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'A Creepshow Holiday Special' Review: A grab-bag of Christmas horror craziness

Greg Nicotero's 'A Creepshow Holiday Special' segment certainly takes a fresh approach to Christmas Horror, but it's a curious beast in terms of execution.

Merry Christmas from 'Creepshow' and Shudder!
(Image: © Shudder)

Our Verdict

'A Creepshow Holiday Special' doesn't feel all that special, caught between immensely imaginative ideas but no proper method of bringing such delights to life.

For

  • 🎅 A new breed of Xmas terror.
  • 🎅 Practical craftsmanship on display.

Against

  • 🎅 The concept sounds more fun on paper.
  • 🎅 Lacks energy despite visual insanity.
  • 🎅 Limps to the finish line.
  • 🎅 Comedy stylings are...not for me?

This Christmas, Shudder is stuffing your stockings with A Creepshow Holiday Special. Greg Nicotero writes and directs “Shapeshifters Anonymous,” reportedly based on a short story by J.A. Konrath. The special episode would sound like something uttered by Bill Hader’s Stefon on Saturday Night Live if he detailed Krampus’ latest underground pop-up event. It’s got everything. Werebeasts, women who dress as hippos, wolfsbane, rectal examinations, the works. Unfortunately, it’s also hampered by many of the production issues that plague Shudder's namesake series, given how budgets are, quite clearly, restrictive at best.

It’s the right move by Shudder to offer their iteration of a holiday present that can promote one of their tentpole originals. I just continue to suffer the same struggles when trying to connect with Creepshow as the horror fan within so desperately desires.

Adam Pally stars as Robert Weston, who appears at the doorstep of St. Argento’s chapel searching for a secretive community. He mutters the password “Landis” at the door, hoping to gain access to “SA,” or as we find out, “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” He’s welcomed by schoolteacher Irena (Anna Camp), who introduces the room full of “therianthropes” who all boast unique traits. Robert confesses that he believes brutal murders in the town are his fault and that he’s a lycanthrope who hunts each night. The group performs tests and attempts to calm Robert’s nerves until their mightiest foe comes donning a red cap and flanked by bell-ringing lookalike soldiers.

Yes, you’re reading correctly. Nicotero finds a way to blend Christmas Horror with werewolf - actually, werecreature - folklore, teasing religious coverups of Santa’s claws-out intentions. It’s ambitious, practical-effects heavy funhouse material that plays around with Animorphs-adjacent costumes and gnarly designs, but on a Creepshow budget that nary executes the grandest ideas. Sequences serve as prop-department showcases versus workable, narratively flowing fights (for example), as towering puppets sway to-and-fro while their attacker mimics back-and-forth motions without actually engaging beyond verbal threats.

In an hour-long episode that bites off more than it can chew, Pally and Anna Camp brew flirtatious chemistry between one freaked-out newbie and the woman who enlists to be his tamer. Pally’s skittishness and comic timing hit hardest when recalling how on Earth he found himself a Lycan predator, but elsewhere the script is thinner than sugar-dusted wafer cookies. Take Phyllis (Candy McLellan); the token “Furry” caricature included as a joke because she hangs around the group wanting to feel included (swing and a miss, nah). Or Andy (Frank Nicotero), the wereboar, who acts as piggishly as possible (crude sexual zingers) because humans represent their alternate forms in daily routines. Humor is hit and miss, while plotted details come together with breakneck speed because we’re talking about an under sixty-minute runtime.

Then, the action kicks into gear.

Well, sorry. The comic panel cartoons that bookend Creepshow episodes are replicated when invaders dressed in festive garb descend upon St. Argento’s. Without spoilers, Robert learns his fellow shapeshifters are, themselves, targeted by an alpha assassin whose biggest day comes each December. As alarms shine and St. Argento’s goes into lockdown mode (gates, surveillance, etc.), “Shapeshifters Anonymous” speeds through initial combat using colorful illustrations. Then we’re afforded a bit of intestine-ripping gore, glossed-over with CGI splatter. Familiar independent horror glimpses of henchmen gripping their stomachs while our heroes tear at already exposed organs. Entertainment is emphasized, primarily because of the figures doing all the killing, but the superhero-lite tone is relatively flat throughout where B-Movie mania is unspectacularly absurd.

In the segment's final acts, both treads break off Santa’s sleigh something fierce. Single stills paint a wackadoo portrait of monsters, mayhem, and anime-influenced suits juxtaposed against hairy howlers you might encounter at the end of a Halloween Horror Nights maze. In practice, it’s a lot of standing around, yelling, and sparse instances of actual thrills. That talkative first two-thirds chatter around zany backstory flashbacks and increasingly bonkers proclamations, which can be enjoyable delirious. Then the seams of “Shapeshifters Anonymous” begin showing, dialogue reverts to cuss words thrown into horrendous yuletide puns, and - admittedly - super DUPER rad SFX creations can’t find the means to glamorize such craftsmanship properly.

I struggle with “Shapeshifters Anonymous” because everything about what entered my eyeballs should be my jam. Yet, workarounds like zero transformation shots (even WolfCop pulls this off) or cheaply conceptualized, low-hanging-fruit development (again, Phyllis) make for a more shallow experience that should induce popcorn-popper excitement. Adam Pally and Anna Camp are the headliner draws, and they both muster moments where horror norms are roasted or their hamminess is appreciated. Other than that, this is just another Creepshow entry with more significant ideas than the show’s parameters can handle. I wish I could be more jubilant, but when your finale climax mimics everything before the Mortal Kombat announcer yells “FIGHT,” reactionary options are sparse. Ludicrous last-minute cameos and all.