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#‘Creepshow’ Episode 2 Brings Mean Spirits and Creepy Crawlies

#‘Creepshow’ Episode 2 Brings Mean Spirits and Creepy Crawlies

Settle in, boils and ghouls, season 2 of Creepshow is upon us! The record-breaking anthology series is back once more from the freaks over at Shudder, and it aims to continue the cursed legacy of Stephen King and George Romero’s classic with episodic double bills of comeuppance-riddled spooky stories. The inimitable Rob Hunter and I reviewed and ranked each episode of season 1, and as some eps captured the pulpy, morbid glee of the original film it’s those glimmers of genuine ghoulish goodies that have us enticed for season 2. Rob has already covered the mixed bag premiere, so let’s shamble on over to the second showing of the series!

“Dead & Breakfast”
Director: Axelle Carolyn
Writer: Michael Rousselet and Erik Sandoval

Pam and Sam Spinster (Ali Larter and C. Thomas Howell) run an especially morbid hotel: a bed and breakfast situated in the boarding house where their grandmother supposedly murdered a good portion of her patrons. Only the siblings aren’t “running” much of anything these days. Their haunted house/hospitality combo isn’t bringing in the customers. Sam wants out, but Pam thinks they just need to find the right audience. They offer a free stay to an influencer named Morgue (Iman Benson) who specializes in true crime, hoping to curry her online favor. But when Morgue begins to doubt the veracity of the house’s murderous history, the siblings cook up a plan to scare her straight.

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The idea of making a bed and breakfast out of an H.H. Holmes-style murder house — with secret passageways, murder shoots, and sound-muffling steel walls — is a great idea, and the modern wrinkle that bed and breakfasts live and die by their online social currency is astute. One thing this segment absolutely gets right is pacing, but unfortunately, the speed does make some of the pivotal character moments blur in the rear-view mirror. The final release of Pam’s murderous impulses feels rushed, but her aggressive obsession with her grandmother’s legacy has a precedent, at least. The same cannot be said of Sam’s final act of violence: a cunning and wildly out of character move to further the house’s value as a murder hot spot.

The segment’s apparent target is the commercialization of serial killing. The fact that serial murder has, in recent years, exploded into an unsettling fandom that frequently forgets how genuinely horrifying murder can be. But the power of a critique never really comes into focus. Pam’s obsession with her grandmother’s “place in history” has the best arc, thematically, as her idolization sours into outright mimicry.

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Morgue’s contribution to the theme is less straightforward. Benson’s likable performance makes it difficult to know how the segment wants us to feel, both about true crime as a fandom and about the siblings’ hatred for her as an influential, passionate young person. It could be that the segment is trying to say that some forms of true crime fandom are less egregious than others. But for a segment that moves as quickly as this, that’s a tricky tightrope walk to dance across in a very short amount of time.

The final ironic twist reveals that the grandma was, in fact, a mass murderer. So, in the end, Morgue’s fatal skepticism and Sam’s hail mary to re-brand the house in authenticity were all for naught. It’s a twist that would feel more like, well, a twist, had Sam’s Big Plan been more present throughout the segment. In the end, it’s a little messy, but as Creepshow segments go it’s better than most. Low bar cleared.

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“Pesticide”
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writer: Frank Dietz

Harlan King (Josh McDermitt) stomps through yards with one, singular purpose: to eradicate pests. After a routine job at a therapy clinic, King pops off to his next gig at a derelict property. Out of the shadows steps Murdoch (Keith David), whose Luciferian bargain fails to raise alarm bells in King’s fume-addled brain. Murdoch can’t tear the property down to build condos until he deals with his pest problem. King is horrified to learn that Murdoch’s scourge is, in fact, the unhoused community living on the premises.

While he initially refuses to exterminate a group of human beings, Murdoch’s large suitcase full of cash prevails and King takes the job. While he ultimately opts not to follow through, King winds up murdering the community anyway, accidentally dropping a poisonous cocktail into the communal soup pot during a scuffle with an agitated man. King’s guilt eats him up, and some of the hallucinations prove more real than others.

The segment has several fingers in several different pies. And on paper the multiple-pie-jamming maneuver makes sense. It’s a kind of Tell-Tale Heart meets Street Trash meets “They’re Creeping Up on You,” a.k.a. the wildly underrated cockroach revenge segment from the original film. Unfortunately, the segment itself seems to get lost in its own sauce. Murdoch’s identity is less mysterious than it is mystifying: is he the Devil, as King claims? Or is he some vengeful Pest Deity who’s come to wreak unholy revenge on the exterminator so mindlessly slaughtering his denizens? I fully expected the final reveal to be that Murdoch was some giant cockroach. Instead, he’s just…vague Satan? I guess?

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Another issue (that births others) is King’s comeuppance. In the beginning of the segment, McDermitt is doing his best John Goodman in Arachnophobia impression. And despite lacking social graces, the occupational passion and quirks are more endearing than they are repulsive. We aren’t really provided with enough evidence in these earlier segments to believe that King’s cruelty towards pests might extend towards his fellow man. Heck even when the money sways him his heart’s not in it. And his hand being forced makes his fate unfulfilling. But, more troublingly, it makes the big weighty point the segment is trying to make a little … messy.

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I want to give the episode the benefit of the doubt: that the explicit comparison between unhoused folks and rats is meant to repulse and shock us. But just after King scrambles last-minute onto the moral high ground, the script still necessitates the murder of the community. Not only that, it can’t help but indulge the tired trope of unhoused people as jumpscare fodder. Social commentary and horror are long-standing bedfellows, and there’s plenty of punching up to do when it comes to the very real horrors faced by people experiencing homelessness. Here, their stigma and less-dead status serve a protagonist’s punchline. Which, in the end, is a distracting sin no amount of Keith David scene-chewing and enormous practical insects can forgive.

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