Starring: Tobin Bell, Giancarlo Esposito, Adrienne Barbeau, Rachel Hendrix, and Cailey Fleming
Writers: Philip de Blasi, Byron Willinger; “Gray Matter” is based on a short story by Stephen King
Directors: Greg Nicotero, John Harrison
The Creep rises from the dead with a brand new, dastardly double-feature in Shudder’s revival of CREEPSHOW! And to mark the occasion, we here at DIS/MEMBER are going to be covering the whole bloody affair, starting with the punchy, pulpy opening stories “Gray Matter” and “The House of the Head.”
The show is backed by a murderer’s row of horror icons, including the incomparable Greg Nicotero (who pulls double-duty in this opening as showrunner AND director,) Stephen King, the sickos over at KNB Effects, and many, many more.
Like you all, I have a deep-rooted connection with the original Creepshow. Not only was it one of the first major studio horror pictures I saw, but it acted as a sort of Rosetta Stone of Horror for 11-year-old me. Packed within those tales of horror was a whole road map of creatives and places I could go next, all guided by the cackling form of The Creep.
So it is with great pleasure that I report that Shudder’s new incarnation holds the creepy, pointedly bleak standard of the original high. Graced with a streaming service budget and the attention to detail only true fans could attain, the opening salvo of Creepshow, while not perfect, certainly gets close to it. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Right from the jump, this new incarnation “plays the hits.” Opening with a lovingly recreated practical effects Creep, our “host” introduces us to the opening tales of terror. Both are framed neatly with gorgeously animated comic panel bumpers. First on the docket we have “Gray Matter,” based on the short story of the same name by the King himself. Though overall I take issue with the length of the stories, “Gray Matter” is every bit a “classic” Creepshow tale. Even down to the actors filling out the cast.
A storm is about to blow into a sleepy Maine town, but before it does, a young man must feed his father’s alcoholism. But, of course, this being Creepshow and Stephen King, this set up is anything but simple. Detailed in rapidly escalating flashbacks, the boy recounts his father’s descent into addiction and his truly gross transformation. As the more and more he drinks, the more outwardly monstrous he becomes, given a goopy, slime-based sort of shroud by KNB Effects. And when I say rapid, I truly mean rapid. “Gray Matter” moves like a bullet, and while I appreciate it just getting to the damn thing, I worry that this sort of speed in the rest of the series will make the stories feel disposable. But, that said, seeing a huge, practical monster chomp Jigsaw and Gus Fring is REALLY fun.
From there, we get a much more low-key story in “The House of the Head.” This one takes a much different approach, standing as a neat chaser to the shocking shot that is “Gray Matter.” A young woman is obsessed with her doll house, having designed the house from scratch and even going so far as to personify the toy family that lives inside. But when a disembodied head of a zombie makes its presence known in the doll house, the “family” inside starts to move around thanks to the tiny terror. Said terror is building and building until it can cross into the real world and start doing some real damage.
Conceptually, this story is a hoot and the methodical direction of it really ramps up the tension. Also, the decision to keep the violence only contained to the dolls in the house is a neat feint, one that puts it more in line with kid-based horror like Don’t be Afraid of the Dark and The Hole. But again, it really feels like the story ends before it can really get truly cooking. I am not sure if this is just a choice of the “pilot” episode, presenting two extra punchy and driven stories with the aim to get asses in the seats and to plant their flag that they can do this again.
Those quibbles aside however, I cannot properly express how happy I am that The Creep is back on TV and aiming to scare the shit out of us. Armed with all manner of horror “street cred” and wonderfully macabre stories (that aren’t afraid to get SUPER gross,) “Gray Matter/The House of the Head” is a worthy reintroduction to Creepshow for a whole new generation of mutants and long-time sickos alike.
Until next time, be seeing you.