Thursday, October 12, 2023

Creepshow Season Four

When a series is based on a classic George Romero-Stephen King film, it better be mindful of horror movie traditions. That continues to be the case for the strongest horror anthology currently going. The very first episode, “Grey Matter” co-starred Adrienne Barbeau in a King short story adaptation. Then it incorporated elements of the films Horror Express and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in Night of the Living Late Show and A Dead Girl Named Sue. There are highs and a few lows, but as usual, the best episodes harken back to the 1982 fan favorite during the fourth season of Creepshow, which premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

“20 Minutes with Cassandra,” directed by showrunner Greg Nicotero and written by Jamie Flanagan starts out as a monster-stalker story, which it definitely is, but it takes an interesting turn. Ironically, this is the most thoughtful tale of the season, which makes it an outlier, but in a good way. Samantha Sloyan is also terrific as Lorna, the invaded home-owner, especially in her scenes with Okwe, the pizza delivery guy she is trying to keep out of it, played understated humor by Frankie Francois.

The second story of the season premiere, “Smile” directed by John Harrison and written by Mike Scannell, is also super creepy. Somehow, an award-winning photojournalist and his wife find themselves stalked by a mysterious figure, inexplicably taunting them with pictures he or it should not have been able to snap. In this case, it is the eerie details that make the stalking so intense.

The second episode starts with some serious horror fan service in “The Hat,” directed by Kailey & Sam Spear and written by Byron Willinger & Philip De Blasi, tipping its titular Homberg to authors like Richard Matheson. Those are the kind of legends Jay Stratton wants to join, so he borrows the hat formerly owned by his idol, Stephen Bachman (a mashing together of Stephen King and Richard Bachman) once sported. It is suitably macabre in an EC Comics kind of way and Marlee Walchuk’s portrayal of his literary agent is very funny, but not fundamentally inaccurate.

Unfortunately, the B-side, “Grieving Process,” directed by Kailey & Sam Spear and written by Mike D. McCarty and John Esposito, is gorier but much less fun. A Michelin-star chef’s wife barely survives a brutal attack, but her personality changes drastically. So does her appetite. This is probably the lowest point of the new season, because it is so downbeat and predictable.

Next episode, “Parent Death Trap, directed by P.J. Pesce and written by Erik Sandoval & Michael Rousselet, returns to the black comedy of the last season. Although miserable Lyle Veljohnson is rich in money and position, he is dirt poor when it comes to family love and support. His WASPy parents are so nasty, he finally kills them, but that won’t be the end of things. Not even close. Shaughnessy Redden and Loretta Walsh are indeed pretty hillarious as his ultra-snobby and controlling parents. It is backed by “To Grandmother’s House we Go” (director: Justin Dyck, writer: William Butler), which is an okay werewolf yarn that appropriately shares familial themes.

“Meet the Balaskos,” written and directed by John Esposito, is by far the most heavy-handed, lectury installment of the new season. It is sort of like
Fright Night, except the Vampire-Americans who move in next door are just another under-represented demographic group, who must endure the prejudice of their new next-door neighbor. However, “Cheat Code,” directed by Justin Dyck and written by Claire Carre & Charles Spano, is one of the season’s best. A recently widowered father tries to bond with his son through an old school cartridge video game, but they deduce its sinister powers a little too late. Coming on the heels of Totally Killer, “Cheat Code” should further establish Lochlyn Munro as one of the top horror dads.

“Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” directed by John Esposito and written by Todd Spence & Zak White is one of the season’s best and also most notable, since it co-stars Tom Atkins (the abusive dad in the original
Creepshow) as another questionable father. In this case, he wants to mend his relationship with his daughter before it is too late. Of course, he also has a secret. Everyone does in Creepshow. Regardless, Atkins’ devilish flair is enormously entertaining.

This might be the best episode of the season, because “Doodles,” directed by P.J. Pesce and written by Zak White & Todd Spence, is quite cleverly EC-like in the way the protagonist’s cartoons lead to gruesome results. Frankly, not everyone deserves what they get, but the grisly twist is quite amusing.

Finally, the sixth episode delivers the best of times and the worst of times. “George Romero in 3D,” directed by Nicotero and written by Todd Spence & Zak White, is a loving tribute, with plenty of zombies. In this case, the undead come via the uncannily augmented 3D of long-lost (fictional) comics written by the master. When Martin inadvertently ushers the comic zombies into his mother Sarah’s bookstore, he goes back in to enlist the help of Romero himself, who appeared as a host in his own comics, in the way Boris Karloff did in
Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery.

This is a terrific Romero tribute and a slyly affectionate ode to fandom. Although Nicotero wisely uses comic-like effects to keep Romero hazily otherworldly, he and thesp Sebastian Kroon still make him quite a charming presence. Kyra Zagorsky and Graham Verchere also have an endearing mother-son rapport as Sarah and Martin. Weirdly, its episode-mate, “Baby Teeth,” directed by John Harrison and written by Melanie Dale is a real letdown, involving Munchausen moms and ghoulish tooth fairies, sort of.

Regardless, there is a lot of good stuff in season four—and it is clear Nicotero and company affectionately remember the film where it all started. Every anthology series has stronger and weaker installments, but
Creepshow still has far more credits in the ledger than debits. Easily recommended for fans of the franchise and horror anthologies in general, season four of Creepshow starts streaming tomorrow (10/13) on Shudder.