The 37 years between the release of Creepshow in 1982 and the debut of Shudder’s Creepshow TV series weren’t exactly kind to the franchise. 1987’s Creepshow 2 just couldn’t quite replicate the magic of its predecessor (despite its best intentions) and 2006’s Creepshow 3 was bad enough to raise the question: “What was it that made the original Creepshow so special?” What was that magical quality the 1982 classic found that’s proven to be so difficult to replicate? When you get down to it, what even defines a Creepshow story?
“Well, they have to be fun,” says Greg Nicotero, special effects legend, co-executive producer of The Walking Dead, and showrunner of Shudder’s Creepshow series. “My criteria is, when the episode is over, I want the viewer to be like, ‘Oh my God, that was so much fun. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t see it coming, but I had a great time.’”
Fortunately for Creepshow fans everywhere, that is exactly what the first season of Shudder’s revival offered. It was a wild, unpredictable, and deliciously twisted anthology series that established itself as a true work of horror without compromising that sense of “fun.”
Unfortunately for Creepshow fans everywhere, the fun of Creepshow’s promising second season was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a necessary response to an incredible situation, but it also seemingly meant that we wouldn’t have any new Creepshow stories to enjoy in time for Halloween.
That is until recently when Nicotero and the Creepshow team revealed that they had teamed up with animation studio Octopie to produce an animated Creepshow special. While the special was partially prompted by circumstance, its origin story is really based on that horror heavyweight team-up idea that inspired the 1982 film.
“We started talking at the end of June or the beginning of July, about an animated special,” Nicotero recalls. “I said, ‘Guys, why don’t we do a double feature? Why don’t we do a Stephen King/Joe Hill double feature with father and son together?’”
Actually, Nicotero knew exactly which Stephen King story he wanted to bring to life in the animated series as it was the first King story that he’d hoped to feature in Creepshow’s first season.
“When Creepshow was greenlit for season one, Steve was like, ‘I’ve got the perfect story for you,’ and he sent Survivor Type,” Nicotero explains. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
If you’ve never read it, Survivor Type is arguably the most gruesome story King has ever written. Then again, as the story of a surgeon who slowly starts to eat himself in order to survive, Survivor Type does feel like a natural fit for the world of Creepshow. As Nicotero looked deeper at the framework of the story, though, he found that adapting it was more complicated than it originally appeared to be.
“I realized that as simple as it sounds to go to a little desert island and film, that was not within the means of our project,” Nicotero recalls. “We didn’t have a ton of money, and I didn’t want to shoot the whole thing on a green-screen…So we put Survivor Type aside and said, ‘Well, listen, maybe we’ll find a way to do it for season two.’”
As it turned out, the animated format of the Creepshow special offered the team the chance to revisit Survivor Type even sooner than Nicotero anticipated. Interestingly, it also allowed the team to take a stab at a Joe Hill story that also presented unique challenges for the constraints of the series’ live-action format.
Twittering From the Circus of the Dead
“Joe Hill sent a whole bunch of stories to us, and one of them was called Twittering From the Circus of the Dead,” Nicotero explains. “The entire story is told via tweets by this girl, Blake, who’s stuck in a car with her family. And the short story is literally reading tweets. I love the story, but I was like, ‘Man, how do you adapt that and make a story that is interesting if you’re just reading a bunch of tweets on somebody’s phone?’”
Thankfully, adapting the story into an animated short not only solved the logistical hurdles that Twittering From the Circus of the Dead presented but proved to be the perfect venue for one of Hill’s most intriguing works.
“It allows us to maintain the spirit of Joe’s story and still get in some great visuals of what the world looked like and what the Twittering would look like,” Nicotero says of the animated format. “I sent it to Joe the other day to look at, and he said that he thought that it was probably the most faithful adaptation of one of his stories yet. That was a massive compliment, because all you want to do is pay tribute to the source material.”
That’s not the only source material that A Creepshow Animated Special lovingly pays tribute to. As you may know, the original Creepshow’s production was heavily influenced by Stephen King and George Romero’s shared love of horror comics largely popularized by EC Comics publications such as Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear. The original Creepshow even featured comic-book style shots and animated segments designed to evoke the spirit of those classic comics.
Yet, for their tribute to the legacy of EC Comics and its influence on Creepshow, the Shudder Creepshow team and Octopie decided to step away from the entirely animated style featured in previous Creepshow stories in favor of a style that better replicates the experience of reading the comics.
“We didn’t want it to be fully animated, like a Scooby Doo episode,” Nicotero explains. “It’s going to have elements that will feel like comic panels come to life by using artwork and drawings that aren’t fully rendered, but you’re telling the story with panels and frames that have iconic imagery, very much like they would do with the comic book… I think that the animated episode is a really good meld of maintaining some of the aesthetic of the spirit of the series that we established last year.”
Animated or not, that spirit of the series goes back to the idea of something fundamentally fun. It was an idea that attracted kids to EC Comics despite the fact that many felt their visceral visuals should have scared them off, and it’s an idea that Nicotero believes is responsible for the sometimes unlikely reach of Creepshow to this day.
“When I talk to people, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I could never show that movie to my kids because it’s just disturbing,’ I say ‘The way that I taught my children to appreciate what I do for a living is I taught them that it’s all Halloween.’” Nicotero explains. “You dress up on Halloween. You put on a costume, and you become somebody else. That’s what horror movies are. Horror movies are suspending your disbelief and treating it like it’s make-believe. The most horrific things that I’ve ever seen in my life are on the 6:00 news. You know?”
In some ways, it also seems that the twisted sense of fun that Creepshow emphasizes at its best is what Nicotero and the team use as a measuring stick when staying true to the spirit of the series regardless of the format.
“I feel George’s spirit around me all the time,” Nicotero says. “I was shooting a scene a couple of weeks ago, and I was like, ‘God, George would be laughing his ass off right now, if he saw this.’ So I really do feel him, and I feel like season two is going to even do more to sort of solidify his legacy, because that’s really why I’m doing it. I’m doing it for him and for the fans.”
A Creepshow Animated Special starring Kiefer Sutherland and Joey King is set to start streaming on Shudder on October 29.