Stephen King’s Best Horror Movie Is Also His Funniest
The best and funniest Stephen King movie is 1982's Creepshow.
Stephen King is one of the most successful authors to have ever lived, barring no format. He has had immense success with his novels, short stories, screenplays, films, television shows, and pretty much anything else you can think of, as long as it’s horror. This is somewhat unfair; while Stephen King is undeniably the modern master of horror, he also has written in many other genres throughout his career and can be extremely, darkly, acidly funny when he wants to be.
All of this is to say that the best and most representative of all of Stephen King’s films is also his funniest: the anthology film Creepshow, which was released in 1982 to moderate box office returns and mixed reviews. However, Creepshow holds a unique place in the works of Stephen King; not only is it the first screenplay he ever wrote and a lengthy and loving tribute to the horror comics he consumed as a child, but it is actually pretty hilariously funny. The humor may be nasty and gory and pretty cheesy, but no one can deny that it does not hit as hard as the deaths.
Creepshow is essentially five Stephen King short stories (two of which he adapted from existing stories, three written for the film), bookended by live-action sequences, and separated by animated transitions showing glimpses of old-fashioned advertisements for X-Ray glasses and “genuine” voodoo dolls. It makes a lot of sense when you realize that the film is an elaborate homage to the EC Comics of the 1950s, which heavily published grisly comics until moral panic and pandering pushed the industry into the superhero genre. The most famous of those comics, Tales from the Crypt was eventually turned into a famous HBO series and a little-known film, Creepshow is Stephen King’s love letter to the gruesome, often morally-tinged genre as a whole.
Fortunately for the film neophyte, Stephen King was not alone in his affection for the horror comics of his youth. Creepshow is directed by George A. Romero, the filmmaker behind the greatest zombie movie of all time, and the animated sequences were by Jack Kamen, one of the primary artists of the glory days of EC Comics. Way earlier than the thought to visually construct Hulk as a comic book was a glimmer in Ang Lee’s eye, the three got together, recruited horror cinematographer Michael Gornick and an amazing cast of actors, and made a truly unique movie.
The first story in Stephen King’s Creepshow is the delightfully over-the-top “Father’s Day,” in which a family of rich jerks await the arrival of the possibly patricidal matriarch of the family, only for the father she bludgeoned to death on Father’s Day to come to life and horribly murder them all while demanding cake. It is extremely representative of Creepshow that there is no explanation whatsoever for the dead returning to life, or for why a young Ed Harris is dancing to loud disco music like such a weird goon, but it is part of the weird charm of the movie.
“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” stars Stephen King himself as a dimwitted farmer who is infected by some kind of disgusting interstellar plant virus after he cracks open a meteorite and dreams of selling it to the local university for the princely sum of $50. It will never be said that Stephen King is much of an actor, but this grotesque near one-man play allows him to be a goofy cartoon of a country bumpkin, which suits him fine.
“Something to Tide You Over” stars Ted Danson and a delightfully malevolent, cast-against-type Leslie Nielsen as a young lothario and the vengeful, wealthy psychopath he has unwisely cuckolded. Suffice it to say that everyone in this Stephen King story suffers a terrible, watery fate and that Leslie Nielsen has the time of his life playing an alternately chummy and terrifying villain. That is even before the waterlogged zombies turn up and he just straight-up loses his mind.
“The Crate” stars Hal Holbrook as a meek, secretly murderous academic and Adrienne Barbeau as his contemptuous, hard-drinking wife. Their lives would probably go on like a cheesy version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, except that a university janitor discovers a fanged, arctic beast that has been trapped in a chained crate for over a hundred years and is very, very hungry. More than the rest of the stories in this Stephen King movie, “The Crate” has a disquieting streak of misogyny in it, which can be attributed to the decidedly non-PC EC Comics, but still sit poorly decades later.
Finally, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” concerns the worst man in the world, his hermetically sealed, sterile New York City apartment, and a whole lot of filthy insects. Suffice it to say, the makeup skills of the legendary Tom Savini are more than up to making a human body look like it is literally being torn apart from the inside by cockroaches.
But really, the key to Stephen King’s Creepshow is the opening and closing live-action sequences, which feature a young boy (King’s actual son, author Joe Hill) being berated by his ogre of a father for reading that “horror crap.” In the opening, the miserable boy breaks out in a wide smile when he sees the near-titular Creep, a floating, eerie monster outside his window, who beckons to him. Then, in the epilogue, the boy cheerfully gets his horrible, ironic revenge for having his comic books taken away from him. That’s Stephen King (and his sense of humor) for you.