TV Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Creepshow (2019)

To this point in my 31 Days of Halloween series, I’ve covered nothing but horror movies. However, I love horror TV, and it just so happens there is a new show out there right now – Shudder’s Creepshow, a TV update of the old George Romero/Stephen King franchise – which has only released two episodes so far. I can get through that in a single day.

Of course, it has never been easier as a horror fan to find something to watch. In-theater and VOD options abound for those who still prefer movies, and network, cable, and streamers are falling all over themselves to push out horror TV shows to satisfy the masses. Supernatural is about to end, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story each seem like they never will. Meanwhile, newer programs like The Purge, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Light as a Feather, What We Do in the Shadows, and AMC’s The Terror are around to pick up the slack.

Creepshow is but the latest to join the pack, but it is a relatively big deal for Shudder. This is a well-known IP being rebooted by a niche streaming service with limited funds as a bid to attract more subscribers. It is the “build yourself up with licensed catalog titles and then make your name on prestige original programming” HBO/Netflix playbook everyone else is following. Shudder even made Creepshow the center of its San Diego Comic-Con presence this year, which makes sense since Creepshow is deeply indebted to the 1950s EC Comics horror titles like Tales from the Crypt.

Fangoria – itself recently relaunched – gave this new Creepshow the cover story treatment last month. In there, they included a fantastic conversation between Greg Nicotero (the show’s EP who owes his career to Romero inviting him to observe on the set of the first film when he was only 17) and Stephen King’s son/author Joe Hill (who wrote one of the segments for the new season and actually acted in the first film back when he was 8). Read that and you’ll see that this is truly and completely a passion project for all involved.

It’s a lot of noise, however, for a show that’s not particularly strong out of the gate. Like most TV shows, you can’t really offer a definitive judgment after just two episodes. Whatever this Creepshow might become, it isn’t quite there yet.

What’s It About?

An anthology series of pulpy horror stories in the style of the EC Comics of the 1950s, this Creepshow changes itself every story, veering from black comedy to supernatural horror to Universal Monster homage. Each episode contains two twenty-or-so minute segments directed and written by an intriguing combination of horror veterans (Tom Savini) and up-and-comers (Roxanne Benjamin). The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero serves as the executive producer and his practical effects company KNB is responsible for all the creepy nasties we see on screen.

Each episode features both practical and animated wraparound segments with the skeletal The Creep (pictured above) mostly just, I guess, hanging around. If you’re a Creepshow fanatic, that element of the show will leave you with all the feels. For me, it just made me long for Tales from the Crypt since at least that narrator actually talks.

In the first episode, Nicotero directs a story (“Gray Matter”) about people – including franchise veteran Adrienne Barbeau – waiting out a nasty storm, and longtime Romero partner John Harrison directs “The House of the Head” about a haunted dollhouse. In the second episode, Rob Schrab directs a story he also wrote about werewolves fighting Nazis (led by Jeffrey Combs) and Nicotero directs DJ Quals in “The Finger,” playing an unhappy, fourth-wall-breaking man dealing with his own pet monster.

Why I Watched It

Seeing Stephen King gradually transforming into moss in the first Creepshow film is one of my lasting horror memories. Also, I generally trust Shudder’s instincts at this point.

Did I Like It?

You know how sometimes when you’re talking to someone about a film or TV show and they start off saying “so, I watched [insert name of film/show]” but then take a long, pained pause and possibly also sigh? You kind of don’t even need to hear whatever else they have to say because that pause and/or sigh told you everything you need to know. It’s the sound of someone working through conflicted feelings or searching for the nicest way to say, “I didn’t like it.”

That’s me right now with Creepshow. In short, I don’t like it. It’s a series of short stories building to twist endings, and in three of the four segments, either the story or ending or both leave a lot to be desired. Most of them are just generic pulp riffs with clearly limited budgets, and there’s something inherently strange about a 2019 TV show mimicking the look and feel of a 1982 movie that was itself aping the conventions of 1950s comic books.

I am left feeling about it the same way I felt about the new Twilight Zone, which is to say that the nostalgic appeal is certainly nice but there’s ultimately better storytelling to be found elsewhere.

The encouraging sign, however, is every segment released thus far seems like an obvious improvement on the last. “Gray Matter”’s aimless moodiness is bested by “The House of the Head”’s inventiveness, but “House of the Head”’s deeply disappointing, go-nowhere ending is nullified by “Bad Wolf Down”’s enjoyably campy, go-for-break limb twister of a finale. Then “Bad Wolf Down”’s unevenness and clear budget constraints are counteracted by “The Finger”’s darkly funny, “Black Cat”-esque story about an unreliable narrator hanging out with a fairly believable, practical prop monster who keeps bringing home dead body parts.

Like any horror anthology, opinions will differ on which segments are the best, and the whole thing is designed with that in mind. Since I’m a huge horror-comedy fan and also because I’m a sucker for stories about humans and their pets, I gravitated toward “The Finger.”

Near the end, DJ Qualls, spoiler, walks into his kitchen and finds his monster has left two severed heads on the counter, and he reacts the way some dog owners would to a chewed up shoe: anger followed by “ah, I can’t stay mad at you” adulation. They then embrace, the xenomorph-like monster’s small hand barely covering Qualls’ index finger.

It’s the most adorably creepy thing I’ve seen all year – well, that and an earlier scene where they sit on a couch and watch TV together, the monster discovering an immense love for popcorn in the process. For that reason, I’ll give Creepshow another episode or two.

Did It Scare Me?

There is a half-decent jump scare in “Gray Matter,” but as with the original Creepshow the series’ attempt at scares feels targeted at younger viewers.

Where to Stream

Shudder

Might Also Consider

Two Sentence Horror Stories, a CW series adapted from a Reddit thread which is quite self-explanatory: they take two-sentence horror stories and adapt them into 20-minute episodes. The first season is now on Netflix and is better than most expected when they saw “adapted from a Reddit thread” in the logline.

31 Days of Halloween So Far:

Next Up: The first of two movies about vampires who don’t even appear to have fangs.

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