When it comes to horror anthologies, very few hold the title of being a horror classic better than 1982’s CREEPSHOW. Directed by George Romero, with a screenplay by Stephen King, the film was an anthology which told five terrifying tales based on the 1950’s E.C. horror comics. When it was announced that Shudder would be reviving the film in the form of a television series, fans far and wide were ecstatic. For the upcoming premiere, which lands on Shudder and On Demand, Thursday, September 26 at 9pm ET/6pm PT, we had the opportunity to speak with showrunner Greg Nicotero, during San Diego Comic-Con, where talked about bringing the series to life and remembering George Romero.
If there is one thing I learned about Greg Nicotero it’s that he’s a man that can command a room with his captivating stories. “I grew up in Pittsburgh where I met George Romero when I was around 15 years old and he invited me to the set of his movie that he was making called CREEPSHOW,” explains Nicotero. “It was the first movie set I had ever been on and I remember walking into this big gymnasium and there was the whole set for ‘The Crate’ where the creature lives under the stairs. The wall was fake on one side and real on the other side and that was my first real indication of what movie magic was and it changed my life that day.” Furthermore, this gave Nicotero a chance to see Romero at work which eventually lead to them becoming good friends. Now, 34 years later, Nicotero is at the forefront of bringing CREEPSHOW back to life for both a new generation and the die-hard fans who fell in love with the original anthology. “I keep thinking, if the 16-year-old me was sitting right here listening to the fact that I was talking about CREEPSHOW, and I had a chance to re-imagine the show, there would be brains and blood everywhere because I would have never imagined that I would have this great opportunity. This is like a dream come true.
One of the many great things about CREEPSHOW, outside of the stories, were the practical effects used. “That was something that was really important to me. The challenge and the excitement in embracing the technology of the sculptors, the painters and the mold makers,” explained Nicotero. “For me, that’s so much of the charm of CREEPSHOW, it’s a monster movie and the idea that every story [in the anthology] should have a different monster, every story should [also] have different practical effects.” During the filming of director David Bruckner‘s segment, The Companion, which features vines from a scarecrow wrapping around a door, Bruckner had asked Nicotero if they would be using CGI. “I was like no, dude, I’m making the vines with armature wire and we are going to bend it and shoot it in reverse.” Nicotero, laughing, went on to say, “Every single person on the crew was like, ‘This is some serious shit’ because they had never seen anyone do anything in reverse because you don’t have to do that anymore because you can do that with a computer.”
You can’t think of CREEPSHOW without the central figure of the Creep, which has been translated into the new series along with the comic book style that was prominently featured in the first film. “I always felt like CREEPSHOW was ahead of its time in terms of the way it used the comic book to get into the stories,” Nicotero stated. “When I would talk to George [Romero] and Stephen [King] about it, they would tell me that CREEPSHOW was their tribute to EC Comics. The great thing about EC Comics was that every story was different.” When it came to bringing the Creep to life, and the process used, Nicotero explained “The idea that the show had the animated Creep that would lead [viewers] into the comic book panels and then the panels would dissolve into live action, was so great.” He went on to further explain, “When we shot our first episode, I was there sketching the comic book frames and, in terms of the page turns, we put all types of fake ads and a ‘Letter to the Editor’ page. There are so many Easter eggs in this you’ll go crazy looking for them, but to me, that was really important.” What was made even more special was the length Nicotero went to get those who originally worked on the film to come on board for the series. “We hunted down a lot of guys that worked on the original CREEPSHOW and I had them draw some of the panels. I hired Rick Catizone, who worked in the animation department on CREEPSHOW and CREEPSHOW 2, to do the animation so that we would have some animated pieces of the Creep.”
In terms of cultivating the talent, Greg Nicotero had no problem finding actors who wanted to be involved. “I knew Giancarlo Esposito from Breaking Bad because we designed his Gus Fring makeup. I asked if he wanted to come and be in an episode and he said, ‘Done!'” Nicotero further explained to us that there were many talented actors who were close to being on the show, such as Josh Brolin and Simon Pegg, but, unfortunately, couldn’t take part due to their schedules. As for Nicotero’s Walking Dead family, he laughingly stated, “Even Norman [Reedus] and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] were like, ‘Why didn’t you ask us to be in it?!'” Of those who were able to contribute, Nicotero feels blessed that so many people wanted to be a part of this revival. One of those people ended up being celebrated character actor Jeffrey Combs, who plays a German soldier with a big scar in Rob Schrab’s Bad Wolf Down. “I texted him and was like, ‘Hey, do you want to do a cameo?'” explains Nicotero. “When [Jeffrey] got the script he said to me, ‘You know this is a part, not a cameo – nice try!'”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Nicotero is just the showrunner, as the man himself ended up directing two episodes as well. “Stephen King was the first call I made when [the series] got going. I told him it’s not CREEPSHOW without a story from him and that I wanted him on board. He told me had the perfect story called Survivor Type. It’s this unbelievable tale about a guy who is stranded on a desert island and ends up cutting off parts of his body and eating them as he goes. I wrote the script for it and when we started working out just how we were going to shoot this, and we were super ambitious, I realized I wasn’t sure how were going to do it without a lot of visual effects or flying to an island. I went back to King and asked if I could have another story which is when I remembered Gray Matter, which is a much more personal story.” With King’s story under his belt, Nicotero also adapted another tale from horror author and screenwriter, David J. Schow. “The first story I read when I was looking for material by Schow was The Finger. It’s about this dude who is walking along and he finds a finger on the ground, picks it up and puts it in his house. The next day it’s an arm and eventually it becomes this creature – kind of like his little buddy.”
As we were wrapping up our discussion, the topic surrounding the importance of reviving CREEPSHOW came up. “The original CREEPSHOW was made out of love, it was made because George and Stephen loved the genre and this is their love letter,” explained Nicotero. “I can definitely say, without a doubt, that my admiration for those two gentleman and what they’ve done for horror and what they’ve done for me personally, is my thank you to them for being able to have the opportunity to continue these stories. Every story is so different and some of them are funny and some of them are really scary and some of them are suspenseful, but you get a different experience with each story and that makes me super proud.”
For more on CREEPSHOW, read our review of the first episode here and make sure to tune into Shudder on September 26 at 9pm EST/6pm PST.