As Creepshow’s second season delves into the second half of its five episode run (bloody COVID), we take a turn into Lovecraft territory as we’re offered a couple of tales that concern themselves with unspeakable things lurking both in the drains of a run down apartment and on the other side of our reality.
However, while I’m always ready for a bit of Lovecraftian horror, there’s a name on the director’s list for this episode that stops me cold faster than any tentacled beastie lunging at me out of the dark – John Harrison.
Despite being instrumental in the return of Creepshow, Harrison is the most inconsistent director the show has by something of a wide margin and even though Within The Walls Of Madness is his only entry of his for the entire season, it still enough to approach it with suspicion.
However, as we delve into the murky realms of old ones and acidic clogs, it becomes apparent that maybe Harrison was simply overworked as his segment serves to prove the old adage of quality over quantity.
Pipe Screams: Victoria Smoot is a vile, racist, wine sozzled Karen of a landlord who rules over her tenants with an iron fist, but she has begrudgingly hired down on his luck plumber, Linus Carruthers, in order to sort out the blocked pipes that is merely one of the problems afflicting the slum she owns. After listening to her harsh wince-inducing beliefs and caving on her insistence that she’s not going to do anything about her lead pipes, Linus gets to work trying to sort out what the problem is. However, he wasn’t expecting to meet Cloggy, a sentient mass of sludge and hair that engages in a minor war with the hapless pipe jockey and seems to have an appetite for flesh, but after a timely assist from tenant and single mother, Janet, they realise that Cloggy could be the perfect solution to their landlord problems.
Within The Walls Of Madness: After a bloody altercation that’s left numerous people ripped limb from limb, graduate student Zeller tells the traumatic tale of what occurred at Install-511, a government research facility located in the snowy wastes of Antarctica to his appointed attorney, Tara Cartwright.
It seems that the installation specialises in finding miltary applications for paranormal phenomena (yeah, that sounds safe) and he claims that the ruthless Dr Trollenberg has discovered that a bizarre, trilobite-shaped bone whistle has the ability to open up a portal in the walls that allows the entry of what she calls “The Great Old Ones” which promptly caused the messy massace Zeller is being made the patsy for.
However, unwilling to take the death penalty lying down, Zeller has a peculiar last request that’ll introduce his prosecutors to the actual killers.
First up is Joe Lynch’s Pipe Screams, a typical creature-creates-comeuppance segment that benefits hugely from a number of noteworthy Creepshow homages and the two, main leads who practically play their parts to perfection. This is Lynch’s second offering for Creepshow after last episode’s The Right Snuff and he continues to show exactly the right attitude the show needs to nail a satisfying story as he’s aided and abetted by two of the best instances of casting the show has ever seen. Eric Edelstein, most famous for getting crunched by the Indominous Rex is Jurassic World or opened up with a box cutter in Green Room, gives a world weary performance that resembles that of a similarly schlubby David Harbour, which only makes his sad-sack plumber more endearing and after he encounters Cloggy in all of its nose-wrinkling glory, he also proves to be fairly adept at some Bruce Campbell-style shenanigans as his tussle with the hair-raising hairball invokes Ash wrestling with his possessed hand in Evil Dead II. Elsewhere, genre queen Barbara (Re-Animator, You’re Next) Crampton goes all out to make Victoria Smoot the biggest b-word she possibly can and even seems to be ruthlessly dedicated to wrestling the award for “Creepshow’s Top Bitch” away from the polished nails of Adrienne Barbeau who played the monstrous lush, Wilma Northrup, back in The Crate segment way back in the original movie. It’s to Crampton’s credit that her truly hideous character almost succeeds, but having monstrous women dispatched by some hungry creature is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Creepshow homages as Cloggy seems to be something of a distant relative of the predatory oil slick seen in The Raft section of Creepshow 2. In fact, its incredibly satisfying consumption of Smoot is incredibly reminiscent of the scene where a teen gets dragged through a hole, leaving one leg jammed straight up and its details like this that show that Lynch definitely gets it.
Now we switch to Within The Walls Of Madness and possibly the most unpredictable part of this typical Lovecraftian mystery is that Harrison manages to knock it out of the fucking park, turning in his best segment in the entire run of Creepshow. Maybe I’m a little biased because I have a major soft spot for stories that riff off Rhode Island’s most problematic author, but in its slight, twenty minute runtime it manages to hit all the major Lovecraft quirks in rapid succession. Tentacled, dimensional monsters are a given, but it also uses the writer’s oft-used trope of framing the tale using a narration of a lead character who has seen some serious shit.
The gore is plentiful (nice axe in the head gag), the players are solid and it’s always nice to see Star Trek TNG’s Denise Crosby pop up in something while also rounding out a further Stephen King connection thanks to her role in the orginal Pet Sematary. Yes, the Old Ones themselves are the standard, multi-eyed, squid-like, space creatures who naturally strain the show’s limited budget, but Harrison is obviously having fun putting a more cosmic spin on a setting deeply reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
It’s something of a relief that the director finally has another win after five segments of hugely varying quality.
Creepshow has built up something of a head of steam this season as its writers, directors and, most importantly, itsaudience have gotten into the groove of what the show should actually be – a goofy, knockabout that adheres to the karmic rules of the glory days of horror comics that’s not supposed to be taken particularly seriously that delivers cruel chuckles and camp chills in equal measure.
Put that in your clogged pipe and smoke it.
Pipe Screams: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Within The Walls Of Madness: 🌟🌟🌟🌟