In the late 1970s, horror maestros George Romero and Stephen King first met when Romero was assigned to direct the film adaptation of King’s novel Salem’s Lot. That film version of Salem’s Lot film never got made (instead, the studio created a mini-series directed by Tobe Hooper) but the two titans formed a friendship and vowed to look for other opportunities to combine their talents. After several failed attempts (including a stab at a film adaptation of King’s 700-page novel The Stand) the duo finally got their chance to join forces. The result was Creepshow, a horror anthology that doubled as an homage to the old EC comics the pair grew up reading as kids. In its opening weekend, Creepshow knocked First Blood off the top spot at the box office, grossing an impressive $5,870,889 stateside and eventually went on to become a cult classic spawning two sequels and even a comic of its own.
Now decades later, horror streaming service Shudder is reviving the concept and bringing back everyone’s favorite creep in the form of a weekly series that promises to capture the legacy of both the age-old comics and that 1982 movie. Each episode will tell two different stories from various authors and directors alike. Of the six episodes comprising Creepshow‘s first season, only the first was made available to critics leading up to the premiere and while it’s tough to get a feel on how good the series will be just yet, so far things are looking good.
Fittingly, Stephen King’s 1973 short story “Gray Matter” leads the first episode. Directed by Creepshow showrunner and Walking Dead veteran Greg Nicotero, “Gray Matter” is a particularly great choice to kick things off since not only is it adapted from a popular Stephen King story (which was also adapted in the 1978 collection Night Shift), but it contains enough Easter Eggs here to keep die-hard King fans busy.
Set in the same universe as many of his other novels, including It and Cujo (have fun spotting the references), the story centers on a boy sent on an errand by his father in the midst of a dangerous hurricane that is sweeping through their small town in Maine. The horrified boy (Christopher Nathan) should be preparing to evacuate or at least find shelter, but instead he weathers the storm in search of some beer for his recluse dad (Jesse C. Boyd). As Timmy tells his story to store manager Dixie (horror icon Adrienne Barbeau who also appeared in the original Creepshow), the town sheriff and local doctor (played by Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell) decide to go out and investigate, only to discover something far more sinister than they anticipated.
As you would expect from Stephen King, the ensuing story deals with domestic horror, substance abuse, and the effect that grief can have on a person. It surprisingly hits a few emotional beats too, with the son’s story about his father’s descent into alcoholism. This being Creepshow however, it doesn’t take long before the episode unleashes some truly stomach-churning imagery which allows effects guru Greg Nicotero to run wild with his impressive practical effects. All in all, “Gray Matter” is a lot of fun, with a smorgasbord of ghastly images and great, old-fashioned practical effects.
House of the Head
Of the two stories, the creature feature “Gray Matter” is the segment that best captures the spirit of the original whereas the second segment, “The House of the Head,” is far less effective and culminates in a rather unsatisfying climax.
Written by Josh Malerman (author of the Bird Box novel) and directed by John Harrison (Tales From the Darkside), the story follows young Evie (Cailey Fleming), whose elaborate dollhouse is suddenly haunted by a decaying, severed head. As Evie watches helplessly, the head slowly inflicts harm on the dolls that stand-in for her loved ones, which, like with voodoo dolls, threatens to put her real-life family in danger.
“House of the Head” certainly looks good and features some clever camera work in and around the miniature dollhouse which at times reminded me of Ari Aster’s Hereditary, but in the end, it fails to deliver any real scares or visceral horror, not to mention a story worth remembering.
Like any anthology, Creepshow is sure to be hit or miss, and while the jury is still out as to whether or not they can successfully cram twelve segments into six episodes, from the first episode alone, Creepshow does seem promising. It’s good, old-fashioned horror that treats its inspirations with infectious admiration, and personally, I can’t wait for the next five installments.
- Ricky D
The first episode of Creepshow will air on Shudder, Thursday, September 26th at 9 pm EST/6 pm PST.