Shudder’s Creepshow has been in an identity crisis since its first episode. Its tone and overall feel are all over the place and the comic book aesthetic that George Romero captured, and that the show’s trailer tried to sell audiences on, has been tame and uninspired. Coming into Creepshow S1E5, I expected more of the same in terms of quality, which wasn’t a lot, but I was appreciative that the segments I was treated to did do a better job of finally bringing some of the things it promised in its first trailer into the series.
First up was “Night of the Paw,” a retelling of W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw, in which a severed monkey’s paw offers its user three wishes. These wishes come true but the price paid for each is heavy. It plays on the idea behind the ages old proverb of “be careful what you wish for.”
This segment stands on the shoulders of Bruce Davison (X-Men, Lords of Salem), who gives a great performance as a mortician that bears weight of the monkey’s paw and its horrors. A woman is involved in a violent crash that lands her in the mortician’s house, seemingly by chance. Turns out the night’s events might’ve been put in motion by the paw.
Davison’s performance really does elevate what’s ultimately a very bland segment with nothing surprising for people that already know about or have read the original story. There’s no twist or play with the formula. The segment starts, unfolds, and closes exactly the way you think it will.
If you want a truly frightening and masterfully realized version of the Monkey’s Paw story, I recommend you watch the 1972 British horror anthology movie Tales from the Crypt (dir. Freddie Francis). Its “Wish You Were Here” segment is among one of the best takes on the story.
Davison really goes above and beyond with his character, imbuing it with as much tragedy and sadness but also tenderness and relatability as he can muster. As he tells the story of how the paw came into his life and how it destroyed it you can’t help but cling to the character and hope he gets an ending worthy of the performance. Unfortunately, not even Davison can save the ending.
Lack of imagination with what appears to be a limited budget made for an ending that didn’t take advantage of the emotional arc Davison expertly developed throughout the segment. In an instant, all was said and done without much left worthy of remembrance. It doesn’t help that the comic book effects are barely used in the segment and, again, feel like an afterthought.
The second segment, “Times is Tough in Musky Holler,” is best of the two, but strangely also the shortest one. It clocks in at little more than 10 minutes and feels more like an aperitif than a full meal, which might’ve done better if it had started off the entire episode. The Mayor of Musky Holler, Lester Barkley (played by Dane Rhodes), is in prison along with a group of people that apparently did horrible things in a town trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.
The setup’s strong, compelling even, but ultimately too brief. The problem is that the idea gets lost in heavy exposition. Having said that, this segment stands as the only one thus far to more intentionally use the comic book effects to tell its story. We get small cuts of backstory interspersed with real-time events by way of moving comic book panels showing both timelines.
The effect is pulled off just right, even if it’s in the service of exposition. The transitions between scenes, which shows just how evil each person inside the prison truly is, are seamless and clean. They are reminiscent of Romero’s movie and evoke some of the playfulness the show was meant to indulge in since it premiered. I was glad we got to see some of the original movie’s magic transferred over to the series.
The segment’s ending, which is intends to be a gory political statement, is gleefully gruesome and fun. The final images are tailor-made for gore hounds and the makeup effects are among the best in the series. The segment would’ve been stellar were it allowed to grow into a full story, as was the case with the other episodes. The ingredients were there, but everything was put together too quickly. This makes “Times is Tough in Musky Holler” a nice but forgettable entry into a series that needed a shot of terror to salvage something, anything before its final episode.
Creepshow is a few days from its Halloween finale. Just before we get to the finish line we got the anthology’s second best performance courtesy of Bruce Davison (right after DJ Qualls in “The Finger”) and, finally, better use of the comic book effects. These elements weren’t entirely successful in converging for a strong episode, but at least it stands as perhaps the best episode of the bunch thus far. Let’s see how the series closes its first season.