Creepshow: “20 Minutes with Cassandra” & “Smile” (S4E1)

Creepshow Season 4, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:42

Creepshow Season 4 starts off pretty heavy right out of the gate with a creature feature and a somber psychological piece. The films, and show, have made it clear that if you’re lactose intolerant then this show might not be for you, because it is full of cheese; Season 4 is no different. This season varies in quality and substance, but I cannot deny that it’s an overall fun season. Time to open up the comic book and get right into Season 4 Episode 1 of Creepshow.

“20 Minutes With Cassandra”

Written by Jamie Flanagan // Directed by Greg Nicotero

Lorna walks towards the window to let some fresh air in as a monster stalks her
Creepshow Season 4, Official Trailer. YouTube. 00:05

Lorna (Samantha Sloyan) comes home from a long, stressful day as a video game journalist. She orders a pizza, cheese with pineapple, and pours herself a glass of wine. Mere seconds into her relaxation there is an incessant pounding on the front door. A woman by the name of Cassandra (Ruth Codd) begs to be let in, claiming there is something after her. After some gentle coaxing, Lorna lets Cassandra inside. Realizing a call to 911 would be the best option, Lorna does so. Only this is quickly halted by Cassandra grabbing Lorna’s phone and throwing it out the front door.

Who in their right mind would decline a call for assistance when you’re begging for help? Well, when the monster will make its way inside no matter what within 20 minutes, what does it matter? Cassandra tells Lorna that fighting back is useless, so why even try, right? They are quickly interrupted when a delivery person (Nick Heffelfinger) comes to the front door. Lorna remembers she recently ordered a vinyl record, and it just so happens to be getting delivered now of all times! After getting Lorna to sign for her package, she asks if he can get her cellphone and he obliges. He comes back with her phone and extends his arm out to Lorna with a large grin on his face. Suddenly, SWOOSH. Something flashes between Lorna and the delivery person. Only now the delivery person is missing an arm. A second SWOOSH lacerates his throat with three large claw marks, blood gushes down his chest.

For the first kill in Season 4, this one really starts off strong! It goes without saying that having Greg Nicotero involved in any capacity is a godsend. The practical of the delivery person’s arm stump looks really great, even if it is sullied by some less-than-good-looking digital blood spurts. It’s immediately saved by the really well-crafted neck prosthetic. For the first kill of the season, it gets a seven out of ten.

Shocked by the sights she just beheld, Lorna decides to open a window. Maybe some fresh air will do everyone nicely. Cassandra quickly recommends not doing that. As Lorna momentarily looks away from the window a giant hairy clawed creature (Carey Jones) tries to Friday The 13th: Part II her through the window. Luckily, Lorna still has Michael Myers’ favorite kitchen appliance in her hand and stabs it multiple times. We get our first real piece of lore for this creature now, as it bellows in pain from the knife. The monster can be hurt. Good to know. The creature design and effects really sell this segment. It’s fun and comical in the Creepshow way, while still managing to be a lumbering force of terror.

It appears that one of the games Lorna reviewed was one of the Dead Rising games because her next action is to craft a bat taped in knives. However, the packing tape she uses does not do the trick and the knives fall off immediately. Lorna then decides duct tape might work better and goes for a round two. The second time’s the charm. Cassandra tells Lorna she’s getting pretty hungry, which is when Lorna remembers there is a pizza coming. Good because pizza, bad because, you know, monster. Lorna tries to get some backstory behind this creature, and Cassandra spills the beans. Cassandra says her apartment building was infested with mice so she decided to lay down glue traps one night. The next day she found a paw stuck in the glue, a paw without a mouse attached to it. It turns out the rat gnawed off its own arm and promptly got stuck in a second glue trap. Yikes. Cassandra believes this creature is the mouse’s revenge. And on that sour note, the pizza arrives!

Lorna quickly runs upstairs to the balcony to warn Okwe (Franckie Francois), the delivery person, to get back in his car and go. She even tries bribing him by letting HIM take the pizza. Okwe, who is singlehandedly my new favorite character in all of horror history, tells Lorna she should take the pizza anyway and that, “cold pizza is good…many people agree!” Lorna tries to reverse it on him by saying he should just take the pizza and eat it whenever he’s hungry again. Okwe then reveals he’s one of the few people who does not agree that cold pizza is good. Classic Okwe! Even noticing that Lorna is covered in blood, as is the front porch, Okwe still puts the pizza down for her. As he leaves he thanks her for the strange conversation and says it will help him feel safe and not sad when he goes to sleep at night. Okwe gets in his car and is immediately brutally killed by the creature; the car drifts slowly backward down the driveway as Okwe’s limp foot no longer presses on the brake.

