When it comes to the most underrated horror franchises of all time, Creepshow ranks near the top of the list. A creation of horror author Stephen King and zombie master George A. Romero, Creepshow was a tribute to classic horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt and Tales of Terror. With its unique comic-inspired visual style and a deliberately hammy delivery, Creepshow relished in being a unique, colorful and fun horror film billed as ‘the most fun you’ll ever have being scared.’ I’ve become something of a skeptic when it comes to reviving long forgotten franchises, so when it was announced that Creepshow would find new life as a series streaming on Shudder, I didn’t have high hopes. Fortunately, this is an occasion in which I was most assuredly wrong, because the first season manages to capture everything colorful and creative about the original and transpose it into the modern age.
The original Creepshow was an anthology, with five unrelated scary stories of varying length making up its run time. Following this formula, each episode of Creepshow contains two segments of around 20 minutes each, both hosted by the silent Creep. Like the original, the series makes use of harsh colors and shadows to mimic the visual style of horror comics, bookending each segment with hand-drawn panels and animated vignettes. Also like the original, you never know quite what you’re going to get. Some segments are genuinely frightening, while others are clearly played for laughs. In total, the first season ran six episodes with twelve segments, so which of these twelve are the best? Which five would be worthy to take the place of the five segments seen in the original?
House of the Head
Little Evie (Cailey Fleming) is given a new dollhouse, which she populates with a family she names the Smithsmiths. At first, Evie loves her new house and the doll family that lives there. Soon, however, she notices strange things. The dolls appear to move when she’s not looking, and more unsettling, a strange figure of a severed head which seems to bleed real blood has inexplicably shown up inside the house. Evie realizes that her dolls are not only alive, but they’re being haunted. Try as she might, she doesn’t know how to save them.
Every so often, Creepshow would throw in a genuinely frightening short to offset the more comedic ones. This is the case with House of the Head. Evie is like the audience for a horror film. She wants to aid the characters in their fight against evil, but is ultimately helpless to protect them. Like Evie, we grow to care about the Smithsmiths, and watching their torment from afar proves one of the most genuinely unsettling shorts of the entire season. As the second half of the premier episode, House of the Head was a sign of good things to come, promising a show that was creative, unique, and, when it needed to be, pretty damn spooky.
Bad Wolf Down
In this tale of war and woe, a group of soldiers behind enemy lines in World War II are ravaged by conflict and infighting. While hiding from the advancing Nazi army, one soldier betrays his compatriots and locks them in a cell with an injured woman., Trapped and with no way of escape, the remaining soldiers find their problems are just beginning, because that woman they’re trapped with isn’t just a woman. She’s also a werewolf, it’s the night of the full moon, and they have no way to escape the cell before the sun geos down.
Bad Wolf Down is the first segment of the series where the tongue is firmly pressed in its cheek, telling a genuinely suspenseful story while also instilling it with a rich sense of dark humor. It boasts marvelous practical effects to bring the werewolves to life, and has perhaps the best use of the comic book inserts of the entire season, using them to show the werewolf transformations in a stunning ‘flip-book’ sequence. The bloody finale alone is worth the price of admission, and will leave most horror junkies, such as myself, thoroughly satisfied.
The Finger is the odd tale of Clark Wilson (DJ Qualls), a down on his luck divorcee juggling financial obligations to his ex-wife and debt collectors. Things change for Clark when he finds a severed finger, which grows into a small and vicious creature Clark names ‘Bob’. Bob loves Clark very much, so much that whenever anyone makes Clark unhappy, from foul mouthed truck drivers to debt collectors halfway across the globe, Bob takes it upon himself to ‘solve’ the problem, and presents Clark with their body parts as a gift. Now if only Clark could get rid of the body parts…
Both odd and oddly charming, this little black comedy makes great use of practical effects, with Bob brought to life via a combination of animatronics and stop motion. It also employs some forth wall breaking, with Clark narrating to the audience as he grows increasingly unhinged adding to the dark humor. Lastly, this episode is just adorable. Bob is a fully realized and strangely cute little monster, and his efforts to protect his care-giver will be enough to warm your heart before it is ripped out of your chest.
All Hallow’s Eve
Pete, Jill, Pinky, Bobby and Skeeter are five rabble rousing kids who love to cause a ruckus in their neighborhood on Halloween. Every October 31st they begin a reign of terror where they intimidate and threaten locals, walking in and out of their homes with impunity and demanding whatever sweets they have. The adults are all terrified of them, especially the adults with kids of their own. They seem fearful that sooner or later these five will ask for something more than candy.
Out of all the first season’s segments, this one has the most genuine emotion. The five lead characters are likable, so to see them frighten and bully the townsfolk is confusing and leaves us intrigued as to their motive. The reveal at the end may not be entirely original, but it does instill the episode with a certain quality that makes it perhaps the most haunting and heartfelt segment on the show. It’s not only a great tribute to the comics upon which it is based, but also a somber reminder of the youth we all most give up someday.
By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain
The final segment of the season closes things out with a bang. After her father’s death, Rose Phillips (Sydney Wease) is living with her mother, younger brother, and abusive stepdad on the shores of Lake Champlain. She dreams of her father’s obsession to prove the existence of Champ, a monster that supposedly lives in the lake. One foggy morning, she and her boyfriend stumble across the body of the legendary Champ. They plan to bring their discovery to the world and vindicate her father’s name, but Rose’s stepdad has other ideas.
This segment was directed by special effects guru Tom Savini, a longtime friend of George A. Romero who did the effects for many of his movies, including the original Creepshow. Given Savini’s background, it’s no wonder that this segment features the most convincing effects of the show, bringing its monster to life with some seriously impressive miniatures and animatronics. This segment was also written by King’s own son Joe Hill, who crafts a well paced and intriguing tale that manages to evoke both dread and a genuine sense of wonder. This collaboration builds to one of the most eerie yet emotionally satisfying entries of the first season.
Have a Scary Good Time
Creepshow’s first season was a strong and rewarding effort, and it would have been a shame if this was all the show ever produced. Thankfully, it wasn’t. The second season came out last year, and it has already been picked up for a third that premiered this month. Creepshow was a unique horror film of its time in that it wasn’t trying to be scary. It brought viewers a forgotten kind of horror with a healthy dose of colorful dark humor that I’m satisfied to say this show has delivered on. With six episodes and twelve segments total in the first season, there are plenty of other gems for any horror fan to enjoy. So, when you have the time, if you haven’t already, seek this show out, and once more see what it’s like to have fun being scared.
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