Shudder’s debut season of Creepshow — an episodic adaptation of George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 horror anthology of the same name — has come to a close. If you’ve been following our weekly coverage here at FSR, you’ve witnessed me and my co-reviewer, Rob Hunter, holding out hope, week after week, that the series would find its footing and break its lopsided curse of inconsistent offerings. And look, I’m firmly on board with what Rob said in his review of the show’s premiere: even at their worst, horror anthologies always offer the possibility for a varied assortment of creative voices. However, in Creepshow‘s case, the emphasis really is on varied. This season has had more ups and downs than an elevator, and if we’re being honest, it’s mostly been a frustratingly jerky descent.
In addition to its wobbling quality, the season has largely been lacking in the guiding EC Comics spirit that makes the original film special in the first place. Creepshow’s charm is a gleeful menace; a black humor that titillates and horrifies in equal measure. Reflecting back on the season, there is an embarrassing shortage of segments that capture a sense of that giddy darkness and harness it to satisfying ends. For a while, episode three’s “The Man In the Suitcase” was the only pretender to the throne (and even then, Creepshow 2′s throne, so more of a lawn chair). But lo, in the final hour, we`ve been graced by one other segment that feels relatively up to snuff with its source material: episode six’s “Skincrawlers.”
The first segment in episode 6, “Skincrawlers” takes aim at the horrors of quick-fix diet culture and the lengths people will go to fit in. The segment follows Henry, who gets automatic “I like this guy” points by being played by Dana Gould. Henry is fat, and Dr. Sloan has a miracle fix. And while having his waistline shrunk by rare, fat-sucking leeches initially sends Henry running for the exit, he eventually caves. After all, everyone’s doing it — and they all look so happy! Oh and they’re going to televise the procedure live during an eclipse? What’s the worst that could happen? Well, it turns out some things do taste better than skinny feels when skinny is the result of getting fucked by prehistoric invertebrates.
“Skincrawlers” was penned by Paul Dini and Stephen Langford and Dini’s reputation for tight, engaging stories (his credits include Batman: The Animated Series, Lost, and Batman Beyond) is on display here. Despite being pretty simple and one-note, “Skincrawlers'” has enough pep in its step to keep you interested. I was not a fan of director Roxanne Benjamin’s earlier Creepshow entry “Lydia Layne’s Better Half,” but heck if “Skincrawlers” ain’t one of the strongest segments of the series. The pacing zips along and the performances by all (especially Gould) hit the elusive Creepshow mark between camp and sincerity. To boot, the final blowout (so to speak) is hinted at with a fiendish delight that builds the tension rather than diffusing it. “Skincrawlers” has a good grasp on what makes Creepshow fun: a darkly comic sensibility with a final button that ties the room together in a way that feels satisfying.
Despite boasting the biggest behind the scenes names of the series, the episode’s second segment, “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” sends the season out on a big ole whimper. Directed by jack-of-all-trades horror legend Tom Savini and co-written by author and comic book writer Joe Hill, the segment sees a young girl named Rose following in her still-missing father’s obsession: Champ, the legendary monster of Lake Champlain. But when Rose actually does find Champ, her unhinged, no-good stepfather threatens to take all the credit for the beast. That is… if this is the beast. The dead creature that washed up on the shore seems awful small…
“By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” reminded me of a lot of the issues I had with “Lydia Layne’s Better Half.” The lead performances are distractingly stilted and amateurish, sticking out even more like a sore thumb after as confident a showing as “Skincrawlers.” The clunky dialogue doesn’t help, and it feels like something was lost in the translation of Hill’s original short story from the page to the screen. But the real nail in the coffin is pacing. Where episode four’s “The Companion” did a great job of using monologue to not only raise the stakes but invest us further in our lead character, here, all the monologues do is inform and bore. It feels like the same problem as last week’s “Times Is Tough in Musky Holler”: a telling rather than a showing that would have packed a bigger narrative punch with a different approach.
In a veritable excess of streaming services, Shudder is one of the most interesting and genuinely fan-focused platforms out there. They’ve proven themselves more than capable of punching above their weight class, but unfortunately, while the series’ genuine love of Romero’s film is undeniable, that love rarely translates into end results that capture the essence of what made the original tick in the first place. The fact of the matter is, this first season of Creepshow was a lot more “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” than it was “Skincrawlers.”
I say “the first season” and not “the final season” because Creepshow has been renewed, and will continue to curse, sorry, grace our streaming queues. As someone who really (no, really!) wants to like Creepshow, this is good news. I hope they kill it this time. Cause I’m still waiting for a Creepshow reboot that actually feels like Creepshow. Second time’s the charm?