This week we have two new tales of frightful delight, the first, “Pipe Screams,” will remind you to inspect the inside of your toilet first before sitting down on it and the second, “Within the Walls of Madness,” will make you second guess who’s telling a story. This is a full-dive into the episode so if you haven’t watched the episode yet, do so before continuing. You’ve been warned: SPOILERS AHEAD!
From the onset of the episode’s comic book opening, it was apparent that there was going to be a good amount of social commentary in “Pipe Screams,” which takes place in a dilapidated apartment building. Vicious landlord Victoria (Barbara Crampton), feeling she can’t put off repairs any longer before legal actions turn the property into a co-op or unionized housing, takes action in hiring a plumber, Linus (Eric Edelstein), that is one bad review away from closing his business. You may think this to be an act of kindness, but Victoria knows she has the plumber under her thumb. All Victoria has to do to end a man’s livelihood is go full Karen to the Better Business Bureau, and that would be the end of Linus’ business. Victoria, blackmailing Linus into compliance, suggests he patch and repair a lead pipe in the basement instead of informing the authorities of her legal obligation to replace it.
I love Barbara Crampton. As a horror nerd, I know whenever I see her name attached to a film, I’m going to see her give whatever character she’s playing everything. Whether it’s the heroine, a villainous landlady, or something in between—like say the bored minister’s wife turned vampire of Jakob’s Wife I happened to see her in last weekend—you know her performance is going to be a reason for discussion. In “Pipe Screams” it’s the absolute disdain you feel in her portrayal of Victoria who walks into her first scene referring to her low-income tenants as animals. Victoria touts her affluence and speaks to her upscale rentals in better neighborhoods, scoffing at the fact she even has to bother helping her disenfranchised tenants who can barely afford the rent Victoria sets in her ill-maintained apartment building.
Victoria departs after giving Linus his ultimatum, and the bulk of the episode is put onto Eric Edelstein’s shoulders as Linus mulls over doing what’s right for his business and what is right for the building’s inhabitants. Fans of Jeremy Saulnier’s rock band vs. neo-Nazi thriller Green Room will quickly recognize Edelstein from his role of Big Justin in the film. Typically appearing as ancillary characters in TV and movies, Edelstein taking the lead as Linus in Creepshow is a rather good reason to hope to see him in larger roles in future projects. As the episode continues into transitions between terror and comedy, Edelstein displays an apt prowess for both with facial expressions that recall Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead movies.
Linus pulls a classic move for anyone in the service industry when he decides this job isn’t worth the aggravation and decides to quit on the spot. The unsettling cry of a cat making him fall off an unsteady makeshift stool and straight into the slime-covered viscera of the animal may have had something to do with it, too. But Linus has a change of heart when he hears the sound of children in the building and decides he won’t allow the building’s residents to suffer. Besides, it isn’t like Victoria is going to help any of them, and what would happen if she finds a plumber willing to comply with her demands? Linus decides to chase what he believes is a giant rat into a resident’s apartment before it can hurt anything or anyone else.
On her way out to pick up her daughter, Janet (Selena Anduze) meets Linus and gives him access to her apartment while she goes out but not before telling Linus about some odd occurrences her daughter and others have had with the plumbing. She says they’ve felt hairy squishy blobs in their showers and seen something furry in their toilets—places we’re often vulnerable and fears that many people share. I mean not only is feeling a plush lump of hair sticking out of your drain pretty disgusting, but something furry grabbing you from inside the toilet bowl would be pretty damn frightening. Linus doesn’t help put anyone’s fears at rest when he confidently relates his theory of rats in the building’s pipes.
The fun of “Pipe Screams” comes as Linus is finally left to battle the “rat” alone in the apartment in a manner that’s a little bit Bill Murray in Caddyshack if the gopher turned out to be a sentient form of pipe sludge and hair built up in the lead pipes over time (Cue Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm “Well, there it is” gif) and attacked him to feast on his flesh. Once the monster is unveiled, movie resemblances from Evil Dead tree branches and Alien facehuggers can be made as Linus fights for his life. Janet comes home to save the day and comes up with a plan for all of the tenants to enact a bit of revenge on Victoria.
Victoria is called back to the building for the finale of “Pipe Screams” and she pays for what she’s allowed to transpire through the years and is doomed to stay within the walls (and pipes) of the building she despised forever. Written by Daniel Kraus, who last summer finished George A. Romero’s The Living Dead, which tells the full story of the rise of the dead, “Pipe Screams” feels like one of the shortest stories featured in Creepshow, clocking in at under 20 minutes total, as well as one of the more disconnected. From the idea that Linus wouldn’t be a folk hero from the start for reporting a wealthy real estate owner to even the fact that Victoria seemingly has more to lose than Linus does. There were points in the story my mind played devil’s advocate with “Pipe Screams,” but it does end up being a lot of fun for the most part thanks especially to fantastic makeup and creature effects and the direction of Joe Lynch who returns to Creepshow this week after directing last week’s, “The Right Snuff.”
