Shudder Saturday: Monstervision, Creepshow, and Tom Atkins

Imagine, if you will, a world without Shudder. A world without Netflix, Hulu, Showtime Anytime, HBO Now, VRV, or streaming services of any kind. A world without flat screen TVs or OLED displays. Without 4K, 1080p, or even 720. Imagine a house devoid of laptop computers, iPads, smartphones, or even a crush-proof Nokia cell phone.

The only decent piece of technology is a box television made by Magnavox. which sits in the living room acting as the main source of on-screen entertainment for six people. To top it off, NASCAR and sports dominate the day and evening programming.

But on Fridays, the night time is the right time.

My grandfather slept in the living-room recliner every night without fail, but on Fridays, he’d leave to go play poker with his brothers, drinking untold amounts of Budweiser until the sunrise beckoned him home from the drunken stupor which was his birthright. The creeping sunlight of Saturday mornings always marked an end to his wild parties and so too an end to my solo late-nights watching Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs.

On this night in the mid-nineties, Joe Bob was hyping an anthology horror film called Creepshow. Somehow, I’d never heard of it before.

Between Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface, Candyman, Chucky, and other slashers synonymous with horror’s previous golden age, I was still catching up on the classics and Creepshow had fallen beneath my radar. After watching a quick tv-spot or two advertising the soon-to-be airing TNT premiere of Creepshow, I knew I was in for something special. Only problem was, my grandfather wasn’t planning to galavant with the old-timers that night, and my crappy bedroom television was on the fritts. No chance my gramps would ever condone watching such tomfoolery on his television, so my only hope was slipping into the living room after he fell asleep and keeping the volume low while I watched Stephen King and George Romero’s collaborative masterpiece. Edited to shit by TV censors, but redeemed by Joe Bob’s interruptions.

No way I was going to let my grandfather’s peaceful slumber allow me to miss that.

As luck would have it, the old man fell asleep around 8:30 pm or so, so I waited patiently in my room until I was certain he was out for the night. The biggest risk was waking him up and being threatened with the prospect of having “the goddamn hell stomped out of me.” It was an idle threat, to be sure. He never once laid a hand on me, but he had a way with promising abject violence that, while benign, was unpleasant to hear nevertheless.

I can still hear the ornery old man’s urgent voice, never a decibel below a shout. The accent of Hank Hill perpetually delivered at the volume of a Death Grips song. Partially due to a generally irritable disposition, but also a result of a severe hearing loss, despite having hearing aids in both ears.

As a generally irritable person myself and with a 60% hearing loss in my right ear, it’s safe to say I inherited both those attributes.

We traded insults a lot.  As a small child his booming voice was a source of terror. By thirteen I was returning his threats of being “knocked into the middle of next week” with my own responses of “do you wanna wrestle, old man?” A rivalry of endearment if there ever was one. So upon his slumber I made sure to stay in my bedroom being extra quiet until I was sure the coast was clear. Silently thumbing through issues of Lobo comic books with my Goosebumps book-light that was still running on years-old batteries, I was patient. Once I heard his snores, I knew he was out. I crept through the living room and into the kitchen to make a sandwich and pour myself a soda.

It was time for Joe Bob.

I turned the television volume to a few notches below the level my grandfather had previously set, which was about two notches below the highest possible volume. Then I turned off the captions and let Joe Bob Briggs tell me everything I didn’t need to know about Creepshow.  After Joe Bob finally let the movie roll, the legendary Tom Atkins appeared on the screen drinking a cold beer and verbally obliterating his son. Turns out this kind of lifestyle was fairly typical and not just a reality in my home.

“That’s why god made fathers,” he champions.

If that’s true, I don’t consider having never met my own biological father to be a great loss, but if I could choose anyone on Earth to be my father, it would be Tom Atkins. Go figure. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Night of the Creeps, Creepshow, The Fog, Escape From New York… Tom Atkins is an American treasure. I’m sure Shudder and Greg Nicotero could care less what I want, but if anyone from Shudder is reading this, bring Atkins back for the Creepshow series, I implore you.

Joe Bob Briggs returned to the screen to inform me that the child wishing for Atkins’ character to rot in hell, is actually the real-life son of Stephen King, Joe King. Also known as Joe Hill, Hill went on to be an author himself, writing such books as Horns and Heart-Shaped Box. Lot of talent in that family.

For those who don’t know—although everyone does know—Creepshow is an anthology movie broken up into five segments, plus the wraparound segment featuring Tom Atkins and Joe King. The first segment is “Father’s Day.”

Father’s Day

I dare say this is my least favorite segment in the movie, but that isn’t to say I don’t love it. It sets the tone for Creepshow perfectly. Over-the-top acting, comic-book cuts, neon red lighting, and Ed Harris’ dance sequence that could very well rival Crispin Glover’s in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. One of the funnier moments I find in this segment is Viveca Lindfors’ character emotionally confessing to her father’s grave that her primary reason for killing him was the fact that he called her a bitch. Not that daddy didn’t have it coming, he was certainly nuisance, but her delivery of “you called me a bitch!” almost sounds like she’s implying “Murder is wrong, and no one should do it, but to be fair, you called me a bitch, so what the hell else was I gonna do? Leave the house and tell you to make your own goddamn cake? What do I look like? A rational human being?”

