Hollywood Flashback: In 1982, Stephen King Hit the Big Screen in George A. Romero's 'Creepshow'

Creepshow Still - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

The famed author, whose 'Dark Tower' book-to-film adaptation hits theaters Aug. 4, has made numerous onscreen cameos in works based on his novels but scored his first feature role (and screenwriting credit) in Romero's horror movie.

Though Stephen King has a producing credit on The Dark Tower — Columbia's big-screen continuation of the famed author's eight-part supernatural Western series of books — he doesn't appear in the film. But King, 69, has been in more than a dozen movies and TV shows based on his writings.

Though most have been cameos, in 1982 he co-starred in the George Romero-directed, five-part anthology movie Creepshow. (Romero, who died July 16 at age 77, pioneered the zombie apocalypse genre with 1968's Night of the Living Dead. "There will never be another like you," King tweeted about his fellow horror icon after learning of his death.) THR called Creepshow "a comic book come to life as a horror film" that offers "a potion that seems sure to bubble up with box-office results."

That turned out to be true: The $8 million Warner Bros. release ($20 million today) made $21 million domestically (now $53 million) and ranked first on its opening weekend. However, THR was less enthusiastic about "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill" episode that starred King as a Ripple wine-drinking dolt. It described King's role as "a hayseed farmer who begins to sprout a lawnlike growth after touching an oozing meteorite" and panned his 12-minute segment because it "never jells into more than an odd interlude."

According to Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, Romero's acting instructions to King tended toward telling him to act like "Wile E. Coyote looks when he goes off a cliff." Though there were strong actors in other segments — including Ed Harris and Ted Danson — winning acting Oscars was never Creepshow's main purpose. King and producer Richard P. Rubinstein's ultimate intention was to adapt King's postapocalyptic epic The Stand, but they knew that project would require a much larger budget. The strategy was to succeed with Creepshow and then "we would have the credibility we needed to go on with The Stand," King noted in 1983. (The Stand eventually became an eight-hour ABC miniseries in 1994.)

Creepshow was presold at Cannes with promo ads promising that "people will crawl out of the theatre." Rubinstein says he thought the film had a "money title that would be clear to fans what it was about. This was no art house movie." As for The Dark Tower, out Aug. 4, King tweeted it "runs a clean 95 minutes. Like the first book in the series (224 pages), it's all killer and no filler." 

This story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.