There’s a reason the movie Creepshow is considered legendary in the minds of horror fans. The 1982 anthology film featuring five tales of terror brought together two titans of the genre in director and godfather of the modern zombie genre George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) and writer Stephen King (author of every scary book you ever read, making his screenwriting debut).
Now, Creepshow has returned in the form of an anthology series that will debut Thursday on the Shudder VOD service, and with the perfect person at the helm to bring it back from the dead. Greg Nicotero may be best known as the director/producer/zombie makeup guru on The Walking Dead, but he first got his start as a teenage horror fan visiting the set of Creepshow in his backyard of Pittsburgh. He then got his very first job in the business working on Romero’s Day of The Dead and was part of the crew on 1987’s Creepshow 2.
As the guy running the latest incarnation, Nicotero pays proper homage to the original. Not only is the first entry an adaptation of a King short story (“Gray Matter”), but appearing in the installment is none other than original Creepshow star Adrienne Barbeau. Fans will also delight at the return of the Creep mascot, the eye-popping comic book transitions, and the franchise’s ability to deftly mix horror and humor. We spoke to Nicotero to get the scoop on how he looked to the past to plot his next generation of terror.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I know you got your start with Creepshow director George Romero on Day of the Dead and you worked on Creepshow 2. So tell me about reviving this horror anthology franchise for a new generation.
GREG NICOTERO: Creepshow is a project that’s very personal to me. When I was 16 years old, when I first met George Romero, he was nice enough to invite me down to his office. George, his crew was always like a family. So when they were filming Creepshow, I was invited to the set and visited as a horror fan only. I had no idea that my career was going to divert from my then current path as a doctor into the path that I’m on now.
So George really gave me this amazing opportunity to visit the set, and that’s where I met [horror makeup guru] Tom Savini. So everything in my life changed because of Creepshow. I thought myself very fortunate and very lucky. I didn’t live in Hollywood. I didn’t live in Los Angeles. I lived in Pittsburgh. And to realize that movies were made right in my backyard sort of made it almost instantly more accessible to me.
Imagine if you had grown up somewhere else and George Romero is not inviting you on set and changing the course of your life.
That really did change everything. And what I took away from it when I first met him was he loves movies. He really found such a tremendous source of inspiration from a lot of different films, and he just loved it. That kind of turned on a light bulb in my head. I always imagined that this was just kind of a hobby and something that I loved and I admired. But George made me realize that this was something that I could potentially turn into a career.
So a couple years later, when Day of the Dead was green lit, George offered me a job, and I didn’t hesitate. I had like a three-year time period between Creepshow and Day of the Dead where I got to be really good friends with Tom Savini. And I was getting glimpses into the magic of special effects and filmmaking. And so when Day of the Dead came up, I was like, “Okay, I can’t miss this opportunity once it came up. And here I am.”
You’re the perfect person to bring Creepshow back. And you bring it back in the perfect way, starting with the Stephen King adaptation that you directed. How great is that in terms of having all these elements coming back together?
The original Creepshow was developed out of pure inspiration and the fact that Steve and George really did it to pay tribute to EC comics and the stuff that they loved. So I feel like for me it’s really my chance to tell stories based on the stuff that I love. And it couldn’t be Creepshow without a Stephen King story, so he was one of the first people that we reached out to, and he was like, “Yeah, man, sure. That sounds great. Love to have you take a look at a couple stories.”
The most exciting aspect of the show is every single story is different. Some of them are suspenseful, some of them are really dark and twisted, some of them are funny, some of them are very lighthearted. Every episode of the show gives you a different experience. And that’s what was great about the original Creepshow. You think about “The Crate” episode, which was this straight monster movie. And then you have the “Jordy Verrill” episode, which is a little campier and sort of wackier.
They all had a different personality to them, and that was all paying tribute to EC comic stuff. When we were developing the stories, there were a lot of stories that I really, really liked, because number one, either they were really outrageous or they took you on this great journey, and they all had to be tales of morality, because that’s what EC comics was all about. Stephen King’s “Gray Matter” is really a story about an alcoholic and his codependent relationship with his son. So you take that great morality story and put Adrienne Barbeau and Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell and Jesse Boyd and Christopher Nathan in there and it’s the perfect recipe.
As you mentioned, Adrienne Barbeau, obviously from the original Creepshow, is in this installment, which you directed. How did that come about, getting Adrienne back on board?
One of the advantages that I have is I’ve worked with most of the people that are in the show in one capacity or another. I had met Adrienne through John Carpenter years ago. So I knew Adrienne and had met her several times. She actually had said, “Listen, if there’s anything that you think I would be right for, I’d love to do it.” She was really excited about it.
And then some of the other parts came about because I had worked with Tobin on a couple projects and then Giancarlo, of course, on Breaking Bad. These guys were super excited about it, just popping in for a couple of days and shooting, and then we were able to get David Arquette and Tricia Helfer and Cailey Fleming, who stars in The Walking Dead. She was the first actor that I cast in Creepshow, because they read a story called “The House of the Head” by Josh Malerman, who had written Bird Box. And I told Cailey on set of the season finale last year, “Listen, if this story goes, there’s no one else in the world that could play this part but you.” And she’s magnificent.
You filmed this off-season from when you film The Walking Dead, so did you have a lot of the TWD crew working on both shows?
I had a good portion of the camera department. Jeff January, the assistant director, of course Jake Garber and Gino Crognale, the makeup team. A lot of those guys came over. Everybody involved knew that it was going to be low budget and we were going to have a short amount of time. So this was kind of like guerilla filmmaking. We had three and a half days to film each segment. And that’s very different than when you’re shooting on The Walking Dead and you have standing sets and you have cast that returns every episode. On Creepshow, we had a new cast, we had new sets, we had new script, we had in a lot of cases new directors every three and a half days. So it was literally a marathon.
What about the importance of the transitions with the Creep and the comic book element? That’s really invoking the original Creepshow, so how did you want to approach that?
I always felt that Creepshow was ahead of its time. I thought that the transitions in going from live action to the comic book pages was super fun. I was able to reach out to a lot of the original artists and animators that had worked on Creepshow to provide some little interstitial pieces here and there just to bridge the stories together. In the original movie you had kind of a wraparound story. The comic book gets thrown into a trashcan and then we follow the comic book as it blows down the street and into the sewer and then the pages turn.
But I felt like for our purposes it was really more about just playing up the fun of the old ads in the back of Famous Monsters, where you could buy masks and toys and hats and Super 8 movies. I had a lot of fun working with my artists in designing those pages and even designing the title pages to each episode, which always shows the Creep, and for “Gray Matter” he’s drinking a can of Harrow Supreme, which is the beer Stephen King created for the episode.
I just felt like that was the opportunity to have a lot of fun. And I was really fortunate, because I was able to get a lot of fantastic artists, a lot of guys that worked for Heavy Metal, and a lot of guys who have worked for Marvel to come in and draw some of these comic book pages, and then put all the pages together so when the wind blows and the pages turn and it takes you into the next story.