Can you believe Creepshow‘s third season is already halfway finished? It feels like it only just begun! The episodes and segments of Shudder‘s popular anthology series have been mostly on par with past seasons, but unfortunately that’s not exactly a good thing, at least not yet. Those past seasons have each featured at least one pretty great story/episode, so that’s something to look forward to with season three. Trust me when I say that Meg Shields and I are eagerly awaiting this season’s banger episode, but for now, keep reading for my look at season three, episode three…
“The Last Tsuburaya”
Director: Jeffrey F. January
Writers: Paul Dini & Stephen Langford
Ishirō Tsuburaya, a famed Japanese artist long since dead, has left behind a collection of macabre art beloved by collectors and fans. The Holy Grail among his work, though, is a never-before glimpsed painting — the last Tsuburaya — that’s remained secured in a crate and only recently discovered in a basement with strict instructions inscribed on the lid. It’s only to be opened by a relative, and the last remaining one of those is a young Best Buy employee with zero appreciation for art. He quickly sells the unopened crate to a tech millionaire and skedaddles out of the episode. Smart man, as what comes next would have scared even the Geek Squad to death.
While this segment descends into being a creature feature, the theme at play here is twofold — how the value of art is in the eye (and bank account) of the beholder, and how money is a tool for the devil. While the young man is indifferent and settles for a quick payout, a museum curator tries and fails to impress upon everyone the cultural relevance of a final piece from an artist as respected for his work as he was despised for his apparent dislike of people. The star of the segment, though, is the wealthy prick who buys the painting, opens it, soaks it in while a room full of invited guests waits for the unveiling, and then burns the artwork before anyone else can glimpse it. That’s fine, but an inordinate amount of time is given to other characters here early on who have zero bearing on the story.
Wade Cruise (Brandon Quinn) is a delightfully despicable “villain” — he pays for the art fair and square, but he’s something of a dick for destroying it so that no one else can ever experience it. He also shares a story about lowballing a desperate father while trying to secure a good deal on a vase and possibly dooming the man’s sick daughter to death in the process, but his takeaway is that the only real joy from money comes in the power you can wield over others. It’s far from an original commentary, but when the creature from the painting begins stalking him it becomes almost like a Tell-Tale Heart situation. Almost, because the truth is actually a bit more interesting than that — not a lot, but a bit, and that’s something these segments can’t often claim — as those themes on art and ownership meld together to explain and resolve Wade’s experience.
The creature itself is of the man in a suit variety, our favorite around these parts, and it has an engaging design that January makes smart use of, first in the shadows and ultimately in our faces. While there’s nothing explicitly stated in “The Last Tsuburaya” there appears to be a small Easter Egg for fans of the genre. More specifically, for fans of so-called tokusatsu films, a Japanese sub-genre of sorts with action/dramas heavy on special effects and dudes in monster suits. Ishirō Tsuburaya is quite likely a nod to two genre legends, Ishirō Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya, the director and effects director (respectively) of 1954’s Godzilla. It bears no effect on the segment itself, but it allows the filmmakers to show respect towards some real-life Japanese artists.
“Okay I’ll Bite”
Director: John Harrison
Writer: John Harrison
Elmer (Nick Massouh) is in jail for helping with what amounts to an assisted suicide, and his latest stab at parole is denied after a corrupt guard makes a false accusation. The guard in question is using Elmer’s science skills to cook opium, and he has no plans on losing his free labor. He and the other prisoners berate and abuse him, but Elmer finds solace in his collection of spiders. It doesn’t last, though, and when threatened by both thugs and changes from above, Elmer takes things into his own hands — well, his own fangs and hairy legs, anyway.
There’s quite a bit of vaguely related setup here as we see Elmer’s predicament and watch him bury himself in spider lore and mythology while showering his little beasties with love and affection. A bigger creature is teased behind the walls, teased without explanation, and things turn fairly abruptly after one last confrontation with prisoners in cahoots with the corrupt guard. The ending is simultaneously built up and somewhat out of left field, but while it delivers the expected comeuppance for a jerky character it can’t find the necessary weight to go along with it. We expect it, it happens, the end.
It’s fine, if underwhelming on the performance front, but it does squeeze it a couple visual highlights in its final moments related to the spider that eventually steals the show. The effects, as is usually the case with the series, are a mix of the practical and computer generated, but Harrison amplifies their effectiveness by having them emerge from the shadows to reveal all their glory. They’re nifty, but you’d be hard-pressed to identify much else in the way of memorable elements here. While “The Last Tsuburaya” layers its wonder and strong-ish narrative beats throughout, this second story meanders somewhat until things come to a hairy head.
While neither Creepshow segment this week is a home run, neither is an outright loser either — meaning thanks to “The Last Tsuburaya” it’s the best of season three so far. We’re halfway through the season now, but we’re hoping the back half will deliver at least one great segment, one memorable tale, one reason to cheer when season four is inevitably confirmed…