Reviews Television

CREEPSHOW Episode 1: Gray Matter/The House of the Head

Matt recaps the first episode of Shudder's web series.

The 1982 spook-tacular showcase Creepshow, inspired by the macabre tales of the EC horror comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, etc.), originally set the precedent for the modern horror anthology and what it would ultimately become. An 80s dream team was born with Stephen King as screenwriter (and goofball yokel taken over by a rapidly growing alien fungus in his very own story), makeup effects wizard Tom Savini doing what he does best, and zombie maestro George A. Romero in the director’s chair.

Creepshow (1982) poster art – source: Warner Bros.

The film, four decades since its original run, remains a cult classic. Its frightfully fun blend of darkly humorous storytelling and endearingly exaggerated comic angles, strewn across five stories (Something to Tide You Over being my personal favorite), has held up incredibly well, spawning a sub-par follow-up, Creepshow 2, an enigma of a third installment that best remains forgotten, and now, from executive producer of The Walking Dead, Greg Nicotero, a long overdue television series in the form of Shudder’s very own Creepshow

I have a huge fondness for HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, a show fashioned from the cultural footsteps of Creepshows playbook, and it’s exciting having another section of short form horror co-existing in conjunction with the season long anthology arcs of American Horror Story and The Terror. A legacy as popular as ever, it’s no wonder why Shudder, the definitive horror streaming service, adopted Creepshow as one of their own. The bigger question is—how did it take this long, and was it worth the wait? 

Fair warning, fellow creepers, that there’ll be *SPOILERS AHEAD*! Let’s feast, shall we?

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Creepshow (2019) – source: Shudder

Story #1 – Gray Matter (dir. Greg Nicotero)

Adapted from one of Stephen King’s short stories, the series’ inaugural tale opens with shaken teen Timmy (Christopher Nathan) walking into a local shop to buy a case of beer for his alcoholic father (Jesse C. Boyd), despite the category 4 hurricane thrashing about outside. The Chief (Tobin Bell, Saw) and his friend Doc (Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad)—who are rightfully worried about Timmy’s well-being—offer to brave the storm and go check up on his father. Timmy, meanwhile, stays behind at the shop with Dixie (Adrienne Barbeau, Creepshow 1981). As he unravels the events that led to his father’s internal deterioration, the Chief and Doc stumble upon a startling discovery.

As a gateway back into the Creepshow model, Gray Matter is pretty successful at getting the fun started. Any scenario that puts Tobin Bell, Giancarlo Esposito and Adrienne Barbeau, a returning Creepshow alum, in a room together is immediately in my good graces. I’m not familiar with King’s short story, but I can definitely see how this structure works on the written page—especially in the King-verse. After Timmy’s mother passes, his widowed father can’t take the wave of grief, causing him to become a seclusive alcoholic who abandons all parental responsibilities; the house becomes little more than a landfill. In addition to making him a neglectful parent, the beer just so happens to distort him into a slithering, slimy beast with the handy ability of multiplying itself in the process—and it looks incredible. The horror of grief is largely explored at surface level while you wait for Bell and Esposito to encounter the snarling creature of the week. Gray Matter, beyond the big “here’s what you’ve all been waiting for” creature showcase in the finale, is an admirably simple creeper that upholds the Creepshow spirit. 

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Creepshow (2019) – source: Shudder

Story # 2 – The House of the Head (dir. John Harrison)

The next story, The House of the Head, follows Evie (Cailey Fleming, another The Walking Dead alum), an imaginative young girl, and her beautifully detailed dollhouse inhabited by a figurine family she calls the Smithsmiths. Playtime gets interrupted, however, when Evie, after coming home from school, discovers that her miniatures have moved from when she last played with them, and there’s now a severed rotting doll head in the house’s living room. 

The House of the Head makes for an effectively moody, yet frustrating segment that fizzles out before it reaches a satisfying conclusion. There’s a palpable dread when Evie, unphased by the miniatures moving about on their own, opens the play manor only to discover that her miniature family are literally losing their heads. Akin to the popular trope when the haunted family enlist a higher authority to ward off the evil entity, Evie does what she can as their protector, purchasing both a Native American figure (in a cute nod to the first segment of Creepshow 2) to dispel the head’s unwelcome occupancy. And within moments of their arrival, you can see where this goes. 

The segment, however, makes a crucial mistake directly after its eeriest moment. Evie, fed up with the severed head’s presence, throws it under her bed. She’s caught by surprise when it grows to human size, and promptly places it back in the house. She imparts the dollhouse onto someone else the next morning, and that’s where we leave it. It’s a pretty lackluster ending that all but skips a proper finale, providing Evie with an easy out. I’m not counting on a continuation but should the show care to revisit it, there’s an infinitely more fulfilling conclusion to be mined here. 

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Creepshow (2019) – source: Shudder

Bring on The Creep!

Shudder’s Creepshow is every bit as nostalgic as it is a welcome return to twisted short form horror. Before being launched into Gray Matter, the very first thing you see is the Creep, skeletal mascot of all things Creepshow, reaching for the iconic comic book inside the exact same cobweb covered box from the first film’s infamous segment, The Crate. The Easter eggs are bold and plentiful; and if you think I’ll be eyeing every corner of the frame of next week’s episode to catch them, then you’re absolutely right! With Creepshow, Shudder has efficiently provided a mischievously entertaining and earnest slice of weekly event television among the other streaming service giants for horror fans to salaciously munch on for the next five weeks. In short, this show shows a lot of promise, and I’m hungry for more!

The Creepshow television series is now streaming on Shudder with new episodes available each Thursday. 

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