Friday, October 25, 2019

Creepshow: Night of the Paw/Times is Tough in Musky Holler

You know W.W. Jacobs’ short story “The Monkey’s Paw” must be a horror classic when it gets satirized on The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror. Shudder’s Creepshow also riffs on the fateful paw in what could well be its best story of the season. Three wishes lead to some serious monkey business in the latest episode of Creepshow, which premiered last night.

The widowed undertaker Avery Whitlock is not surprised when a mystery woman collapses on his doorstep. It is the power of the paw, after all. Of course, he did not ask for this specifically, but the monkey digits work in mysterious ways. After patching her up, he will give her the full history of his involvement with the paw. It still grants three wishes, but in ghoulishly unexpected ways, as was the case in Jacobs’ original tale.  John Esposito’s teleplay somewhat parallels Jacobs, but it has some fresh twists to offer. Unfortunately, Whitlock’s reluctant patient will miss the most important implications of his experiences, but isn’t that always the way?

“Paw” is a wonderfully macabre yarn that is so aptly suited to the Creepshow/E.C. Comics aesthetic, especially its sinister kicker. Academy award nominee Bruce Davison is perfectly cast as Whitlock, making him a rather weird but tragically poignant figure. Plus, the design of the grotesque paw is wonderfully creepy.

“Paw” is one of Creepshow’s best, but it is paired up with the worst so far. Presumably, “Times is Tough in Musky Holler” was intended to be a commentary on the power of fear to corrode communities, somewhat in the tragic of Twilight Zone episode, “I Am the Night—Color Me Black,” but it has none of Rod Serling’s insight or the power of helmer Abner Biberman’s’ stark imagery.

Essentially, “Musky Holler” shows a disgraced mayor getting gruesome taste of his own medicine after he used a zombie apocalypse to declare martial law and launch a reign of terror. Frankly, the entire premise is dubious. It does not even manage to score any ideological points, because zombie apocalypses are such extreme catastrophes. Unfortunately, many viewers might be tempted to start with this one, because it features Scream’s David Arquette as Mayor Lester Barclay’s corrupt enforcer, Sheriff Deke.

So, best of times, worst of times. “Night of Paw” is very highly recommended, especially for fans of the original Creepshow movie (and the Simpson’s spoof), but viewers should stop there this week and skip the terrible “Musky Holler.” Yet, “Paw” is so good, it sustains our enthusiasm for the current season of Creepshow on Shudder.