“I’m amazed when people are revulsed by horror, or by gore. I giggle and celebrate it…I guess it’s what makes people uptight about, y’know, sexual content or anything like that. C’mon, guys, loosen up!”
–George A. Romero, Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow
I’ve been a hardcore horror fan since I was old enough to watch and absorb television (so, to give you some frame of reference, since the late 70s). Saturday afternoons were all about getting home from piano lessons in time to catch Creature Feature and Saturday Shocker on the UHF channels on the little black-and-white television in my room. I remember begging my folks at seven years old to let me stay up to watch the network TV version of The Exorcist (and still being so paralyzed with fear afterwards, even after watching it with my parents with all of the most terrifying shit edited out, that I slept in a sleeping bag next to their bed that night). More often than not the movies scared me, yet I constantly sought them out; I would beg my mom to take us to Amityville II, then sheepishly ask if I could sleep in her bed that night. To this day I have no idea how such a fraidy-cat kid got such a dopamine rush out of those films.
Not too much longer after that we got cable, and my horror options expanded, minus commercials and editing. One night me and my dad were looking for something to watch, and saw that Creepshow was the 8:00 movie on Cinemax. I had never seen it, and my dad was a big Cheers guy, so we figured between the genre of choice and the promise of Ted Danson we couldn’t go wrong; the generation gap being what it was (to him Michael Landon was a teenage werewolf; to me he was Laura’s dad on Little House on the Prairie), we didn’t often find newer programming we agreed on, so this was a rare treat.
Looking back–and a bit more closely–now, of course, Creepshow is a rather odd film for a father and daughter to bond over, given the hideous examples of fatherhood portrayed in the film. After all, it begins with a textbook macho schmuck onscreen dad, Stan (played to a T by the awesome Tom Atkins) screaming at his son Billy (Joe King, the boy who would become Joe Hill) for reading “horra crap” in the form of an EC-style horror comic. Stan smacks young Billy for making a smart remark about his porn stash, trashes the comic and kicks back with a beer while his son curses his father and plots revenge from his bunk bed…followed by the story of an abusive father murdered by his daughter on Father’s Day who returns from the grave in search of his Father’s Day cake. Not exactly Disney Channel fodder for the times.
But my dad didn’t bat an eye at the subject matter; he loved Creepshow. He sat and watched the whole thing with me without falling asleep, chuckling as I squirmed and jumped my way through to the end. And his favorite segment of all? “Father’s Day.”
See, my dad was a notorious prankster of children. He got the biggest kick out of lurking around corners, waiting to jump out at us, making a werewolf face that could put a lycanthropic Lon Chaney to shame. More than once I would find a rubber battery-operated severed hand writhing on my pillow at bedtime, or in later years had the wits scared out of me by a howling motion-detector ghost hanging in the hallway as I tried to sneak in coming home late from a date. So when he saw the effect that rotting zombie and all-around rotten dad Nathan Grantham had on his eight-year-old daughter (cringing, hands over eyes and ears), he knew he had a new addition to his repertoire. For years to follow, “Wheeerrrre’s myyyy caaake?” became my dad’s battle cry, while I squealed and covered my ears, half pissed off, half giggling. “Daaaaad, staaaahp!” I can’t say for certain whether or not my dad grew up reading the EC horror comics that so heavily influenced the film, but he certainly spoke the same language of campy, over-the-top hijinks.
It would be Creepshow, coupled with my dad’s penchant for spooky pranks, that would set the stage for the type of horror fan I would become. Without them I truly believe I would not have had any sort of vocabulary for or understanding of the fun and humorous aspects of horror, only the fear factor. Before Creepshow, it never occurred to me that a scary movie could also, simultaneously, be a funny movie. When “Fluffy” jumps out of the crate to [permanently] silence drunken harridan Adrienne Barbeau, while nervous-wreck husband Hal Holbrook races out of the room giggling “Just tell it to call you Billie,” the range of emotions from fear to joy to utter hilarity was–and still is to this day when I watch it–palpable. It was a rollercoaster thrill ride I would come to seek in every horror film, and the first steps of a long journey down a lifelong path of schlock (paved with life-changing gems such as Sleepaway Camp, Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, and any and every Menachem Golan-Yoram Globus production). Furthermore, it set the stage for a pattern in my life of facing my fears and anxieties with a sense of humor. Tempering fear with humor has reinforced my ability to confront and dispel it, a secret super power I can’t function without.
Today my love of Creepshow is plastered all over my living room. A massive one-sheet poster greets you upon entry. A Nathan Grantham action figure sits on a stand on the coffee table next to a copy of the original graphic novel. A smaller poster in the stairwell is autographed by two of its stars: the great Tom Atkins, who inscribed it “That’s why God made fathers,” and Romero mainstay John Amplas, Zombie Nathan Grantham himself. When I met Mr. Amplas a few years ago at a horror con, he got a kick out of my stories of how my dad would relentlessly terrorize me with his impression. Chuckling, he signed my poster; while it’s a simple, brief inscription, to me it speaks volumes, and I truly couldn’t ask for a more fitting tribute to my father:
“Regan, I want my cake!”