Shudder’s highly anticipated series adaptation of Creepshow — the still-terrific 1982 anthology pairing the talents of George Romero and Stephen King — is now halfway through its six-episode first season, and episode three is once again a mixed bag. Where the first segment stumbles in dull predictability, though, the second stands apart with humor, personality, and some twisted thrills.
This episode’s dud is a half-hearted nod to the darkness of youth, but while its supernatural revenge concept is sound enough in theory the execution feels obvious and dragged out. “All Hallow’s Eve” introduces viewers to five kids, all dressed in Halloween costumes as they prepare for a night of trick or treating, and the dialogue — the segment is written by Bruce Jones and directed by John Harrison — makes it immediately clear that something is just a bit off. More specifically, and again, this isn’t a spoiler as it’s practically spelled out in their conversations, these kids are dead. They’re walking their little town’s streets for the last time, and the neighbors are terrified.
As mentioned, the segment tips its undead hand within its first minutes but then proceeds to drag out the official reveal as if it’s a mystery viewers are eagerly awaiting a resolution for. The specific details have a degree of power for anyone who’s endured the wrath of bullies, but as the story comes to conclusion it does nothing aside from confirming what we already figured out up to that point. The ending answers none of the questions viewers might have, but it does create a few new ones regarding both the kids and the locals who’ve stayed in town despite this annual night of terror. The tale and its ending would have benefited greatly from a stronger focus on the terror and/or the haunting quality of youth cut short, but instead it all feels more than a little one note.
That’s “terror” with air quotes, of course, as the simplicity and production design here don’t quite work to build the atmosphere the segment is clearly going for — see 2016’s brilliant Boys In the Trees for an idea as to what the goal should have been — and other elements are equally iffy. The young actors are okay, but the handful of adults seen here are incredibly rough talents struggling with their dialogue and emoting. They’re hoping to get across real fear and instead feel like they’re giving lessons on how not to act. A distinct lack of Creepshow‘s signature black humor, something absent from most of the series so far, doesn’t help either.
The episode improves considerably with the second segment as “The Man in the Suitcase” delivers much of what’s been missing with Shudder’s show so far. Justin is a young man in flux as his education and his girlfriend seem to have passed him by, but his luck and life change dramatically when he grabs the wrong suitcase while leaving the airport. There’s a man inside — folded up like a well-dressed human pretzel — and there’s something fairly unique about his predicament. Well, a second thing. He responds to pain by spitting out gold coins. He’s a human ATM powered by cruelty, and his generosity has a limit. Justin’s lured into a willingness to hurt the man in the case in exchange for gold, but his roommate and girlfriend take it to sadistic extremes.
Director David Bruckner and writer Christopher Buehlman craft a nifty little tale of comeuppance, and like grim humor that element is a staple of the original film that they capture well. The segment comes to garish life with bold colors, paneled backgrounds behind shocked characters, and an energy sorely lacking from the episode’s first half. Those colorful backdrops — the bright blues and reds with jagged lines radiating out from their screaming, terror-filled faces — are straight out of Romero’s film and work beautifully here to add visual flair to the well-deserved nightmare. When the end comes it does so with real satisfaction and some fun creature effects as well.
Three episodes in and the only constant so far is the scheduling — the second segment is always the best — and this time around it’s a segment that would have felt quite at home in Creepshow 2 (1987). Sure, that’s not quite up to par with what the original film had to offer, but it’s an entertainingly mean tale that would fit nicely alongside something like “The Raft.” Here’s hoping this step up in quality and creativity is a sign of what’s to come.