The fourth episode of Creepshow’s first season maintains the show’s overarching intention to remind viewers of thematic elements from the original Creepshow while introducing new tropes and new horror talent. This week’s episode offers two revenge stories that harken back to the original film’s essential themes.
The first story, “The Companion,” refers directly to the framing narrative from 1982 Creepshow, in which a young boy is empowered by Creepshow comics to exact vengeance on an oppressive authority figure in his family. The second, “Lydia Lane’s Better Half,” recalls the grotesque morality tale aspect of the original Creepshow. In both stories, a victimized protagonist seizes a chance to deal their abusers a fatal comeuppance.
In our article on Creepshow’s season premiere, we remembered Billy, the boy who rebelliously reads Creepshow comics in the prologue and epilogue to the original film. In the prologue, Billy is punished by his father for reading horror comics—his father even calls the Creepshow comics “crap.” While glowering in the confines of his bedroom, Billy sees the titular Creep beckoning to him from outside his window. In the epilogue, we find that Billy has used coupons from the comic book to obtain a Voodoo doll, with which he methodically and gleefully torments his father.
In “The Companion,” the connection between Billy and Harry seems purposeful. The story itself, written by father, daughter, and son trio Joe, Kasey, and Keith Lansdale, has appeared in several horror publications and was likely not written with Creepshow’s original premise in mind. Director David Bruckner, however, likely emphasized the potential connection to Billy’s empowering—if ghastly—connection to The Creep.
Harry, like the original Billy, is oppressed by an authority figure in his household. Harry’s older brother, also named Billy, terrorizes and physical abuses Harry. Throughout the story, older brother Billy is inexplicably hell-bent on giving Harry a good sound beating. It is when he is desperately trying to escape his older brother’s harassment that Harry stumbles upon and stirs the farmer’s former companion, the scarecrow creature, from its bizarre slumber.
We are also clued into the fact that Harry too reads Creepshow comics. When Harry’s friend visits him while he is fishing, the friend grabs a candy bar from a secret stash bag in their hideout that also contains porno mags and—wouldn’t you know it— Creepshow comic books. And so it is implied that Harry also engages in the rebellious act of reading the illicit horror comics that he isn’t supposed to read.
Later, Harry escapes his brother’s wrath only to be met with the murderous anguish of the dead farmer’s dreadful companion. He removes the cane staked through the scarecrow’s embroidered heart, thus unknowingly disrupting its spell of stillness. Brandishing the cane as a weapon for protection against his brother, Harry hides out in the abandoned farmhouse but is surprisingly accosted not by Billy but by the animated scarecrow.
Harry retreats further into the bowels of the house to hide from the scarecrow creature. There, he discovers the farmer’s body and a suicide note. Notably, it is his decision to read the farmer’s story proffered through the note that empowers Harry to know the scarecrow’s history, capacity, and limits. Harry learns how to use the scarecrow creature to horrify and (presumably) destroy his brother Billy. After Harry turns Billy over to his new companion, the referential undercurrent to the original Creepshow is emphasized as he smiles to The Creep who is beckoning to him through Billy’s bedroom window.
Throughout most of the episode, the viewer easily identifies with Harry as the victimized protagonist of the story. But, after Harry uses his newfound power to exact vengeance and to inflict harm, we are left wondering if he is still so relatable. Depending on your perception, you may feel vindicated that Harry was able to scare Billy a hell of a lot more than Billy ever scared him, or you may feel aghast that Billy uses the kind farmer’s creation in exactly the way that he had feared most. What you do not question, though, is that Billy was empowered by his connection to horror literature and to The Creep.
“The Companion” was originally published as a short story in the anthology collection Great Writers and Kids Write Spooky Stories (Random House, 1995). Joe Lansdale later published it again in A Fistfull of Stories (1996) and in Bumper Crop (2004). The story was co-authored by Lansdale with is daughter and son. Lansdale himself is a prolific writer, having published to date 63 novels, 26 short stories, and 79 comics. He has published no less than three novels and one book of short stories in 2019. The interested reader should obtain a copy of Blood in the Gears (Short Scary Tales Publications, 2019). Some of the stories are aligned with Lansdale’s predilection for mystery, while “some [are] are creepy, some [are] bloody, [and] some [are] strange.”
“Lydia Layne’s Better Half”
It becomes difficult to refrain from applying a Freudian analysis to “Lydia Lane’s Better Half.” Creepshow stories are epitomized by their insidious cloaking of practical morality tales. This story explores the pitfalls of unchecked ambition and hubris. We watch as two formidable, self-possessed women allow their egos and their preoccupation with shattering glass ceilings to debilitate them.
Lydia Layne is a big-shot executive. At the outset of the story, she advances a male employee to the position of CFO (Chief Financial Officer). Her girlfriend, who was a contender for the promotion, becomes enraged and accuses Lydia of disempowering her and stunting her career. We perceive that the women’s intimate relationship is defined by competition. Lydia is gradually exposed as a controlling, manipulative character when she reveals her intention to keep her as a companion instead of driving her career forward.
As their contention escalates, Lydia shoves her girlfriend. She accidentally murders her by pushing her onto her phallic-shaped Woman of the Year Award, which impales her girlfriend in the head. Lydia rolls her girlfriend’s body out in an office chair and into the elevator, apparently hoping to dispose of the body quietly. As a mark of Lydia’s prepossessing hubris, she operates a nonchalant attitude about riding in a high-rise elevator after experiencing a perceptible earthquake moments before she accidentally murdered her girlfriend.
Inevitably, Lydia gets stuck in the elevator with her girlfriend’s corpse, and she dreads being discovered by rescue teams as much as she despises being trapped in her girlfriend’s impromptu tomb. Lydia believes she is hallucinating when she notices her girlfriend’s vengeful corpse looking purposefully at her and moving imperceptibly. Her perceptions prove accurate, however, when her victim’s corpse moves to hold Lydia in place as she finally tries to crawl through the elevator’s doors. She is decapitated when the elevator descends, leaving the corpse still gripping her severed head.
It is symbolic that both women, whose relationship is ultimately a power struggle in their high-profile careers, die from cranial inflictions. Their heads, which house their shrewd minds, are the seats of their individual power and agency. Lydia’s girlfriend is impaled by Lydia’s Woman of the Year Award in a way that represents Lydia’s aggressive, dominant power in their interpersonal dynamic. Essentially, the story is all about Lydia’s better half’s refusal to accept a submissive role, and so by the end, she comes back from the dead to reclaim Lydia’s personal power in the most grisly and literal terms.
“Lydia Layne’s Better Half” was co-authored by John Harrison, a filmmaker who in the past has collaborated with George A. Romero, and by Creepshow series producer Greg Nicotero. The story’s adaptation in Creepshow was directed by Roxanne Benjamin who, like “The Companion” director David Bruckner, has collaborated in the past on anthology horror films V/ H/ S (2012) and Southbound (2015). If you’re hungry for more anthology horror before the next episode of Creepshow airs, then head on over to Shudder to watch V / H / S and Southbound if you haven’t already.