CAN I JUST SAY, DAMN YOU JAMIE FLANAGAN! I mean that in jest. You created one of the sweetest and most kind characters I’ve ever met in a piece of horror and you take him away from me like that?! Franckie Francois is one hell of an actor, he completely ate up every second he was in Creepshow. His level of kindness elevates this segment to a really personal level. Granted the delivery person was nice and kind, showing how merciless the creature is, but you didn’t have to go that hard with it! What I can say is Flanagan has written a story that truly invoked emotions from me, and that’s what I want in my horror.

As Lorna comes back to the living room she finds that Cassandra is going through her photo albums. Weird. Lorna goes to grab the pizza and finds a message written in blood on the underside of the lid that says, “Meet in back room.” In the back room, Lorna finds the creature standing at the window. It tells her that it did overhear her conversation with Okwe and that it sort of feels bad for killing him. Then, it drops a bomb on us by telling us Cassandra is the real monster because she keeps involving new people in their personal issues. Lorna grabs a can of hairspray and a lighter. She definitely plays video games.

It’s time to get to the meat of the problem here when Lorna confronts Cassandra about the monster. Then it dawns on Lorna, she saw Cassandra at the coffee shop earlier that day. All Cassandra wanted to do was be friends, but tells Lorna that she squandered the opportunity of friendship by only worrying about how to save herself. Ready to make a swift exit and to wipe her hands clean of this night, Cassandra tells Lorna that the creature is her parting gift. The 20 minutes is now up and the creature enters the house. Armed with her makeshift knife bat, Lorna and the creature square up. In a fit of exhaustion, Lorna requests a minute to herself. The creature tells her she had 20, and Lorna retorts that she hasn’t really because she’s been dealing with Cassandra for that whole time. Thankfully, the beast relents and agrees after he tells Lorna how frustrating it is to wait outside the whole time.

Lorna and the creature sit down for pizza and a glass of wine. They have a conversation about its true origin. The mouse incident was really just the icing on the cake for Cassandra. Her father had died recently, from loneliness, and her mother won’t return her calls. Seeing the dead mouse caused a lot of grief. Not wanting to go out like her father, she tried to make friends. It just never worked out in her favor. Within that grief and loneliness, the creature was begotten. One night Cassandra saw Lorna at an open mic night and thought she looked sad. This is what led Cassandra to try to befriend Lorna. The conversation then switches to the locked chest in the middle of Lorna’s living room, something that was briefly brought up earlier. Lorna reveals that’s where she keeps her monster. She shows the creature photos of her and her cat-like monster, it basically looks like a human-sized hairless cat. Yep. Lorna has a monster too.

They converse more and land on the topic of fighting. The creature says Lorna could let her monster out to fight it, like a Kaiju. Lorna immediately corrects the creature and says it would actually be a Kaijin fight. That’s a whole topic I will not get into because I’ll sound like an idiot. It’s about time the creature gets to killing, but he just says he’d like to sit with Lorna a little longer. The creature says, “I’m really…really tired,” and Lorna responds, “I know,” as she pats the creature on the back. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

I couldn’t really think of a better start to Season 4. You get your blood fix, your creature fix, and a good heap of great storytelling. The metaphor for inner demons does become a bit too literal, but I appreciate the direction they went in. Greg Nicotero is a solid director and I think he handled this material fairly well. The direction isn’t mind-blowing, nor does it try to do anything different, and that’s fine. If this is the opener for the new season then I know we’re in for a treat.

Cassandra tries to warn Lorna about the creature outside
Creepshow Season 4, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:13


Written by Mike Scannell // Directed by John Harrison

The final segment of Episode 1 brings us to a prestigious Photojournalism Association Humanitarian Awards ceremony. We are here to honor James Harris (Matthew James Downden). His wife, Sarah (Lucie Guest), congratulates him on the award, but he is adamant that he received an honor, not an award. Sarah tells John they are going to a special place to celebrate. They get to a restaurant that’s supposedly very difficult to get into and John is surprised Sarah was able to get reservations. The couple gets walked to their seat, and they imply to each other about a time earlier in their relationship when they had sex in the bathroom. John then doubles down on how sexually active they are by asking the server if they could have a coat room. Man, look. Servers have to deal with enough crap on a daily basis. Even if you’re saying this as a joke it’s probably best to just… not. They don’t get paid enough to deal with that.

