While superhero comics have taken over our media with the ferocity of an air-borne virus, the humble horror comic has made a much more modest bid on our streaming schedules. Horror anthologies have best captured the pulpy glee of EC Comics, Chilling Tales, Weird Terror, and a host of dingy, gore-filled pages, with 1982’s Creepshow oft-cited as one of the sub-genre’s crown jewels. And so, we’re back — shambling, shuffling, and staggering — to review the second installment of Shudder’s re-animated episodic Creepshow. The good news is that compared to the disappointing premiere, there’s been an improvement. The bad news is that while we (finally!) have lift off, we are by no means at cruising altitude.
Episode two kicks off with a segment written and directed by Monster House scribe, and frequent Dan Harmon collaborator, Rob Schrab. Set in World War II, “Bad Wolf Down” — a title with a double meaning that I must admit, makes me chuckle — follows a ragtag group of generic American soldiers who are forced to take shelter in a worn-down police station after running afoul of a menacing Nazi officer played by Jeffrey Combs. Soon enough, the GIs discover that those leather-loving goose-steppers aren’t the only ones lurking in these woods: there’s a werewolf in their midst.
There’s a longstanding horror tradition of bringing the Third Reich and werewolves into the same space. In fact, it’s a crossover with a more historical basis than perhaps one would expect. Naturally, what with this being Creepshow and all, “Bad Wolf Down” has its own spin on WWII lycanthropes, and the genre reversal is effective, though almost all of its power is lost in keeping the audience looped in on the “twist.” It would have been a far more effective re-hash if our discovery had coincided with those of the characters on screen (I am intentionally being vague here to not give anything away, a courtesy this episode does not supply, unfortunately). Eschewing the scale of its WWII setting for a “cabin in the woods” set up, the segment hedges its bets on the strength of its performances and effects, to varying degrees of success. The performances from the American soldiers are forgettably cookie-cutter and one pivotal’s character’s accent is so distractingly god-awful it annihilates any and all of the episode’s emotional beats as a result. I wish I were exaggerating but I’m not. Meanwhile, despite being criminally under-utilized, Combs is a living legend, and I am thrilled (if unsurprised) to report that his turn as a wheezing, tight-lipped high-ranking Nazi is a good time. Despite the premise of “Combs is a nazi and werewolves are involved” he isn’t given a lot more to do than bark orders and mug it up (two things he does very well, I might add). I suspect that had the episode been told entirely from the point of view of the Nazis, the narrative and emotional beats would have vastly improved. The practical effects are enjoyably wacky, and with the exception of a couple of puppet limitations, the third act has enough carnage to satisfy gorehounds. That said, luckily, unlike segment one, the second story on the docket is more than just a bloodbath (though there’s bloodbath aplenty).
“The Finger” is up next, written by horror novelist David J. Schow and directed by Creepshow showrunner Greg Nicotero. “The Finger” is about, you guessed it, a finger. More, specifically, it’s about a finger that finds its way into the possession of Clark Wilson (Supernatural’s DJ Qualls), a deadbeat divorcee who, appropriately enough, collects all manner of trash, forgotten objects, and discarded curiosities. Clark happens upon the gnarled, pallid finger and happily takes it home and places it in his fridge. And then (of course!) it starts to grow; first into a partial fist and then into an arm. Finally, what was once a devilish digit emerges as a full-on chirping little hellspawn who Clark joyously names Bob. Clark is thrilled at the prospect of a new friend (read: a friend). But then the murders start, and the police start asking questions.
The premise of “The Finger” feels like familiar territory, vibing with both the likes Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’s “The Big Toe,” and Little Shop of Horrors. Qualls sells lovable scumbag well enough, and Clark’s endearingly sardonic ass-hatterey is clearly laid out from the get-go. Even as things spiral progressively out of control we can’t help but like the guy, and see where he’s coming from. It’s a necessary condition for A Bucket of Blood-style spooky stories about schmucks who wind up in over their heads by virtue of being just a little too stupid for their own good. And really, it’s a level of character investment we haven’t seen up to this point this season (in that it exists). So… better late than never! In truth, the whole episode does the best job yet of walking the line between winking campfire camp and a creep factor. Speaking of which: What About Bob? Bob is like if the Xenomorph and Ripley’s cat Jones had a slightly adorable and murderous baby. Is it a particularly original monster design? Absolutely not. But aside from one noticeably janky CGI shot, Bob’s a real boy (puppet), and he looks fine.
The segments from episode two are certainly a step up, with “The Finger” emerging as the current series best, though admittedly the bar is so low it’s practically a speed bump. I won’t spoil anything, but suffice it to say we’re miles away from anything in the realm of the end-game rug pulls that made the original Creepshow such a blast. The final punches here feel more like a light breeze, and on the whole, even when the episode’s inciting gambit is fine-to-good, we’re always in on the joke and can often see the punchline coming. I’m still waiting for this iteration of Creepshow to capture that cackling, EC comic dark humor. But, much like the re-imagined Creep puppet himself, it all still feels a little stiff. And I didn’t sign up for a lifeless stiff, you know?