Creepshow review

In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King came together for Creepshow, a stylish, silly, scary horror anthology that paid tribute to the EC horror comics of the ’50s. Loaded with big hairy monsters, ghouls bursting from graves, squirmy bugs, and more, Creepshow has become hallowed in the halls of horror. So how do you top that? The simple answer is: you can’t. And Creepshow, the entertaining new anthology show from horror streaming service Shudder, doesn’t even try, for better and worse. There are plenty of thrills and chills to be had, but one can’t help but miss the slick style that made Romero’s movie so memorable.

Shudder’s Creepshow hails from showrunner Greg Nicotero, a director and special effects guru who clearly has a lot of reverence for the Romero/King film. Nicotero has assembled a murderer’s row of horror talent to help usher in his Creepshow series – a move that will no doubt appeal to fans of the genre tenfold. Each episode will contain multiple stories, and the premiere packs in two very different tales of terror.

It wouldn’t be Creepshow without Stephen King, and sure enough, the first segment adapts King’s ooey, gooey short story “Gray Matter”. Nicotero directs this story himself, with a script via Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, and for the most part, it’s an incredibly faithful adaptation of King’s story. It’s also exactly the kind of scary-but-silly story that would’ve fit in perfectly with the original film.

On a blustery night, a teenager wanders into a convenience store in order to buy his dear old dad a case of beer. The inhabitants of the store – shop owner Adrienne Barbeau (who appeared in the original Creepshow film), a local police Chief (Tobin Bell), and a character named Doc (Giancarlo Esposito) all give the boy knowing, sympathetic looks. They’re well-aware of the young man’s father’s drinking problem. But there’s more than alcoholism afoot here. According to the kid, his father is changing. He’s clearly scared, so the Chief and Doc decide to head on over to his home to figure out what’s up, while the boy stays behind. Cutting back and forth between the boy telling his story to Barbeau’s character and Doc and Chief exploring the kid’s scary, run-down home, “Gray Matter” builds towards a climax involving a slimy monster and a twist you’ll see coming a mile away.

While the storytelling itself is a hoot, the visual aspect of “Gray Matter” leaves much to be desired. It’s clear the series isn’t working with the biggest of budgets – and that’s fine. The movie wasn’t, either. But the film managed to have a wonderful flair – full of tilted angles, comic book-like filters, and more. Creepshow keeps the comic book aspect for scene transitions, and does provide us with a very cool puppet version of the Creep – Creepshow‘s silent, Crypt Keeper-like host. But removing all the other elements makes this feel distinctly unlike Creepshow, and more like just another horror anthology series. The end result is akin to Are You Afraid of the Dark, but for grown-ups. While I appreciate the hesitance to ape Romero’s EC horror-inspired style, the Creepshow series is so muted in its composition – at least in terms of this first episode – that it suffers.

The second story of episode one, “House of the Head”, comes from Bird Box writer John Malerman and director John Harrison – who served as an assistant director on the Creepshow movie. This tale is more playful than “Gray Matter”, although it never feels like there’s any real threat here. The story involves a young girl (Cailey Fleming) who owns a large, elaborate dollhouse. The dollhouse contains several dolls that make up the Smithsmith Family, and while she sets these figurines up in idyllic positions, they don’t stay that way. Every time she returns to her dollhouse, she finds the dolls have moved to new locations and positions that tell a disturbing story. And there’s something new in the house as well: a spooky severed doll head that keeps turning up all over the fake home.

As eerie as the set-up may be, “House of the Head” is more amusing than scary. That’s fine – there was plenty of comedy afoot in the Creepshow film, but it was always tinged with something sinister. Putting a bunch of lifeless dolls in danger just never truly resonates, resulting in a somewhat flat experience. And once again, there’s a distinct lack of style.

Once you learn to separate Creepshow the TV series from Creepshow the film, you’ll likely have fun with what Shudder is offering. The series is a love letter to horror fans, and packs in plenty of Easter Eggs to both the original movie and to Stephen King’s work in general. The stories never overstay they’re welcome, the folks behind and in front of the camera have a lot to offer, and anyone looking for some fast, somewhat cheap thrills is going to get exactly what they want. The Creepshow TV series was never going to live up to the classic movie, but its bloody heart is in the right place.

Creepshow premieres on Shudder September 26, 2019.

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