Sarah ends up paying for their delightful dinner. As they prepare to head out, a hooded figure (Roberto Lanzas) walks up behind them—oh I forgot to mention, they’re sitting outside. The figure tells them to smile and snaps a photo. When they look at the polaroid handed to them, the vantage point is from across the street, rather than as close as the photographer actually was. There’s something subtly terrifying about this minor experience. Even though we know things are going to go south from here, it’s a really great idea that I don’t think I have seen before.

John and Sarah leave the restaurant, but before they go home John wants to go stand where he thinks the photo was taken. Once at that spot, they find a second photo. It’s probably just a normal photo, right? The photo John looks at shows them in their current location with the photographer snapping the image from down the road. Rightfully, John is bugged out by this. Sarah tries explaining it away as street magic. Sarah wants to call it a night while John just wants to figure out whatever is going on.

The two go to the next spot where they presume the second photo was taken only to find a photo attached to a brick that says, “Save me.” John also notices they are at San Miguel St, which will come back into play later. This leads them to walk into a graveyard, where John spots a tombstone with the scripture Daniel 8:16 on it. John knows what this is about and he’s not ready to admit it to Sarah just yet. We get a flashback to the setup for John’s award-winning photo. The photo in question is of an older man and a young boy trying to escape military (or coup) fighters, the man using as much of his energy as he can to keep the young boy’s head above water. The flashback shows us John, in the jungles of San Miguel, presumably Mexico, in the middle of a firefight, with only his camera. We find out that the subjects of his photo did eventually die from this incident. Even though the man in the photo begged John for his help, John just stood back and watched.

After revealing this information to Sarah, though it’s unclear how she didn’t put two and two together already, Sarah tries consoling John. She tells him it’s not his fault (somewhat true), and that there was nothing he could do (irrevocably untrue). Sarah’s justification to John is that his life was also in danger, true, but he’s only in danger because he implanted himself into a situation he really shouldn’t have. You have a group of civilians being murdered and forced out of their homes by either a rebel regime or a group of corrupt military members. So if you’re implanting yourself into that scenario you either help the civilians fight their attackers OR don’t take part in it whatsoever.

A polaroid camera stands center frame
Creepshow Season 4, Official Trailer, YouTube, 00:40

I was going to wait until the end to talk about this, but it’s difficult to skirt around the real issue/commentary of this segment. The idea of nightcrawling/trauma porn is a tragic consequence of the 24-hour news cycle, among other things. There’s that quote that everyone knows about how those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it, and that’s true. When human rights are violated in any sense, those atrocities must be brought to light, and sometimes it happens that photography is the best way to capture those moments; a picture can truly be worth a thousand words. But that’s where it gets to the real issue with these things. How many passive observers have witnessed avoidable tragedies all in hopes of getting the right shot? What John did to get his award-winning shot was let an adult and a child drown to death. That’s what is really great about Scannell’s script. It’s poignant and, once John realizes how bad of an idea it was to not help, shows both sides of the argument. Yes, Sarah is right that John could have easily died if he stepped out of cover. John is also correct that he put himself in a situation where his direct inaction caused the death of two people.

The next photo John and Sarah find is one of their child, Max (Max Archibald), with a single word written on it, “Pray.” They rush home and eventually find a camera set up in the basement, one final photo sticks out of it. Max floats face down in the pool leading John to jump right in and save him. Every time John looks around the pool he finds Max in a new position, almost as if he’s teleporting around the pool. After some frantic searching, John finds Max standing outside of the pool. That’s when Max transforms into some demon-like creature before turning into Gabriel (Mateo Deuma), the man from the photo. John pulls Gabriel’s bloated body into the pool and drowns him, with his own hands this time. Sarah screams at John to stop. John does eventually stop, only it’s too late. As John takes a new look at the body he just drowned, he sees that it’s Max.

We see the final photo that was in the polaroid camera moments ago. It’s John, holding Max’s lifeless body in the pool.

To elaborate just a little bit further on an earlier statement, I do understand the need for wartime/disaster journalists. People need to see what is happening, especially when there are atrocities being committed.

Back to Creepshow. “Smile” was an all-around impressive and thought-provoking piece. This is one of the few segments in Creepshow that finds itself able to exist outside of the Creepshow universe. It’s something I would expect to be running the festival circuit. The first episode of Creepshow features two very different, but weirdly complimentary, segments in a hearty welcome back to the series.

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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