Written by: Joe R. Lansdale, Kasey Lansdale, & Keith Lansdale (short story), Matt Venne (teleplay)/Greg Nicotero (story by), John Harrison (teleplay)
Directed by: David Bruckner/Roxanne Benjamin
Starring: Logan Allen, Tricia Helfer, and Danielle Lyn
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
With a Creepshow revival, there’s a natural inclination to look back in an attempt to recapture what made the original films so great, going so far as to bring back familiar faces in front of and behind the camera. And while some segments this season have done just that, it’s been equally exciting to see this property reimagined as a sandbox for emerging talent. Episode 4 goes all-in with this approach with a devilish double feature hailing from David Bruckner and Roxanne Benjamin. No strangers to the anthology format, each has been instrumental in the format’s resurgence during the last decade with their work on V/H/S and Southbound (and, in the latter’s case, XX to boot). It’s only natural that they’d find their way to Creepshow, and it’s perhaps even more natural that their episode might be the pound-for-pound best of the season so far.
Bruckner makes his second appearance this season with “The Companion,” a macabre tale that feels like classic Creepshow. Poor Harold (Logan Allen) is a pretty normal kid who just likes to keep to himself, but his older brother relentlessly torments him. He can’t even go fishing without his asshole sibling showing up to chase him through the woods, where Harold stumbles upon an ominously desolate farm sporting a sinister scarecrow and not much else. Seeking a place to hide, he makes his way into a nearby house—but not before accidentally bringing the scarecrow to life, meaning he now has to outwit two tormenters.
“The Companion” is pretty much the platonic ideal of Creepshow: the tale is perfectly succinct for the bite-sized format, and Bruckner packs plenty of ghoulish, autumnal imagery into a breathless 20 minutes. The location perfectly captures the Small Town, U.S.A. scene with its rickety pedestrian bridge, cozy creek, and a positively spooky farm where most of the action unfolds. As Harold stumbles around his newfound sanctuary, the imagery grows more grotesque when he discovers the heartbreaking secret behind the scarecrow. Afemo Omilami appears during this flashback, giving the segment a melancholy twinge before ending on a predictably twisted note. If it were possible to bottle up the essence of Creepshow, I’d definitely take a heaping helping of what “The Companion” has to offer: childhood terror, awesome creature work, indelible characters, and diabolical comeuppance splashed onto the screen with four-color panache. Full disclosure: I am perhaps overly enthusiastic because I’m a sucker for anything featuring scarecrows, especially when they come to life with any sort of bloodlust.
Benjamin’s segment, “Lydia Layne's Better Half” takes a distinctly different approach by exploring the cutthroat world of corporate bloodlust. The eponymous Lydia Layne (Tricia Helfer) has ascended to the top of the corporate ladder, espousing female empowerment every step of the way. As such, it comes as a total shock when she passes over her girlfriend Celia (Danielle Lyn) and gives a promotion to a male colleague instead. Incensed at her lover’s hypocritical actions, Celia ignites a tense confrontation that takes a fatal turn when Lydia’s “Woman of the Year” trophy winds up embedded in her skull. Rightfully freaked the fuck out, Lydia hastily tries to dispose of the evidence before being trapped in an elevator with Celia’s corpse.
As has been the case with previous episodes, this B-side feels a little bit more mean-spirited, psychological, and gruesome—not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s not exceedingly bleak, however, and features just enough of that demented, playful Creepshow spirit to earn its place as a cool little “Tell-Tale Heart” riff. Like “The Companion,” it’s guided by a grim inevitability: there’s no doubt this is going to end badly for Lydia, whose fate might as well be telegraphed by this segment’s title. The climax here doesn’t disappoint in this respect, as Benjamin and company deliver a ghoulish grace note to cap the gradually escalating madness unfolding within this crucible of terror. Where “The Companion” chooses to leave its climactic violence implied, “Lydia Lanye” gazes directly into its gory outbursts, making it one of the most demented segments of the series thus far.
Suffice it to say, Creepshow continues to deliver. Sometimes it does so in expected ways; sometimes it does so in fresh, exciting ways. I remain thrilled that this revival has managed to stay faithful to the source material without simply exhuming it for an empty, half-hearted retread. Episodes like this one reinforce the notion that Creepshow is the ultimate horror grab-bag, filled to the brim with an assortment of flavors, most of them delicious in their own weird way, especially when new voices enter the fray. Only two episodes of this season remain, yet I can't help but be excited by what the future may hold. I don't want to presume too much, but I like to imagine this is exactly what Romero and company originally envisioned for Creepshow: an anthology series with limitless potential and something of a proving ground for genre talent from all generations.
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