Me And Lil’ Stevie
Feel Right at Home at the
(Establishing shot of a lone house in Late October. There is a Jack O’lantern burning in the front window. From inside the house we hear the sounds of a father berating his son for reading comic book-style horror magazines. Camera pans up at the full moon hanging directly over the house, and then pans downward again at the figure of a frightening, maniacal skeleton lurking about just outside the boy’s bedroom. The skeleton laughs and waves at the boy in a display of intimate understanding, and then the skeleton lifts its hand and pulls off its costume, revealing underneath a man with a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: I can’t breathe in this thing!
Peter: Greetings, and welcome to our latest edition of Me And Lil’ Stevie. Today we’ll be discussing the 1982 George Romero sleeper hit CREEPSHOW!
Lil’ Stevie: It was MY hit too, ya know!
Peter: …And since most of you are fans of horror, George Romero needs no introduction, but for the rest of the uninformed heathens, Romero is the mastermind behind the LIVING DEAD zombie series as well as a multitude of other beloved horror gems.
Lil’ Stevie: Really? What else has he done?
Peter: C’mon…you really need to ask? Romero filmed THE CRAZIES (1979), MARTIN (1976), MONKEY SHINES (1988), and THE DARK HALF (1993), which is also based on a story by Stephen King.
Lil’ Stevie: So the man’s got some taste!
Peter: As well as talent and style. But CREEPSHOW seems to be a stand-out favorite among us horror fans, and for good reason. Romero and the real Stephen King teamed up specifically on this picture, with a concept for an anthology-style film that celebrated the campy fun of the old E.C. Comics of yesteryear (VAULT OF HORROR, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, etc.). The result is five independent stories, book-ended by a story concerning the boy above and his stern, overbearing father who doesn’t want him reading trashy horror comic books. If you didn’t know, the boy in the movie is actually played by King’s real-life son Joe!
Lil’ Stevie: Who now goes by the name Joe Hill, and writes kick-ass horror stories just like ME!
Peter: You don’t write anything, Splinter-Chin!
Lil’ Stevie: Do SO!
Peter: Really? Well maybe you could help me write up an Ebay ad for a used ventriloquist dummy…
Lil’ Stevie: (moping) I’ll be good!
Peter: The first story is called “Father’s Day”, and it appears to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to all the other horror films around that time that were based on some holiday or other gone horribly awry (HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, etc). The story concerns the posh, snobby heirs of Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer, THE BOOGENS, 1981), whom congregate every Father’s Day to remember their patriarch on the anniversary of his death…murdered by dear Aunt Bedelia after the old man drove her crazy.
Lil’ Stevie: Bashed his head in with a marble ash tray! Of course, he had it coming after he murdered Bedelia’s suitor in cold blood.
Peter: Grantham had made the family fortune by bootlegging whiskey. So when Bedelia visits his graveside with a bottle of booze and accidentally spills some on his tomb, the old man comes back from the dead to extract vengeance. There seems to be a lot of extracting vengeance in this pic…but I think that mirrors the style of the old pulp comics. There’s a moral code in their somewhere, and it’s delivered in all its bloody tongue-in-cheek fun.
Lil’ Stevie: Leave it to Romero to lead off with a zombie story first! I wanted to lead off with “Jordy Verrill”…
Peter: …Which leads us to the second story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”. This story is one of the two in this movie that are based on pre-existing Stephen King stories. This particular story is based on “Weeds”, which was published in Cavalier magazine in May, 1976 (and remains unavailable in any subsequent King story collection). It is a retooling of the story, “The Colour Out Of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, and concerns Jordy Verrill, a rube farmer who finds a meteor on his land. Verrill is played by none other than…
Lil’ Stevie: ME! ME! I played Jordy Verrill! Wasn’t I stupendous?
Peter: ….the real Stephen King. Not you! Verrill finds the meteor, and dreams of selling it to the local university (to the Department of Meteors, to be specific) and pay off his outstanding bank loan. When Verrill douses the meteor with water to cool it off, the meteor breaks in two, killing his plans immediately. Of course, Verrill has already touched the meteor and been infected by whatever alien growth it contains.
Lil’ Stevie: “Meteor shit!”
Peter: You can’t swear like that. L.L. will censor us again!
Lil’ Stevie: “That’s the Verrill luck for ya! Always in…Always bad!”
Peter: (Sighing) Anyway, the rest of the story is Verrill’s downward spiral as the alien plant growth slowly consumes him.
Lil’ Stevie: Easily the best story in the movie!
Peter: The third tale is called “Something To Tide You Over”, and with the title alone we see more of that ironic, tongue-in-cheek wordplay that makes this movie such fun. This is another vengeance tale, concerning crazed millionaire Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielson, AIRPLANE, 1980), who is bent on murdering his adulterous wife, Becky (Gaylen Ross, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978), and her lover, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on the hit television show CHEERS, ’82-’93). Richard shows up at Harry’s house and informs him that he knows what’s been going on. Harry tries to play it cool, but when Richard informs him that Becky is in peril and that if he wants to see her alive again, he’d better do as he says, Harry allows himself to be led out to Richard’s beachfront property. There is a hole in the sand waiting for him there, and Richard (while holding him at gunpoint), tells him to get in and start burying himself.
