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. 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.