Working with some of the top names in horror, Shudder’s take on the classic 80s film is a fun & spooky ride.
If you’ve seen George Romero and Stephen King‘s Creepshow (and I can’t imagine why you’d be reading this if you haven’t), you’ll know it’s one of the most loving homages to a different time you’ll ever see. Every frame is a flawless tribute to EC’s horror comics of the 1950s, right down to the lighting, camera angles, and even the scene to scene transitions. You can all but smell the paper they were printed on. The movie seems campy and harmless, until, like the comics themselves, it hits you with a truly horrifying image, like the creature in “The Crate” dragging a man kicking and screaming to his doom, or cockroaches teeming out of E.G. Marshall’s mouth at the end of “They’re Creeping Up on You,” a moment I still can’t watch without my hands over my eyes.
Though it’s a wonder it took so long to make one, given how horror has become a more booming industry than ever before, Shudder has produced a TV series based on the film, and hits all those same loving notes. Given some of the names attached to it both behind and in front of the camera, including King, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Joe Hill, and Joe R. Lansdale, it’s not messing around. This is for the fans, and not a detached “look, we think this is at least as dumb as you do” parody. Based on the strength of the episode offered for previews, it’s a fun, lively “telling stories around the campfire” time, perfect for decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.
The first segment, “Gray Matter,” comes out swinging. Directed by Nicotero, it’s based on a King short story from Night Shift, his first anthology. Like many of the short stories in Night Shift, including “Children of the Corn,” “The Mangler,” and “Graveyard Shift,” it’s a story with an absurd premise, yet when you reach the end of it, darned if the hairs on the back of your neck aren’t standing up. As opposed to the other stories, however, here the film adaptation stays largely faithful to the source material, if not a bit more gruesome.
Featuring horror mainstays Adrienne Barbeau and Tobin Bell, it’s sent in a small town that isn’t Derry, Maine, but might as well be. As the town is about to be battered by a hurricane, young Timmy Grenadine (Christopher Nathan) shows up at a store to buy beer for his reclusive father, Richie (Jesse C. Boyd). Store manager Dixie (Barbeau) is concerned that something else might be going on at Timmy’s home, and sends the Chief (Bell), and Doc (Giancarlo Esposito) to investigate. Alone with Dixie, Timmy tells her an increasingly unsettling tale about Richie, grief-stricken after his wife’s death, becoming an alcoholic. After drinking a bad batch of beer, Richie slowly becomes something inhuman and beyond imagination, forcing to Timmy to go to horrifying means to take care of him.
The whole segment is the platonic ideal of horror storytelling: set up, growing fear, gruesome reveal, bleak and shocking ending.
While Timmy tells Dixie what’s been going on, the Chief and Doc make their way into Richie’s house, and come face to face with what Timmy’s been keeping a secret. Much of this scene works because of Esposito’s viscerally realistic reaction to what he sees, hears, and smells. He’s taking the material seriously, when it could easily be played broadly for laughs. The whole segment is the platonic ideal of horror storytelling: set up, growing fear, gruesome reveal, bleak and shocking ending. It’ll also make you wipe down every single can you drink from for the rest of your life.
The second segment, “The House of the Head,” while still capably directed and acted, is a slight comedown from “Gray Matter.” Written by Josh Malerman (author of Bird Box) and directed by John Harrison (assistant director for the original Creepshow), it stars Cailey Fleming as Evie, a little girl who notices that her elaborate dollhouse has an unexpected, and most unwanted, visitor: a miniature severed, decaying head. Despite her best efforts, including adding a policeman doll and a Native American figurine to the house, Evie can’t stop the head from moving closer and closer to the dollhouse family, an alternate universe version of her own family.
While it’s a clever enough idea, it doesn’t quite stick the landing, with an abrupt, anticlimactic ending (one also wonders why Evie, who’s maybe seven at the oldest, never tells her parents what’s going on). There’s some vague suggestion that something more sinister is going on when a dollhouse designer tells Evie’s mother that children like to play with dolls because “there’s no better way to figure out who they are,” but there’s no payoff. Still, it’s a fast paced, eerie little story, that, with a bit more fleshing out, could have been on the same level as its companion segment. Together, they’re a strong start to a celebration of traditional horror, in a time when we’re busy arguing about what exactly qualifies as “horror.”
Creepshow slithers into your home on September 26th.