The thing with indulging in EC Comics-inspired horror stories is that they have to embrace its unapologetic sense of fun. EC wasn’t known for subtlety. These comics were explosions of blood, guts, hellish monsters, and loose morals. Sure, they had a message. Adultery could land you in the hands of a satanic cult or stealing might get your hands eaten by an ancient god, but the payoff was never hinted at or kept off-panel. You were there for blood and you were going to get it.
Stephen King’s and George Romero’s original Creepshow embraced the EC way and became a classic in its own right. While I didn’t feel Shudder’s Creepshow series achieved this in its first episode, the second entry definitely course-corrects and sticks closer to that gruesome sense of fun that was supposed to make everyone want to be scared in the first place.
Creepshow S1E2 is all creatures, mostly in full makeup and practical effects. The first segment, “Bad Wolf Down,” comes from comedy writer/director Rob Schrab (Monster House, Workaholics, Community) and is about a squad of World War II American soldiers who resort to some truly macabre means to avoid torture and death at the hands of Nazis (hint: the segment’s title might give something away). The second segment, titled “The Finger,” is written by David Schow (the horror writer that coined the term Splatterpunk) and is directed by Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead). It centers on a man that finds a severed finger that grows into a nasty little companion with a penchant for being violently overprotective of his new friend.
The two segments succeed at being great fun to watch. They move at a quicker pace than the “Grey Matter” and “The House of the Head” segments from the premiere episode. In fact, they feel anxious to jump straight into the big bloody payoff, and for the most part they do. “Big Bad Wolf” has an interesting setup that quickly builds up to some delightfully gratuitous werewolf action (it’s in the title!) that thankfully opts for full-costume wolves rather than CGI.
One of the werewolves reminded me of Bernie Wrightson’s wolf illustrations for Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf (which went as Silver Bullet for the movie adaptation). They carry a menacing presence the minute they’re on screen, as most successful movie/TV werewolves do when their designs allow for human actors to move around in costume (think The Howling or An American Werewolf in London). These creatures are killing machines, like walking machine guns with teeth and claws, and the team behind “Bad Wolf Down” get them just right.
Unfortunately, the fun hits more than a few bumps along the way. While the acting comes off as intentionally campy and it works, none of the characters are really all that interesting. The only saving grace in this department is Jeffrey Combs playing the role of an evil Nazi to perfection, complete with sleezy German accent and an air of pomposity and arrogance that was commonplace in the Nazi characters of older WWII comics. In fact, he looks as if ripped straight from one of those old comic books, and his arc has a darkly comedic tinge that elevates it. Combs is the true highlight here and he does a great job carrying the segment.
The werewolf massacre, on the other hand, felt a bit tame. Heads roll; blood gushes; Nazis get dismembered; but it was somewhat devoid of intensity and the series’ comic book effects make it even less interesting. This show really needs to get these effects right to live up to the Creepshow name. So far, this hasn’t been the case, although the color palette in this segment evokes the Romero movie, with solid reds giving the horror sequences a very classic feel.
“The Finger” is the better of the two segments. This is largely in part thanks to DJ Qualls‘ performance as the man who finds a creature’s finger and keeps it. But he doesn’t just keep it. He nurtures it and he sees it grow into something worthy of companionship. David Schow’s script aims at dark horror-comedy and finds most of its laughs in very dark places. DJ Qualls rides the script well, with enough angst and sadness to keep audiences hooked and empathetic.
The creature we get here is brutally hideous and I really wanted to see it in every scene. It’s so hideous, in fact, that you might find yourself wanting to look away, although you’ll likely also find yourself unable. There’s a lot to explore in its design. I suspect we’ll be getting an action figure or statue of it in the near future.
Nicotero does a much better job directing this segment than he did with “Grey Matter.” DJ Qualls’ character is very meta and loves to talk directly at the camera throughout the segment. It’s theatrical to a point, but it hits all the right notes and it sets up DJ Qualls’ performance as the one to beat in this first season.
I was surprised that Nicotero went with CGI effects for some of the creature sequences. It’s infrequent and the segment sticks to practical effects for the most part, but when it goes computer-generated, it looks really poor. I’m talking Playstation 1-quality graphics, pre-rendered (to be fair). They look so out of place that it might’ve been a good idea to have them cut from the segment entirely. This segment also mishandles the comic book effects and uses them to a much lesser degree. They feel like an afterthought more than anything.
Creepshow’s second entry is a step in the right direction. It sticks the landing for the most part, but there’s still a lot it can improve on. The creature effects do not disappoint, which was also the case with the first episode, and the performances are kicked up a notch for some memorable character moments. I’m still unclear on what the show’s vision is. It’s all over the place tonally and the comic book effects are better off forgotten. Here’s hoping third time’s a charm.