Review – Creepshow (2019) : Season 1

by Old King Clancy

Let me start off this review with a confession; I have not seen the original Creepshow. I’ve seen clips from it, mostly regarding cockroaches and country bumpkin accent, but I’ve never found the opportunity to see the full film. That being said, I’m aware of its cult status and when news came about of an anthology series from Greg Nicotero, I took interest. I’ve been familiar with Nicotero’s work on The Walking Dead and with TV often outclassing films for production values, the Creepshow series had a lot of promise.

The results? Well for a first run, it’s not completely solid, but there’s a lot of care put into the whole thing and a lot of promise for the future.

For the purposes of this review, I’ll be doing mini-reviews for each story, then wrap my thoughts on the series as a whole at the end.

Gray Matter (Directed by Greg Nicotero)

The series kicks off on strong footing with “Gray Matter,” taking place on a stormy night when a young boy tells the story of what’s happened to his father, following the death of his mother, and the disgusting discovery two men find inside.

Right off the bat “Gray Matter” captures what makes the series work, the mystery surrounding what’s happened to the Father is never addressed, alluded to perhaps but no definitive answer, but given the short run-time it never has to give on and instead uses its time to build on the atmosphere, the gross factor, and some dark humor with the terrified reactions from Tobin Bell and Giancarlo Esposito as they find what the Father has been up to. It sets the right tone for what to expect from the rest of the series and – despite some iffy CGI near the end – stands out as one of the better stories in the whole series.

The House of The Head (Directed by John Harrison)

The second half of the first episode took things in a more serious direction, but works just as well for setting a tone for the rest of the series. In this story, a little girl finds a decapitated zombie head in her dollhouse which wrecks havoc on her doll family whenever she turns away.

Two key things made “House Of The Head” work, firstly the acting from Cailey Fleming as Evie, owner of the dollhouse, she was able to captured the unknown terror of watching people she cared about – the fact that they’re dolls taking nothing away from that – get hurt and even killed by this thing whilst also keeping a clever head about handling the situation, it’s amongst the best performances in the whole show. Secondly, the less is more approach to the horror in the house, because the dolls don’t move we only ever see before the action and after the action but the tension never lets up allowing us to fill in the gaps ourselves. Where “Gray Matter” used its short run-time to tell a concise, no-bones story, “House Of The Head” I felt was one of the frew that had enough legs to carry itself further, but I’m glad it didn’t overstay its welcome.

Bad Wolf Down (Directed Rob Schrab)

I’ll get my biggest complaint for “Bad Wolf Down” out of the way quickly because this is still one of the better stories and my complaint isn’t even the film’s fault. It’s a little too similar to Overlord, substituting Nazi Zombies for something else I won’t spoil here, which wouldn’t really matter, except I loved Overlord and watching a group of American WWII soldiers trapped by Nazis and an occult elements at play, I’d rather watch Overlord.

None of that takes away from “Bad Wolf Down” on its own merits, it creates a strong amount of character dynamics within just a couple of minutes and holds to that throughout. It has an interesting take on the mythology its tackling which I thought was a good road to take and it has Nazi Jeffrey Combs, which is something I didn’t even know I wanted until it was there. It might share similarities to Overlord, but Overlord was live-action Wolfenstein, so I’m not complaining about that and like I said, this still holds as one of the series stronger points.

The Finger (Directed by Greg Nicotero)

“The Finger” is an odd one, because while it does work, you need to see the whole thing to get the full picture. Until then, it’s very up-and-down, taking good ideas, but going just a little too far with them until you see everything in context.

The plot is here is loner Clarke Wilson – played by DJ Qualls balancing the right amount of pathetic and charismatic – finds a strange, detached finger in the street and takes it home for study, only for the finger to start regrowing back into its original, full form. I won’t spoil what it turns into, but what it is and how Clarke reacts to it is a nice piece of misdirection and keeping in with the shows dark humor. What sets this story apart completely is that Clarke narrates the whole thing and will often break the fourth wall to talk to the audience, this is used quite humorously with one scene where Clarke shuts the door on police officers to tell the audience we’re skipping over the unimportant conversation being a highlight. But in truth, this episode did start to drag a little bit towards the end and Clarke’s narration started to grate on me, that is until that final reveal which fit everything into context, it’s a slight dip in an otherwise solid entry and not nearly enough to sully the whole experience.

