Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Creepshow—The Series: Gray Matter & House of the Head

When it comes to horror pedigrees, this one is pretty intimidating. The original Creepshow movie was inspired by EC Comics, based on Stephen King stories, directed by George Romero, and co-starred Adrienne Barbeau and an uncredited Tom Akins. There was also a sequel that was okay. Still, the original film leaves some large shoes to fill, but at least King and Barbeau will both lend a hand. Comic books get sinister again when producer-showrunner Greg Nicotero’s series reboot of Creepshow premieres tomorrow on Shudder.

It seems like old times in a good way when the series kicks off with an adaptation of King’s “Gray Matter,” directed by Nicotero co-starring Barbeau as Rose, the kindly elementary school teacher and general store proprietor of a small coastal Maine town. Of course, it is Maine. Indeed, look closely at the notice board for a few Stephen King Easter eggs. A “Storm of the Century” is bearing down on the tiny burg, so most of the townspeople have evacuated, leaving only Rose, Doc, and [Police] Chief. They figure they will just kvetch their way through the storm, until teenaged Richie Grenadine bursts through the door, clearly in an agitated state.

Reviewers have sworn a blood oath not to reveal any details regarding the horrifying whatsit, so you will have to see for yourself. However, the real strengths of the opening story are the classic King setting and the first-rate cast. In addition to Barbeau, Gray Matter co-stars Tobin Bell from the Saw franchise as Chief and Giancarlo Esposito (who isn’t necessarily a genre specialist, but is always interesting on-screen) as Doc. Watching these three do their thing will always be great fun.

In contrast, there are no recognizable faces in The House of the Head, but it is sit-up-and-take-notice creepy. Young Evie’s imagination drew positive stimulus from her deluxe custom doll house, until a body-less head turned inside it. Suddenly, her family of dolls looks absolutely terrified and starts moving on their own. That head seems to exert an evil influence within the doll house and it scares the heck out of her too.

Screenwriter Josh Malerman’s premise is so ingeniously simple and altogether insidious, it seems amazing nobody did it before. Yet, he deserves credit for a fresh kind of doll horror. John Harrison’s direction is also tight, tense, and completely unsettling, while young Cailey Fleming is completely earnest and unaffected as Evie.

Gray Matter
is an entertaining nostalgia trip for Creepshow fans, whereas House of the Head is one of the better TV horror anthology stories of the year, so far (along with “Legacy,” “Only Child,” and “Little Monsters” from Two Sentence Horror Stories and “A Traveler” from the latest Twilight Zone reboot). Based on the first episode, we’re optimistic the Creepshow series will prove worthy of its name and lineage. Regardless, Gray Matter and House of the Head are enthusiastically recommended for fans of King, the franchise, and horror anthologies when they start streaming tomorrow (9/26) on Shudder.