This is hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the penultimate episode of Creepshow‘s third season. While past seasons have managed at least one killer segment, we’re still waiting for season three’s winner — could it come this week with “Time Out” and “The Things in Oakwood’s Past?” We’ll find out together, but first, a quick recap of the season’s offerings so far shows that neither I nor my partner in slime, Meg Shields, have been fully won over by Shudder’s highly successful anthology series.
They’re undeniably popular with the streamer’s fan base, but the show is endlessly dogged by budget limitations and the resulting restraints in creativity. As noted in Meg’s write-up from last week’s episode, the show also seems to be veering away some from its most tried and true narrative element — the grim and ghoulish karmic comeuppances that are the dead and gut-ter of the Creepshow brand, itself inspired by similar tales from EC Comics. Time will tell if it pays off creatively, but if last week’s segments are any indication the show needs to return its pointed aim at jerks in need of a bloody lesson sooner rather than later.
With that in mind, let’s check out Creepshow‘s fifth episode of its third season…
Director: Jeffrey F. January
Writers: Barrington Smith & Paul Seetachitt
Comic panels tell us a US Marine named Joe is exploring a recently liberated cit during World War II. Other soldiers are snagging suitcases and monkey paws (nice one) to bring home from the war, but Joe’s eye catches something more practical — a large armoire. Cut to live-action in the present day and a boy named Tim is exploring during Grandpa Joe’s funeral, and he stumbles across the armoire before being stopped by his grandmother. Ten years later and Tim’s in Law School? Time is funny. He’s studying hard and wooing a special lady when the armoire arrives along with a note from his grandmother…
“When you don’t have time, go inside this closet and you’ll find it. But be careful. Never go inside without the key, and don’t get greedy. Stolen hours are never free.”
Thanks for the clarity on this life or death matter, meemaw!
Turns out time pauses while you’re inside the armoire — for everyone but you. Tim plays it pretty careful, a few minutes here, a few hours there, and he’s able to stretch mere moments into far, far longer. He uses it to excel at time management, to do more work than other lawyers at the firm, to impress his boss on a daily basis, and it all pays off as he rises through the ranks. As the note says, though, stolen hours are never free, and he’s growing older than his actual age would suggest.
So, regarding the karmic concern in the introduction above? “Time Out” once again neglects that angle completely and instead takes its tale in a more Twilight Zone-like direction. Think “Time Enough at Last” without any of that classic episode’s wit, power, or dark irony. Here we know exactly what’s coming as soon as we read the warning about the key, and while common sense would dictate you immediately have a copy of the key made at WalMart and hang it inside the damn armoire, Tim instead puts his faith in the durability of wool sweater pockets. You’d call him a fool, but let’s not let grandma off the hook — why pen a brief, mysterious note instead of spelling out the dangers of this gift you’re passing on to your grandson?!
Anyway, the beauty of karmic comeuppances in the EC Comics vein is that we love to see bad people get what’s coming. Without that we’re left with good (or indifferent) people suffering mere misfortune instead, and while horror can obviously bring the goods on that front it all just feels flat in the context of what Creepshow can manage on their eighty-dollar budgets. Production design is wanting as the big beats are delivered via comic panels, and we’re left with nothing but a slow march towards Tim’s inevitable doom.
Speaking of slow and time, the episode itself seems to play some tricks with time too. We meet Tim as a boy, eight to ten years old, and we’re told it’s the present day. Over the course of “Time Out” we move nearly thirty years forward, ostensibly into the future, yet the production design never changes to reflect even the slightest advances or changes. I get that science fiction isn’t the goal here, but it feels like a part of the tale that no one gave enough thought to — and it’s not the only one.
“The Things in Oakwood’s Past“
Director: Greg Nicotero & Dave Newberg
Writers: Daniel Kraus & Greg Nicotero
The small town of Oakwood is celebrating an ominous anniversary two hundred years after all of its citizens disappeared. It’s been quiet and normal in every way since, but the discovery of a time capsule buried in a local park has people all aflutter. The mayor’s daughter, Marnie, has been doing some deep digging of her own in the town’s historical records, and what she finds has her terrified. Something evil is coming to devour Oakwood’s population once again, and she believes their salvation rests inside that crate.
Unless it doesn’t.
Spoiler… it doesn’t.
Creepshow has delivered fully animated segments before, most notably as a special in 2020, and this segment returns to the format. Unsurprisingly, it appears to be a cost-saving measure in part because “The Things in Oakwood’s Past” ends in the kind of big, bloody fashion that Shudder would never spring for in live-action. It’s enough to make you wish they maybe cut this season in half, though, and put that money towards doing just that. The story’s basic enough with just enough mystery and suspense before hell is unleashed, and a live-action, practical effects-filled version might just have been the high this season has been lacking.
The animation just doesn’t cut it, and while it’s a couple steps improved from the previous animated episodes it’s still flat and lacking in real life. They keep the art to a minimum meaning still frames are moved about, small animations make mouths move, etc. The finale finds some gory vibrancy as bodies are torn in half and such, but it still pales beside what could have been.
The bright side here is that the voice talent puts much of this season’s live actors to shame with their performances. Mark Hamill and Ron Livingston are both doing good work here, and Danielle Harris ups the ante with a lively, fun, and charismatic turn as Marnie. They help give the illusion that the segment is peppier than the animation would otherwise suggest. Oh, and unrelated, but mention of an upcoming unveiling of the Carpenter Arctic exploration collection is a nice touch too.
This season of Creepshow continues to be a mere shell of what Meg and I are always hoping for with the series, and honestly it’s insane that we haven’t lost that optimism yet. With only one episode left in season three, it all comes down to next week. Fingers crossed, severed or otherwise…