Six episodes and twelve terror tomes later, Shudder’s attempt at reviving the spook-tacular 1982 horror gem Creepshow for television has been an incredible success as it garnered the good will of fans and secured a second season. It’s been a fun six weeks. A show with this format (2 stories across 44mins) could have been released in the form of an easy 4 ½ hr binge but the weekly release schedule really assisted Shudder in enhancing promotional anticipation with each new episode. It’s astounding how quickly they flew by, leaving you begging for more once they were finished.
Whether you’ll fall for Creepshow’s disposition will all depend on your standards for time-honored horror conventions. I wouldn’t exactly label the stories on display as groundbreaking, some retaining the timbre of that old school EC horror comics, but they’re comfortably familiar, a few based off of short stories from Joe Hill and OG Creepshow scribe Stephen King. You get used to familiarity in horror because it’s all about the twisted, bloody, or psychologically terrifying journey to get there. Its tone doesn’t exude the nasty confidence of Tales from the Crypt but as with most blooming flowers, it demonstrates an eagerness to attain that trophy of horror anthology griminess.
In addition, you have to swing with the show’s low-budget aesthetic. You either find it charming, distracting, or a mixture of both in my case. It detracts from some stories more than others. The show is comprised of a team of many talented people along the likes of Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, and David Bruckner doing what they can with what they have. And even if a monster doesn’t quite look fully realized, there’s a lot of love on the screen for keeping the spirit of the original film alive. While no story ever reaches the heights of Something to Tide You Over or The Crate, Shudder’s Creepshow still manages to curate a fun collection of monsters including werewolves, slimy alien beer, sentient scarecrows, Republicans, etc.
Shudder’s Creepshow features no segment that I outright consider terrible, but as is the case with most anthologies, some rank higher than others. Not every vignette is a bonafide winner, but I found something within each of them to admire, however small. Without further ado, I present my personal ranking of all 12 stories from the show’s inaugural season. A fair warning that a cretinous cavern of slithering *SPOILERS* await you ahead.
12. Bad Wolf Down (Ep. 2)
Hate to do this to the snarling moon howlers of the night but it’s true. As cathartic as it is to witness sharp-toothed werewolves eviscerate Nazis (never fails to see them receive a grisly comeuppance in any medium), Bad Wolf Down, beyond the nifty costumes and an appropriately hammy appearance from Re-Animator’s Jeffrey Combs, disappoints on the follow-through with an insignificant thrashing that’s over just as quickly as it commences. I have to reiterate that the werewolf body suits, however, look spectacular, and I love how each one is designed in homage to 3 of the screen’s most infamous full moon-emerging beasts (The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and The Wolf Man.)
11. By the Silver Water of Lake Chamberlain (Ep. 6)
When you have Tom Savini in your roster, you don’t want to play that card too early. You save your legendary effects wizard to direct the big finale, the ‘happy trails’ until next season. There’s much to admire about the Joe Hill-adapted By the Silver Water of Lake Chamberlain—a surprisingly somber segment about a young girl searching for the lake monster that drove her father to madness. There’s an air of quietness that permeates the story, but this isn’t a narrative that best suits Savini’s true talents. As Lake Chamberlain draws to a close, it doesn’t bring the emotion all the way home. It oddly feels out of place in comparison with the series’ other segments, and doesn’t make a strong enough case for taking that detour under the Creepshow model, ending the season on a languid note.
10. Times is Tough in Musky Holler (Ep. 5)
Unabashedly the most political of the bunch, Times is Tough in Musky Holler has a killer, bloody finale but therein lies the problem. The resistance briefly elaborates how they got to this point through comic panels, while strapping them into their Saw-like contraptions. Watching the corrupt mayor scream “I am the fucking goddamn king!” (in view of a fisheye lense no less) and get his entire face chewed off by the festering undead he negligently helped cultivate, is a nice touch but it ultimately means little without the sense of any gradual anticipation.
