The trick to enjoying a horror anthology series that features short stories is to take any sense of lingering logic you may have, screw it up into a little ball and toss it into the nearest bin. Don’t be expecting any of the twists to make a lick of sense, don’t be expecting any nuanced character work and certainly don’t be waiting around for any kind of subtle resolution that goes simply beyond “asshole getting their horrific just desserts”.
If you take heed of this advice then you’re going to do just fine with the fourth episode of Creepshow, that may double down on the “unalive thing comes alive and kills someone” ending, but does it in two, very different ways that manages to be stylish, gripping and most of all, fun.
Be it killer scarecrows or murdered lovers, by the time this episode wraps up, rest assured it won’t just be the Creep who will be cackling evily…
The Companion – In 1987, a young boy named Harold is mercilessly bullied by his unhinged brother Billy to the point where it might end up with the older brother actually killing his younger sibling thanks to the former’s truly volcanic temper. Fleeing his appointment for his most recent beating, Harold stumbles upon an old, empty house that features a malformed, malevolent looking scarecrow with a cane impaled in its chest. Removing the cane in the hope that it’ll be a sufficient weapon, Harold is horrified to find that the scarecrow has come to life and has something of a murderous personality and after taking refuge in the house, finds a diary that reveals that the house’s original owner (now long dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound) built the scarecrow to be an companion after his wife died and it was he who initially stopped it by plunging his cane into the straw-stuffed monster’s heart after it killed a little girl. However, while Harold now information on how to kill the thing, he also now has something that could possibly put an end to his brother’s violent rage fits…
Lydia Layne’s Better Half – Lydia Layne is the all-powerful owner of a large, private equity group who is about to pick who gets a promotion to be the new CFO, but when she passes over Celia Mendez in favour of another candidate, it causes a certain amount of friction. You see, Celia is Lydia’s lover and his outraged that her boss/girlfriend has denied her a position that could start her off on a road to building her own legacy, however, after the argument takes a violent turn, Celia takes a nasty tumble only to end up with Lydia’s Woman Of The Year award lodged deep in her skull.
Lydia, unwilling to lose her power and standing for a freak accident immediately tries to dispose of the body, but even though almost everyone has gone out to celebrate, where do you even begin to hide a body in a snazzy office block? Wheeling Celia’s body away in a wheelie chair, Lydia’s bout of corpse disposal stops short when an earthquake tremor traps her with her lover’s remains in a sizable elevator, but as the minutes turn to hours, Lydia becomes convinced that Celia is starting to move – but Celia’s dead, isn’t she?
It really feels like Creepshow’s found its groove, perfectly willing to embrace the partially goof nature of, not only George A. Romero’s awesomely camp original movie, but other lightning quick anthology shows such as Tales From The Crypt, which also dealt in that rapid-fire, setup/punchline, two punch that usually leave precious little time to think. This is perfectly personified by this episode’s couple of tales that are allowed to soar chiefly because they don’t have to make a jot of logical sense.
The first story is a tale that sits nicely within the history of Creepshow as it deals with a super violent response to familial abuse and bullying much in the same way that little Joe Hill took revenge on his slap-happy father played by Tom fucking Akins, by way of a voodoo doll in the original movie’s wrap around, or even in Creepshow 2’s animated segment that saw bullies eaten by giant plants. Here we see the poor, battered Harold fend of the attacks of a murderous scarecrow, only to learn what makes it tick and eventually use it as a twiney, viney weapon against his lunatic sibling. It’s literally been ages since I’ve seen something with a good, old fashioned, killer scarecrow in it and director David Bruckner (his second Creepshow episode after the winning Man In The Suitcase) creates a cool-looking mood piece with flashing lightning, gel-coloured reaction shots and a genuinely awesome creature that features a top hat, the fanged, lower jaw bone of an animal and the ability to extend the branches of its arms to act as grasping, stabbing tentacles in order to snag its prey. While the episode is somewhat simplistic (it’s essentially an extended stalk and chase episode with actual stalks), it’s colourful visual pallet and single-mindedness of its tale of vengence-by-scarecrow is incredibly fun to watch.
However, as great as The Companion is, its instantly blown out of the water by Roxanne (Body At Brighton Rock) Benjamin’s Lydia Layne’s Better Half, which gives probably the tightest twenty minutes Creepshow’s given us to date. Scripted by John Harrison (which is sort of weird considering the episodes he’s directed are usually the season’s weakest), the segment riffs heavily on those contained stories where the result of a heated crime of passion involves a normally level-headed (if somewhat cold-blooded) person has to desperately think on their feet as the struggle to hide the results of a murder. Fronted by Battlestar Galactica’s Tricia Helfer, who gives a great, sweaty, performance as the titular Layne, the story feels a lot like the legendary “And All Through The House” episode of Tales From The Crypt as a strong woman struggles against brutal bad luck as she desperately races against the clock to hide a partner with a large, bloody hole in their head. Not only does Benjamin keep things going at a fair old clip while not forgetting to add the horror (Celia’s mouth snapping open for no reason is probably the show’s best jump scare so far and a dream sequence that sees the pointy trophy slide nauseatingly out of Celia’s skull of it’s own accord is also pretty memorable), but, like The Companion, it takes a rather well-worn convention and gives it a fresh coat of paint. In fact, for a show that so energetic as Creepshow, Lydia Layne even takes the time to put a little social commentary in there as Layne’s rather foolhardy plan makes perfect sense when you realise that after her struggle to get to the top, there is no way a gay woman with this much power could possibly survive a scandal like this in a man’s world – hence her desperation to to do something – anything – to keep her name and legacy untarnished.
Sure, the ending is a bit out of left field (non-Cheepshow watchers might even dub it lazy), but anyone who’s familiar with the genre knows that if you don’t include a sudden, random and completely unexplained zombie resurrection in order to claim some gory justice; are you even a Creepshow episode?
The Companion – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Lydia Layne’s Better Half – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