In this week’s episode of Creepshow, a billionaire gets more than he bargains for when he buys “The Last Tsuburaya,” the final art installation from a divisive artist who reveled in the suffering of others. Tsuburaya’s work is notably terrifying, featuring renderings of Japanese ghosts and monsters committing gruesome acts that could easily transform any room into an uncomfortable space to share. And the second tale, “Ok I’ll Bite,” takes us from the upper-class echelon of high art to the dregs of a spider-infested prison, where an ex-pharmacist has a chance for revenge against his cell block officer’s opium ring. As with every week, this review will contain spoilers for the episode. You’ve been warned.
“The Last Tsuburaya”
The episode opens on museum curator Dr. Mai Sato (Gia Hiraizumi) locating Tsuburaya’s only remaining heir, Bobby (Joe Ando-Hirsh), who tells him of an art piece’s importance in an attempt to persuade him to allow the work to be displayed in the museum. The lost artwork, recently found at a temple at the base of Mt. Fiji, was instructed to be given to Tsuburaya’s remaining descendent. Today turns out to be of monumental importance for Bobby, as his ancestor has set up two paths for the young Best Buy clerk. Before Mai can even get into her pitch of preserving the importance of Tsuburaya’s work, tech billionaire Wade Cruise (Brandon Quinn) floats in and offers the heir $20 million for the artist’s work sight unseen.
The setup is brash, but it’s the Antiques Roadshow what-if moment we’ve all daydreamed about, finding that artwork or valuable historical artifact in the corner of our attic or basement that turns us into millionaires. Wade’s arrogance is felt the instant he walks in. He makes Bobby thank him for showing up and does not even try to be friendly with young Bobby, whom I’m sure shares a love of technology given their predications as a tech billionaire and Best Buy employee. Wade even insults Bobby, scanning his every-man clothing and lack of knowledge on the current art scene, boasting that his artist girlfriend, Geesa (Jade Fernandez), now creates pieces exclusively for his collection.
The works of Tsuburaya have a lot to do with our story. Mai describes his work as depicting the demons of “man’s inner cruelty” and helps foreshadow the events of this week’s first tale. Wade informs Bobby of how Tsuburaya’s works range from stark portrayals of monsters to the less notable butterflies and landscapes. The worrisome mystery intensifies Wade’s offer, shutting Mai down from her argument that the work should belong in a museum because the monsters draw a crowd and the landscapes do not. Since no one can identify the piece yet, Wade’s offer seems more than generous, and Bobby accepts. Wade gloats by inviting Mai to the private unveiling later in the evening.
What I took from this particular tale of art and monsters were themes of the objectionable intent of wealthy philanthropists. This interpretation becomes clear the moment Wade enters the office at the beginning of the story like he owns the place and creates a demeaning atmosphere, even though he’s told he’s not allowed to be there. Don’t get me wrong, I understand taking bold steps to obtain what you want in life, but after his entrance, Wade flexes on his name and his ability to acquire whatever he wants. I suppose the same can be mentioned about the museum, wanting only to procure the piece for themselves, as well, though at least Mai’s argument, that art is meant to be seen, is a valid one. Wade, only interested in the exclusivity of this experience, immediately takes the Tsuburaya away from the world by burning the painting after allowing only his eyes to marvel at the lost achievement.
While the sections of the art itself reminded me of the rage contained in The Great Red Dragon paintings by William Blake, the argument began to remind me of the time British street artist Banksy installed a shredder in the frame of his 2006 piece Girl with Balloon. The artwork shredded itself when sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby’s London auction house in 2018. Earlier this year, in a not-so-subtle nod to the event, an NFT (non-fungible token) company burned one of Banksy’s other pieces titled Morons, which depicted the selling of art at an auction, with the auctioneer presenting a framed piece with the words, “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this.” The man burning the art was wearing a shirt depicting Girl with Balloon on it. The result is said to have been more of a marketing stunt by critics, allowing the company to sell an NFT of the burnt piece for $380,000. In the end, the idea is that Banksy believes in his art but also believes that it should be enjoyed by everyone and not just the wealthy socialites who want to hang it above their fireplaces as a talking point at cocktail parties. If people have the money to buy an art piece or NFT for an absurd amount of money, imagine the good they could do with those financial investments instead.
After burning the piece at the party, Geesa tells Wade about selling her first work and actually feeling seen for the first time. Wade unloads his experience of achieving a level of wealth that creates the opportunity for him to experience joy through sadism. Wade tells her that when faced with the opportunity to save a young girl who needed money for a heart transplant, he chose to haggle with her desperate father over an antique vase to keep the price down then ultimately sold the vase for a profit. Wade’s cruelty is reminiscent of opportunistic hedge-fund manager Martin Shkreli, who profited by raising drug prices needed for life-saving treatments.
Serving the theme of absurd wealth, Wade becomes haunted in an almost Ebenezer Scrooge fashion. He sees the haunting eyes and face of the Tsuburaya in the other artworks displayed in his home the way Scrooge first sees Jacob Marley in the doorknocker outside.
The Tsuburaya of Creepshow’s story is a quick nod to Japanese special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, co-creator of Godzilla and primary creator of Ultraman. So, when the demon appears to Wade, it’s relatively easy to see the special effects monster as something Ultraman would fight, especially as Wade first encounters him with a sword. But if you think this chapter ends happily for the villainous Wade Cruise, you haven’t seen enough Creepshow. In the final moments of “The Last Tsuburaya,” Wade defeats the demon of “man’s inner cruelty,” which turns out to be the painter himself. Unleashing the demon and defeating it only affords Wade the same fate.
“The Last Tsuburaya” also reminded me of the campfire-esque account behind a painting entitled The Anguished Man. The haunting artwork has elicited quite a reputation over the years. No one knows who the artist was, only that he mixed his blood into the image and shortly after completing it committed suicide. The Tsuburaya painting and subsequent disappearance of the artist seem to line up with the legend of The Anguished Man’s. Also, according to Giedrė Vaičiulaitytė at Bored Panda, since inheriting the piece, owner Sean Robinson says he and his family have started hearing whispering and crying in the house late at night. Hopefully, The Anguished Man doesn’t unveil a demon to the Robinson’s anytime soon.
Directed by Jeffrey F. January (The Walking Dead) and written by Paul Dini & Stephen Langford (Creepshow episodes “Skincrawlers” and “The Right Snuff”), “The Last Tsuburaya” has a fun monster and an excellent social commentary on the dereliction of humility through wealth. Living in a world where billionaires craft once-in-a-lifetime experiences, such as space travel, that only other billionaires can buy, the story seems inspired by the times we live in as well as legends from the art world.
“Ok I’ll Bite”
This week, our second story takes us to Fiorina Federal Prison, an ode to the desolate penitentiary planet Fiorina “Fury” 161 Ellen Ripley finds herself on in Alien 3. However, this time we’re trading facehuggers for spiders as inmate Elmer Strick (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’s Nick Massouh) keeps an array of arachnids for pets. Our introduction to the character is finding the prisoner on the cellblock floor removing a cinderblock, not in an attempt to escape, but to feed an oversized spider he’s keeping in the walls.
Strick is immediately faced with an impossible situation. Facing parole for the controversial crime of assisted suicide, the former pharmacist has been targeted by corrupt officer Butcher Bunk Dill (Jackson Dill) to keep his prison opium ring running. Bunk falsifies a report saying Strick was involved in a fight with an inmate to have his parole denied, forcing Strick to stay on as an assistant to the prison doctor and steal materials to cook opium to supply the inmates. The whole ordeal is very Shawshank Redemption, such as when the warden has a witness killed in order to keep prisoner Andy from appealing his court ruling and made to stay on to alter his bookkeeping.
With the ruling denied, Bunk escorts Strick back to his cell, berating the prisoner for his past transgressions and condemning his actions. When Strick returns, his cell has been tossed, and he’s confronted by Bunk and two prisoners to procure more drugs for them. The whole affair feels transactional and bereft of emotion. Even with the guard and other inmates threatening the mousey Strick, nothing is tethering us to the character. The introduction of Officer Willis (Glenn Magee) helps the episode regain some footing, as Strick explains his affinity for arachnids to the benevolent and trustworthy guard.