All Hallows Eve (Directed by John Harrison)

Sad as I am to admit it, but to me “All Hallows Eve” was easily the worst story of the series, concerning a group of teenagers during Halloween and the town that is terrified of them. Rather than going for horror, this one tried going for a more mystery approach, with the teenagers alluding to something that happened, and why they were terrorizing the town every Halloween.

The problem was that the mystery is WAY too easy to figure out, the teenagers have some personality, but not enough to carry the whole story and the pay-off is non-existent. I can see this story almost working with different contexts, but as it’s presented here, it’s not fun, interesting, or scary enough to stand with the rest.

The Man In The Suitcase (Directed by David Bruckner)

“Man In The Suitcase” is another weaker entry, not as bad as “All Hallows Eve” and not as disappointing as another story coming up, but not up to par with what came before. The premise here is that stoned out slacker Justin finds a strange man packed and folded into his suitcase and discovers that the man spits out valuable gold coins when subjected to pain, leading to Justin, his roommate Alex, and ex-girlfriend Carla to hurt the man as much as possible for their own financial gain.

I think the joke they were trying for was these three living it up whilst being total sociopaths, but it was too mean to be funny, maybe that’s personal preference, but I didn’t get the joke and the whole corrupting power of greed was nothing we haven’t seen before. Thankfully though, the story pulls itself back in its closing minutes with a great reveal for the man and a pay-off that ranks as one of the most satisfying in the show, it’s worth going through the whole thing just to get there.

The Companion (Directed by David Bruckner)

Both “The Companion” and the next entry I feel had good concepts, but just didn’t do enough with them. In “The Companion,” it starts off with a young man being chased by his psychotic older brother and takes refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, finding that the owner in his lonely, widower years built a scarecrow for companionship, only for it to come to life and start killing.

Taken by itself, “The Companion” is an interesting, horror-tinged look at loneliness and the efforts taken to deal with it in later years with the scarecrow’s backstory taking up about half the story’s length. But as part of this series, it feels like a waste of an exceedingly well-designed monster, this thing is terrifying and impressive in equal measure, but it never gets to let loose like you want it to. This one probably comes down to personal preference, I don’t begrudge this story for trying something different, I just wanted it to utilize what it had better.

Lydia Layne’s Better Half (Directed by Roxanne Benjamin) 

“Lydia Layne” had such a promising start, with business tycoon Lydia – played by Tricia Helfer – choosing her male assistant Tom to be her new CFO over her female assistant, and lover Celia. After an argument breaks out, Celia is accidentally killed, and Lydia tries to get the body out using the elevator only to get trapped when the power goes out.

This is the story I said was a disappointment earlier because it hits out so strongly at the start, Lydia is characterized brilliantly, her strained relationship with Celia established quickly, and the dark humor of having to hide a dead body in plain sight was a nice touch. The problem comes once they’re trapped in the elevator together and Lydia starts losing her mind from huger, sleep deprivation, heat exhaustion, and the fact that she’s stuck in a box with a f**king corpse. They never hone in on what the madness can do, sometimes it’s as simple as Celia’s eyes being open when they shouldn’t be, other times an entire arm can come out the hole in her head, but there’s no middle ground to moderate Lydia’s insanity. It’s all or nothing which feels like it’s trying to do a slow-burn thriller and a mad-cap Evil Dead style at the same time and doing neither well enough to justify itself.

Night Of The Paw (Directed by John Harrison)

This one took me by surprise, it set itself up as wanted killer seeking refuge in an old house only to find the mortician inside had other plans, but instead it took an approach to the Monkey Paw story that I thoroughly enjoyed. Instead of focusing on the killer, Angela, it focused on Avery, the mortician who had used his wishes for his deceased wife and came to regret his decisions. Bruce Davison’s performance as Avery is up there with Evie for best in the show, he has this odd sweetness about him, but never feels out of place within the show. This is the examination of loneliness I wanted from “The Companion.”

