Greetings from the Macabre Republic…

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…Home of the red, black, and blue; where there’s a darkness not just on the edge of town, but all along Main Street; and where the heartland lies deep within October Country.

This site is an outgrowth of the blog Macabre Republic (constituted in 2010), which was devoted to the celebration and appreciation of the Gothic in American literature and culture. My goal here is not merely to construct a platform for my own written work, but to build a community of fellow aficionados–all those who feel right at home on the nightside.

Think you might fit in nicely? Here’s a quick citizenship test:

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Camino Royale

Can I get a “Yeah, bitch!”?

El Camino, the feature-length sequel (now streaming on Netflix) to the Breaking Bad series, had a lofty standard to live up to, but thankfully manages to do just that. The film steers viewers right back into the seedy world of Albuquerque, whose sun-drenched streets have been the setting for some extremely dark doings over the years.

In a strict sense, the film picks up where the series finale left off–with Jesse’s escape (courtesy of Walter White) from enslavement by Uncle Jack’s outlaw gang. The title El Camino actually refers to the getaway car, formerly owned by Todd, that Jesse (the sensational-as-always Aaron Paul) drives as he speeds away from the carnage at the compound. He isn’t able simply to ride off into the sunset, though (otherwise there would be no need for this follow-up); much of the narrative thrust here comes from Jesse’s labors to avoid a prompt re-capturing by the local authorities now hunting him.

Yet mimicking the workings of Breaking Bad, the film does not unspool its story in a merely linear fashion. There are a series of flashbacks employed, which also gives director Vince Gilligan the opportunity to bring back a host of characters from the TV series (some of whom were killed off along the way) in new, never-before-glimpsed scenes. These revisits with old friends and enemies are skillfully done, filled with poignant moments and smoothly sequeing into earlier points on the BB timeline. The one exception I would note involves psycho Todd (played by Jesse Plemons), who appears inexplicably and conspicuously chunky in his flashback scenes (seriously, dude, you couldn’t have dieted for this role?).

Perhaps the greatest gain from the back-and-forth cutting of the film’s narrative is the light shed on Jesse’s character. Even though he is no longer locked in a cage like a filthy animal, Jesse isn’t necessarily free. El Camino does a fine job of demonstrating the psychological trauma that lingers after the physical ordeal has ended. The presentation of additional scenes from the former captivity narrative chillingly evokes the torture and torment Jesse was forced to suffer, and his present-day recall of such Gothic experiences clearly reveal a haunted figure.

There is undeniable darkness here, but again in keeping with the precursor series, also terrific instances of humor. The hysterical banter between Badger and Skinny Pete alone makes this film a must-see for fans. At the same time, El Camino features a fine shading of crime noir, especially as Jesse crosses paths with some dangerous con men after the late Todd’s stash of illicitly-gained cash.

With a two-hour drive time, El Camino can’t adopt the same deliberate storytelling approach of Breaking Bad, but the pacing of the film nonetheless feels pitch-perfect. Scenes of frantic action and sweat-wringing suspense are balanced with quieter, more tender moments. While the film doesn’t quite achieve the same gravitas as the series, it does make for a quite satisfying sequel. Jesse Pinkman (basically a good kid who found himself partnered with a bad man) has always been the show’s closest thing to a moral compass, and it is undoubtedly rewarding as a viewer to watch Jesse finally get the ending he deserves.

One final thought: the stories for two of the major characters from Breaking Bad (Walt and Jesse) are now complete, but there is still another loose thread remaining. Even as El Camino furnishes a strong sense of closure, it also spurs anticipation, and curiosity about the ultimate fate of everyone’s favorite shady lawyer (turned Cinnabon manager). The new season of Better Call Saul cannot come soon enough.

 

Personal Pennywise

In conjunction with last month’s theatrical release of IT: Chapter 2, BuzzFeed posted a fun little piece titled “Everyone Has One Great Fear: This ‘It’ Quiz Will Reveal Yours.” My photo selections from the various prompts resulted in the Magic-8-Ball-like answer of “Fear of Flying.” While I am no white-knuckler, I’m hardly a relaxed traveler of the friendly skies, so I suppose this was an appropriate designation (although, technically, it’s not the flying, but rather the fiery crashing, that concerns me).

But if I were ever to encounter the terribly shifty It from Stephen King’s epic novel, I have no doubt what fearful, me-tenderizing shape the monstrous entity would assume.

With questionable 70’s aesthetics, my parents furnished a corner of our living room with a life-size lamp of a topless, onyx-skinned native woman standing on a gold pedestal. I am told that as a toddler, I would look at this figure and scream hysterically, to the point where my parents would have to drape a sheet over the lamp in order to quiet me down (in hindsight, it’s interesting that I found this ghostly alternative relatively comforting). As I sprouted up and my imagination ripened, my toleration of this horror did not grow at all: the Lamp Lady starred in a series of bad dreams, and formed a childhood-long source of dread.

