Reviews · TV

‘Creepshow’ Plumbs the Icky Side of Apartment Life with “Pipe Screams”

The renters’ market really is a horrorshow.
Creepshow Pipe Screams
By  · Published on April 22nd, 2021

Creepshow‘s second season continues to chug along on over at Shudder. The series has always done a solid job of bringing in genre key players and this week is certainly no different. The latest episode features two legendary ladies whose presence is sure to delight denizens of the horror genre: Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, Jakob’s Wife) and Denise Crosby (Pet Sematary, Dolly Dearest). What a treat! Here’s our review of both installments of Creepshow Season 2, Episode 4:

“Pipe Screams”
Director: Joe Lynch
Writer: Daniel Kraus

Anyone who’s had the misfortune of unclogging a drain knows that there is nothing more horrifying and repugnant than what gets stuck in pipes. Mattes of tangled hair, ambiguous ooze, the wretched stench of fetid grease: it’s enough to turn even the strongest stomach! “Pipe Screams”, in all its devious wisdom, decided to animate one of these terrifying piles of goop and to set it loose on an apartment block… and make it crave human skin.

Linus, a hapless plumber desperate to salvage his late brother’s business, is hired to deal with an especially irksome drain clog. The apartment’s horrid landlady could care less about the safety of her tenants (lead pipes, shmead pipes), but wants the matter dealt with as cheaply as possible. Unable to afford another bad review, Linus gets to work, suspecting that some over-stuffed rat is living in the pipes. After tracing the offending clog to a specific unit, Linus discovers (in a truly butt-clenching fashion) that this is no rat, but rather a scuttling intestine-like mass with a mind, and an appetite, of its own.

Much like the bar-setting “Public Television of the Dead” segment from way back in Episode 1, “Pipe Screams” benefits greatly from a jaunty kinetic energy that keeps things fun while still dabbling in the debauched. I really can’t say enough nice things about Eric Edelstein’s performance as Linus. He completely understood the assignment. From the jump, you like the guy and understand both his personal stakes and the moral compass that keeps him from bolting out the door after spying the first viscous blood-smear. Linus truly feels like a real person, which makes for a genuinely fun contrast from Crampton’s more pointedly comic portrayal of the landlady Victoria, who’s basically like if there was a Karen archetype in a pantomime.

The monster itself is handled expertly: a chirping (kind of adorable) mess of hair and soap scum that scuttles about just out of sight until its proper introduction, at which point the series’ famous expressionistic backsplashes are used to great effect. If I have one gripe with this segment, it’s that it doesn’t quite stick the landing, with the ultimate comeuppance feeling a little left of field for what we know about the characters. To say more would spoil the twist, but all told, as far as Creepshow segments go, this is a very fine offering. Now I’m off to buy some Drano!

“Within the Walls of Madness”
Director: John Harrison
Writer: John Esposito
Story by: Greg Nicotero and John Esposito

Last week, my co-reviewer Rob Hunter remarked that both tales in Episode 3 felt three steps removed from the Creepshow family tree. The trend continues with “Within the Walls of Madness” which feels less like a Creepshow segment than someone playing an audiobook of H.P Lovecraft’s greatest hits at 1.75x the normal speed.

“Within the Walls of Madness” makes use of a familiar Lovecraftian framing device: a sole survivor, recounting the unfathomable events that left him in this sorry state. While Zeller (Drew Matthews) now finds himself behind bars, he was once a grad student for a shadowy government organization tasked with studying unusual phenomena for military purposes. His new defense lawyer (Brittany Smith) listens, salivating at the thought of the movie rights, as Zeller recalls the events that led to his misfortune. For mysterious reasons revealed as the story unfolds, a wormhole opens in a research facility in the mountains of Antarctica. Zeller’s escape attempt quickly spirals into interpersonal drama when he and his colleague Mallory (Brooke Butler) are suddenly exposed to the wormhole’s true purpose. When Mallory’s security detail boyfriend (Nicholas Logan) finds Zeller coated in the resulting carnage he forgets the interdimensional threat and seeks vengeance for his eviscerated girlfriend. It’s a convenient development for Dr. Trollenberg (Crosby), the lab’s chief scientist, whose calm attitude towards the surrounding chaos reveals itself to be something more akin to devotion.

It goes without saying that the scope of this segment is wildly ambitious. Lovecraftian horror is, for the most part, a very difficult thing to film. There are very few direct adaptations of the man’s work, especially his more ambitious tales like At the Mountains of Madness, which this segment references so heavily it bleeds into its title. On paper, all the elements that make Lovecraft “Lovecraft” are there: a maddened narrator, nefarious archeology, and other more spoilery wrinkles I won’t give away… but fans of the subgenre are almost sure to have pieced the big picture together for themselves even from this scant summary. Indeed, in addition to feeling like a speedrun of Lovecraft’s work, the segment’s (quite literally) by the book adherence means that there are few surprises for those in the know. And for the uninitiated, I’d imagine this segment’s breakneck infodump would be more than a little confusing.

Because the segment sets out to cram so many Lovecraftian shenanigans into so little airtime, the performances feel similarly hurried. It feels as if a tentacle holding a Vaudeville hook is lurking just off-screen to yank the actors if they don’t move things along swiftly. Looking back across the series (and, why not, the films) Creepshow is typically at its best when the action is contained and the characters are given an opportunity to show their true colors so that the resulting karmic carnage can satisfy. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pushing the limits of the formula. Last week’s segments are certainly proof of that. Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that here, Creepshow has bitten off more than it can chew.

Horror anthologies tend to be mixed bags, and this has certainly held true for this fourth installment in Season 2. “Pipe Screams” is a joyfully ghoulish entry that successfully marries a lighter tone with some genuinely sphincter-tightening practical effects. And while certainly ambitious, “Within the Walls of Madness” is a little, well, maddening, even for a devout Lovecraft fan. Our advice: certainly check out the first segment for some icky thrills. We’ll see you next week!

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.