Written by: Rob Schrab, David J. Schow
Directed by: Rob Schrab, Greg Nicotero
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Kate Freund, and D.J. Qualls
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Shudder’s second episode of its revived Creepshow series dives right into the pulpy heart of the horror comics with a pair of monstrous tales. I’ve often heard Rob Zombie make the distinction between “monster movies” and “horror movies,” and I think there’s some truth to that. Something about the former implies a sense of fun, particularly the innocent sort of thrills that Creepshow aims for. As a child, you’re there to be scared, sure, but you’re also there to marvel at cool creature designs and watch monsters tear through shit. While this is something the original Creepshow movies only did sparingly (“The Crate” is the only one that really qualifies), make no mistake: this week’s segments are unmistakably monster movies.
“Bad Wolf Down” is an especially pure expression of the form. As the title implies, it digs up an old genre staple in werewolves and crossbreeds them with a World War II picture when a bunch of American troops find themselves under siege by Nazi forces. They take refuge in a small rural jail, only to find there’s a captive woman (Kate Freund) locked up inside. A frantic attempt to free her ends in the realization that she’s locked herself inside to protect the innocent from the curse coursing through her body. With the Nazi troops (led by a delightfully demented Jeffrey Combs) bearing down, the Americans turn to an unconventional approach to repel the attack. Writer/director Rob Schrab clearly gets what Creepshow should be with this segment: a raucous, gory, and altogether rousing burst of sheer pulp. “Bad Wolf Down” has enough going for it before the werewolf carnage thanks to a pair of wry, twisted turns from both Combs and Nelson Bonilla, who plays a cowardly American turncoat just begging for some gruesome comeuppance.
And in true Creepshow fashion, Schrab delivers with a blood-soaked climax that scatters Nazi extremities with reckless abandon. I don’t even have to tell you how cathartic it is in 2019 to see assholes in S.S. garb being torn limb from limb. I also don’t have to tell you how awesome it is that it’s pulled off practically and sports a trio of cool werewolf designs, including one that looks like an honest-to-god classic wolfman. While it would have been cool to see an actual transformation, Schrab cleverly captures it with animated comic interludes, which are still much better than unsightly CGI nonsense. Best of all? In the Creepshow tradition, it’s very much encouraged that you delight in all of this mayhem. Sure, Shudder’s debut episode largely captured the vibe of the original films, but this one has that demented mean streak to it that truly lets you indulge in the violence. With the exception of a handful of segments, the Creepshow films thrive on bad things happening to bad people, and “Bad Wolf Down” gets back to that in a big way.
In keeping with last week’s episode, the second segment dials things down to a more intimate, psychological scope. Written by David J. Schow and directed by Greg Nicotero, “The Finger” is a more quietly disturbing tale about Clark (D.J. Qualls), an L.A. sad sack reeling from a divorce and working on grunt coding work from his grubby home. While out walking one day, he encounters a severed finger that he soon obsesses over. What follows is something like a smartass, hipster riff on Jordy Verrill, as Qualls constantly breaks the fourth wall to tell an increasingly lurid story of a weirdo loner who descends into madness. As suspicious things in Clark’s life unfold (such as the death of his ex-wife), the severed finger slowly grows into a full-grown creature named “Bob.” Even though it doesn’t take long to figure out where “The Finger” is headed, it makes for a fun little B-side to “Bad Wolf Down.”
Like the opening segment, it boasts some nice creature work and an abundance of gross-out gore; however, it’s bit more character driven and psychological, as it owes just as much to the macabre works of Poe as it does monster movies. Still, it stays just on the right side of the line in terms of tone: it’s fucked up, but it’s also kind of hoot, mostly thanks to Qualls’s offbeat presence. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him pop up in something, and this was a good reminder that he’s terrific at playing weirdoes. He just has the face of someone who knows where the bodies are buried, you know? (This, of course, is a compliment as it relates to Creepshow, and his turn here is as affecting as it is disturbing.)
With its first two episodes, Creepshow has come roaring out of the gate with a pretty terrific quartet of stories and a palpable, genuine affection for the horror comic tradition that inspired the franchise in the first place. Like its big-screen predecessor, this Creepshow continues to be a love letter to horror, as each segment scatters in a handful of nice nods to the genre’s past, including some cool visual echoes of Romero’s original film. So far, the show has done a nice job of respecting this past without being overly reverent of it: it’s recapturing the look and feel of Creepshow without simply retreading it. With its deliriously violent Nazi/werewolf cocktail, something like “Bad Wolf Down” follows in the tradition of the franchise’s violent romps; on the other hand, “The Finger” reminds us that some of the best segments have hovered around the horrors of human madness. Both capture a little bit of that Creepshow spirit in their own way, and I look forward to how future episodes maintain this balance.
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