Here’s an old photo that I somewhat-reluctantly dug up that shows the lamp in the background. Perhaps mercifully, the figure’s head is cut off in the picture, since it was the part about her that spooked me the most. Her glaring white eyes and stoic (to me: stern and menacing) expression seared their way right into my psyche.

So to all the (non-dancing-clown) denizens of the Macabre Republic, I say: Welcome to my nightmare. You can keep it for yourselves; I don’t want to have it anymore.

 

Remembrance of Trick-or-Treatings Past: Halloween in a Box

Writer/director Rob Caprilozzi’s documentary Halloween in a Box is filled with wonders for viewers of a certain age and a lasting fondness for autumnal merriment. Anyone who can recall once picking out one of the titular costume kits (complete with rubber-banded plastic masks and colorful vinyl smocks) at the local five-and-dime store and decking out on October 31st will slip quite easily into this film.

The documentary traces the rise (and falling fortunes of) the three giants in the boxed-costume industry: Ben Cooper, Inc, Collegeville, and Halco. Extensive interviews with the owners of, and employees within, these companies provide copious insight into the business end of the trick-or-treating enterprise. Looking back over several decades of ventures (mainly, the quest to secure licenses for character likenesses), the film forms a veritable tour of 20th Century pop culture. Halloween in a Box is perhaps most enlightening when it notes how the annual effort of fantasy role-playing was affected by various historical realities (e.g., the post-World War II lifting of the sugar ration, the rise of the automobile in the 1950’s, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963). Covering the paranoia spawned by the Tylenol scare of the early 80’s, the documentary shows how the costuming competitors came together and endeavored to save the holiday by publishing an important booklet entitled 13 Great Ways to Celebrate Halloween.

To no surprise, Caprilozzi includes countless stills and home-video clips of children in the holiday gear of yesteryear (my one complaint is that these segments of the documentary are all scored by the same wearying piece of instrumental music; not since Creature form the Black Lagoon has a riff been so overused). I was delighted to catch glimpse of the Mork outfit that marked my own foray into boxed-costume territory as a pre-teen (the subject of one of the offerings in my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season). Brimmingly nostalgic and equally informative, Halloween in a Box is a real treat of the nonfictional kind this holiday-viewing season.

Angry Villager Vocals

My 2014 collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season consists of two sections gathering 31 selections each. The first, “Miscellaneous Praise,” features various Halloween-themed poems, while the second, “Angry Villager Anthology” is structured as a sequence (think of it as a long, 31-part poem). Here’s the brief introduction I wrote for the second section, along with a sampling of poems from throughout the anthology.

Nearly a century after its first publication, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915) remains the premier collection of American Gothic verse. This sequence of interconnecting and sometimes contradicting monologues (presented as epitaphs voiced by the deceased inhabitants of Spoon River’s cemetery) sheds life on the dark underbelly of everyday life, exposes the secrets and scandals of a small Midwestern town. Angry Villager Anthology forms my autumnal answer to Masters, an attempt to show that when it comes to dark-heartedness, Spoon River has nothing on the community of Grantwood.

 

Mischievous

The Mob

C’mon Tom, Charlie, Emory, and Frank,
Rupert Daugherty’s caught our October bogy!
That semi-human Quasimodo won’t be tormenting us anymore.
Only fitting the thing’s been snared here on the eve of Halloween,
After it transformed Mischief Night into a month-long campaign.

C’mon Kate, Lizzie, Ellen, and Rebecca,
You’ve just as much right to punish the monster’s wrongs.
Sneaking in our yards, peeping in our windows,
Desecrating the cemetery, smashing Jeb Llewellyn’s pumpkins,
Preying on our animals, fraying our nerves with its elusiveness,
Scaring more than the bejesus outta Cyndi Anders earlier today.
It’s time that wretch met Grantwood’s Unwelcoming Committee.

C’mon Tyrus, Juan, Gunther, and Angelina,
We’re all coming together tonight to celebrate.
Capture puts an end at last to apprehension.
So let’s seize the moment, and march this nemesis through the streets,
The very thoroughfares it made us wary of traversing after dark.

C’mon everyone, come outside and join in.
Grab whatever’s available–knife, pitchfork, lead pipe, wooden bat.
When we get to the town square you can each take a turn.
We plan on lashing the bastard to the Founder’s statue
And then bashing it open like an animate piñata.
Huzzah! Our vengeance is going to be sweeter than all of
The candy handed out to the oddly costumed tomorrow night.

 

Patchwork

Jeb Llewellyn

Every night for the first third of October
The monster snuck inna my patch and smashed open a pumpkin;
Come morning I’d find the pieces of partially-gnawed rind.
So I rigged a motion sensor, hoping to spotlight the late-night snacking–
Somehow he never set the dang thing off.
I brushed paint thinner on the most attractive-looking specimens–
He kept selecting an untainted gourd.
Rankled to no end, I set up traps all over my land–
And he never came back again.
But neither did my customers, fearing I might’ve forgotten
Where ‘xactly I hid all those toothy steel jaws.

