that is later thrown in the trash. The boy is visited later by the Creep character from the comic and we are treated to five stories from within its pages.

Father’s Day sees a woman guilty of murdering her father on the titular celebration return to the scene of the crime, but she’s not the only one. In The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill, a country bumpkin comes across a fallen meteorite that contains voracious alien plantlife. Something To Tide You Over finds a vengeful man finding a particularly soggy way of getting even, while The Crate offers a unique, monster-shaped solution to his marital problems. Finally, a nasty businessman finds his hermetically sealed apartment slowly filling with cockroaches in They’re Creeping Up On You.

Story anthologies are one of King’s own formats when it comes to his particular brand of storytelling, his novels punctuated by such collections throughout his career (adaptations of some will be popping up throughout this ‘revisiting’ series). It makes sense that King would jump at the chance to replicate this format in film, adapting two of his own stories and writing three more especially. Teaming up with director George A. Romero (Night Of The Living Dead), the pair craft an anthology that can be a little uneven, but is full to the brim with affection not only for the horror genre, but for storytelling as an experience.

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The Creepshow format is a tribute to the EC and DC horror comics of the 1950s and the film practically brims with affection for them. EC artist Jack Kamen was employed to provide the comic art for the film, giving it an added authenticity and visual style. Romero transitions between each story with comic book renditions of the opening and closing frames, utilising panel-like split screens and captions throughout. It works very well as a pulpy, distinctive concept for the film and provides coherence between the disparate stories.

It also builds into Creepshow’s big, defining feature: an enormous sense of fun. Everything is designed with a blackly comic sensibility in a way that is reminiscent of some of Roald Dahl’s nastier stories. There aren’t really any nice characters here, apart from the unfortunate Jordy Verrill, so there’s a thrill in seeing them face their comeuppance in some way. Everyone gets their just desserts, be it revenge or some form of gruesome death. There are also some great nods for genre aficionados to pick up from casting choices to an appearance from a housekeeper called Mrs Danvers.

Father’s Day is a great slice of Gothic schlock to open the main anthology with. It offers up a slice of blackly comic macabre with the tale of poor Bedelia Grantham (Viveca Lindfors) and her return to the grave of the father she murdered, miserly Nathan Grantham, only to discover he’s come back for her (there also happens to be some great shoulder-dancing from Ed Harris, as the husband of one of Nathan’s descendants). You get the sense that this story was Romero’s opportunity to really go to town and he seizes it with relish and healthy dollops of ick.

My personal favourite is the central story, Something To Tide You Over, which finds Leslie Nielsen, here at his more goofy career stage, in fine macabre form as a jilted husband enacting a truly horrible revenge on his unfaithful wife and her lover. Nielsen plays Richard with a joviality that makes his actions all the more unsettling; he forces Ted Danson’s Harry to bury himself on the beach up to his neck and to watch his lover suffer the same fate via a rigged up television. Harry can then only wait until the tide comes and kills him, the water slowly creeping up further each time. It’s probably the short that tips most into being outright scary, at least for me, and Nielsen’s jovial psychopathy is easily the film’s best performance.

It’s a little uneven in places, falling into one of the usual anthology pitfalls; poor Jordy Verrill’s story slows the pace down somewhat, despite the best gurning efforts of King in the main role. Though the inherent concept of the story is nicely creepy, it doesn’t quite carry the same chill or thrill factor as the stories either side of it. The Crate perhaps goes on a little too long, especially once you work out what Hal Holbrook’s meek Henry could do with his horrendous wife, Billie (a gloriously obnoxious Adrienne Barbeau). However, the enthusiasm of everyone involved continues to filter through to keep the atmosphere going.

The star of the show though, at all times, is Tom Savini’s special make-up effects and the work of the production design team, coming up with some deliciously ghoulish creations for each of the stories. The decapitated head cake is a particular highlight as well as the gory work that goes into the yeti attacks of The Crate. There’s all kinds of oozing going on, plants sprouting from skin, bugs exploding out of bodies, and snarling teeth. A highlight is the return of Danson as a sort of zombie fish person with his bloated, blue skin and seaweed adornments.

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Creepshow marks a refreshing change of pace after the deeply felt horror of The Shining to something that aims to both thrill and spill. It feels like a project where everyone involved was having a ball, whether they were being taken over by plant life, cockroaches, or finding a yeti in a crate. Romero and King also prove to be a winning combination, teasing out the best in each other’s work and presenting each tale with a truly infectious enthusiasm.

Scariest moment: The moment you realise just how Leslie Nielsen is planning on killing Ted Danson. Cockroaches exploding from a body is also pretty grim.

Musicality: John Harrison’s score provides an eerie accompaniment predominantly, but the soundtrack choices provide an extra layer of humour, particularly in Father’s Day. Posh country house party? Play some classical chamber music. However, the blackly comic masterstroke is using Don’t Let Go as a repeated refrain in the moment after a newly risen corpse starts making his way back to the house for his never-eaten piece of cake.

A King thing: The cameo. Creepshow marks the first time he appears in one of the film adaptations of his works, but it won’t be the last. His son, Joe, now a cracking author in his own right, features in this one as the boy in the film’s prologue and epilogue.

• You can read all our revisits of Stephen King movies here.