George A. Romero Wasn't Just a Zombie Maestro, as His Two 'Creepshow' Anthologies Showed

Adrienne Barbeau in the trailer for 'Creepshow,' 1982
Adrienne Barbeau in the trailer for ‘Creepshow,’ 1982

Horror movies lost a giant yesterday with the death of George A. Romero, the man who gave life to the modern zombies genre with his 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead (as well as its five sequels). Romero’s black-and-white indie debut stands as one of the landmarks of genre cinema, not only for establishing the modern incarnation of the undead — i.e., the shuffling, moaning cannibalistic reanimated corpse — but for the way in which it cannily infused its straightforward survivalist tale with all manner of (alternately playful and scathing) socio-political subtexts. Yet despite the fact that his legacy was made with his seminal undead franchise, he was not a one-note director. Two of his best — Creepshow and Creepshow 2 are collaborations with another master of horror, author Stephen King, who yesterday took to Twitter to pay his respects to the late filmmaker.

Romero directed the 1982 original (from a King screenplay), and penned its 1987 sequel (based on King stories). Both are inspired by the spooky EC Comics of the 1950s, which were full of supernatural tales of malevolence and malice. Boasting casts comprised of well-known stars and fresh-faced unknowns, they were collections of shorts designed both to petrify and amuse in equal measure. They were both reasonably successful at the time of their release (Creepshow earned $21 million in 1982; Creepshow 2 a more modest $14 million five years later), and though many imitators have followed in their wake — be it Cat’s Eye, Tales from the Crypt, or the retro-homage Trick ‘r Treat — none have matched the pitch-perfect blend of chilling atmosphere, bleak irony, and dark wit of Romero and King’s two partnerships.

That mix is on ideal display in Creepshow’s two best scenes. In the first, dubbed “Something To Tide You Over” — its title is the sort of cheesy-creepy pun that EC Comics relished — a rich lunatic (The Naked Gun’s Leslie Nielsen) punishes his cheating wife (Gaylen Ross) by burying both her and her lover (Ted Danson) up to their necks on a sandy beach. As he watches on closed-circuit TV, they struggle to deal with the rising tide, all while hoping that Nielsen’s villain is right in claiming that, if they hold their breath long enough after being submerged, they’ll be able to free themselves. Suffice it to say, things don’t go particularly well (note: the below clip is NSFW).

That’s followed by another amusingly deviant entry, “The Crate,” in which Hal Holbrook’s harried husband spends most of his time fantasizing about murdering his obnoxious, perpetually sloshed wife (Adrienne Barbeau). When he discovers that a storage crate at the local college where he works contains a giant monster, he endeavors to lure his wife to her doom — albeit not before dreaming up a number of other elaborate ways to off her, as illustrated by the below NSFW clip.

While there’s somewhat less to enjoy in Creepshow 2 (which presents three shorts, versus its predecessor’s five), its finest sequence — and, arguably, the best one in either film — is “The Raft.” In it, four college students swim out to a remote lake’s wooden raft, only to discover that some sentient inky puddle won’t let them leave — and, in fact, wants to consume them. Even 30 years after it first shook my childhood psyche (I think I carry a scar from it that happily still exists today), it stands as an ideal bit of sexually provocative teen-anxiety terror. (Note: the clip below has been edited to eliminate the original nudity; we’ll leave it for you to decide if that’s for better or worse)

A vignette originally intended for Creepshow 2 (“The Cat From Hell”) would later be filmed for 1990’s Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, which many contend is something like an unofficial Creepshow 3 (not to be confused with the actual sequel of that name, which Romero and King had nothing to do with). Nonetheless, it’s the series’ first two movies that have truly stood the test of time, proving that Romero was more than merely the father of zombie movies. Fans of horror cinema looking to revisit the late auteur’s work — or discover it for the first time — would be well-served by checking both out.

‘Creepshow’: Watch the trailer:

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