Unlike most Creepshow episodes, Season 2 Episode 5, “Night of the Living Late Show,” written by Dana Gould and directed by Greg Nicotero, spins one sinister story rather than two—and thank goodness for that. This episode uses every minute, and it’s hard to think of what could’ve been cut for time without sacrificing the story. Like many Creepshow episodes, “Night of the Living Late Show” molds itself into a morality tale, but it also tells a compelling story.
“Night of the Living Late Show” is a lot of fun. Starting from the intro, you may just find yourself yelling at your screen at the player trying to make it through this fictional Night of the Living Dead video game. But before you can get too frustrated, the episode proper begins.
Simon (Justin Long) is an inventor hard at work on his latest invention, the Immersopod. By lying down in a machine and using a joystick, thanks to virtual reality, you can fully immerse yourself in a film of your choice, including interacting with the setting, talking to characters, and even sometimes replacing characters in the story. Simon does a test run with Horror Express (1972), starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It works, and Simon’s understandably ecstatic.
Simon’s wife, Renee (D’Arcy Carden), is happy for his accomplishment after spending all of his spare time for an entire year (the first year of their marriage) working on it, but far less enthused than he is. It’s very clear that while Simon’s into movies and eager to explore new technologies, Renee’s into books, is more nervous about taking a new machine for a test run, and generally seems to be a calmer, less excitable person. Even when she starts to praise the technological marvels he achieved, he dismisses it to gush about how those marvels allow the user to escape into a cinematic world of their choice. The cracks in their relationship are clear from the first words they exchange onscreen.
When Simon talks about how the Immersopod will help people who feel like they’re stuck in dead end situations in life, Renee’s first instinct is to think he’s talking about their year-old marriage. She has her suspicions that he only married her for her money but wants to believe he truly loves her. He’s so enthralled by his groundbreaking accomplishment that he doesn’t catch on at first, but once it sinks in, he reassures her.
… And that’s when things start to unravel. For all his promises about “’til death do us part,” making a better future for their relationship than the past year has been, and even helping people who want an escape from life with his invention, he just as quickly flakes out so he can fake illness and use the Immersopod. It turns out Simon’s more interested in Horror Express’s Countess Irina Petrovski than in patenting, selling, or otherwise getting his machine out into the world.
Simon truly does care more about escaping his own life than in giving others the same escape, whether they’d use it for fulfillment, education, or just entertainment. In his obsession, he doesn’t realize that his “way out” is right in front of him, and not in the way he thinks. Others would love the Immersopod: if he got it out into the world, he’d never have to worry about money or security again. Maybe he’d even connect with Renee as they worked together to use her connections to get Immersopods into homes around the world.
Instead, he’s so focused on his singular, self-centered goal that he doesn’t even realize how it affects the people around him. Maybe someone more clear-headed could’ve thought of presenting the idea to Renee and asking her to invest money as a business associate, rather than marrying her under false pretenses.
Special kudos to Hannah Fierman, who plays the Countess during some of our “rides” on the Horror Express. I really enjoyed how actual Horror Express footage is integrated with Simon and Renee’s interactions with the characters and setting.
Renee does eventually decide to try the Immersopod herself, but she uses it not to escape from her life but to try to patch things up. While Simon knows how to navigate within the film’s world, but not necessarily “people skills,” Renee has the opposite. She gets a point across to the Countess (and her husband, the Count) and begins a discussion, albeit a heated one, but, since she doesn’t know the movie, she doesn’t exactly get to finish the conversation. In a great irony, Simon and Renee could’ve combined their respective fields of knowledge in the “real world” and been a good team, even if not a married one.
It would’ve been neat if Simon had a deeper reason to “escape” his life than chasing a leading lady he’s lusted after since childhood. But, this is a matter of opinion. For some viewers, that may be a deep enough reason. Personally, when he said Horror Express was the first movie his dad took him to see “that wasn’t a kids’ movie,” I was interested in finding out more. Did this have something to do with his relationship with his dad? Did he want to be a hero—or perhaps even a villain—but felt like he had no way to do so in his own life, and thus poured himself into creating this machine so he could live out his fantasy of being a hero or villain in horror movies? (It’s not explicitly stated that he’s interested in horror outside of Horror Express, but the other films we see as he scrolls through to get to that film are all horror or science fiction titles.)
Regardless, ultimately, “Night of the Living Late Show” is loads of fun. It may make you want to track down Horror Express and hop aboard. I know it did for me. It’s a morality tale, but there are a myriad of takeaways, rather than one concise “moral.” It’s about saying what you mean. It’s about using an escape for an unselfish purpose. It’s about not getting so lost in your own head that you can’t function in your life anymore. And that’s just to name a few: I’m sure there are more themes and motifs others will pick up on.
Like this one: always have at least two exit strategies, just in case. And if you’re immersing yourself in a fictional world for the first time, maybe do your test run with something less potentially hazardous…like The Good Place!