Horror fans of a certain age will probably have fond memories of the 1982 George A. Romero classic “Creepshow” (and maybe loss fond ones of its 1987 sequel). Written by Stephen King, “Creepshow” was a glorious homage to horror comics and serials, collecting a group of icky, grisly tales into one hit film. Roger Ebert wrote, “Romero and King have approached this movie with humor and affection, as well as with an appreciation of the macabre.” That appreciation is embedded in the streaming service known as Shudder, a haven for horror nuts, and so it makes perfect sense that they would be the home for a rebooted series version of “Creepshow,” which debuts September 26th and includes installments written by Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Joe Hill, and many more. Sadly, only one episode was sent for review and it’s a mediocre affair, but anthology series are inherently going to fluctuate in quality and this horror fan will be checking out episodes to come for sure.
The premiere starts with a lovely little nod to the original in that it stars “Creepshow” actress and legend Adrienne Barbeau. Connecting the source material and the reboot is a good idea in theory – and this short (each episode will contain two stories) also stars Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell – but the choice of source material here is a bit questionable. No one is a bigger fan of Stephen King’s short stories than I am, but his 1973 “Gray Matter” isn’t one of his strongest. It plays like a young man’s vision of addiction as a boy recounts how his alcoholic father literally became a monster as his habit overtook him (King was in his mid-twenties when he wrote it and the immaturity shows even in the adapted version).
Esposito and Bell play the men sent to investigate what’s happened to poor dad, and director Greg Nicotero brings his skill with grisly makeup effects to an effective climax (having a colleague of Romero’s helm the premiere is another nifty nod to the source. There’s just not quite enough meat on the bones for “Gray Matter,” something that’s more interesting as a young writer’s early fumbling around in ideas he would explore more effectively later in life than it is as source for an effective short film.
The second half of the premiere – “The House of the Head” – is more effectively creepy, although it kind of bungles the ending. A girl is startled to find a dead-eyed doll head in her dollhouse, but barely seems fazed by the fact that the other dolls appear to be responding to its arrival. Every day after school, she comes home to find some new disturbing tableau. She even buys a police officer and shaman to try to fix the problem. It’s a clever idea that feels tonally in line with the “Creepshow” model but it’s got a non-ending that frustrated me.
Future episodes will include a Tom Savini-directed adaptation of Joe Hill’s “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain,” a Dave Bruckner-directed adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Companion,” two stories directed by Roxanne Benjamin, and a few more by Nicotero. It’s a strong line-up of creators and source material. So even if the premiere of “Creepshow” is a little lackluster, fans should still be interested to see where this talented team takes this reboot. I know I still am.
One episode screened for review.