Creepshow Season Three: Episodes One and Two. Shudder, 45-minute episodes. Three stars.
I'm a fan of horror anthologies, whether on the big screen or the small screen. Focusing on the latter, since that's what we're dealing with here, there have been shows such as Night Gallery, Ghost Story (aka Circle of Fear) and Tales from the Darkside, just to name a few.
While such shows are variable by their very nature - since one or more different stories are told each week - the whole is often more than the sum of the parts. If you enjoy them, you can usually get something out of each episode, and if one story is a disappointment, there's always another coming up - and you haven't invested too much time.
Creepshow, now in its third season, was inspired by the 1982 Stephen King-George Romero movie of the same name, itself an homage to the EC horror comics of the 1950s. Horror novelist King wrote the script and Romero (Night of the Living Dead et al) directed.
Romero is now dead and King doesn't seem to have been as heavily involved in the series, but their influence is still present.
This is the first I've seen of the series and while the first two episodes are wildly uneven and you really have to know, and appreciate, the kind of thing you're in for, they're fun in their trashy way for some of us.
Each episode contains two stories, told with plenty of comic-book styling in the visuals: vivid colours, flipping pages, subheadings ("Meanwhile..."; "That night..") and illustrations. There are even some old ads - for horror posters, toys and other fun stuff - providing a nostalgic kick.
As with the originals, there's a common theme running through many of the episodes: a vile person does something despicable and gets his or her comeuppance in a nasty and grimly appropriate way. The stories are often told with a dark, sometimes campy sense of humour.
The opening story, Mums, based on a story by Joe Hill (King's son), set in redneck country, illustrates this formula well. Bloom (played by Erin Beute) wants to take her son Jack (Brayden Benson) and flee from nasty extremist Hank (Ethan Embry).
But Hank catches them, takes Bloom away and, with a friend, murders her and buries her in the garden she tended so lovingly.
What happens next is pretty predictable, but is technically very well done - in fact, one of the ongoing impressive elements of this show is its use of practical effects. They may seem a little dated if looked at too closely or for too long (and some of the directors are guilty of letting this happen) but they contribute to the nostalgic '80s feeling. And they're a lot more impressive than the show's animated segments (which might, admittedly, be cheesy on purpose).
Benson's performance in Mums is a little disappointing and the facile treatment of the subject matter - domestic abuse, white nationalism - seems a little jarring. The issues here are more serious than usual for this show even if the finale has a nice touch of Little Shop of Horrors.
The other story in the opener, Queen Bee, departs a bit from the formula. Three teenagers - played by Hannah Kepple, Olivia Hawthorne and Nico Gomez - are excitedly discussing and cyberstalking their favourite singer, Regina (Kaelyn Gobert-Harris), and arguing about who is the biggest fan.
When they get word the heavily pregnant Regina has secretly come to their small town to give birth privately (she rents a whole floor), the opportunity to sneak in and see their idol is irresistible.
But while some idols have feet of clay, others should be left alone for other reasons that are far worse than disillusionment.
This episode has some creepy imagery, not all of it elaborate - something as simple as glowing eyes is made eerily effective - and raises questions about how much people should know about celebrities (who may or may not deserve their adulation) and just how far fandom can go before it becomes toxic.
Episode Two's opener, the tongue-in-cheek Skeletons in the Closet, is a treat for genre fans and the highlight of the four stories in these episodes.
It's loaded with movie quotes, references and other Easter eggs (I didn't come close to getting them all). The story, about the rivalry between two pop-culture memorabilia collectors that turns deadly, is fun and the actors are all good, with TV and movie veteran James Remar (his many, many credits include Dexter and Django Unchained) as the antagonist for whom you just know things aren't going to end well.
Familiar is more serious. Jackson (Andrew Bachelor), a lawyer, and his girlfriend (Hannah Firman) visit Boone (Keith Arthur Bolden), a psychic, for fun after a night of partying. And Jackson soon finds himself being followed by ... something.
There's good acting and dark atmosphere but the story feels a little underwritten.
This is one for the nostalgic and forbearing genre fan.