Lil’ Stevie: Of course, the tide is just starting to come in…
Peter: Once Harry is buried up to his neck, Richard sets up a television and video player, right there in front of him, so that Harry can watch how Becky drowned, just as he is about to, with the return of the tide. Of course, the two dead lovers are reunited by the sea, and come back from the dead to extract further vengeance on Richard.
Lil’ Stevie: Not as compelling as “Jordy Verrill”.
Peter: Or sandpaper!
Lil’ Stevie: You’re so mean to me!
Peter: The fourth story is “The Crate,” and it is the other piece that is a pre-existing Stephen King tale (and like “Weeds”, it doesn’t appear in any subsequent King collection. You can find it, however, in the Arbor House Treasury of Horror & The Supernatural, 1980 or Great Tales of Horror & The Supernatural, 1981.) The story concerns Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook, THE FOG, 1980), a college professor who is forever cowed and browbeaten by his obnoxious, overbearing wife, Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, also in THE FOG).
Lil’ Stevie: Adrienne Barbeau! Rowwwrrrr!
Peter: Um, yeah…not in this picture. In this story, Wilma (“Just call me Billie…everyone else does!”) appears to be the consummate pain-in-the-ass significant other; drinking, complaining, and verbally emasculating Henry at every opportunity. So when Henry’s colleague and best friend Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver, MARATHON MAN, 1976) shows up at his home rambling incoherently about a crate that has been found at the university, and the monster inside that devoured the janitor who found it (as well as one of the school’s brightest students), Henry begins hatching a scheme to murder his ball-and-chain and be rid of her forever.
Lil’ Stevie: Some things are just better off left alone…particularly if they are chained and padlocked and hidden away in a college basement!
Peter: This segment was my least-favorite in the movie. Adrienne Barbeau is a hottie, and to see her in this role really, unfortunately, changed how I feel about her. She embodies the role with such efficiency that whenever I see her I instantly correlate her to the character she portrayed here. And that’s a drag.
Lil’ Stevie: That’s her job, you idiot! She’s an actress!
Peter: I’m sorry, I’m sorry! And yeah, when Billie finally falls prey to the beast in The Crate, I did feel a sense of huge satisfaction. I guess maybe it’s because I just don’t care to see people get brow-beaten, especially in public places.
Lil’ Stevie: And did you notice the personal nod I gave to my wife Tabby in this one?
Peter: Yeah, one of the secondary characters is named Tabitha…and unlike Billie, she’s polite and well-mannered. It seems almost like an inside joke that her name appears in this piece. On to the final story, “They’re Creeping Up On You!” This tale concerns another eccentric millionaire, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 ANGRY MEN, 1957), a germaphobe who has turned his upscale penthouse suite into a colorless, sanitized-white protection bubble. Pratt hides away from the rest of the world in this bubble, where he can be a ruthless tycoon that makes business dealings that destroy other peoples’ lives without ever having to face them. Through his personal interactions over the telephone, we get a glimpse of a man that has reduced the rest of mankind to being nothing more than pesky insects, which he loathes.
Lil’ Stevie: So, of course, we have to call in the cockroaches and sic them on him!
Peter: This piece is not for the squeamish. Thousands of roaches invade the apartment, and before it is over, the dead Upson Pratt’s body literally erupts with insects as they burrow and tunnel their way through his corpse. It’s an amazing scene to watch, with props to special effects master Tom Savini for making the body infestation so life-like you’d swear it was real!
Lil’ Stevie: And you should note that Savini makes a cameo appearance as a garbage man at the end of the movie.
Peter: In all, CREEPSHOW really is a standout King movie. Even if this movie isn’t the scariest thing that either King or Romero has put out, the tagline on the poster reads “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared,” and that still holds fairly true, even 30 years later. With the screenplay written by King, the all-star cast, and the great comic book animations and panel-framing, this movie is a celebration of all things dark and macabre…more like a film for summer camp than for the Cannes film festival. It is a treasured homage to those horror-themed comic books we dug on in our childhood, rather than reading Boy’s Life or Y.M..
Lil’ Stevie: Just out of curiosity, if you could pick any five of my stories for a CREEPSHOW sequel, which would you choose?
Peter: Wow, that’s a tough one…you’d want to go with the ones that are visceral enough to paint that comic book sense of grue while maintaining that almost moralistic come-uppance at the same time. Off the top of my head, “Grey Matter” really stands out. As does “Home Delivery” and “The Monkey”. Of King’s more recent works, I’d say “In The Deathroom” or “Mute” would be cool. Then again, I’d also hope that King would make the effort to write some new stories specifically for the screenplay. The REAL King, of course, not your sorry ass.
(Lil’ Stevie’s eyes roll back in his head, and then the dummy lunges forward, mouth wide open, and begins biting Peter’s face off. Peter screams in agony as the blood begins to spray in comic book gushes of blood.)
Lil’ Stevie: (At the camera, with blood all over his wooden face), Goodbye, folks! See you next time!
The scene fades into an animated sequence of Lil’ Stevie devouring the rest of Peter as camera pans out.
© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar