Creepshow Commentaries Season Three: Episode 4 – Stranger Sings/Meter Reader

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 4: Stranger Sings / Meter Reader

I’ve been busy, watching the return of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and a whole slew of Canadian and International Shorts. After watching these short films, this time on a laptop screen as opposed to the larger theatrical view, and also being away for a day or so having attempted actual sleep during the night, returning to Creepshow is something of a breath of fresh air, or at least a sea breeze.

“Stranger Sings,” directed by Axelle Carolyn and written by Jordana Arkin, has a cute title which is a play off a popular Netflix nostalgia horror series that has nothing to do with this story whatsoever. Right, so the conceit of the story is that a recently divorced gynecologist named Barry meets with a seemingly equally awkward woman named Sara at a bookshop, and she invites him back to her place … where he finds out that her roommate Miranda is a man-eating Siren. Literally. Now, they don’t want to get him in order to devour him, in the ways he does not want. No, Miranda is tired of being an immortal being luring men to their deaths to fulfill her dietary habits, and Sara wants the Siren’s voice to attract, control, and kill any man she wants.

Basically, Miranda and Sara want Barry to switch their voice boxes: rendering the former mortal and human, and the latter immortal and supernaturally powerful. There is a little riff on the Siren mythos in this segment. Sirens technically are bird-legged, perhaps even bodied women that lure sailors to their deaths with their songs. Mermaids are a different form of mythological being preying on male sailors, but in this episode both are called Sirens: they just have different animal parts. So think about the Sirens of Homer’s Odyssey: they aren’t mermaids, but these bird women instead.

You got it? Good. A lot of that isn’t really important to the story. But it’s clear Miranda’s voice has absolute power over a man, and can make him stab his own eyes out, or worse. The eye-rolling practical effects we see when Barry gets affected are impressive. As for the plan though? Well, it is fairly risky for both women to attempt this. For example, they want Barry — who has no medical background or experience to do this procedure — to put one of them under while the other watches: so that there will be no funny business. And Miranda goes first.

I mean, if Miranda is knocked out, Barry could overpower Sara, kill her, and then slit Miranda’s throat. Or, he wouldn’t even need to do that. Think about it: Barry doesn’t have the background to transplant voice boxes or vocal cords. All Barry has to do is fuck up the vocal cords, Miranda is helpless. But Barry is a relatively bumbling, and well-meaning man: who in the beginning of the story says he should be lucky that Sara likes “weird things.” Like him. He just doesn’t have the nerve to do anything of that kind, even the surgery without being threatened. I suppose I can also see why Miranda just doesn’t take over his mind, and make him do the surgery: as she would have to be quiet in order to have that power taken from her, and a man only remains ensorcelled by the Siren’s song if she is singing. It won’t last if she stops. 

It’s an interesting dichotomy looking at Sara and Miranda’s dynamics. Miranda is ancient, at least five hundred years old, young looking and beautiful with the power of her song. But from my understanding, she has difficulty pretending to look innocent, or not-threatening, and this is why Sara is used as a lure to bring ease to men, pretend to need help — such as books and coffee carrying, and door-opening — so that Miranda can do whatever she wants to them, and even feed off them. What’s also fascinating is that Miranda started off as a Siren, and was getting tired of eternity and feeding on human flesh. She couldn’t, as she mentions later, help what she was: which is why she needed someone to “help her die,” and free her from an existence that’s become a burden to her. But Sara is different. Despite her seemingly innocent and awkward mien, she is vain, petty, and cruel. She thinks that a lifetime of being passed over as “the fat or dumpy woman” by men gives her the right to take away people’s freewill, and therefore entitle her to their lives. She makes no bones about wanting to kill Barry once he’s done, and even makes fun of the fact that his ex-wife found him worthless in complete contrast to their sympathy from earlier.

The thing is, Miranda might be a monster but Sara is a genuinely terrible person. In the end, however, as Sara gains Miranda’s voice box and is about to kill Barry, Miranda murders her with a blade bathed in the blood of her last human victim: which can actually kill immortal Sirens as it so turns out. I’m not sure why she killed Sara. Perhaps Sara had always been just a means to end: to allow her mortality. Maybe she didn’t want Sara to potentially kill her one day, or she knew too much about what she used to be. Or perhaps Sara was just that unpleasant a person that even an inhuman being like a Siren couldn’t stand her. Or perhaps, to make another Odyssey reference, Miranda is to Scylla as Sara is to Charybdis.

Or it may be even more banal, as Miranda seems to have a thing for Barry herself. And, after all, she said she “might” let him live if he did as she asked. Certainly, she gave him way more chances to obey her without hurting him too much. Meg Shields, in her Film School Rejects review of the story, examines a lot of its narrative flaws, including the Karmic Houdini aspect of Miranda getting what, and who, she wants despite centuries if not millennia of consuming men. I don’t know. Personally, I was more confounded that Sara wasn’t already a Siren, and I believed there might be a third one as per the mythological trope of mystical, monstrous women. Really, though, I’m glad nothing bad happened to Barry — who seems like a genuinely good person with terrible luck in relationships — and that Sara pretty much got what she deserved. As for Miranda, well can you judge a monster by human standards, and when a monster becomes human and wants to be better — even killing another monster, albeit by their own design — can they be judged by what they once were? Or am I just overthinking this, and would I have made another story with some more depth that Creepshow episodes don’t always allow time for? I like the ending, for what it is, so I will take it. Besides, I absolutely loved the Siren’s lair — their home I mean — and their costume was so ancient Achaian.

But speaking of a lack of consensual control, and a title’s poetic rhythm we have “Meter Reader” to consider. “Meter Reader” is a segment written by John Esposito and directed by Joe Lynch. So imagine The Exorcist: except instead of it just being Pazazu possessing a prepubescent girl to destroy humanity’s belief in a benevolent Creator and Creation, think of a whole slew of demons taking control of millions, if not billions of humans all over the world. There is debate as to whether it is an infernalist attack, or a plague. The episode is narrated by a periodic voice-over from Therese, played by Abigail Dolan, as she explains that less than 10% of the human population is unaffected by the contagion, and of that number a few have created green crystalline wands called meters that can detect possession: and that the people who go out to deal with demonic infestations are called “meter readers.” I absolutely adore the rhyme.

The story, at first, seems to be about a meter reader named Dalton: who visits a mother whose daughter is affected by the plague. Apparently, in this world there is a point where a victim can still be saved if you intervene fast enough, but barring that the only known way to stop a possession is to kill the victim: usually by decapitation. This fact is why there are garbage trucks that come along to pick up heads, and burn them. Also, if someone comes back from the worst demonically-affected territories after three days, they are to be considered infected and quarantined until a doctor can test them. To get it out of the way, the COVID-19 parallels are incredibly on the nose in this story except, I would argue, for one thing.

There are people with natural immunity to this infection. Not so much in our world, and this doesn’t count vaccines: of which this world does not seem to have the equivalent.

When you are first introduced to Dalton, he seems like a lone demon hunter: intervening in the worst places he can. He even carries a mirror, and knows he can spot a demon on its victim through it. He also seems to know that they have names, or true names, and that after conferring with the girl he is supposed to help, he doesn’t seem surprised that her tormentor doesn’t share its name willingly.

I did see that twist coming about her mother, or the adult woman claiming to be so. It was well-played, and even more narratively clever when you realize this isn’t Dalton’s story: but that of his oldest daughter Theresa. She and the rest of his family are waiting for him to return, and realize he is past the time of being safely uninfected. He ends up coming back past that time, and they get him to stay in the cellar: with Theresa wanting to kill him, by his own previously standing orders, because she believes it is too late for him, and he is already possessed. It’s a bit confusing: some people have immunity, but through perhaps intentional exposure to the demons, they can get affected. Or perhaps it isn’t immunity that they have, but greater resistance: which would track more with the COVID-19 parallel.

These parallels keep going. You have people wondering if it is a religious reckoning, or a scientific phenomenon: though in the end, it doesn’t seem to matter how it began, just how it is dealt with. Theresa’s mother wants to let her husband back in the house, downplaying his potential possession and the danger he could pose to the rest of the family, as does her younger brother who her mother keeps encouraging. Theresa also has a bad ass colourful and artistic machete, as Meg Shields also points out. And to think I almost believed it was just blood on the blade.

Now, of course, you know the family are going to break for that cellar. And Theresa has nightmares of her father slaughtered their entire family. She had a younger sister named Maddy who had been taken over, and Dalton had been forced to cut her head off. I knew there would be another twist somewhere. See, I wondered if perhaps that 10% of initially unaffected, or resistant people, were the ones that created the plague or summoned the demons. Maybe they were demons, and they tricked humans into hunting down others of their kind. I mean, those readers look like mystical staves or wands: not something scientists, or even conventional monotheist mystics and theologians would forge. I was just imagining Theresa realizing, or remembering, that she is a demon herself as is the rest of her family.

I was kind of right? It turns out her mother and brother were both affected by the plague, and Dalton didn’t get home in time to deal with it based on what happened to him on his last mission. Dalton is dying in that cellar as Theresa is forced to kill her mother and brother. Maybe they had gone out and been exposed to someone else, or it had already affected them and Dalton had a method of keeping their possession at bay — I keep on wanting to say their “assent”: that point where a human and demon soul bond forever, a concept mentioned in  Pearry Reginald Teo’s The Assent. Theresa has inherited her father’s immunity or greater resistance, and isn’t affected by demonic possession as others might be. She ends up taking his reader, and going out on her own to continue his work. Basically, as Dalton said on his last mission, he isn’t a priest: most of the reader’s aren’t. Instead, they are just an everyday working Joe or, as Therese says, Josephine. That hoky last comment aside, I how Therese starts off the segment saying how this incident is something “putting humanity on trial,” and it just hits home.

I love the world-building here and, of the two stories, “Meter Reader” with its “Stranger Danger” subversion — the idea that anyone can carry this disease, or be a monster — carries through. Both segments are about monsters in human form, regardless of whether or not they stay resembling the latter, and the little cruelties we can do to each other. And, as such, hopefully we will see what other surprises might be waiting for us in Creepshow

Creepshow Commentaries Season Three: Episode 2 – Skeletons In the Closet / The Familiar

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 2: Skeletons in the Closet/ Familiar

Spoiler alert. I … you know how you see a teaser for something, and there is a flashy moment, a scene that you think is really excellent and promising, and you want to see how it plays out? And then it doesn’t?

Yeah.

“Skeletons in the Closet” is a story written by John Esposito, and directed by Greg Nicotero. That title already had a great deal of promise to it, and the whole premise of a film buff opening up a museum display, only to have a rival collector threaten all of his plans, really intrigued me. Were we going to see them try to outbid each other on an auction? Were we going to see some weird, colourful horror collector characters, and a murder mystery amid gory practical effects memorabilia? Hell, were there even going to be some special guest stars?

No. Not really.

The murder weapons were all there. The effects were, well, in effect. We had so many Easter-eggs too, but you can’t make an entire story that is completely made from the bones of other works. My skeleton pun aside, I’m not talking about inspiration, or playing off a trope and finding your voice in it.

There is a homage, and then there is something completely derivative. And being derivative multiple times. It doesn’t even bother to hide it. It is a fairly predictable plot once it gets rolling. The film buff, Lampini, is actually the son of a former magician and movie memorabilia owner, and he is in a feud with a man who almost dated his mother before his father got him.

The collector, Bateman, wants the prop of a zombie from George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and is blackmailing him into giving into him as one of his displays is actually a body that the film buff guy had dug up. So when things escalate, his girlfriend — Danielle — kills the man with a shoe that has a knife in it. And this is after she doesn’t believe her film buff boyfriend would dare be a ghoul, and dig up a corpse that was already used as a prop in a film before being returned to that grave.

Yeah. She is a pretty one-dimensional character, in both senses of the word: constantly snotty, a horror elitist, kind of arrogant, and hanging on her boyfriend’s every word until, you know, she finds out he dug up a skeleton. To be fair, the commentary on horror fandom here — art house and grindhouse snobs alike — is so on the nose it’s probably broken some facial bones on impact. And then he preserved his own father’s bones to do them like one of Ray Harryhausen’s Spartoi skeleton warriors. By the way, I love animated skeletons. They are light-weight, agile, they move insanely fast, and if you are a necromancer they are cheap to make. And it is a bonus if they cackle.

I will say this. Bateman’s body, once the dynamic duo stripped him down, and put his remnants into acid, did deliver on the laughing skeleton part. I think one of the things that makes me sad is that we saw, in the preview of Season Three of this show, one of The Tall Man’s spheres — a Silver Sentinel: you know, from Phantasm. And I was hoping, I just hoping Don Coscarelli would write or direct or even have influence over this episode, and make it a tiny one-off Phantasm story even if Angus Scrimm can’t be with us. Hell, they did it with “Public Television of the Dead,” though minus Sam Raimi. Unfortunately, that was not to be, but that prop did get to be Chekhov’s sphere.

And at least Danielle died, which almost made it better except for the fact that it was a clear parody of the Psycho shower scene, and it was perhaps supposed to be funny but it … just fell flat for me. I did like how the film buff’s father’s skeleton, and his rival’s bones got into a fight, and the father won. I think of Lampini as kind of like Lovecraft’s Pickman except his “magic” — as is bandied about in the story — isn’t painting, but collecting props, and when he can’t he makes them from the dead: including from the bodies of everyone he loves. It just comes across as more weird, and silly than anything else. But hey, at least we got a skeleton battle out of the deal, and a Silver Sentinel fulfilling its true purpose. And that callback to the original 1982’s Creep’s model was great. 

I’ll take it, I guess. I agree with Karina Adelgaard of Heaven of Horror when she says this should have been the first episode of Season Three, if it was going to happen in this way. It would have been a great transition from Season Two’s “Night of the Living Late Show.”

But then we have the other story. “Familiar” is a story written by Josh Malerman and directed by Joe Lynch. It is harder to talk about this one. Whereas “Skeletons in the Closet” is mostly made of references and doesn’t have its own character so to speak, “Familiar” has a clearer vibe. One thing both episodes have in common is that the female characters are profoundly dismissive, but whereas the one in the former episode was practically singing her boyfriend’s praises, Fawn in “Familiar” teases Jackson a lot.

They go to a fortune teller named Boone after a night of drinking, to celebrate Jackson’s growing career as a promising lawyer and while the man tells Fawn her fortune, he passes a piece of paper to Jackson telling him that brought “something bad in with him.”

It makes you wonder, especially from the title of the story, if Jackson already knew about whatever this is. I actually thought that he was becoming successful because he had contracted a familiar — binding a demon — to do his bidding, but its presence was becoming intolerable, and soon he would have to pay the piper. That didn’t seem to be the case though, and he tries to dismiss it as if it’s nothing.

But when this creature seems to appear at random times, and then it goes all Brownie-Poltergeist on his office, and the restroom, he confides to his … girlfriend? Wife? He tells his partner Fawn, and she makes fun of him and his fear. She doesn’t see it and worse, when she’s not acting like the stereotypical white character in a horror film thinking something supernatural is cool and should be investigated or purchased for a lark as opposed to avoided like the plague, she is pretending to know it, and ignoring her partner’s obvious discomfort. Nevertheless, she doesn’t seem to mind him looking into it, but … You see, this is an interesting story for a few reasons, and one of which I hadn’t really thought about.

When I finished watching this episode, I looked at other articles to see if I could understand the ending. Yeah. That is never really a good sign, I even watched the ending again: to see I’d missed something.

Of all things, there is a Decider review of the episode by Walter Chaw which is profoundly also self-referential, highly full of itself, and eventually it descends into a kind of contradictory word-salad. I don’t generally get this critical of another piece of writing, but I have to call it as it is. But there is something he says in that article about Jackson being Black, and how the Familiar — the really cool antlered humanoid creature following him around — is subtext for, if you will pardon the borrowing from Forbidden Planet, “a creature of the Id.”

It is telling that the couple brings this thing into a room in which fortunes are told, that this is an unspoken, unseen dark force, a burden that they are unconscious, or subconscious about. Fawn is fairly dismissive of Jackson seeing this creature afterwards, and just goes about making fun of him. And what seems like mutual ribbing becomes a little one-sided. Other articles have said that the geriatric dog, Randolph, is Fawn’s but that was not the impression I got: that Randolph is in fact Jackson’s dog of many years.

These are all details that will be important because, after a while, Jackson goes back to Boone to get help to deal with this Familiar. Now, the story itself says the Familiar is a creature that is bound to someone and will do anything: lying, cheating, stealing, and even killing to stay with the person to which they are bound. The thing is, though, I know that familiars in folklore are summoned by magicians and witches to fulfill bargains, and carry out services. Certainly the book Jackson picks up seems to hint on this, and you’d think a lawyer that constantly prides himself on his knowledge of legal loopholes and the language of the law would be more interested in the symbolism of the magic circle and mage in that book.

How Boone presents this as, however, is that Jackson must take an object of innocence, in a binding circle, and trap the Familiar under a “magical crate.” Because this is, you know, all Loony Toons now, right?

So we can already figure out where this is going to go. It’s the Lambton Worm all over again. He has to take the crate, the magical crate, and dump it into a pond and get away from it as far as possible. So first, taking Boone’s suspect innocence sky pendant made by his sister, he traps the thing: only for it to mimic Randolph. You see, Familiars can actually possess the bodies of the dead and the dying just to masquerade as one’s friends, and stay by you because they are — again — bound to you. But when he lifts the crate, Randolph isn’t there, and the pendant is gone.

So no dog-killing today, just as it didn’t happen in the Lambton Worm story. Those poor, loyal hounds. 

Right. So Jackson realizes he needs a replacement for the not-suspicious amulet … err, pendant. And so he visits his partner, and yes, Fawn is a sculptor. He realizes after talking with her that her gift for him, which is a lamb figurine I believe, represents innocence and love. He uses this to trap the Familiar. It … seems to mimic Fawn’s voice, begging to be let out, but he doesn’t check, and she is not answering her phone.

Then he dumps the crate in the lake, and seems to feel better … even though we hear Boone laughing like a madman in the background.

So, at the end, we find the Familiar with Fawn’s drowned corpse. It fades, and Fawn’s body is reanimated. It croaks to Jackson, as it embraces him, that “I believe you now.”

He does fulfill the Lambton sacrifice. But instead of freeing him, it costs him everything.

See, Chaw in his article takes pains to show that one Black man — Boone — is showing another Black man — Jackson — that his white partner isn’t good for him, or the dynamic isn’t healthy. There is a grain of salt in this that wasn’t actually used in a protection circle, but the idea of a successful Black man or person dealing with an issue that a white woman or partner or friend can’t see, possible gaslighting, the Familiar — in more ways than one — being that resentment, and anger, and the idea too that it might be Boone’s Familiar that he is using to attack Jackson and pass onto him so that he can free himself, and that it takes his dead partner’s form in a creepily Shakespearean Desdemona fashion is something that is intriguing, and disturbing.

But I was really unclear as to what happened. Did Boone trick Jackson all along? Did he have that Familiar follow him because he wanted to be rid of it? Did he resent Jackson’s success? Did he make Jackson aware of the social and cultural inequalities around him? Was Boone just a dick? Is the Familiar in Fawn essentially the dream Jackson always thought he wanted, in a career in law that he didn’t really take seriously, or care for, made manifest?

I went online — specifically on Twitter — to try to find an answer. Luckily Joe Lynch, the director himself, was in a generous and charitable enough mood, and he weighed in on the subject in the following exchange.

So, there you have it. But that matter aside, I feel sometimes I’m not as well versed in the horror genre as I should be, and there are references to other works and pieces that would help me get a better context. I will say that “The Familiar” was far more interesting, if sometimes vague, than “Skeletons in the Closet,” but while the former does have some charming, ridiculous moments, the latter definitely makes you think.

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 4 – Pipe Screams/Within The Walls of Madness

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 4: Pipe Screams/Within The Walls of Madness

So let’s get to it. The first story, “Pipe Dreams” is written by Daniel Kraus, and directed by Joe Lynch, where we are introduced to some very … sentient clogs in rusty, ill-maintained apartment building pipes.

It’s so strange seeing Barbara Crampton again, after watching Jakob’s Wife, in a totally new persona. This time, she is a racist, bigoted “Karen” landlady by the name of Victoria Smoot, and it actually gave me a doubletake to see that just by a sleek hairstyle, designer clothes, a necklace, a pink sweater worthy of Dolores Umbridge, and a nasally, unpleasant voice Barbara Crampton transforms herself into this terrible person who talks about her tenants as “animals” and even says things such as how their “hair is different because they come from different places” in the drain. Just like that, I really wanted something bad to happen to this woman, and that is all by design.

This is a person who not only has lead pipes in her terribly run apartment complex, and a general lack of maintenance and open bigotry, but she also hires one Linus Carruthers — a plumber from a company that used to be owned by him and a disreputable brother that is going under — to patch things up, and deal with the clogs in the pipes that shouldn’t legally exist. She knows he won’t report her as one more bad review will bring him under, and it is fairly certain she will try to rip him off of his pay in any case. When Linus talks about his terrible brother, or refers to him, my mind almost wants it to be Harlan King from “Pesticide” and that parallel of what he did to the homeless, though it doesn’t particularly line up, and there are dangers in trying to put things together that shouldn’t be: a lesson that Smoot never took to heart.

He goes to the apartment upstairs, after something devours a cat — and you know Smoot is evil, as she despises cats — to what seems to be the source of a clog that “squeaks” and “chirps” almost like a bird. It skitters in and out of the shadows. You know you’re not going to want to see what this monstrosity is. 
And when you see it, you don’t. It’s … So, a little while back, I was in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign Game Mastered by a friend of mine who really wanted us to confront some rats. So when we saw these rats coming — rats not unlike what Linus kept telling himself they were — we closed the door, only for those rats to bend and twist themselves under the crack beneath the door frame as if they had no bones. One of my friends, during the game, called these creatures — jokingly — octo-rats, and they were bullshit.

This sentient clog, and its kind, are basically octo-rats: malformed, twisted, and they eat flesh. I thought once this thing took the flesh off Linus’ hand, he was going to lose that limb. Then when it got to his face, I thought he was fucked. I thought he’d die, and we would cut to the skittering, bulbous, furry, tentacled clog going after the other tenants in the building, and then Smoot. But likely, it’s coded pretty clearly that Linus is a good man that isn’t just doing the job to save himself, but to protect the children that he knows in his heart is living in the building: the child of the mother that lets him into her apartment, and owned that poor cat that’s eaten.

He survives, gives a good fight, and the mother comes back to actually save him. And this is where, between the two of them, instead of calling the authorities we get some beautiful EC Comics justice in the form of poetic retribution. Oh, it is wonderful. I knew, the moment the tenants, with Linus the plumber, were all down in the basement — and he somehow lured Smoot back — that they weren’t going to simply beat her with tools. No, that is too easy for someone like her. Instead, they lure her to a drain where, as Linus put it as she’s stuffed in there being consumed by the creature, she “is home.” There is something timeless, but timely about this story when you consider the state of landlords and property and tenants during dire times of recessions, and in particular COVID-19. I do feel bad, though, that no one told the girl about her cat, but at least she leaves pretty pictures for her pet by the drain. Oh well, at least the octo-rat might appreciate it.

Speaking of tentacles, and disturbing things, we find ourselves at “Within the Walls of Madness” written by John Esposito and Greg Nicotero, and directed by John Harrison. Imagine William Shatner shouting “There is. Some-thing. On. The. Wing!” from the classic “Terror at 20,000 Feet” in a world created by combining H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” with “At the Mountains of Madness,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and in the spirit of The Thing and you might see the resonance of this story.

It starts off with a graduate student named Zeller held at a military prison being interviewed by a lawyer named Tara Cartwright as he is accused of murdering three of his scientific team in — you guessed it — the Antarctic. What happens is something had already dealt with the rest of their expedition, and the survivors ran back to the base. Zeller had apparently been having an affair with a fellow graduate student named Mallory — who was dating their hostile head of security — but when the latter goes to look for their leader, Professor Trollenberg as played by Star Trek Next Generation veteran Denise Crosby — reality ripples around them into a wormhole as the two students are attacked by an entity from a wormhole.

Of course, the Professor and the security head come back to find Zeller with an axe and Mallory in pieces, and seem to think the worst. But there is security footage that would exonerate Zeller. Unfortunately, it becomes clear that the Professor had erased that footage and kept only him attacking the security head who attempted to kill him.

As it so transpires, Professor Trollenberg found the remains of what she calls the Old Ones — yes, Lovecraftian beings not unlike the ones in the Cthulhu Mythos — who apparently gave humanity Earth millennia ago before dying out, only to have humanity misuse it. She saw through a wormhole that she summons with a strange sonic instrument: an organic bonelike flute or ocarina, almost like a Key — and we know from Cthulhu Mythos lore that “The Silver Key” is not only a Lovecraft story, but it is an artifact that can unlock places between dreams and other realities. I see it as an analogue of that, though it uses sound to create wormholes through space-time in this narrative. Anyway, the Professor used it to manipulate time to when the Old Ones still lived, and believed they would punish humanity for destroying the world: that she would help them usher its destruction and return it all to the sea.

Zeller doesn’t want this, or to be framed for murder and when she summons another wormhole, he kills her. Now, this is where things are interesting. The expedition was a secret government one, which claimed to have them work for medical purposes. They know full well they were dealing with extraterrestrial elements, and they want Zeller to take the fall so that this incident will stay underwraps. It also helps that they genuinely don’t believe anything he says. Hell, even the lawyer claims to want to help him plead insanity, but really just wants all the rights and royalties to the book she will publish about his case. By the time we get towards the end of the story, Zeller’s had a lot of time to think about all of this. He is slated to be executed, which the governor or official along with Cartwright even talks to her about the insanity plea she decided not to pursue.

Zeller starts to see that humanity — its society, its hypocrisy, condemned him to this fate — and wasn’t listening to him when he says “they would come through the walls.” This is where it all goes down. For his last request, he asks for the alien instrument: which he blows. Zeller never gets that lethal injection, but everyone else gets grabbed and torn apart by tentacles from another dimension. What we realize is that Professor Trollenberg didn’t look into the past to find the Old Ones, but the future. And we see, as this paradox trope plays itself out — in which her own words “Time is an illusion” — come back to haunt her as she sees Zeller on the table and the Old Ones everywhere. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as they both see each other between the past and the present, life and death.

Everyone has betrayed Zeller: from the security head, to the Professor, to the lawyer, to the government, to humankind. And he decides, instead of continuing to warn them, knowing they won’t listen and they will kill him anyway, that if he’s going to die he is going to take them all down with him. His last words are with him cackling, Lovecraft end-sentence style, “They are in the walls! In the walls …” And honestly, this is a story I can get behind, that when you disregard confusing temporal mechanics, it is humanity’s arrogance and abuse of power — and the hatred of one human that supersedes even that of an eldritch otherworldly species’ coming to destroy it all — everyone gets what they deserve. I … love it, frankly, Cartwright’s self-serving book Our Demons, Ourselves says it all.

Creepshow Commentaries Season Two: Episode 3 – The Right Snuff / Sibling Rivalry

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 3: The Right Snuff / Sibling Rivalry

I keep thinking to myself, that there is no way the writers and directors of Creepshow will outdo themselves. And then you get something like Episode 3. I’m just going to say it, right off the bat that Joe Lynch, Paul Dini, Stephen Langford, and Greg Nicotero’s “The Right Stuff” is yet another reminder that horror can be — and has been — created in space which, given the social media debates of last week, a lifetime ago as space-time goes, bears repeating. 

I love the setting design. The gravity generator that plays such a key role in the story reminds me of something from a vintage science-fiction movie: a device from Doctor Who, or technology extant in Forbidden Planet: the latter of which my mind has been finding itself these days. There is always that age-old genre debate over whether or not something is purely science-fiction if it involves space travel, science, and technology though there are some who forget that multi-genre media does exist: especially when you have something like horror that can cover a whole wide swathe of human endeavours. As such, I got some major EC Comics Weird Science vibes from this tale, though it is so much less about the science and more about the human — the sentient — interactions, and volatile emotions building to that inevitable conclusion.

What does jealousy and resentment and a lust for fame lead you to within the vacuum of space? The answer is in the void around you. Nothing. Nothing good. The characters of the captain Alex Toomey — pilot of their ship the Ocula — and the inventor Ted are fairly one-dimensional and exaggerated as these old style parodies of humans go, but the tale is captivating even as — for the most part — you see where it is going to go. That little quirk where Toomey leaves his coffee cup on Ted’s machine, as a small, petty, and ineffectual way to assert dominance for something he almost had nothing to do with, does speak volumes about where this is going to go even before he hallucinates his father — an astronaut before him — constantly belittling all of his achievements, and how only “being first” matters. 

It may sound weird, but for all of what Toomey does in the narrative — murder out of pure jealousy — I can somewhat sympathize with him. It doesn’t take much to consider what happens when you spend your whole life training to be better, to live up to the example of someone else, to have that person or force constantly sideline you, and then always seem to get slighted every time you accomplish something for someone — or something — else. I think most people can relate to that. But I didn’t hate Ted either, and he tried — he genuinely tries — to make Toomey feel better. 

You know, it’s kind of cool to see how Toomey and Ted work together — even with Toomey’s inferiority complex, or before it truly manifests — and avoid some spatial collisions. At first, when they turned on the gravitational field, I thought they would be stranded or time dilation would put our intrepid protagonists into a science-fictional “Survivor Type” for two situation. Or, maybe, the aliens planning to do something terrible — even indoctrinate or devour — the Earth representative sent to them. But neither of these red herrings happen.

I want to say that I love the overall morality tale of the story, even though what complicates it is one Alfred Hitchcock moment. Basically, we find out that the American government has been in secret contact with aliens — the Gorangi — apparently through the probes that the two astronauts barely avoided, which they thought were asteroids. The Gorangi had been part of a galactic or interstellar alliance attempting to convince their peers that humanity was worth saving and helping, having one of their own — an agent who turns into their ambassador — give them gravity technology to see what would develop from it. That agent is Ted, of course. 

You know, the man Toomey kills out of jealousy and whose place he takes. 

It kind of makes you wonder what would have happened if the government, and even the aliens just told the two men what was going on from the beginning instead of keeping it all a secret. Perhaps their ambassador might have lived. Or maybe an advanced species — who looked amazing and whose effects were reminiscent of Mars Attacks — would be intelligent enough not to judge an entire group of people by the actions of one individual. Of course, Toomey should not have murdered his coworker with his own gravity device, this absolves him of nothing, but I feel that both Gorangi and human dishonesty — seriously, an undercover Gorangi agent being masqueraded as the first human to make contact with “other species” instead getting another human as an actual ambassador — played as much a role in the tragedy in this abortive “first contact” as Toomey’s own inferiority complex, and misplaced ambition. If there is one thing worse than aliens wanting eat, corrupt, or kill you, it’s moralizing hypocritical aliens.

Even so, I admire his punishment. He wants fame and to be first. So the aliens, after they leave, let Earth know that he murdered one of their own … and they don’t bother to save Earth as its own gravitational experiments pull the moon into its crust: destroying the entire human species. The fact that Alex Toomey, who could have asked the aliens not to condemn his world for his own crimes and ask to be punished instead, is left alone on the Ocula — the last human being in all existence — to contemplate what he’s done, with only the shadow of his disapproving father as company is utterly beautiful in its brutal, stark poetry.

There is another conflict in the episode as well, though it is situated in high school. However, this one turns out differently. Rusty Cundieff and Melanie Dale’s story “Sibling Rivalry” begins with the freshman Lola — funnily enough, there is a Hula spring toy on the dashboard of the Ocula in the previous story that I kept calling Lola — telling her guidance counsellor, Mrs. Porter, that she thinks her brother Andrew is planning to kill her. Her story meanders a lot and you can see that Mrs. Porter is definitely not taking it seriously, though we the viewers get little hints of what might be going on. It’s clear that everything isn’t as straightforward as Andrew wanting to murder his sister, and that the “monster” is something, or someone else. 

It didn’t take me too long to realize that whatever this was, whatever made Andrew act this way, what made their family dog terrified, and even the disappearance of their parents isn’t due to Andrew, but the oblivious Lola herself. It turns out her friend Grace, whose brother she’d been oogling with more than a suggestive bit of ice cream in and on her mouth (I mean, come on, she was fantasizing about him pouring milk on himself, can we be any more subtle about this, especially given that Lola’s already asking her teacher if you can pregnant from handjobs, see her meandering story has gotten me off on a bracketed tangent as well), bit her neck while she was sleeping. This is played off as her friend tried to kiss her while she was sleeping, which is a whole other non-consensual boundary issue, but we see that Lola has blocked a lot of what she’s done out of her head.

So Lola is a vampire. She resembles more of a vampire from before the advent of Murnau’s Nosferatu, those that can actually walk out in the sunlight and not die: but she more resembles the terrifying demonic face of Grace Jones’ Katrina from the film Vamp when she feeds, with even more teeth. In the end, her brother is trying to kill her in order to keep her from murdering again: perhaps even protecting himself. But after a confrontation in their kitchen, where they just laugh at the ridiculousness — as horrible as it is — the terrible madness of the whole thing, in a very human moment they realize that they can’t live without each other. They are all they have left.

And yes. As I thought, Andrew plans to kill Grace — who turned her friend and his sister against her will, which resulted in the deaths of their parents — but she stops him as she tells him he isn’t strong enough to deal with Grace on his own. This leads to her … adding him to her new family. A rivalry doesn’t completely destroy a family, but helps to construct a new alliance. And then, Mrs. Porter calls Lola into her office on the suspicion of Grace’s disappearance. At last, it seems as though Lola agreed to “eating” with Grace, but not in the way she intended. It really shows you that Mrs. Porter didn’t take Lola seriously when she was telling what happened, but it was only when Grace goes missing that she immediately suspects her: as a culprit and not a victim.

But then Lola is joined by Andrew, in Mrs. Porter’s office and … well. Mrs. Porter is played by the renowned Molly Ringwald and if there is one thing aside from high school drama that she should be used to now, it’s being made part of a “Breakfast Club.” 

And I have to say, while “The Right Stuff” made for a good meal of grim morality, “Sibling Rivalry” was just the bloody dessert needed to cleanse the palette for the next episode of Creepshow.