Though it loses its steam in the second half, Shudder’s adaptation of Stephen King & Joe Hill stories is perfect holiday viewing.
We were all so looking forward to Halloween 2020. Not only does it fall on a Saturday, but also the same night as a full moon, and when the hour is set back. There was something cosmically perfect about it, so of course something had to have gone terribly wrong. Instead of getting into all sorts of mischief (and dubious combinations of alcohol), most of us are going to be sitting at home, eating the mini candy bars we bought with misguided optimism, watching the same old horror movies, and trying to insist to ourselves that this isn’t a huge bummer that could have been avoided. Thankfully, Shudder comes through with A Creepshow Animated Special, a nicely gruesome diversion that fulfills all your holiday needs, even just for an hour.
Featuring comic book style graphics from Octopie Animation Studios, the first half of A Creepshow Animated Special will be immediately familiar to old school Stephen King fans. It’s a largely note for note adaptation of “Survivor Type,” one of the more viscerally horrifying short stories from Skeleton Crew, King’s second anthology. Kiefer Sutherland provides the voice of Richard Pinzetti, doctor turned drug dealer turned sole survivor of a sunken ship. Stranded on a deserted island, an injured Pinzetti mulls over the decisions that got him there, while resorting to increasingly grisly means to keep himself from starving to death.
“How badly does the patient want to survive?” Pinzetti asks, at first rhetorically, then about himself, and as it turns out, quite a bit in this case. Sutherland’s narration (along with the occasional gory sound effect) does much of the heavy lifting in the story, and, once he drops the vague New York accent, he’s shockingly good. Pinzetti goes from cocky to scared to despondent, as his voice begins to slur and wear down like rusty old machinery, and you almost don’t need the illustrations to know how bad things get for him.
[It’s] a nicely gruesome diversion that fulfills all your holiday needs, even just for an hour.
What doesn’t quite work is the Scorsese-esque backstory about Pinzetti’s rise and inevitable fall in the coke dealing business before landing on the deserted island. That part isn’t as interesting as his descent into madness, and feels like the padding that it was intended to be. One of the reasons “Survivor Type” works so well is because it’s free of extra fat (back in the glorious time when Stephen King availed himself of an editor), presenting a singular character in a singular situation where a lot of exposition isn’t necessary. Nevertheless, on its own it probably wouldn’t make a half-hour long adaptation, so some filler can be forgiven. The ghastly ending is more than worth it.
Somewhat less successful is the second half of A Creepshow Animated Special, “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead,” based on a short story by Joe Hill. A story told entirely in tweets would presumably work when read, but when narrated, it wears thin very quickly. Blake (voiced by Joey King), is a snotty teen on a family road trip she has no desire to be on, and live tweets the experience. Considering nearly the entire first ten minutes is just Blake endlessly complaining about her parents and gross brother, you might be tempted to check out early, but hang on, because things pick up once the family is forced to take a detour off the highway, and ends up at the Circus of the Dead, a dubious tourist attraction out in the middle of nowhere.
As you might imagine with a name like the Circus of the Dead, they’re not getting a spa treatment or a souvenir t-shirt. The suspense in “Twittering From the Circus of the Dead” comes by way of how long it will take for Blake to figure out that she’s in real danger, which is…probably at least five minutes longer than it should, but it’s all in good, gory fun. Like “Survivor Type,” whatever drawbacks there may be (do we really need any more gags about these kids today and their social media?) are compensated by a slam-bang nightmarish ending.
Featuring cameo appearances by King and Hill (Hill’s is particularly amusing), A Creepshow Animated Special is fun, no-frills holiday entertainment. In a particularly bleak and lonely Halloween season, it’s like receiving a full-size Snickers bar in a bag full of rocks.
A Creepshow Animated Special premieres on Shudder October 29th