By: Shawn McKee
In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the seminal comic horror anthology film, Creepshow. This masterpiece of macabre was Pittsburgh native Romero’s first and most successful foray into studio filmmaking. Warner Bros released his horror classic to respectable financial and critical success. It remains, in my opinion, a resounding display of Romero’s sheer talent as a director and visual artist. And for the record, everything here is just my opinion, especially when discussing the new TV series.
I was both excited and skeptical when horror streaming service Shudder premiered their Creepshow series in September 2019. It appeared to have the right elements, having two names heavily associated with the genre. This included John Harrison, composer of the original film and director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is the incredibly prolific special effects protégé of Tom Savini, and best known for his work on The Walking Dead. Chances are, if you’ve seen a movie made in the past thirty years, Nicotero worked on it.
His career in groundbreaking effects began with Day of the Dead (1985), my personal favorite Romero zombie apocalypse entry. He then worked on Creepshow 2 (1987), Evil Dead II (1987), and Misery (1990), where you can thank him for the “hobbling” sledgehammer scene. He’s done effects for Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, and scores of other major directors. He co-founded the special effects studio KNB EFX Group, which raised the bar with their work on The Walking Dead, creating unbridled gore unlike anything ever seen on television. Nicotero and Harrison both wrote and directed a handful of Creepshow episodes throughout its current three season run. As executive producer, the show seems to be mainly in Nicotero’s hands, in addition to his Walking Dead duties. This isn’t a man who slows down.
The third season has its share of hits and misses like any anthology show. It even recalls the uneven but sometimes rewarding Masters of Horror series from Showtime, which gave us hour-long segments from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and John Landis, among others. My first rule in providing analysis of these recent horror outings is to first appreciate that they’re there. The fact that there’s a Creepshow series that earnestly tries to emulate the look and feel of the movie and old horror comics that inspired it is a win for me. I’m happy enough that a major network like AMC chose to invest the talent and resources into this show via Shudder. Such acknowledgments aside, how does the third season measure up? It’s quite like the previous seasons; some good, some bad, and an overall worthy endeavor for any fan of the genre.
For starters, the show has an excellent opening and theme song. I also applaud their decision to maintain “The Creep’s” non-verbal cues. The now enhanced, hooded floating skeleton chuckles between segments, much like the original film. The music throughout the series remains rooted in John Harrison’s original style, which is also a plus. The comic to film transitions can be subtle, heavy-handed, and weak at times, but they try. The poorer episodes generally fail because of lackluster acting and writing. Nothing about the series looks cheap, however, and it’s clear that there’s a budget behind this. Unfortunately, certain episodes sometimes resort to appalling CGI effects that nearly sink the production. The third season’s six episode run felt like a mixed bag, but I watched each time, hoping for it to get better.
The season premiered with the “Mums,” a story that tries to emulate the simple revenge/comeuppance troupe of Creepshow lore. A kid’s mother is murdered by her backwoods beer-guzzling militia caricature of a husband for being too “free-spirited.” Buried in the ground, the mother returns as a killer plant and exacts her revenge. There was nothing else to this hokey melodrama, and it started out the season on all the wrong notes. In “Queen Bee,” a trio of teens venture to a spooky, dimly lit, off-limits hospital to spy on a pop singing superstar who’s about to give birth. There’s some great atmosphere and nice effects in an otherwise unremarkable outing.
The second episode features “Skeletons in the Closet,” directed by Greg Nicotero. This one involves a film buff couple who run their own movie museum, displaying old horror movie props and collectors’ items. I can see why Nicotero would be attracted to this story, and it speaks to the fandom in us all. But like many episodes, it meanders and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. “Familiar” involves an aspiring lawyer who realizes that a demon is following him after a drunken visit to a fortune teller one night. This borrows from and pays homage to “The Crate” segment from Creepshow to mixed results. The acting is hard to get past in this one.
“The Last Tsuburaya” features an obnoxious trust fund millionaire who collects expensive art for his own amusement. With a character so rotten, I was surprised to find much better acting than usual. Brandon Quinn delivers quite well in an episode with astounding practical effects, involving an immortal demon who exists in one of the priceless paintings acquired by Quinn. The following segment, “Okay, I’ll Bite,” was directed by John Harrison, paying homage to Creepshow’s cockroach segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” but with spiders. It involves a sympathetic convict’s struggles in prison, amid his pet spiders. There’s a lot of meandering again to an unsatisfying conclusion in one of the most forgettable episodes of the season.
Our fourth episode begins with “Stranger Sings,” about a gynecologist lured into the home of a deadly siren who wants him to remove her vocal cords and transplant them into her friend. Great practical effects mired by an incredibly unappealing story and weak acting. The ambitious “Meter Reader” follows, displaying an apocalyptic hellscape in the not-to-distant-future. There’s a lot to like about this segment, involving a deadly plague and eerie social commentary. The only misfire was the obnoxious lead character “strong woman” prototype.
“Time Out” is a Twilight Zone-type tale about a magic armoire that pauses time. Passed down through generations, the armoire winds up with an eager law school grad who soon uses it to his advantage. This episode ranks as one of the series’ most imaginative ideas, and the execution isn’t bad. A gory animated segment follows with “The Things in Oakwood’s Past,” co-written and directed by Nicotero. The voice acting is top notch, featuring Mark Hamil and scream-queen Danille Harris. Overall, an inventive and enthralling outing with strange animation that makes you want to see it in live action.
The finale episode is the strongest of the entire season. “Drug Traffic” is an absolute horror show, featuring a monstrous girl apprehended at the U.S./Canadian border, followed by “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” This final back-and-white segment exists in the Night of the Living Dead universe from the original movie, and it’s pure magic. Nicotero directed the first episode, and Harrison directed the second. Both show the full potential of greatness of the Creepshow series when it’s firing on all cylinders. With all its hits and misses, I regularly enjoy watching the show each week. I hope they keep it going for years to come.