9. Lydia Layne’s Better Half (Ep. 4)
Workplace hierarchy takes a nasty turn in Lydia Layne’s Better Half where a highly successful CEO accidentally murders her subordinate then tries to dispose of the body, only to find herself trapped with the corpse in the office elevator without anyone coming for them. The segment’s strongest section is the promotion confrontation in which the younger candidate, Celia, skews the titular Lydia Layne for her poor decision, promising to do whatever it takes to obtain that position someway, somehow. The tension diffuses slightly if only for Lydia’s comic incompetence. Lydia Layne’s Better Half, bar the few times Lydia catches a glance at Celia’s cold, dead eyes staring right back at her, isn’t as darkly funny or claustrophobic as it aims to be.
8. The Companion (Ep. 4)
The Companion follows in the wake of the surprisingly gruesome scarecrow from this summer’s feature adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark with a surprisingly simple story of a bullied teen stumbling across the ghastly-designed straw man (with its own exposed rib cage) on an abandoned farm that tells an entire story by the remnants of what its left behind. The eeriest moment transpires when you see the scarecrow, as part of the deceased farmer’s tragic flashback, standing over the fresh corpse of a girl scout with blood dripping down its elongated branch fingers. As per Creepshow fashion, credit once again to the creative team behind the scarecrow’s creature design, the one consistently dependable highlight of each episode. The segment goes full Creepshow in paying homage to the film’s wrap-around segment (in which a devious child exacts turns his father, the great Tom Atkins, into his own voodoo doll) as Harold utilizes the scarecrow to exact vengeance on Billy, concluding before we even get a glimpse of what he’s about to command his new friend to do.
7. The House of the Head (Ep. 1)
Toy Story invited us to experience a world where we finally see the extraordinary antics of our playthings when we’re not looking. The House of the Head expands upon that premise but instead of going off on family-friendly adventures, it asks ‘what would it be like their owner watches these toys (which you never implicitly see move) experiencing their own Amityville haunting?’ The House of the Head appears to be many fan’s favorites and it’s easy to see why. There’s a palpable dread when young Evie, unphased by the miniatures moving about on their own, opens the play manor only to discover that her miniature family are literally losing their heads. It makes for an effectively moody piece that unfortunately fizzles out before it reaches a satisfying conclusion. It just kinda ends right when the stakes are at their highest, providing the young girl with an easy out after the creepiest moment thus far—the rotting, dismembered head expanding to life size under her bed.
6. Gray Matter (Ep. 1)
As a gateway back into the Creepshow model, the inaugural Gray Matter (based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name) is pretty successful at getting the fun started. Any scenario that puts Tobin Bell, Giancarlo Esposito and Adrienne Barbeau, another returning Creepshow alum, in a room together is immediately in my good graces. On a cold, stormy night like this one, it be prime spooky story weather, and that’s what a shaken teen brings—a slithering account of watching his father go from grieving widower to blue slimy alien parasite. Beyond the big “here’s what you’ve all been waiting for” creature showcase in the finale (which looks amazing, Gray Matter is an admirably simple creeper of dangerous consumption that upholds the Creepshow spirit.
5. The Finger (Ep. 2)
DJ Qualls absolutely sells the unconventional relationship between a lonely web designer and his feral, yet adorable pet from hell in the first Creepshow story that I immediately fell into the groove of. A decomposing finger Qualls’ Clark discovers on the street gradually grows until it takes the form above of the one and only Bob, the surprisingly cute miniature fusion of the Cloverfield monster with the Xenomorph chestburster. Whether it be his ex-wife or a random telemarketer in Texas, when Clark expresses a personal distaste towards an individual, Bob does what any normal severed finger turned alien best friend would do: extract their heart and present it to his master. In addition to gruesomely fetching body parts like bones, Bob has an affinity for frigid temperatures, soap operas and popcorn which, to it, is more than enough compensation for a long night’s slaying. What more is there to say, really?
