3 out of 5 stars

Christmas is the season to snuggle up by an open fire and watch a seasonal film. However, if you’re looking for an extra shiver down your spine, horror fans know a heartwarming classic isn’t your only option. The most terrifying and original horrors often revolve around the holiday one would least expect! From Black Christmas (1974) to Gremlins (1984), but with roots in the Christmas ghost story tradition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, there’s always been an appeal in overlapping something frightening and comforting.

Based on the 1982 classic film, Creepshow shattered all of Shudder’s streaming records upon release. With the highly anticipated second season postponed until 2021, the streaming service wet fan’s appetites with their Halloween Creepshow Animated Special, and have now given fans an early stocking filler with A Creepshow Holiday Special. Written and directed by Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead), “Shapeshifters Anonymous” is based on the short story “Last Call” by J.A Konrath, and this 45-minute special is a bewildering but charming addition to Creepshow lore.

Following a series of blackouts, Robert Weston (Adam Pally) wakes up with blood on his arms. Upon hearing several news reports about a local murderer nicknamed the ‘Neighborville Ripper’, Robert begins to suspect the killer is him. He also begins vomiting strange objects, and after his doctor isn’t able to help with his bothersome bowels, Robert comes to the natural conclusion he’s a werewolf. Anxious about what to do, he decides to take part in a local support group called ‘Shapeshifters Anonymous’, led by Irena (Anna Camp), who welcomes him to one of their secretive therapy session. However, the session’s cut short when the shapeshifter’s ancient nemesis, Kris Kringle (a.k.a. Santa Claus), arrives to slaughter them.

The cast do an incredible job bringing the screenplay to life while making the characters interesting and likeable. Until now, Adam Pally (Sonic the Hedgehog) had predominantly featured as supporting comic relief, but here he gives a great lead performance. He’s incredibly endearing and his natural wit creates great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble. Alongside him is Anna Camp (Desperados), who gives an incredibly fun performance as the school teacher, Irena. Fans of her uptight persona in Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) will relish seeing the actress chew up the scenery. As the head of the support group, Irena’s sexy and flirtatious while adding a whole new meaning to the phrase “crazy cat lady”. Pally and Camp both deliver charming performances utilising their strengths in comedy.

The other members of the group each get a moment in the spotlight, but the most spectacular of them all is Phyllis (newcomer Candy McLellan)—who’s not a shape-shifter, being instead a ‘furry’ who dresses as a hippo because that’s what she believes is in her heart. The subtlety in the story comes at a time when we could all benefit from understanding and accepting others. The idea of finding a community and family truly captures the Christmas spirit.

Originally “Shapeshifters Anonymous” was intended to be aired as two separate tales for Creepshow Season 2. However, Shudder combined the stories and released the episode in its entirety as A Creepshow Holiday Special. The first half revolves around Robert’s suspicion he may be a werewolf as he joins the support group, before we meet a group of eccentric shape-shifters who each have their own story and can transform into something different (a boar, a tortoise, a cheetah). Unsure about Robert’s proclamation because “werewolves get all the attention”, the group begins to reveal the truth behind shapeshifting.

The second half takes lovable Santa Claus, throws him into a blender, and rebuilds him as the monster from Rare Exports (2010). As the jolly fat man targets the gathering, the group must pull together in order to survive his attempted massacre. Admittedly, the two halves feel like separate tales and don’t work together cohesively. What begins as a quirky werewolf tale slowly evolves with a creepy twist featuring Christmas elements. Regardless of that, there’s never a dull moment. Nicoteros’s jaunty sense of humour and swift pacing keeps everything moving pleasantly until the credits roll.

The first series embraced the dark comedy of the EC Comics and Nicotero leans into the campy humour Creepshow has become synonymous for. A Creepshow Holiday Special is a delightful combination of Christmas, horror, and comedy that evokes Krampus (2005). A highlight comes from watching a herd of murderous Santa’s storm the church basement, only to be bludgeoned by a group of man-beasts. It’s a disturbing image I never knew I wanted to witness, but deliciously gory nonetheless. And the ensemble’s performances help the script work on a comedic level. There’s a moment when Robert wakes up to find strands of human hair and bones between his teeth, and a later rectal examination reveals a button and several coins in his stool. It’s a hilarious sequence that echoes of Chevy Chase’s prostate examination in Fletch (1985). Admittedly, the premise may be too outlandish for some and the tongue-in-cheek humour may be an acquired taste, but the ridiculous premise and Creepshow’s dark humour is gleefully inappropriate and deliciously horrifying.

Christmas specials are typically filled with heartwarming moments, festive morale, and seasonal glee. However, this is no Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special (1965). A Creepshow Holiday Special contains all of the joyous content with an extra helping of monsters and blood. Alongside the wonderful introduction from The Creep himself, Nicotero’s masterfully constructed practical VFX and gore-gags remain faithful to the original movie. During the climax, there are some deliciously bloody flesh wounds and severed limbs that heighten the campy sensibilities. Whereas the various transformation scenes of stretched rubbery skin instantly evoke An American Werewolf In London (1981). Once the characters transform into their animal forms, there’s some great practical monster makeup on display. We get a fun variety that pays homage to the likes of Cat People (1942) and Monster Squad  (1987). While it undeniably leans into B Movie territory, there’s an incredible amount of detail gone into the practical VFX design. There’s enough room to see the actor’s expressions shine, especially as Camp hilariously incorporates her animal traits into her performance. 

Adapting comic-books to the screen is a great accomplishment, but to give the audience the sense they’re experiencing a living comic-book is a feat rarely achieved. Something that always remained a highlight of the Creepshow series is that each episode genuinely feels like watching the pages of an EC Comic come to life. The original animation style Romero created served as an incredible homage to the 1950s horror comics he grew up reading. Nicotero replicates the same visual approach with A Creepshow Holiday Special by infusing each transition with comic-book panels. The striking artwork by Kevin West and Michael Broom utilises the theme perfectly highlighting some spectacular editing techniques. As the story mainly takes place in the church basement, Nicotero smartly includes flashbacks and transitions through illustrations. Additionally, the clever use of shadows and silhouettes eliminate the budget restraints. Whereas the canted camera angles and extreme colour lighting with signature blues, reds, and purples maintains the traditional Creepshow aesthetic.

In retrospect, the best episodes of Creepshow are the ones that don’t take themselves too seriously. Episodes such as “Bad Wolf Down” and “Grey Matter” fully commit to the gritty pulpy style of their literary inspirations. A Creepshow Holiday Special follows suit, making it a welcomed addition to the Creepshow pantheon. While this episode is less frightening and more funny, it plays nicely into the anti-Christmas spirit of all the best festive horrors. It’s the right amount of campy holiday fun and irreverent silliness we need during this hectic season.


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Cast & Crew

writer: Greg Nicotero (based on ‘Last Call’ by J.A Konrath).
director: Greg Nicotero
starring: Adam Pally, Anna Camp, Pete Burris, Frank Nicotero & Candy McLellan