Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Creepshow: Drug Traffic & A Dead Girl Named Sue

Horror can be a keenly effective vehicle for social commentary. The great George Romero was a master of inserting his liberal perspective, without detracting from the narrative. However, when didacticism gets in the way of the storytelling, it is especially obvious in the horror genre. Such thoughts are prompted by this week’s episode of Creepshow (featuring an inventive Romero homage), which premieres this Thursday on Shudder.

Prepare yourself for a lecture on the American healthcare system in “Drug Traffic” (directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Mattie Do & Christopher Larsen). In this case, the drug smuggling of the title refers to the life-saving prescription drugs that are affordable in Canada, but prohibitively expensive in the U.S. It is crusty border guard Beau’s job to keep them out. Before your eyes roll out of your head, take comfort from the way crafty old Beau outsmarts the opportunistic leftwing Congressman, who organized a patient caravan up to Canada, with plenty of media to film it, of course, of course.

However, unbeknownst to either Federal public servant, the Congressman’s party includes a very sick young woman, whose mother hopes to forestall a rather macabre transformation with a pharmaceutical cocktail. It is not much of a spoiler to say this turns into a monster story—and it’s a cool one. Fan favorite Michael Rooker is funny as heck as Border Patrolman Beau, while Reid Scott is spectacularly cynical as the power-hungry Congressman. (The suggestion that many politicians advocating greater socialized medicine don’t really believe in it and are only following their polls earns a red “fact check: true” checkmark.) Together, these characters and juicy performances largely deconstruct and undermine the story’s ideological slant—and that’s a great thing.

“A Dead Girl Named Sue” (directed by John Harrison and written by Heather Anne Campbell, based on Craig Engler’s short story) is the second
Creepshow story that incorporates scenes from Romero’s conveniently in-public domain Nightof the Living Dead, following The Night of the Living Late Show. The story unfolds on the same night as the fateful events in that farm house, in a small town not so far away. Ironically, many of the good townsfolk want to take advantage of the confusion to dispense some frontier justice on the corrupt mayor’s sexual predator son, Cliven Ridgeway.

Back in the station, Police Chief Evan Foster can see the news reports from the classic movie playing on TV. He does not believe in lynch mobs, so he sets out to take Ridgeway into protective custody. Yet, what he finds will test his principles.

Although set concurrently, “Dead Girl Named Sue” is a fitting
Living Dead story for our violent year of 2021. At a time when so-called “bail reform” in cities like New York has turned policing into a catch-and-release endeavor, we can well relate to the frustration of Foster and his fellow townsmen. For those who know the film intimately, it is also worth noting the town’s band of prospective vigilantes is racially mixed. Such is the extent of the anger at the town’s revolving door jail.

The black-and-white cinematography is striking and the way it integrates scenes from Romero’s original film is quite clever. Harrison’s direction is tense and moody, building to a kicker that has the dramatic logic of high tragedy. Cristian Gonzalez also really lends the film a compelling, acutely human sensibility as Foster, while Josh Mikel is appropriately loathsome, chewing the scenery as unrepentant Ridgeway.

“A Dead Girl Named Sue” is one of
Creepshow’s best installments and “Drug Traffic” is not nearly as annoying as it initially signals itself to be. The combination of a monster from international folklore and an “unofficial” tale from the Living Dead world is hard to beat for Halloween viewing. Highly recommended for fans of the Creepshow and Living Dead franchises, episode 306 starts streaming Thursday (10/28), on Shudder.