4. All Hallows Eve (Ep. 3)
With the peculiar roundabout of mischievous children in All Hallows Eve, one thing’s for sure—casual trick or treating is not on the docket tonight. One by one, the kids intimidate the frightened local neighborhood occupants until they arrive at their final destination, unveiling the rationale towards their seemingly invisible stronghold. It turns out that a local drunken bully jokingly set fire to their treehouse with the Golden Dragons still inside with no means of escape. The ultimate revelation that we should have embraced them rather than feared them makes the following proceedings even more disheartening. All Hallows Eve is, first and foremost, a ghost story of karmic reckoning, and one with quite an emotional punch as it wraps itself up. The absence of a last minute gotcha or macabre punchline as they saunter over to their graves gave the once-punitive spirits a gratifying conclusion. With that said, the moment where one of the children, dressed as a ghost, lifts up his sheet to the bully to reveal a bloodied, screaming skull is *chef’s kiss*.
3. Skincrawlers (Ep. 6)
A picture speaks a thousand words, and doesn’t the above image just say everything you need to know about the season’s penultimate tale, Skincrawlers, an entertainingly nasty parable on those ‘lose weight quick’ schemes? The smooth-talking, square-jawed Dr. Sloan has discovered the medical weight loss procedure of the future—South American leeches. He iterates over and over that his treatment is 100% painless, and that makes me, a longtime gore hound, squeal in anticipation for the entire operation to go to shit. Sure enough, Sloan and his unfortunate human test subjects are unwilling participants in a gloriously messy newsroom bloodbath. One minute you’re feeling proud of your new body, and the next, a slithering leech with a ferocious set of chompers is piercing through your iris. It’s essentially if Cochran’s fiendish plan from Halloween III: Season of the Witch came to fruition. You love to see it.
2. Night of the Paw (Ep. 5)
You can never go wrong with a Monkey Paw story, and Night of the Paw upholds that tradition. A mysterious woman on the run, cloaked in full black trench coat attire, passes out on the doorstep of a funeral home run by an eccentric mortician who’s been anticipating her arrival. The segments unravels a tale of a grieving husband who utilizes a mystical, shriveled monkey’s paw to take steps in wishing her back to life and, in true Creepshow fashion, to have it backfire tremendously. What follows is an excellent back-and-forth between the two regarding the paw’s influence over both their lives, and how it ultimately manipulates their fates, upheld by the engaging performances of Hannah Barefoot and Bruce Davidson. In addition, I also want to note how much I love the homage, intentional or not, to the way Barefoot’s eyes are lit in dark environments, the same visual trick Barry Sonnenfeld employed on Anjelica Huston’s Morticia in The Addams Family. Night of the Paw takes the components found within The Companion, merges it with the popular legend, and utilizes them for a wholly more gratifying story.
1. The Man in the Suitcase (Ep. 3)
Oh how I love this one. Of every story presented this season, The Man in the Suitcase is easily my favorite of the bunch. It cleverly plays on the prospect of obscene wealth made possible through the pain and suffering of those in poor, uninhabitable conditions and how that sort of living only gets you so far before the money devours your moral self, except the cash flow derives from a literal contorted man in a suitcase. No, really. If he feels pain ever so slightly, gold coins emerge from his mouth. In other words, it’s really unlucky that he was accidentally snagged at the airport by Justin, a student collapsing under the weight of hefty, interest-heavy student loans.
The prospect of a never ending cash flow leads to the biggest laugh I’ve had from the show so when Justin’s roommate Alex, upon learning of the contorted monetary gain to be had, places the suitcase at the edge of the hallway, and kicks it down a long flight of stairs, resulting in a profuse jackpot of gold coins spilling out—an easy $10,000 in one kick. One minute, you’re throwing around gold coins, and the next, you’re stuffed inside your very own suitcase by a clever Djinn who’s tossing you onto a luggage conveyor belt that leads to god knows where. The comic lunacy of The Man in the Suitcase is in full form throughout with a winning premise, huge laughs, an unsightly image, and a killer twist ending.
All six episodes and twelve stories of Creepshow are now available to stream on Shudder