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Friday, August 18, 2017

My Kindertrauma: Creepshow

Pretty much something from each element in this movie showed up in one childhood nightmare or another. Like all the other Kindertrauma in my life, I blame my mother. But not for the reasons you think.

She was attending college and took a class in horror movies. That meant trips to the video store and not caring if we were in the same room as her or not. There'll be more on this later, but thanks to her ambitions, I got exposed to several episodes of Tales from the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside, Halloween, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and others. Bad enough I'd already been warped from VHS boxes and her Stephen King books. Ironic that I didn't realize this was another work of his until later.

The first scary image occurs after a boy has been yelled at by his father for that comic book trash (the titular "Creepshow") he keeps in the house. After being sent to his room, the "Creeper" appears outside the kid's window...

No, not that one... That's the attempt to make Joker into a superhero.
"Come to my window, crawl inside, wait by the light of the moon..."

The lightning flashes and there is he is, like a tall, grotesque grim reaper (or a burnt mannequin). And the kid smiles because he recognizes his savior. His God has come. It's a comfort to him, making the whole thing scarier. It made me not want to look at my window when going to sleep.


After this prologue is the Father's Day vignette. I remember the whole story felt a bit off, maybe because it's a slasher film sped up. The deaths don't have a lot of build up like they do in Friday the 13th or Halloween, where the fear is in the stalking. The most horrible part is the corpse itself, more rotted and filthy than any I've ever seen. This is not your father's blue zombies from Dawn of the Dead.

Jordy Verrill is the second story, and at this age, I didn't know what camp meant. Or redneck. I thought Jordy Verrill was a likable, lonely farmer. Not very smart, but well-meaning.


And then the creeping death starts to cover his shack. The kicker is that it's innocent grass, but it's growing like The Blob. It covers his fingers, his hand, his remote, it's unbearably itchy, unbearably alien. There's nothing worse than being killed by degrees.

After he takes a fateful bath as his last ditch attempt to cleanse himself, he can no longer move or breathe for being covered with the stuff. What I remember of the ending is that, after he positions the shotgun under his chin, the shot cuts away to the house and the blast is heard. So I must have seen the edited version. But that is scarier to me, because what you don't see is scarier than what you do. Also it's the dread of the fact that he had no other choice. That he goes out rasping, "Please... God... just this once." Haunting.


I knew Leslie Nielsen from The Naked Gun and Airplane movies my father showed me. Seeing him in a serious role itself is disconcerting. But add that he's a bad guy, torturing Ted Danson (also an eighties staple) by 1. forcing him to dig a hole in the sand 2. Bury himself in it 3. Before the tide comes in, inevitably drowning you (3½. Nielsen mentions he might be able to survive this... if he can hold his breath long enough; and little me thought this might be a possibility, making Danson's death sadder.) 4. While your wife's death on the other side of the beach plays live via CCTV. I hate these slow deaths of dread.

And then that's not enough -- the corpses come back, blue and bloated, covered with seaweed. They pursue Nielsen around the house until they corner him with a fade to black. The final shot? He's suffering the same fate as they did, buried up to his head while the tide comes in.


Now that I look back on it I have no idea why I was ever scared of it. It looks like a cheap gorilla mask someone left in the microwave. Maybe it's because the cinematography is about what you don't see. It's called The Crate. Not "The Monster in the Crate", just "The Crate". You don't see what's in it when a hapless janitor gets pulled in by a furry clawed hand and blood spurts out.

Then there's a twist where the henpecked guy gets a spine and drags his embarrassing alcoholic wife to it. You don't know if he's going to successfully get her down there. You don't know if you want him to. And then he's knocking on it, banging on it, and you expect him to be the one eaten because he's closer. Then there's a pause, nothing happens. Maybe the monster's not coming out. Maybe it's already escaped and it's behind him. But it jumps out, mugs for the camera, then drags her in like Audrey II.

Since the version I saw was edited, the cockroach story was removed for time so I have no memories of it. Even so, I strangely think this might have been the one story that wouldn't have scared me. I don't care about bugs unless they're on me and the Midwest has no cockroaches, just mosquitoes. The story was confusing anyway--not high concept enough.

So for me, Creepshow ended when the trashmen discover the comic book and see that someone's clipped out the "voodoo doll" coupon. Cut to Dad spontaneously choking in the kitchen while his son upstairs stabs the little straw doll in the neck. The little sociopath killing his own father while laughing maniacally. (BTW doesn't this kinda prove the dad's point?)


So yeah, start to finish, everything in this movie stayed with me. Jesus Christ, no wonder I'm warped.
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