For the would-be writer of werewolf stories, it can be the worst feeling in the world to get wind of a forthcoming film or novel or come across a short story that uses the same premise they’ve been working on. For me, this happened when I read the Christmas-themed werewolf anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, published in 2008, and J.A. Konrath’s story “SA,” short for “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” This was close enough to the “Lycanthropes Anonymous” from my in-progress werewolf novel that I soon abandoned it in spite of the fact that Konrath’s group was for werebeasts of all types, some of which were deliberately ludicrous. (A were-tortoise?) The result was more tongue-in-cheek than I had been going for, but I still felt that I had been beaten to the “werewolf support group” punch.
The jokey tone carries over to the story’s television adaptation, 2020’s A Creepshow Holiday Special, making it the show’s second werewolf episode after season one’s “Bad Wolf Down.” The key difference is this one has more time to stretch out, allowing writer/director Greg Nicotero to stay as faithful to Konrath’s story as possible. It opens with the visibly nervous Robert Weston (Adam Pally) arriving at St. Argento’s for its weekly “Shapeshifters Anonymous” meeting and, after trying the previous week’s password (“Landis,” naturally), bribing his way in with a box of baked goods. The regulars are understandably leery of this newcomer, especially since he claims to be the notorious “Naperville Ripper,” but as the first half of the special unfolds he gets to know the motley assemblage of therianthropes, as chapter president Irena Reid (Anna Camp) calls them, and they get to know him.
Seems perky schoolteacher Irena is a were-cheetah (appropriate since she’s named after Simone Simon’s character from the original Cat People), the gruff Scott Howard (Pete Burris) is the aforementioned were-tortoise (so don’t read anything into the fact that he’s named after the protagonist of Teen Wolf), would-be ladies man Andy McDermott (Frank Nicotero) is a were-boar (cue the jokes about him being a real pig), and Ryan (Derek Russo) is a total mystery since he never speaks and nobody even knows his last name. The odd one out, then, is Phyllis Allenbee (Candy McLellan), who’s actually a furry with a hippo persona, but she considers the others her “people” and they clearly reciprocate since they accept her more readily than Robert. He proves to be on the level, though, and they’re unconcerned about his carnivorous nature since his victims have all been bad people who had a werewolf attack coming to them. (And the werewolf movie in-jokes keep coming since the Ripper’s victims are given as Waldemar Daminski [sic], Tony Rivers, and Ginger Fitzgerald.)
Those who haven’t read Konrath’s story may wonder why “Shapeshifters Anonymous” is set at Christmastime and potentially be blindsided by the bizarre turn it takes in it second half. Since that’s the part where the members of the group shift into their hairy (and, in Scott’s case, scaly) shapes to defend their turf from an outside threat, though, the patient viewer may find it to be an ample reward for their indulgence. No need to wait until the holidays to enjoy it.