Shudder’s first major new regular series, outside of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, has finally landed. Does Shudder’s refresh of the classic horror anthology series, Creepshow, stick that landing, though?
In short, yes; Creepshow is wonderfully creepy, presents two great stories, and lives up to the precedent of the original two films.
For those unfamiliar with Creepshow as a concept, the original film was a 1982 horror-comedy anthology directed by George A. Romero. The film also served as Stephen King’s first screenwriting credit. The film was a collection of short horror stories with a variety of stars, packaged like the kind of material you could find in old E.C. horror comics.
The show looks to follow this same spirit, providing two stories in the first episode. We’ll be reviewing the stories individually for these reviews.
On with the Creepshow…
The first tale of the evening features the biggest names of the episode. Genre fans should be happy with seeing Adrienne Barbeau, Giancarlo Esposito, and Tobin Bell. This story is a period piece about a small town and a bad, bad dad.
“Gray Matter,” directed by Greg Nicotero and based on a short story by Stephen King, has all the hallmarks of what one would expect from a Greg Nicotero production. The short is creepy as hell, incredibly gross, and full of some fantastic special effects. The Walking Dead has largely succeeded due to the directorial and producer’s eye of Nicotero. The same eye is definitely guiding Creepshow as a whole, yet, “Gray Matter” does miss the mark a bit.
The story features some members of the local community who take refuge in a general store during a hurricane. A local boy, Timmy, comes in from the storm to by beer for his father, but the boy seems spooked. Chief, a cop (Bell) and Doc (Esposito) go to deliver the beer and check up on dear ol’ dad. The boy stays behind with Dixie (Barbeau) and fills her in on what is going on.
The problem is that while so much of this story works, the apocalyptic ending does not have enough time to develop. The reveal of what Timmy’s father has become is incredibly gross and creepy. However, the ending feels rushed and the nature of the father’s growth is hurriedly broached.
“Gray Matter” was about as gross and creepy as one would expect, but the ending is just lacking in enough buildup.(3 / 5)
“The House of the Head”
The second story of the evening stars Cailey Fleming, best known as Judith Grimes in the current seasons of The Walking Dead. Expect to see a number of the alumnus of the AMC series join Creepshow as the series goes on. Josh Malerman is the writer of the story, while directorial duties were handled beautifully by John Harrison.
A good descriptor for this story might be “minimalist.” One could hazard a guess that most of the budget went to a single prop: the dollhouse. The episode does not feature many locations at all and most of the action takes place in a child’s bedroom with a brief pair of sojourns to a toy store. The episode spends a great deal of its runtime panning through various grim tableaus within the dollhouse where the “Smithsmith” family is menaced by a sinister head.
… and that is pretty much the episode. A little girl watches a doll family menaced by a sinister head and finds all her efforts to stop it fail. There are legitimately creepy moments in the story that are peppered with an absurdity that just works. The continual trauma of these dolls is so incredibly messed up and compelling to watch. The fact that viewers have so much concern over the fates of these dolls is the biggest joke of the episode, complete with a wonderful sight gag of the young girl dressed for mourning by the end of the story.
“The House of the Head” was a masterclass in making an episode of horror television on a budget using a strange concept.(4.5 / 5)
The Creep Factor
Of the two tales presented for the first episode, the clear winner is “The House of the Head.” Ambition exceeded results in the night’s first story, “Gray Matter” which buckled a bit under the amount the it sought to achieve. “Gray Matter” would have benefited greatly from being a full hour of television.
“The House of the Head,” however is lean, creepy, and bleakly hilarious. The images of the dolls being menaced by a sinister head are equally chilling and absurd.
Also, kudos to the production team for the wonderful Creep himself who adds a delightful macabre to the framing of the episode. He’s not Crypt-Keeper, but there are some fun little jokes and gags to be had; such as the Creep crushing a beer, for example.
We hope that you enjoyed our coverage of the first installment of Shudder’s Creepshow. Creepshow will air on Thursdays around 9 PM EST on Shudder. Haunted MTL will be covering the whole 6 episodes of the first season.