Still, it’s probably my least favorite, not because it isn’t great, but because I feel it falls a little short on the fun factor when compared to the other segments.

The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill

From one extreme to the next, ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ is easily my favorite segment. Interestingly, this section of the film is a bit more on the science fiction side of things than horror, but watching Stephen King in the role of Jordy Verrill is about as much fun as I can have watching a movie.

He finds a meteor in his yard which he immediately touches. Highly unlikely as the prospect of finding a meteor in my own yard may be, the prospect of touching it right after I watched it fall from the sky is somehow far, far less likely. Who even knows what kind of space juice that thing is oozing with? Furthermore, he’s not an idiot for wanting to sell his meteor and make some bank; anyone would. But the fact that he worries breaking the meteor will somehow make it any less of a scientific discovery is an exercise in absurd humor I find myself laughing at every time.

That said, as screwball and over-the-top as ‘The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill’ is, I love the tonal shift at the end of the segment. Everyone is laughing at the lovable old ‘lunkhead’ Jordy Verrill and guffawing at how stupid he is, then out of nowhere Jordy gives up and kills himself by way of blowing his own head off with a shotgun.


Something to Tide You Over

This is the agreed-upon favorite for most horror fans, or so I’ve noticed, and for good reason. Ted Danson plays a man being buried up to his head in beach sand as the tide slowly rolls in to inevitably drown him, all the while his girlfriend is just down the beach suffering the same fate. Am I the only one who notices that Danson’s facial expressions resemble that of someone who ordered their Waffle House hashbrowns with no onions, only to receive an order of hashbrowns completely smothered in onions? He looks pissed, but not exactly terrified or devastated. Less “oh my God I’m about to die” and more “this is completely unacceptable, sir. I want to speak to your manager.”

Seriously, he seems more terrified by the crab than by the incoming ocean.

Another gem in this segment is seeing Leslie Nielsen play a completely cold-blooded sinister role, when he was generally known as a comedic actor. Nielsen was another American treasure and he will be long missed.

The Crate

Easily the most aesthetically pleasing segment in Creepshow, the crate beast in this segment may as well be the mascot for Creepshow. I found that out after I watched Creepshow for the second time because unfortunately all the screaming and wailing and blood spraying in “The Crate” somehow penetrated my grandfather’s slumber and I was pulled out of my trance-like viewing of Creepshow by the bellowing of gruffness personified, ie, my grandfather.

“What in the goddamn hell’r you a-watchin’ and why ain’t you in bed?”

It was never just “the hell” with my grandfather. Always “the goddamn hell,” and he was a Christian. I never understood it.

I turned to him and told him this was just a dream and that he should go back to sleep, but he didn’t buy it, so I went back to my room. God knows how much Joe Bob profundity I missed for the next 15 minutes while I waited for him to fall back asleep.

Sure enough, I peeked my head around the corner after a short time had passed and my beloved Monstervision had been switched over to Walker Texas Ranger. Fortunately, whether he admitted it or not, my grandfather must have been every bit as underwhelmed by Walker as I was, because once that show came on, he caught serious Z’s in short order.

I switched it back over to TNT and “They’re Creeping Up On You” was just starting to get going.

They’re Creeping Up On You

I love the sterile, clean look of this segment. After all the flashing colors and over-the-top moments, the final piece of Creepshow is comparatively quiet and low-key. Colorless and a notable change of pace. I know of three people who have trouble watching this segment due to all the cockroaches, but I never found them particularly bothersome. A little gross, sure, but nothing in Creepshow ever actually scared or bothered me. It was just a blast of spookshow fun from beginning to end. Everything a Monstervision feature should be.

Upson Pratt as portrayed by E.G. Marshall is so believable in his callousness it makes me wonder what kind of ugliness in his past he must have been tapping into to so perfectly channel such a vile person.

Creepshow is perfect. Absolutely flawless. A 10/10 if there ever was one. It’s in the running for my favorite horror movie of all time, and just like many of my favorite horror films, I have Joe Bob Briggs to thank for introducing me to it.

That’s why this Thanksgiving I’ll be watching Shudder’s Dinners of Death with Joe Bob Briggs on my own flat screen television, in my own living room, with my friends and family, and silently reminiscing the days of having to sneak up to enjoy such wonderful programming. I’ll also be live tweeting the event along with some of the staff here at 25YL, so be sure to check it out.

What will you be doing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by Josh Lami

Laurie Strode wears Michael Myers' mask in Halloween II

Born Angel Myers, Raised Laurie Strode: Rob Zombie Retrospective Part 2

Posters represent the three films of Argento's Animal Trilogy.

Revisiting the Brilliance and Brutality of Argento’s Animal Trilogy