Creepshow Commentaries Season Three: Episode 1 – Mums/ Queen Bee

Warning: Potential Spoilers for Episode 1: Mums/ Queen Bee

It’s been a long time since Season Two, and even the Specials, but after the Christmas Special we are now going into autumn, and the grim harvest, and everything that falls from there.

Chrysanthemums. In Japanese culture, they apparently symbolize death, but also immortality. Violet or purple ones also represent the wish to “get well,” while pink are all about “longevity.” I’m not entirely sure, but even if these aren’t the plants, or flowers, that feature in Rusty Cundieff’s “Mums,” the first Creepshow story of Season Three, adapted from a story by Joe Hill, these aspects can definitely be seen.

The story is a variation of what we’ve seen in karma-based stories that were ever-present in EC Comics and its spiritual successors such as Creepshow. A woman is abused by her husband, and a child — Jake — is forced to watch it all happen. His mother is murdered, and she is buried in the flower garden that she loves.

But the details are fascinating. Jake’s mother wants to take him to see his great-grandmother, his Meemaw, which is an interesting term as I didn’t know it was a common one for grandmother, and the rest of her family. She’s taking him away from what turns out to be a man, and his friends, attempting to create a “two-bit terrorist” cell that is both secessionist and Confederate-based. Later, we see them referring to a book called The Pale Horse’s Cookbook: which presumably is a compilation of American terrorist ideologies, and home-made explosive designs — the latter of which they are planning to apply to a building. Whatever the situation, in Creepshow death is always in season.

It is a well crafted cinematic narrative. At first, it almost makes you wonder if Jake’s mother — who plans to run away with him — is actually a good person, and if his father is necessarily a terrible one. There are  a lot of references to how bad his mother’s family was to her, and some “strange ideas.” The fact that Jake’s “Meemaw” is over a hundred years old, perhaps older, made me wonder if they were a family of witches, and his father was actually keeping him — or thinking he was keeping him — safe from them.

Even when his father murders his mother elsewhere, and he discovers the seeds in the packets — in the suitcase she packed for the both of them — and the emphasis on blood, I was thinking that both Jake’s mother and father were terrible people, just one in a supernatural sense and linked to her family, and the other in a more banal, abusive, “red-neck” terrorist one.

I really appreciate, however, the variation of abuser to which Jake’s father is actually depicted. He doesn’t smack his son around, or have incoherent rages. He gaslights his wife. He makes it clear that she is an alcoholic, though according to Jake she quit a while ago. But even if she didn’t, her illness and genuine pain is being used by his father to excuse his actions. He wants to keep Jake as his heir, his property, to indoctrinate into his whole idea of personal sovereign land, and make him read that terrorist cookbook. It’s your basic toxic masculinity with more than a side of guns, and explosives.

But Jake’s father fucks up. He kills Jake’s mother. And then he smoothly lies about it, pretending that she is in a “half-way house” and that she will choose “drugs and booze” over Jake any day. He also buries her in her garden, on his land, thinking the law won’t dare trespass. He is an overall terrible human being, who — as it so happens, and as also transpires — doesn’t know as much about the land as he thought he did.

Jake learns about blood. And when I say that, it’s not that he embraces the legacy of murder that his father sets for him — at least not in the way his father intends. He plants those seeds in his mother’s garden, which he doesn’t know is her grave. It’s your basic Cain and Abel situation of murder all over again, where the ground tells. But it tells through pretty flowers. I began to wonder if Jake’s maternal family were, again, witches, that used blood magic to create plants that obeyed their will: feeding off life essence to do so.

I had it in my mind that the seeds Jake plants are like “dragon-teeth” as per the ancient Greek custom of Thebes, or in this case, his Meemaw’s teeth. Certainly, the humanoid face that appears from the ground could have been  his mother’s altered corpse, but also his ancient Meemaw who lives in the ground. But the story doesn’t go there, even though Jake and the floral entity he nurtures from his mother’s death, gain retribution on the woman who pretended to be her friend and betrayed her, the man who helped his father kill her, and his father who was ultimately going to kill him. And as Jake drives the van, with four of those plants with tiny skulls in them, to see his Meemaw, I wonder if she will ultimately be proud of the boy, and the kind of man that he can become: perhaps even under her tutelage.

Of course, we can’t talk about flowers without considering the bees that pollinate them. I mean, in the hellscape that we’ve made our world bees are an endangered species, and their extinction will mean our own. The honey they create is a byproduct of what they truly do, as is the growth of the plants that will become fruit and such to keep our ecosystem going. They do, however, prefer human aid in continuing to build more secure colonies, and reproduction is their main goal.

Greg Nicotero is the one that creates the story “Queen Bee.” It feels like that would happen if Are You Afraid of the Dark, or Goosebumps, attempted a … B movie. Three adolescent children want to see their favourite singer, Regina, give birth. She actually goes as far as taking control of an entire hospital floor to have privacy. There are so many references to “not having a father,” the name “Haddonfield,” and pregnancy in a secret place, and even a reference to the end of the world that made me thing: “Oh yes, this is going to be another Anti-Christ.”

It’s not. Instead, what happens is the stupid antics of these three kids reveal as they infiltrate the hospital to invade their idol’s privacy, that Regina is actually a … not even vaguely humanoid giant Queen Bee, who is mind-controlling staff with green eyes to facilitate her transformation into her real form, so that she can give birth. She controls them through the sounds she creates, which makes sense given how she’s also a musician.

Eventually, at the end, one girl betrays her friend — even after they are nearly killed by Regina’s drones, and one of their friends is murdered by her — because she is her “biggest fan” at all costs. The fanatical girl, Debra — as played by Hannah Keple — has an absolutely smackable look on her pouting lips. You seriously wish, at the end of this story, that she and her snooty attitude of fan-worship would be repaid by her becoming a meal for her Queen. Seriously, I didn’t love to hate her. I just hated her, though it is in keeping with some stereotypical teenage — and even some narcissistic adult — selfishness. But this is one story where treachery, and even hypocrisy as it was Debra who had them go into the hospital and knew about the whole situation because her mom was a nurse there, is rewarded. Or, perhaps, it’s safe to say that her loyalty above friends and family to her idol is what is recognized.

It’s funny. Jake’s mother, the gardener, in “Mums” is named Bloom and she tries to save her son’s life: and in an indirect way she succeeds: the archetypically feminine power of flowers consuming blood, making it, and freeing him from patriarchal control. It even helps him realize that Beth, the woman who betrayed his mother for his father, isn’t the matriarchal figure that he wants. Whereas in “Queen Bee,” even though I feel like it is the weaker of the two stories, Regina also cares for her children and kills and controls anyone and everyone to nurture them: while taking those loyal to her under the hive-structure in which she creates: her musical production linked to her own reproduction. These are some fascinating feminine themes either way you look at it: the story about a flower and her seed, and about a queen bee recruiting another drone for her hive.

And as with “Mums” — which as of this writing is misspelled as “Mumms” on Shudder — and “Queen Bee,” the journey will continue deep into the ground, where the dead go and their spirits rise, and covetous, green-eyed fans will continue to do anything to make sure that their stories continue on: and they get their pound of sweet, sticky, bloody things. 

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.