in Review, Shocktober

A Creepshow Animated Special (2020)

There’s been a change of plans. I was supposed to review an episode of Riverdale but after watching five minutes and being totally lost I bailed. Then I decided to watch the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and did and was ready to review it. Then I found out Shudder was releasing a surprise animated episode of Creepshow on October 29th and it was a no brainer.

In case you didn’t know, in 2019 a TV version of George A Romero and Stephen King’s cult classic anthology horror film Creepshow premiered on Shudder. Helmed by horror legend Greg Nicotero, the first season was six episodes with each hour-long episode comprised of two 20-30 minute stories.

Some of the episodes were adaptations of short stories from the likes of Joe Hill, Joe R. Lansdale, Bruce Jones, and of course Stephen King. Though the season had its fair share of original stories from people like Josh Malerman (Birdbox), Rob Schrab (Monster House), and Paul Dini (Batman the Animated Series.

So it must be great, right? Eh, it’s fine. There are some solid spooky stories with old school makeup effects from Nicotero’s KNB EFX Group but overall the show just felt kind of… cheap. Shudder doesn’t have Netflix money to throw at original programming and Nicotero and co. are doing the best with what they have to work with. There were freaky moments. I particularly liked Josh Malerman’s story about a creepy “inanimate” head living inside a dollhouse. I was less taken by the story with nazis and werewolves.

It’s tough to find that balance of humor and horror. I’ve been watching a lot of Tales from the Crypt lately and I feel like that show knew when to be campy and when to be creepy. Though that show also had the advantage of being on HBO and in some cases having a budget of $1 million per episode. I don’t think Creepshow has that kind of clout.

The Shudder series was renewed for a second season but with COVID I imagine it will be a while before we see it. So as a fun little Halloween pre-treat, we got this animated episode to tide us over. Now I use the word “animated” lightly as this is the equivalent of listening to two audiobooks that occasionally feature moving images…. And yet it’s my favorite episode of the show thus far.

What makes the Animated Special the best episode of Creepshow yet? It’s the strength of the stories. Here we get two faithful adaptations from the King family library. First, an adaptation from Greg Nicotero of Stephen King’s “Survivor Type”, widely known as one of King’s most grisly stories. Then, we get an adaptation from Melanie Dale of Joe Hill’s “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead.” Two Kings for the price of one. Can’t beat that.

Each of these episodes is narrated by a single actor alongside detailed comic book drawings. I’d compare it to reading a comic book while listening to a book on tape. Which I’m sure sounds disappointing to most people. It did to me. Yet I found the technique very effective. I love the artwork and the performances are the best the show’s seen yet.

I was stoked when I found out “Survivor Type” starred Kiefer Sutherland, an actor who I’ve only recently started to appreciate for his vocal talents. Here, Kiefer plays Richard Pine, a disgraced surgeon who after trying to smuggle heroin on a cruise ship that sinks, finds himself stranded on a desert island with little supplies and a big appetite.

The story begins with Pine narrating his life story. He speaks of his early years as a talented football player and aspiring surgeon only to delve into how people screwed him over time and time again. Though no matter what happened to Richard he always kept going because he was a survivor and “survivors will do anything to survive.”

Starving and high off his supply of heroin, Richard starts to eat parts of himself over the following days. It’s a premise that makes no sense in a real-world context but the perfect sense in an E.C. Comics kind of way. I love the blood-soaked drawings but I also appreciate how we cut away from the most graphic sequences. Let your own filthy mind fill in the gaps.

But the creme de la creme of this first segment is Kiefer. I almost didn’t recognize him with a gravelly Bronx accent but the man gives me chills. Give this man more voice work! Hey Hideo Kojima, need to make another creepy game with A-list stars? Get Kiefer!

“Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” stars Joey King as Blake, a teenage girl tweeting her mundane family road trip. I was a little iffy on this one at first. Particularly lines like “And I was like, hashtag eww.” Thankfully the horror hook in this one is pretty good. Blake and her family visit a roadside attraction known as “The Circus of the Dead.” They enter a darkened circus tent and watch a show from the stands featuring zombies performing various “tricks.”

Blake live tweets a gruesome show featuring; zombies being fired out of a canon, zombies breathing fire, and zombies eating a lion. But it’s not until Blake sees her own brother sacrificed does she piece together that this is all real and that the audience is part of the show too. Blake discovers that most of the crowd is propped up dead bodies as clown zombies swarm after her and her family. It’s a unique premise told with a modern twist.

I had a blast with this special. Sure, it was cheap and scrappy but the stories are good, the acting is strong, and the drawings are freaky as fuck. I really hope Creepshow continues to experiment with different visual styles going forward. It’s what makes the show special and…. what makes it scary!