With the ’80s Creepshow horror anthology movie franchise being revived as a series by The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero – premiering Thursday, September 26 on Shudder – it’s the perfect time to revisit the two films in order to find out what made them such madcap macabre classics. (Read our review of Shudder’s Creepshow premiere here.)Firstly, what was Creepshow? How did it differ from other ’80s-era scary story sagas like Tales From the Darkside and Tales From the Crypt? Well, to start with, all of these are based on the EC horror comics scene that rose up post-WW II and saw a huge boom in the ’50s and ’60s. Tales from the Crypt, complete with the CryptKeeper host character, was a comic book. An adaptation of Tales from the Crypt featuring a bunch of famous stars, directors, and producers became one of HBO’s first original scripted series in 1989.
The first Creepshow movie, in 1982, was meant to be a horror comic splashed up on the big screen. It wasn’t an adaptation of an actual old comic though; it was simply meant to evoke that style. Horror maestros George Romero, Stephen King, and makeup specialist Tom Savini brought this movie to life, with King himself even starring in one of the stories. Our guide through the ghoulish and goofy gutters was a mostly-silent skeleton hobo known as The Creep.
The success of Creepshow not only brought about a sequel, in 1987, but also, before that, the Tales From the Darkside horror anthology TV series created by Romero. It’s worth mentioning too that the Tales From the Darkside brand would go on to have its own movie in 1990.
All you really need to know though, bare-bones, is that both Creepshow movies start with a maladjusted young boy desperately wanting to get his hands on a horror comic, and then that journey takes us through the anthology stories. Criminally insane kids and their ferocious funny books. A tale as old as time. (Both films are available for digital download, and Creepshow is on Amazon Prime at the time of this writing.)
Full spoilers follow!
(Also please note that we’re not dredging up Creepshow 3 from 2006. It’s bulls***.)
Creepshow: The Series Gallery
Creepshow’s bookends feature a kid named Billy (played by King’s son, Joe Hill) who’s got a s***heel of an abusive dad. His pop (played by Tom Atkins) has discovered one of Billy’s horror rags and is throwing a fit. He even slaps poor Billy. Later that night, Billy prays to the patron saint of poor parenting payback, The Creep, and gets a huge smile on his face when he’s visited upon by a floating corpse. Because he knows his dad’s going to feel the flickering flames of hellfire. You know, totally normal stuff.
Side Quest: A lot of Creepshow is about bad dads. Or, in the very least, abominable old men. It’s a running theme. Olds suck.
Second side quest: Most every story in the Creepshow oeuvre is about horrible things befalling horrible people. Rarely do genuinely good people get wrecked and ruined. And if they do, they’re avenged by mysterious forces that can only be attributed to cosmic balance. AKA Thanos.
“Father’s Day” features a miserable wealthy family, with one seemingly good member (Ed Harris as a decent fellow who’s married into this nest of vipers). They’ve gathered together on Father’s Day because their crazy aunt, Bedelia, who now hordes all the money, wants to honor her late father, Nathan – their grandfather. Nathan was a loud, abrasive a-hole of the highest order. In fact, before Bedelia snapped and killed Nathan seven years earlier, Nathan had Bedelia’s fiancé killed off in a “hunting accident.”
Anyhow, for no good reason (other than some whiskey spilling on his grave), Nathan comes back to life, demanding his Father’s Day cake. Which, I’d argue, isn’t really a thing. You don’t get cake on Father’s Day. Someone should have probably told Nathan this before he came back to life as a rotting, festering monster and murdered everyone. He’d probably be like “You know? You’re right. It’s not a thing. My bad.”
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”
The next chapter features Stephen King as a bumbling WWF-loving (heyyy!) hayseed who stumbles on a meteorite and thinks he can sell it to the local eggheads at the university for some quick cash. Instead, the glop inside the rock (“meteor s***”) gets on his fingers and spreads a green fungus across his whole body.
The Jordy Verrill story, which is mostly played for corny laughs, actually contains one of the saddest endings of all Creepshow stories, as Jordy opts to blow his brains out after the plant fuzz covers his entire body. It won’t floor you or anything, but it will probably make you go “Awwww.” And then feel a little bit bummed for a minute. Which is more than you can say for most Creepshow short cuts.
And yes, this one still has a mean dad. Jordy has a delusional conversation with his late pa, whom, naturally, screams at him. Because fathers yell. And then die. Leaving you.
“Something to Tide You Over”
Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen might not exactly be a duo that springs to mind when thinking of horror, but they work well together in this bizarre revenge story that then escalates into a beyond-the-grave revenge story, as Nielsen’s VCR-obsessed moneybags guy, Richard Vickers, kills off his wife and her lover by burying them up to their heads in sand and then letting the ocean water roll in – filming the entire process for his private cruel Columbia House collection.
Because it’s perfectly natural for the Creepshow-verse to never explain why crazy bats*** stuff happens, or why some deaths get supernaturally avenged, Danson’s Harry and Richard’s wife come back to life, as blechy briny sea zombies, and kill Richard. Climate change at its finest.
Check out Shudder’s Creepshow executive producer Greg Nicotero on the horror influences of the show in the video below:
Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, and Fritz Weaver star in this iconic monster mash, based on a King short story, about a weenie professor who sees an opportunity to kill off his drunken, emotionally abusive wife, with his pal getting involved in the action as well. A crate from an Arctic expedition is discovered at the college and said crate happens to contain a pint-sized predator that loves to rip people to shreds.
With both Creepshow and The Thing landing in 1982, the Arctic and Antarctica took a huge hit. Tourism plummeted. People would be like “Hey, wanna go to the Arctic” and someone else would be like “No way! You wanna get Thing’d?”
Greg Nicotero added a Crate-y Easter egg to the Season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead, as “Ship to Horlicks University via Julia Carpenter” can be read on a box inside Terminus. Now you know. And knowing’s half the battle. The other half of the battle is killing.
“They’re Creeping Up on You”
The biggest gross-out moment from Creepshow, which isn’t actually all that high on gore, will forever be the hundreds of cockroaches crawling out of E.G. Marshall’s dead body at the end of “They’re Creeping Up on You” – a story that asks the important question “What if Ebenezer Scrooge was a germaphobic shut-in? And also a massive racist? And instead of being visited upon by three ghosts that teach him a lesson about being a better, kinder person, he instead finds giant bugs in his cereal?”
In closing, Billy murders his dad with a voodoo doll he sends away for, courtesy of his Creepshow comic. His life’s going to be a sheet cake of joy.
Terrible Old Man/Dad End Count: 7