The story reveals that Strick has named his collection of spiders after various gods in various religions based on their abilities and demeanor. The viewers learn that Strick is a bit of an expert on the subject, writing in multiple journals, and that he was trying to use a concentrated venom to make a paralyzing agent relieve suffering. A flashback shows that his mother ran out of time, and he ended her life, knowing she would never recover or live a pain-free life ever again. Strick exhibits Norman Bates’ characteristics and ultimately becomes locked up for a similar matricide, though it’s obvious the scenario is quite different. He’s a gentle soul, believing he was doing the right thing for his mother, overtaken by cancer. In reality, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he knows some spiders who would.
As Willis exits the cell block, he gives Strick a newly arrived letter. It’s very cryptic and even more bewildering. The letter’s contents mention the admiration of the former pharmacist’s work and remark how the ancients would be proud. Enclosed is a parchment that looks like it has been saved from before the common era, somehow avoiding museums and collectors like Wade Cruise from the first story, making it to the Fiorina prison for lowly Elmer Strick. The letter is unsigned, suggestible, and semi-laughable under the quick assumption that the only character we’ve met that might send Strick such a unique token is the unnamed giant spider that lives in his wall.
He bestows the name Sakhmet on the creature, which Strick calls the goddess of dread and “she who none can escape,” though she is more often known as the goddess of war in the Egyptian culture. Sakhmet’s interpretation in the episode has more connection with her appearance as a figure associated with medicinal and healing qualities, like Strick himself as a pharmacist. As Strick finds himself pushed into a corner and one of his spiders meets its end, he finds a way to use the parchment to achieve transcendence through Sakhmet as well as vengeance against his oppressors.
The ritual is awkward, and, in the end, Strick sacrifices everything. The enjoyable portion of “Ok I’ll Bite” is found in Strick’s face when he is seen riding on the spider’s back as it preys on Bunk. The next morning, when the prison warden finds him, the viewer sees the web-entombed carcass of the officer.
Based on his short story, “Ok I’ll Bite” is written and directed by Creepshow alum John Harrison whose credits in the show include “Within the Walls of Madness,” “Night of the Paw,” and “All Hallow’s Eve.” With such wonderful hits credited to the director in the show’s history, I consider “Ok I’ll Bite” a bit of a miss. While the CGI is done extraordinarily well and effectively, part of Creepshow‘s charm is its commitment to practical effects, no matter how hokey. With the exception of a perverse spider attack on a prisoner’s eyeball that couldn’t be attained in any other fashion, the CGI in the story disappoints the viewer during an already broad storyline that leaves much to be desired. Considering Creepshow rarely ventures into CGI effects, “Ok I’ll Bite” feels like it cheats on the rest of the series.
Maybe it’s because we’re coming off of a season-high with last week’s “Skeletons in the Closet,” but I think this was one of the most lackluster episodes of Creepshow I’ve seen. High-rise apartments filled with a billionaire’s art collection don’t exactly resonate with the everyday fan. However, the story is teeming with undertones of capitalist arrogance. “The Last Tsuburaya” is probably the better of the two stories featured, even if the second tale of a man keeping spiders in his jail cell may be slightly more relatable. I know I tend to allow a couple of eight-legged crawlers to reside in the cozy nooks of my house as helpful guards, stopping infestations of other bugs looking to burrow their way inside for the winter. Regardless, I still found the tale lacking, as it feels evident how this story will end within the first few minutes.
As the episode finishes, marking the halfway point for Season 3, the latest comic is revealed. Two tales titled “Stranger Sings” and “Meter Reader” are displayed, featuring the main image posturing an Exorcist–inspired adventure, with a man holding what appears to be a wand to a bed-ridden woman, trying to shield his eyes from projectile vomit. I was planning to watch it anyway, but these images always drum up that extra bit of excitement. Join Sarah Sigfried next week with the full details on Episode 4.