Creepshow’s scrappy brand of buoyant and bloody B-horror anthology storytelling covers a wide range that fluctuates between pulpy and plodding.
Anthology series, horror or otherwise, have never been more popular and yet Creepshow has always stood out as more than just a standard horror anthology. Creepshow aims to frighten and fascinate like other anthology horror. However, it models itself off of the pulpy horror “comix” of the ‘60s and ‘70s that are just as interested in camp and B-movie bliss. This horror subgenre isn’t for everyone, but Creepshow has done an excellent job at capturing the old-fashioned energy of the Creepshow feature films and cautionary comics from a simpler time. Shudder’s Creepshow has been going strong for three seasons, even with some animated installments along the way, and its new fourth season is the perfect way to celebrate this holiday season.
Creepshow continues to indulge in retro sensibilities and aesthetics while it effectively tackles modern horror stories. At the same time, Creepshow doesn’t date itself by telling any cautionary tales that are too of the times, but it also unpacks eternal ideas like legacy, success, and grief, all with a pulpy B-horror sheen that’s rich in stylized camp and perfected genre tropes. Creepshow’s fourth season tackles a wide range of stories between standard monster attacks, cautionary shortcuts to success, and even a playful ode to a lost George A. Romero magnum opus (that finds a way to reanimate the horror auteur). Creepshow also still finds time to celebrate sillier stories like a haunted camera or a quirky take on Little Riding Red Hood.
This Greg Nicotero-directed Romero tribute as well as a highly subversive monster home invasion tale by Jamie Flanagan, “20 Minutes with Cassandra,” are the season’s strongest entries. Nicotero’s story is a passionate love letter to one of the grandfathers of modern horror, but it doesn’t reach the same heights as Creepshow’s past tributes to established horror classics like “Public Television of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Late Show,” or “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” It’s the weakest of these stylized homages.
Alternatively, Flanagan’s story isn’t wholly successful, but it’s a smart change of pace that makes use of several regular Flanagan players and actually feels more like an episode of The Midnight Club than it does a Creepshow story. It’s ultimately less about the victims, but instead a look at a morally-conflicted monster who’s going through the motions and aimlessly killing even when he doesn’t know why. It’s a really unique subversion of a standard monster story through the humanization of something inhuman and reveals that they’re actually the one who’s most conflicted and lost, despite their terrifying look and immense killing power. Some things are even scarier than monsters.
Creepshow’s episodes largely understand the assignment and showcase unique visual styles where canted angles, exaggerated giallo lighting, and unique composition reigns supreme and feels reminiscent of comic book panels. Most episodes try to do something different so that they look special and unlike anything that you’d see in American Horror Stories or Black Mirror. Several Creepshow episodes succeed more through their evergreen themes rather than the specific subject matter. There are certainly shades of American Psycho and Serial Mom in this style of pitch black comedy where disrespected social mores are a bigger problem than gratuitous murder. That’s the type of disaffected humor that’s often in play in episodes like “Parent Death Trap,” “Meet the Belaskos,” and “The Hat.”
Many Creepshow installments from this season go for the laugh instead of the scare, which isn’t new to the franchise, but still may polarize the audience’s reception depending on their tolerance for this style of comedy. There’s still a lot of fun to be had with these weird genre experiments that explore the pain of living and how we all unintentionally manifest our own monsters in different ways.
Even the episodes that don’t necessarily connect on a storytelling level are filled with visual cues that should delight horror fans. There are so many grandiose splash panels that make inspired use of shadows and limited gore to cast evocative images that feel like they’re ripped from right out of an issue of EC Comics. Creepshow’s effects work is still exceptional and punches way above its weight with gigantic rat monsters, Biblical vampires, aliens, and werewolves. The hermit crab-esque brain parasite from “The Hat” is a particular highlight that’s simple, but effective and gross.
Creepshow’s fourth season is a lot of fun and makes for a great Halloween binge. However, four seasons in, Creepshow exhibits some growing pains that do slightly hold it back. None of these episodes are based on any existing stories this time, which isn’t a prerequisite for success, but still worthy of noting. This season is also missing some of the heavy-hitter talent from Creepshow’s previous three years. Creepshow does its best with talent like Jamie Flanagan and the always-reliable Greg Nicotero, but it’s really missing the likes of Joe Lynch and Rob Schrab on the director’s side, and stronger writers like Heather Anne Campbell on the writer’s side. The same is true for the talent that’s in front of the camera and this season lacks the star power of past years. There’s still a lot of fun stuff going on in these episodes, but the new talent indicates just how important it is to have a distinct directorial vision with Creepshow. The episodes that don’t embrace the comic book camp definitely stand out as unsuccessful outliers.
Creepshow is still one of horror’s best sources of guts, gore, and great practical effects. The double-episode structure still maximizes the series’ storytelling potential and replicates the pulp comic sensation. This new batch of episodes features some of the best and worst of what Creepshow can do.
Creepshow Season 4 is now available to stream on Shudder, with weekly releases on AMC.
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