Horror Month Day 10: Creepshow

Today’s guest writer is Andrew Wodzianski, a painter and performer in D.C. He elected to discuss his favorite horror anthology, Creepshow.

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From the horrid halls of Ivory towers, scary scholars spout the terrifying traditions of Halloween. Tricks and Treats. Mummies and mumming. Ghosts and guising. From the domestic darkside, my wife traditionally conquers Costume Quest and I consume Count Chocula. I also feast on film.

Horror films and Halloween are my carrion couch comfort, and a peculiar sub-genre has kept me captivated since childhood: the horror anthology.

Creepshow movie poster

Horror anthology films are like handfuls of Halloween candy. Small bursts of excitement, vaguely different but eerily similar, and gone before they’ve outlived their welcome. The simile can be wrapped further: Necco Waffers and Tootsie Rolls = Waxworks (1924), Junior Mints and Sno-Caps = Black Sabbath (1963), Milk Duds and Whoppers = V/H/S (2012). But let me share my favorite. It’s like a bag of Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. No amount of alliteration or candy comparison can describe the adoration I’ve had for this movie since it’s release in 1982. Creepshow.

“Dear Creep:
All I can say is WOW! I haven’t seen such a bunch of NAUSEATING RUBBISH since the days of TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE HAUNT OF FEAR! I hope you’ll do lots of stories about people being buried alive! They have always been my favorite! Here’s hoping there’ll always be a CREEPSHOW!
Brian Hall
Ann Arbor, Mich.”
– Fan letter from Creepy Correspondence, Creepshow No. 1

Creepshow is perfect. I believe this sole observation is the only needed review remark for a film of such caliber. However, the rabid readers of Robot’s Pajamas may need further evidence from such a ghoulish guest. In chewy chunks of sickening support I give you; Writing, Directing, Acting, Editing, and Art Direction.

Writing

Stephen King is the common man’s horror writer. His literary critics are legion (I among them), and their opinions are largely justified. However, his frequent long form narrative missteps are not found with this effort. King’s Creepshow screenplay is structured with tight parameters, and the result is deliberate, focused, and pure.

Creepshow is an homage to the horror anthology titles of Entertaining Comics (EC Comics), a mid-20th Century publisher responsible for Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. Each book was graced with gruesome masters of ceremony: the Crypt Keeper, the Vault Keeper and the old Witch respectively. They would introduce and eulogize each story, all the while mocking readers with puns, insults, and teases.

The arc of Creepshow follows a similar pattern; five separate stories woven together through the flipping pages of Creepshow issue no. 1, and bookended by the tale of an abusive father’s comeuppance after throwing his son’s comic in the trash.
King excels in short form. Little exposition boils our stories down into a successful two-ingredient recipe: setup and kill. Repeat. Nothing drags or flounders. It’s lean and deliberately leaves questions unanswered. The unknown is scary, and King is wise to not pad each tale with unnecessary explanation.

Zombie from Creepshow

Directing

If we blissfully forget the film Knightriders (1981), George Romero tackled Creepshow after his successful return to a genre he created – Dawn of the Dead (1978). As King is a writer for the everyman, Romero is typically a utilitarian director. Typical, until Creepshow. Occasionally implementing forced perspective and dutch angles in other work, Romero now incorporates them with full abandon. It’s a perfect complement to the inspirational comic material. DOP Michael Gornick could take some of the visionary credit, but there’s little evidence to support it after viewing Gornick’s directorial effort with Creepshow 2. It’s a dismal sequel. To further support the genius of Romero, he’s once again selected Pittsburgh for principal shooting and hired local gun Tom Savini for special effects.

Acting

Creepshow benefits from a talented cast. Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, E.G. Marshall, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, and Viveca Lindfors may be portraying one-dimensional archetypes, but they do it with glee. Leslie Nielsen shines as a psychopath, while Stephen King scratches his acting itch without embarrassing himself (albeit, his Jordy Verrill character is an embarrassment). Even King’s son, Joe King (now better known as horror writer Joe Hill), makes an appearance as the lisp stricken boy who maniacally shoves needles into his father’s voodoo doll. It’s a family affair indeed.

Stephen King in Creepshow

Editing

Each story is cut from a different editor. It’s a unique fact that proves subtle distinction with repeat viewing. Pasquale Buba, Paul Hirsch, George Romero, and Michael Spolan take credit.

Art Direction

Contemporary superhero movie directors would do well to study Creepshow. It is the quintessential comic book film. Comic books can be storyboard blue prints for a film crew, and art director Larry Fulton and production designer Cletus Anderson clearly did their research. They perfectly capture the tone of EC Comics, and brief segments of animation (even rotoscoping!) only add to the flair. Not all comic book inspired films need slavish loyalty to their source material. However, when dealing with stories on bondage, torture, and murder – it seems fitting.

Leslie Nielson in Creepshow

Art imitating art imitating art

I’ll leave loyal Robot’s Pajamas readers with this nugget of marketing tie-in: Stephen King’s comic adaptation of Creepshow. A sixty-four page oversized paperback, I devoured this book at the age of seven prior to seeing the movie. That my parents purchased a Stephen King comic book for a seven year old, only to escort him into an R rated film is another tale. A meta-cover from Jack Kamen and illustrations from the famous horror illustrator Berni Wrightson bring the tales of creepy tribute into full circle.

“Dear Creep:
I couldn’t eat my dinner because I was NAUSEATED! I couldn’t sleep because I was TERRIFIED! When I did get to sleep (finally sometime after midnight), I woke up SCREAMING with NIGHTMARES! All I can say is thank you… and more, more, more!!
David Graves
Spruce, Maryland”

“What a BOUNTIFUL BOUQUET of compliments! Thanks Dave! By the way, did anyone ever tell you that you’re a real MASOCHIST? But that’s okay – we need all the readers we can get!
The Creep”