25 Years Ago: The Best Genre Year Ever! Part III! Obi-Swan Remembers CREEPSHOW!
When I first met Scott Swan, the guy I’ve been working with for the last 20 years, we were sophomores in high school. At the time, it seemed like CREEPSHOW was already set in stone as a horror classic, but it was only three years old. For a lot of people my age, the film served as a sort of gateway drug to the world of the EC comics that inspired it in the first place. It certainly paved the way for HBO’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT in terms of the general aesthetic, and it allowed Stephen King and George Romero to send a love letter to those comics.
I remember picking up the Bernie Wrightson comic adaptation of CREEPSHOW before I got a chance to see it. I was at a SF/horror convention in Chattanooga, and Stephen King was one of the guests that weekend. I bought the book and walked around with it, ready to spring it on King if I happened to run into him. Sure enough, as my friend and I got on the elevator at one point, King came trotting up and hopped on with us. Instead of asking him for an autograph, I froze completely, staring up at him and clutching the book to me, terrified. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much I looked up to King. Seeing the film later that year, I was blown away by it. The mix of horror and humor is always tricky, so when someone pulls it off just right, it seems even more exciting.
But with Scotty... well, he was a Pittsburgh boy, and Romero meant something more to him. I’ll let him tell you all about it...
The words “anthology” and “horror” should almost never be said in the same sentence, particularly when in the context of making a movie. Frequently, when a genre filmmaker has a go at combining the two, even with the best of intentions, by and large the results are unspeakably terrible. It’s a rare trick to try and pull off, like a trapeze artist performing a stunt that’s killed his whole family. Many have tried, and almost all have fallen flat. Throw humor into the mix and you’ve got a surefire recipe for suck. But every so often, just once in a generation usually, someone comes along and actually gets it dead right. And not only do they get it right, but they make it look so damn effortless.
My admiration for the films of George A. Romero started with a documentary that was shown on PBS in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when I was around ten years old. Although the documentary (which I’d love to eventually track down on video) was about the makeup effects of Tom Savini (with the bulk of it focusing on the original DAWN OF THE DEAD), a great deal featured George Romero. Watching Romero work behind the camera not only helped to awaken my own interest in horror filmmaking, but made me an instant fan of this under-appreciated filmmaker.
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I was all about horror movies... especially the horror movies that my parents considered too strong for me to see... which, at the time, was a number of them. I managed to keep up with all the movies by reading FANGORIA. If you were a kid in the 80’s, Fango was Playboy for gore. I’m still a fan of the publication these days. In particular, though, I’m fond of the issues I’m in (for MASTERS OF HORROR, ahem, ahem, shameless self-promotion). When I was a kid, the transgressive images brought to life by makeup effects geniuses like Savini fueled my interest in the genre. I think, maybe subconsciously, I knew even back then this genre would be the eventual career path for me. Sadly, many of the films covered in the magazine my parents refused to let me see. And this was before VHS arrived in our household, so if I missed something while it was in theaters, tough shit.
I did manage to see a surprising number of R-Rated horror films, however, thanks to my Rated-R savior... my friend’s dad, who would frequently escort a group of us kids to the movies. He had no problem taking us to some of the most insane horror films ever made. On one such outing back in ’82, we arrived at the theater and were greeted by a poster featuring a skeleton behind a ticket counter. The tagline of the film read, “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared.” Okay. I’m in, I thought. I knew the name Stephen King, even though I had never actually read any of his books, and I remembered the name George Romero from the Tom Savini documentary, even though I hadn’t had the opportunity to watch any of his films yet (remember, kids, no home video at that point). I was, however, very familiar with the EC brand of horror comics, even though I wasn’t aware at the time that this was the touchstone King and Romero were paying homage to.
The lights went down and BLAMMO! I was nailed to the back of my seat and didn’t blink for the following two hours. I don’t even think I took another breath until the movie was over. The impact the film had on me is profound and it only took a few minutes to hook me on that first viewing. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s a little breakdown for you. And even if you have seen it, you’ll hopefully enjoy my reminisces.
Following a brief wrap-around opening, featuring Stephen King’s creepy son Joe Hill/King (now a published author in his own right, and a damn fine one by most accounts) and that groovy Pied Piper-ish animated skeleton, the movie begins with “Father’s Day,” a story about a wicked old man who returns from the grave to exact revenge on his greedy asshole heirs, and in particular on his murderous daughter. It features the only re-animated corpse in Romero’s entire filmography to climb out of a grave, plus Ed Harris does a funky disco dance, which makes it a definite must-see. The movie moves along with “The Lonesome Death of Jody Verrill,” in which Stephen King turns in, without argument, his greatest screen performance as the title character, a poor (possibly retarded?) fellow who is consumed by space weeds. Next up is “Something To Tide You Over,” a surprisingly moving and dark revenge tale featuring, as crazy as it sounds, Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson. These guys are wonderful together and Romero’s never been better with an ensemble. The fourth story is my favorite. “The Crate”. It’s a classic monster in a box story and this is the section of the movie where Romero shifts into a lower gear and takes his time unfolding the tale. He allows us to soak up the characters and dark humor and relish a few extremely bloody moments. The final story is the one everybody remembers, even if they’ve forgotten everything else, called “They’re Creeping Up On You.” E.G. Marshall and about a million cockroaches fight for control of a high-price skyscraper condo. In many ways, this reminds me of his most recent film, LAND OF THE DEAD. This is the one segment in the movie where King drops the F-bomb like they’re about to put the word on moratorium and he wants to wring out as much use as he can before it’s gone. As an impressionable twelve-year-old sitting there in the theater, Marshall’s portrayal of pure, unrepentant wickedness rattled me, and the shocking sight of his demise ruined me for months. It might just be one of the greatest visual moments in horror movie history.
Moriarty no doubt asked me to write this piece because he knows what CREEPSHOW means to me. Before I sat down to write this, though, I’m not sure even I knew how profound an effect this movie has had on me. But the process of having to think back and recall my reactions and emotions has caused a weird realization for me: this movie is probably the reason why I find writing horror movies so rewarding. Today, Moriarty and I have had the tremendous good fortune to work alongside many genre icons and contemporaries of Romero’s on the first two seasons of MASTERS OF HORROR. As an adult now working in the horror genre for the past several years, it’s easy to lose touch with those early inspirations. CREEPSHOW is exactly that for me... an inspiration. I don’t think I’d be the same person creatively without having had this movie thrust upon me at such an early age. In my humble opinion, horror movies are supposed to frighten us, but they also need to entertain us at the same time. This can be tricky, but it’s something George Romero has been an expert at since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. And with CREEPSHOW, I don’t think the man has ever been better.
I’m going to have another of the 1982 pieces for you a little later today, bringing us to 1/3 of the way through the series at this point. There are other writers still working on theirs right now, and I’m enjoying watching them all come in. I’ve also found myself motivated to try and make sure that the latest script I’m working on feels like the sort of film that would have played great that year, the sort of film that inspired me in the first place.
Thanks for the recollections, Scotty. I’ll be back with Capone’s piece on another iconic ’82 horror film in just a little while.
In the meantime, you can catch up with the earlier articles in this series here:
Nordling Remembers E.T.!
Harry Remembers TRON!
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles
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