As anyone that followed my foolish foray Into the Dark knows, I’ll watch any horror anthology out there. I love the camp, I love the flashy splashy “look what we can do with $10 and a hardware store” special effects, and I love the unexpected moments that linger with you in the dead of night. George A. Romero’s Creepshow, written by Stephen King, was formative alongside similar fare like Bordello of Blood. Now that the film anthology’s format and style has found a new home on Shudder, fans—be they longtime members of the cult or new converts seduced by the EC Comics spooky-fun vibe—will be doing the Danse Macabre “eek” to “eek.”
I got to see the first episode of Creepshow, “Gray Matter/The House of the Head,” which starts with a comicky reintroduction of the Creep and doesn’t let up. With comic fidelity unseen outside of the MCU (whole pages, ads, and page-flipping transitions make their way on-screen) and Easter eggs enough to make King fans happier than a Mainer at a townie bar, Creepshow plays to audiences with the same storytelling strategies as superhero cinema. The original fans get their nostalgia, with the old masters well represented and throwback tones well mimicked, while the new inductees get enough modernity to Trojan Horse in the show’s addictive camp.
“Gray Matter” is a ‘70s King joint adapted by Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, directed by Greg Nicotero, about some old timers weathering a harsh storm and a local’s harsh transformation. Adrienne Barbeau (returning from the film), Tobin Bell, and Giancarlo Esposito are perfectly cast in one of King’s early addiction allegories, with Esposito especially proving his genre merit. His horror career deserved so much more than Maximum Overdrive. The campfire nature of the tale is immediate in its flashlight-under-chin aesthetic and reverential treatment to the source’s boogeyman diction. “On a night just like this,” sets the mood of the entire series: the comforting schlock of a midnight bonfire.
Delightfully outrageous, its gags are goop and gore with Rob Bottin’s imagination and Tom Savini’s execution. Nicotero’s queasy camera drives it all home, giving its simple setup a gross conclusion with a few lasting images. It’s the kind of show where the big reveal earns reactions more akin to a sporting event than a traditional scare-a-thon. Rather than screams or gasps, it’s more the wowed “Woah!” of a big tackle or nasty dunk. It’s made for showing off; if Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps are meant to wean kids into horror, Creepshow is aimed at inspiring new horror junkies.
“The House of the Head,” written by Josh Malerman and directed by John Harrison, is one of these transition pieces for younger fans. It’s got the dollhouse creepiness of Hereditary and lingering late-night ideas of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, with Harrison’s precise camera tours making the minute feel as threatening as a full-scale haunted house. As the squared-off framing and staircase-encumbered blocking move to the real-life anxieties of the story’s family, it’s quickly apparent that what happens inside The House of the Head doesn’t stay inside The House of the Head. A weaker lead performance than its predecessor plus Malerman’s dodgy script—with some perfunctory dialogue, pacing issues, and a strange gag about how “spiritual” Native Americans are—and an ending that needs a bigger payoff … all serve to make this entry an enjoyable but imperfect end to the double feature.
Like all anthologies, it’s hard for one review to suffice for the whole series. There’s going to be a segment that’s just terrible. That’s just probability at work. So, in order to best judge their potential for the future, you have to look at who’s curating and what they’ve brought to the table. Nicotero lives for this stuff and his segment is great; he gets it. In fact, Creepshow’s first pair of ghoulish tales so solidly nail what made the original so beloved (an unabashed sense of look-what-we-can-get-away-with fun) that it’s easy to get swept up in its own appreciation for the dark material. It might not all be perfect in the coming episodes, but it’ll certainly be a good gamble. Creepshow’s a Halloween party thrown by your favorite goths and worth attending simply to see what will pop out of the closet next.
Creepshow premieres Thursday, September 26th on Shudder.
Jacob Oller is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Interview Magazine, Playboy, SYFY WIRE, Forbes, them, and other publications. He lives in Chicago with his two cats and a never-ending to-do list of things to watch. He likes them (the cats and the list) most of the time. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.