Within the Walls of Madness
In the second of this week’s macabre tales, writer John Esposito reteams with director John Harrison (Season one’s “Night of the Paw“) in a story I can only describe as John Carpenter meets H.P Lovecraft. “Within the Walls of Madness” shares its title with Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness but also Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls.” The story, which asks you to place your trust in someone that may or may not be a killer, however, acts more like The Thing meets “The Call of Cthulhu.”
When a man, Zeller (Drew Matthews), is put in prison after seemingly going mad and killing the remaining evacuees at a freezing remote mountaintop government laboratory, he insists demons that can walk through walls are the culprit. His lawyer (Brittany Smith) insists on an insanity defense, but Zeller maintains his innocence and says he isn’t crazy. Recalling the story for his lawyer to build a defense, Zeller tells the story of what happened as the remaining members awaited evacuation.
A sense of urgency is found almost immediately in the story, building suspense, as Zeller remembers fighting with Carson (Nicholas Logan) while waiting with Mallory (Brooke Butler) for their ride out of the mountain. There is a palpable contempt between Carson and Zeller, stemming from Mallory. When the group tasks Carson with finding Dr. Trollenberg (Denise Crosby) after realizing she may still be in the location, a love triangle is untangled. Or is it? After Carson leaves, things go nuts for Mallory and Zeller. The walls appear to open up and a loud frequency can be heard through the building’s intercom system. The lights go dark and the screaming starts. When Carson returns with Trollenberg, Zeller is found covered in blood clutching an ax. Even if his story about demons from another world is to be believed, the way it looks is anything but innocent.
If we look at the counter-evidence presented to us in Zeller’s story, we find that Zeller hates Carson because he’s dating Mallory. When Carson returns, Mallory is dead, and even though he’s wearing a sheet of blood and wielding an ax, we’re supposed to believe that Mallory and Zweller were keeping a secret? Were they really a couple, or was it all in Zeller’s head, and the rejection made the lights go out? The mind will do strange things to protect itself, even convice itself that anything is possible. What’s more is when Trollenberg goes to look at the tape of the incident, she sinisterly destroys it in Zeller’s narrative, but what if there was just no footage? Sure, everything continues to escalate from there, but can we really trust Zeller’s account? Should we be listening to the person telling the story or the victims who were putting the facts together?
I love stories like this one with an unreliable narrator. Esposito has baked the mountaintop story of “Within the Walls of Madness” into an incarceration scenario where Zeller is boxed up as tight as Hannibal Lecter and has him telling skeptical stories about demons. You want to believe that because this is Creepshow, everything you’re witnessing is the truth, but with an untrustworthy character who does, in fact, end up killing two people in the framework of his story. Should it be believed he hasn’t gone insane? I guess you could rule that the ending is absolute with Zeller calling forth the demons into the prison cell and getting some revenge on the system as he lies in his execution chamber. But will he ever get out of there? If everything he said is true, did he inflict a plague on the world with this action? Or are these the last moments of a serial killer’s mind before the lights go out? I enjoy “Within the Walls of Madness” either way, but it is fun thinking about it from all angles.
Yes, Zeller ends Trollenberg’s life as well—I mean it is Denise Crosby, she’s right up there with Sean Bean for death scenes—fearing she’s going to call the monsters back to the mountaintop with an ancient fourth-dimensional fossil whistle…or at least windchime, it isn’t really specific. The story’s fossil looks like a horseshoe crab, though, and when its antennae protrude, it reminds me of The Puppet Masters creature. It’s a cool effect and calls on an equally fun movie that I haven’t seen in years. In the end, inside the execution chamber, I think you have to decide what version of the story is the one you’d rather believe. Are you going to be a Mulder or a Scully? This helps me rank “Within the Walls a Madness” a bit on the high side for being one of the more creative episodes of the series.
Creepshow stories always seem to have a common thread linking them if you’re looking for it, and this week, I would say that thread may be H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Rat in the Walls.” The story is about an American who inherits an English estate where scratching in the walls reveals an underground city. Long synopsis short, cannibalism and madness ensue for the man as he maintains his innocence and exclaiming investigators it was “the rats in the walls” who did it. Victoria meets her end by way of a monster that Linus thought was a rat, and Zeller who everyone believes is crazy, declaring “They come in through the walls!” even as he faces execution.
“Night of the Living Late Show” appears on the cover of the exit comic this week as a preview to next week’s episode showing a creature looming over a crowd of frightened people.