As much as I’ve enjoyed Creepshow’s spirited return from the grave, a quick glance at the fifth episode’s credit revealed a worrying fact – that both episodes were directed by frequent contributor, John Harrison. Now, while this isn’t a dig at Harrison’s other contributions to genre work, such as supplying the memorable scores to both George A. Romero’s original Creepshow and Day Of The Dead and helming the Syfy, tv adaptation of Dune, I simply can’t ignore the fact that his episodes for the show have, without fail, have been the weakest of the bunch.
Well, now’s his chance to score a great episode with two attempts in a single episode. Can his weirdly zombie fixated couple of entries break the Creepshow curse of John Harrison, or will he flunk out twice as the Creep cackles his disapproval at the director striking out yet again.
Night Of The Paw – Angela is on the run after putting her terminally sick husband out of his misery, but as she speeds away from the scene of the crime, the rain slicked roads causes her car to lose control and crash leaving her with a handful of mangled fingers and a branch protruding out from her abdomen. She awakes, stitched up and shattered fingers amputated, in the funeral home of widowed mortitian Avery Whitlock who seems to think she’s been delivered to him by a higher power and tells him the story of his wife and the misfortune brought upon her by a cursed monkey’s paw whose wishes are easily misinterpreted.
After hearing that, after a similarly twisted wish, Avery asked the paw to bring his wife back only to have her awaking in the grave as a zombie, Angela is stunned to hear that Whitlock believes he’s wished her here to end his miserable life – but is this just another wish the paw will eventually pervert.
Times Is Tough In Musky Holler – After a full blown zombie apocalypse washed over the town of Musky Holler, former used car salesman Lester A. Barclay took advantage of the panic and chaos flesh eating ghouls tend to bring and convince the city council to appoint him mayor. However, he used his newly gained power to run the town like a deranged warlord, using certain amoral townsfolk to aid him in his crazed lust for power and having anyone who raises dissension killed via his similarly thuggish sheriff, Deke.
However, Lester’s reign of terror and sadistic gladiatorial games are about to come to a halt as the good people of Musky Holler have staged a long overdue coup that’ll see the malevolent mayor and his cronies have to endure the same zombie-related fate they’ve damned so many others to.
So, did Harrison break his rather dubious streak? Well, it’s an entertaining yes, but also a spectacular no as epidode 5 of Creepshow is something of a muddled mess – but in a strange state of affairs, I genuinely feel that the director can hardly be blamed for the results of either of his installments.
To explain, the first story, which not only tackles the overlord tale of the cursed, wish giving, monkey’s paw, but covers a lot of ground seen in the Wish You Were Here segment of the 1972 Tales From The Crypt movie. As a result, we’re treated to a lot of familiar material involving dead relatives wished alive only for their loved ones to fall foul of the paw’s penickety need for clear communication, but Harrison makes things feel a little fresher with an amusingly exaggerated noir-based approach that sees Hannah Barefoot’s murderess constantly have a shaft of light highlight her eyes and the has her curiously choose to mercy kill her sickly husband by shooting him in the face (in the hospital, mind you) with a silenced pistol. I guess smothering him with a pillow is too passe for Creepshow, butvdid she also have to dress up in a black hat and overcoat to do it?
If we’re going to give credit where it’s due, Harrison does a neat job of bringing all the random tones together, weaving in Whitlock’s talky narrative, EC Comics-style zombie play, some random surgery gore and the titular together to make a full-bodied, if slightly rambly, horror gumbo But what really holds Night Of The Paw together is the central performance of Bruce Davidson as Avery who switches from storytelling mortitian to a guilt ridden man who just yearns to join his wife in the grave while staying within the tale’s pulpy narrative.
However, while you could comfortably call Night Of The Paw a win for the director, his second entry is nothing short of an unmitigated mess that suffers from low budget issues to such an extent you wonder why the show even bothered to attempt to make it at all. Getting zombie apocalypses on a tv budget noticably less that what you’d get on an average episode of The Walking Dead is understandably tough, but the way Times Is Tough In Musky Holler attempts to tackle it seems less like an exercise of corner cutting and more like the issues caused by the rise of COVID. The majority of the episode is literally shot with a crowd of people being shuffled through a dank corridor as they loudly scream their innocence as Harrison falls back on extensive voice over and static comic book panels in order to desperately fill us in on what’s happening without needing to film any other footage whatsoever. As a result, the episode feels less like a novel way to tell a Romero-esque story about zombies, politics and corrupt humans and more of a painfully thrifty, cost cutting exercise that not only feels half-baked, but utterly wastes David Arquette as a thuggish sheriff.
Still, if there’s a silver lining to be had from an episode whose reach far exceeds its grasp, it’s the incredibly gruesome ending which probably ranks as the most bloody the series has seen so far. As the mayor and his lackeys are raised so only their heads are sticking up out of the game area, the faceless, zombified victims of their rule are released to awkwardly crawl toward them on the stumps that used to be their amputated arms and legs and – as a (obviously off-screen) audience bays for blood – start chowing down on the screaming faces offered to them.
It’s a spectacular image and as a last ditch attempt to be memorable, follows that old method of salvaging a mediocre horror item admirably by essentially shrugging and going “when in doubt, gross ’em out”. Its to the credits of the special effect team that it actually almost succeeds, but as it stands, episode 5 literally does highlight the best and worst of John Harrison’s contributions to a show he helped resurrect.
Night Of The Paw – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Times Is Tough In Musky Holler – 🌟🌟