One of the greatest traditions in horror is the telling of scary stories. Told one after the other by many voices, each trying to top the previous in terror, this kind of storytelling is thousands of years old. It’s still done this way, of course, but scary storytelling has adapted to all forms of media that have come along. Creepypastas are essentially online campfire spook stories, after all. On film, the group tales have taken the form of the horror anthology. Many distinct stories, unrelated to each other in fact, are brought together and presented as a singular experience of terror.
The all-time superstar of horror anthologies is a competitive title, but in my eyes, it’s indisputably Creepshow. I would say, imagine if Stephen King and George A. Romero (director of the original Night of the Living Dead series) teamed up to make a movie. I don’t have to say “imagine”, because that’s what actually happened here: two of the most beloved names in 20th century horror happily joined forces. With King writing, Romero directing, and genre superstar Tom Savini creating the special effects, they led a team of filmmakers to one of the most fun and rewatchable horror movies of all time.
One of the most special things about Creepshow is its distinct sense of style. The tone and look of the movie is inspired by the old EC horror comics, which were a very popular and clever batch of comics in the early 1950s. They pushed the envelope of what violent and horrifying imagery the public at the time was willing to accept and frequently came under heavy fire from parents, teachers, psychiatrists, and politicians all over the country. Despite their wild success, the books were quickly cancelled and EC folded.
The movie even opens with a prologue that references the controversy, as a little boy reading the fictional “Creepshow” comic has it thrown in the garbage by his abusive father. Fortunately for him, and us, this can’t stop “Creepshow’s” mascot, the Old Creep, from beckoning at his window and bringing us into the world of the comic. From then on, wild and garish colors, comic panel transitions, and comically exaggerated expressions of horror are the order of the day. We even transition from story to story by flipping through the pages of the discarded comic, through angry letters to the editor and ads for x-ray specs. (In fact, there’s even a great Creepshow comic adaption for all you comic fans.)
Creepshow is also special for its incredibly varied, but spiritually united, subjects of horror. Mysterious monsters locked in century-old crates, weird meteors from outer space, grotesque tortures designed by sociopaths, and massive infestations of creepy crawlies–they all come into play before Creepshow is done and over with. You might think you’d get whiplash from all the shifting story types, but they all feel nicely looped together thanks to the gorgeous design choices and wonderful 80s synth score by John “The Czar” Harrison. The very different subjects also mean that Creepshow can cover a lot of ground, and it’s pretty likely that at least one of the stories will appeal to something that makes your spine crawl.
Of course, it can’t be ignored that Creepshow is also very, very funny. All the segments are done at least a little tongue-in-cheek, just enough to let you in on the joke without making fun of the subject matter. One particularly comedic segment stars Stephen King himself as a farmbound hick, and while he won’t be winning any Oscars, it’s a performance with no boundaries or cautions. Even if you find it stupid, you’ll have to laugh anyway. Then, there’s that great black humor of cosmic irony that filled the EC Comics in their heyday. In this world, no evil goes brutally, amusingly unpunished.
In its proud touting of once-controversial roots, Creepshow is something of a victory lap for horror. There were still people who decried horror as purely lowbrow, mindless, disgusting, or even dangerous, and there will always be people like that. However, by 1982, the American public at large had accepted horror into their hearts. King’s books were regular bestsellers. Hollywood’s finest had directed incredibly successful and prestigious horror films like The Exorcist, Jaws, Alien, and Halloween. All the kids who had their comic books thrown into the trash? Creepshow was a love letter from those kids to monsters, ghosts, and bloody murder, and a gift to all of us who still love those things.
Personal Favorite Story: “Something To Tide You Over”
Quick and Dirty: An aging, wealthy sociopath discovers his wife is cheating on him and gleefully enacts a plan of gruesome revenge on her and her lover. Murdering them miles from civilization, it appears he’ll get away from it until a supernatural mist glides toward his beachfront home…
When you walk into a story starring the late, great Leslie Nielsen, you expect it to be the funniest of the bunch, not the most disturbing. His great, chilling performance anchors a tragic tale where you are actually brought to care about the victims. The story takes its time in unfurling its frights, and they’re very much worth it, with some great makeup work by Savini. Afraid of drowning? Don’t watch this one alone.
Featured image credit: 20th Century Fox