Monday, October 21, 2019

Sugar Rush (October 2019 Edition) - Creepshow Original Series on Shudder


Your High Fructose, Lo-Fidelity Guide to Snap! Crackle! Pop Culture! Wherein Josh Jabcuga examines Shudder’s Creepshow series.

An anthology series (or film) can be a difficult sell to a network or studio. In the case of a TV series, each week starts from scratch, with a different cast, a new story, fresh faces. Some viewers don’t want to invest the time there, in the same way that some readers don’t enjoy a collection of short stories: if it’s too slight (in their opinion), if it doesn’t warrant a two hour running time or isn’t novel length, then it must be a temporary distraction at best, right? Tell that to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, still one of the greatest achievements in television history. Watch an episode of The Outer Limits. Or Thriller. Or more recently, Black Mirror. These all have merit, and our culture is richer for their existence. 
While anthology-based series tend to be more common on television (See also: HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, Showtime’s Masters of Horror, and Freddy’s Nightmares, among others), streaming service Shudder has taken a page from horror titans Stephen King and the late George A. Romero, who originally collaborated on the memorable Creepshow movie (1982). With special effects legend-turned-director Greg Nicotero at the helm, Shudder, in need of exclusive content for their subscribers, have made their own stab at the anthology format with Creepshow, a weekly series that debuted on September 26, 2019.

The current television climate is one that encourages fans to come back week after week, year after year, to witness sagas unfold…gradually, such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Stranger Things. Massive world building, dynasties, overlapping story arcs: you probably watch at least one series that is built on that formula. That could be the result of a number of factors: outlets like Netflix allowing fans to binge and consume on demand; the high cost of seeing a movie at the theater (a single night out to a film is often double or triple the price of a one month subscription to a streaming service); and top Hollywood creators and actors following the revenue stream, no longer attaching a stigma to working “in the ghettos of television.”  In this meme society, one notorious for harboring short attention spans and instant gratification, isn’t it somewhat going against the grain to see long form TV series succeed? Regardless of your TV diet, an episode of Creepshow is a bite-sized treat, never overstaying its welcome. Season 1 of Creepshow consists of six episodes, with each episode containing two different stories over the span of a 45-minute run time. (At the time of this writing, four episodes have been released). 

The first thing that caught my eye was the depth of the writing pool. A few names you may be familiar with: Stephen King, Josh Malerman, Joe R. Lansdale, David J. Schow, Joe Hill, John Skipp, and Paul Dini. That’s all top tier, and the first ingredient to a successful anthology is a strong story selection, usually those with a quick hook and a twist ending, in the vein of a Robert Bloch story. With each episode split in two, the economy of effective storytelling is crucial; there’s no space for dead weight here.

One of the highlights of this season (so far), is episode two. “Bad Wolf Down,” written and directed by Rob Schrab (creator of Scud: The Disposable Assassin), feels like an EC comic book come to life. I’m certain Fredric Wertham, the infamous critic of comics who insisted that reading of such materials would rot the minds of our youth, is rolling in his rotting grave. The second half of episode two, “The Finger,” written by David J. Schow and directed by Greg Nicotero, has enough gore gags, dark humor, and dare I say charm, to firmly cement Creepshow at the center of your Halloween mood table. Josh Malerman’s “The House of the Head” feels like a modern episode of The Twilight Zone, which works as a nice palate cleanser for Shudder’s series. Only one installment (of the four episodes I viewed) felt like a complete misfire to me, but tastes vary. My Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup may taste like wax fangs to you, and vice versa. Each episode has more than enough bite to leave its own mark, though. 
The series is clearly a labor of love for Nicotero, a love letter to the genre, and a tribute to George A. Romero. (Nicotero had done special effects makeup work on Romero’s Day of the Dead.) Next week’s episode includes a story by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), directed by Tom Savini, who worked closely with Romero on so many of his greatest hits.

Shudder’s Creepshow series is a pleasant surprise, and I think Mr. Romero would be proud to see another of his creations live on.


In addition to his contributions to Cereal At Midnight, Joshua Jabcuga writes comics for IDW and is a journalist for All Elite Wrestling. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @Jabcuga!

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