As someone who grew up watching The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Tales From the Crypt (1989-1996), and Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-96), horror anthology series have always been a favourite. In the 1980s, Stephen King (Sleepwalkers) and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) came together to create one of the greatest horror anthologies ever. Featuring five gruesome tales, Creepshow (1982) was a loving tribute to the EC Comics published in the 1950s. Five years later, King and Romero returned as screenwriters for Michael Gornick’s Creepshow 2 (1987).
Working behind-the-scenes alongside the master of practical effects, Tom Savini, was a young Greg Nicotero. Refining his skills as a SFX artist, Nicotero inevitably fell in love with the project. Since working on the hit series The Walking Dead, he was able to bring King and Romero’s concept back to life. Adding a wrinkle into Creepshow’s legacy, in 2019 he created the extremely successful Creepshow TV series for Shudder. With the second season currently postponed due to COVID-19, the production team has released a Creepshow Animated Special to fill the void. Hosted by The Creep, this fun-sized special features two disturbing cartoons…
The first story will be familiar to Stephen King readers. Survivor Type is one of the more viscerally horrifying short stories from the author’s 1981 anthology Skeleton Crew. Kiefer Sutherland (The Lost Boys) provides the voice of Richard Pinzetti, a doctor-turned-drug-dealer and sole survivor of a sunken cruise ship. Now stranded on a desert island with an infected foot, the rotting corpse of a girl, and a backpack full of heroin, Richard wrestles with hunger and pain as he recounts his life story. Told in a series of flashbacks, we see Richard grow up in poverty to become a surgeon, only to follow a dark path of prescription drug-dealing and smuggling heroin from China.
Sutherland does an excellent job narrating the story with his gravelly Bronx accent. The actor’s great at playing all types of characters, but he especially shines in sinister roles. Filled with passion and energy, he’s clearly enjoying the incredibly deranged material—relishing lines like “any asshole knows how to die. The thing to learn is how to survive.”
From the moment the story begins to its grotesque ending, Kiefer’s voice begins to slur as Richard slowly slips into insanity. The reason Survivor Type works so well is because of King’s amazing ability to present a window into a character’s life. Whether it’s a shameless surgeon stranded in the middle of the ocean or a man trapped inside a haunted room (1408), King uses intense life-or-death situations to show characters reflecting on their lives. It’s only during extreme moments when one looks back and analyses what’s really important to them.
Survivor Type is a classic King tale seen through the lens of Nicotero. It’s brought to life by a SFX genius taking full advantage of this different art form. Although he’s never been limited by what can be achieve using practical effects, it’s fun to see what he can accomplish with animation. Admirably, he opts to leave most of the horrific scenes to the audience’s imagination. But he doesn’t shy away from the uneasy horror. We’re asked “how much can a man do to survive?” and “how much does he really want to live?” as Richard heads down a grisly path. Survivor Type involves seagulls being ripped open, a foot being hacked off with a knife, and cannibalism. Like a disturbing version of Cast Away (2000), it’s deliciously gruesome and will test how much stomach-churning horror Creepshow fans can endure.
Twittering From the Circus of the Dead
Somewhat less successful is the second tale, Twittering From the Circus Of The Dead. Adapted by Melanie Dale, based on a short story from Joe Hill’s collection Full Throttle, it begins lightheartedly as we follow Blake (Joey King) enduring a miserable road trip with her family. Bored and constantly fighting with her mother, Blake resorts to Twitter as an outlet for her frustration. Eventually, her father takes a detour, adding another 100-miles to their already agonising journey, before an unscheduled stop at a roadside attraction finds the family entering the Circus of the Dead. And once they realise this isn’t a typical circus act, things take a horrifying turn with the macabre main attraction: zombies.
Twittering From the Circus of the Dead is the weaker of the two shorts. A story told entirely in tweets presumably works better on paper, but when narrated it becomes slightly tedious. However, running at 20-minutes it’s a quick watch and contains enough bloodshed to keep zombie fans interested. Joey King (The Lie) narrates the story as Blake, a teen obsessed with airing her angst on social media, already experienced with voice work after working on Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) and various TV shows like American Dad. The young actress does an excellent job bringing energy and cynicism to her performance, in a role that could read as inauthentic if not done right. Admittedly, her character’s annoying and her whiny voice occasionally feels like nails on a chalkboard, but she fires off some amusing quips as Blake seeks “life validation” from her 40 Twitter followers.
Laced with commentary on social media, Dale does a fantastic job adapting Hill’s prose. Considering the first 10-minutes features Blake endlessly complaining about her parents and disgusting brother, the story picks up once they arrive at the dubious tourist attraction. Zombies are blown out of cannons and an undead horde chases the Ringmistress (Fayna Sanchez) around the floor, as Blake sits obliviously on her phone. The irony of someone live-tweeting something so terrifying only to have more followers is frighteningly poignant. Unfortunately, the commentary isn’t as ingenious as John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) because it’s too on the nose. However, it’s simultaneously intriguing and sad that a generation has forgotten to recognise the world for what it truly is.
What makes Creepshow special is its experimental visual language. The original animation style served as a lively homage to the ’50s horror comics Romero and King grew up reading. While the animation in A Creepshow Animated Special is beautiful, it’s a shame it doesn’t match the EC Comics aesthetic. Created by Octopie Animation Studios, it’s disappointing how little movement there is to everything. During Survivor Type, the still-frame animation doesn’t allow much facial expression. Some may find this contemporary update appropriate since it reflects modern-day comics, but I’d have appreciated it being faithful to the original. Occasionally, Twittering From the Circus of the Dead genuinely feels like an issue of The Walking Dead brought to life. Using animation to its full effect means Nicotero’s able to create gruesome scenes that may have been too disturbing for live-action.
Walking Dead fans should be aware of Nicotero’s penchant for Easter Eggs, and there’s plenty scattered throughout this special. They can be difficult to see because the animation is so distracting, but eagle-eyed viewers will notice subtle nods to filmmakers and writers. A young Stephen King makes an appearance during Survivor Type, sipping wine on a porch with Richard during a flashback…. while Nicotero’s standing outside the roadside attraction in a hazmat suit selling tickets to unfortunate customers in Twittering From the Circus of the Dead. There’s also a special thanks to the “godfather of the modern zombies” George A. Romero during the end credits. As a fan of the director’s work, it was heartwarming to see him recognised.
Overall, both stories in A Creepshow Animated Special make for an entertaining 45-minutes. Survivor Type works as a gruesome cannibalistic tale, whereas Twittering From the Circus of the Dead makes a bold social statement. Although Survivor Type is the clear highlight, they’re a pair of enjoyable stories that fit nicely into Creepshow lore. After being disappointed to hear season 2 has been postponed, it was a treat seeing The Creep back in action for a one-off episode. Traditionalists may be saddened the animation isn’t faithful to EC Comics, but it features plenty of eye-popping gore to make viewers squirm. I’d love to see Nicotero adapt a Walking Dead story in this style.
USA | 2020 | 45 MINUTES | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
writers: Greg Nicotero (based on ‘Survivor Type’ by Stephen King) & Melanie Dale (based on ‘Twittering from the Circus of the Dead’ by Joe Hill).
director: Greg Nicotero.
voices: Kiefer Sutherland (Survivor Type), Joey King (Circus of the Dead) & Fayna Sanchez (Circus of the Dead).