The Monkey Paw itself wasn’t even the main point of the story, it was Avery telling Angela the power of the Paw, and then the reveal about why he wished for her, and her part in the whole story capped off in a surprisingly somber fashion which I absolutely loved. It’s not the scariest or the funniest or the most enjoyable, but it did something different, and pulled it off better than I thought it could.

Times Is Tough In Musky Holler (Directed by John Harrison)

As of writing, I’m still trying to work out my feelings on “Musky Holler,” the concept here is that corrupt mayor Lester M. Barclay and his sadistic followers are captured as part of a coup, and forced to participate in Barclay’s cruel and vicious sport. There’s a lot to like here, Barclay is a gigantic piece of sh*t and a worthy villain for the story, the comic-book backstory of his rise to power was a nice touch to fill in the gaps and the mystery of what awaits him carried the story through its first half.

Once we find out what’s going on, the story has a lot of potential but never follows through, again I won’t spoil what happens but it feels like a limp-wristed pay-off compared to what they could’ve done. I won’t say I disliked this story, it’s more middle-ranged than outright bad, but had it fully committed to its concept and embraced a more violent edge, it might have come out better.

Skincrawlers (Directed by Roxanne Benjamin)

By a slim margin, my favorite entry in the series, “Skincrawlers” took a good concept, paid it off well, and had a ton of bloody fun doing so. The story is that in the near future, health guru Dr. Sloan has found an instant fat-loss technique using a new animal found in the Amazon.

I’m saying nothing about this one because what happens is too good to miss, it takes on the theme of vanity and rips it apart with one of the bloodiest, goriest, and grossest attacks on the human body since Brain Dead and shares the same level of black humor. The practical FX work is at its absolute best here with the final act being my favorite moment in the whole show. I adored this segment and hope to see more like it in season 2.

By The Silver Waters Of Lake Champlain (Directed by Tom Savini)

Following the bloody madness of “Skincrawlers” this was a sudden gear change, but the more serious ending note was a nice juxtaposition and it’s executed well enough to not feel melodramatic. Widowed mother Leigh, her teenage daughter, Rose, and young son, Joseph, are forced to deal with her abusive dick of a new boyfriend, Chet. All the while, Rose wants to go to nearby Lake Champlain where her father died, and find the aquatic monster that killed him, proving to Leigh that her father wasn’t crazy.

Whilst there are some clichés on show here none of them feel cheesy, Chet is a typical 80s douche, but he’s frightening enough to hold his own. Rose’s boyfriend Thomas is a Karate Kid looking dork, but he’s caring enough and charming enough that you don’t mind. When Rose and Thomas reach Lake Champlain, in the story’s second half, the impossibly thick fog and mystery surrounding what they find on the shoreline gives them a great deal of atmosphere to sell home the foreboding threat of both Chet and whatever else might still be in the lake. There’s a charm to this story that keeps it as one of the better stories in the series, easily the most atmospheric.

As a whole, I liked Creepshow, it has a good grasp of different manners of horror whilst still remaining its own creation thanks to its use of the comic-book format which is used sparingly but memorably, most notably in “Bad Wolf Down” and “Musky Holler.” Not every story was a hit, some took some time to really sell itself, some started strong and didn’t work out, some were just plain bad (cough, All Hallows Eve, cough cough) and some were fantastic. For an anthology series, there was definitely more hits than misses and for a first time out, that’s impressive.

I could sit here and nit-pick and say that the CGI was shoddy and some of the acting wasn’t the best and that there wasn’t a lot to be scared about. But if I step back and ask myself, ‘Did I have fun?’ I have to answer that yes, I absolutely did. And that’s all that matters.

I am giving the first season of Creepshow a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!

Creepshow is currently streaming on Shudder,  AMC , and will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 2nd!

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