 

Sketchy

Charlie Ehrenhardt

I never saw who it was that snuck up behind me,
And nothing evermore after the bat struck my head.
But I always figured Len Saunders for the slugger,
For my alleged leering at his wife as she strutted to the bank
Each morning while I painted the mural on Kemp’s storefront.
Now as I sit on my front stoop, sketch pad in my lap,
I can hear Len’s voice in the beehive buzz of the passing crowd.
I imagine flaming torches and bobbing pitchforks,
Some local variation on a Universal horror movie.
I work my charcoal, trying to link mind’s eye and muscle memory.
Yet when I press my fingertip to the paper as if it were Brailled
I detect only smoothness, my creation doomed to vagueness.
Meantime the mob rumbles on, noxious with animosity.
I’m guessing that come morning, I won’t be the only one
Here in Grantwood wondering just what have I done.

 

Doggone

Bob Mendenhall

Whether in self-defense or some beastly sense of territoriality
The monster snapped the neck of Virgil’s German shepherd Kendra
Way back when on the fourteenth of this month.
For two weeks straight the dog’d been bent all out of shape,
Barking seemingly non-stop throughout the night.
Virgil and me had been neighbors for nearly twenty years,
But he wouldn’t listen to me when I kept trying to tell him
He’d best bring the dog inside when it got dark out.
“She watches o’er,” he insisted, and look what happened:
One permanently silenced canine.
Now we’re herding the perpetrator toward the town square;
I happily jab it in the back with the steel fingers of my hoe.
Had the damned thing snuffed out the mutt a day sooner
It would’ve saved me the cost of strip steak and strychnine.

 

Tome Reader

Heyward “Stacks” Calhoun

Here in the shadowy bowels of Grantwood’s Library
Lie the various volumes to scandalous for circulation,
Such as Ben Thompson’s incendiary slave diary,
And a highly unauthorized biography of Jeremiah Healey.
Not to mention a certain kid-skinned grimoire,
Whose curious lore served as a perfect lure for a lone bibliophile.
That perusal had been on the first night of October,
And so now I shiver as I overhear the shivaree outside.
I take no joy in the passing crowd’s raucousness,
Because I have to wonder if it was my own clumsy pronunciation that
Unwittingly summoned the town’s cthonian antagonist to begin with.

 

Revival

Abigail St. Clair

“Miss Abby? Whatcha doing over there?” Phil Wheatley calls from his car
When he spots me setting up shop in the middle of the town square:
Thin-legged card table, carafe of cider, plastic cups and cinnamon sticks,
Basketful of the pumpkin muffins I just happened to have been baking.
“Oh, just figured the people in the parade would appreciate some refreshments.”
“Parade?” he echoes, incredulous. Distance and darkness eclipse
Everything but the whites of his teeth, tiny floating ghosts.
“Ma’am, do you understand what’s going on here in town tonight?”
“Well,” I tell him, “I gather there’s going to be a public ceremony held.
So you best move that jalopy outta the way before everyone gets here.”
“Daffy old bat,” he proclaims before stomping the gas pedal.
But I pay him no mind, just settle into the lawn chair I’ve unfolded,
And sit here waiting, anticipating the start of the festivities.
God, it’s been ages since Grantwood hosted a good lynching.

 

Balloon Quotes

Phrases such as “We all float down here” and “You’ll float, too” have entered the pop culture lexicon, and red balloons have risen to horror-icon status. In Stephen King’s magnus opus IT, though, there is a lot more clowning around with balloons than most people might recall. Time and again, Pennywise wages psychological warfare and terrorizes the Losers Club with balloons emblazoned with messed-up messages. Here’s a quick quiz for Constant Readers, to see how many of these flashes of malefic wit they can identify. Answers appear in the comments section.

 

1.What appears scripted on each of the myriad of balloons that appear following the mauling of Adrian Mellon?

2.At the end of “Derry: The Second Interlude,” Mike awakens to find a balloon tied to his reading lamp. What does he see on the balloon?

3.Fill in the blank: When grownup Ben returns to the Derry Library, Penywise manifests and displays a pair of balloons with phrases written on them. They read “HAVE A GOOD DAY! __ __ __!” and “I KILLED  ___ ___!–PENNYWISE THE CLOWN.”

4.What Pennywise p.s.a. “COMPLIMENTS OF CENTER STREET DRUG” is an adult Eddie subjected to while visiting the baseball field?

5.After chasing an adult Beverly from her childhood home, Pennywise is seen holding a bunch of balloons bearing what legend? (hint: it’s the title of a 1953 science fiction horror film)

6.Fill in the blank. Appearing in place of the Paul Bunyan statue, Pennywise stands holding a balloon that reads “RICHIE TOZIER’S ‘___ ___’ ___ ___.”

7.Fill in the blank. Perhaps Pennywise’s greatest quip is delivered in Chapter 14 “The Album,” when Mike enters the library’s staff lounge and discovers a balloon that reads “THE LOSERS ARE STILL LOSING, BUT ___ ___ ___  ___ ____!”

BONUS: What is written on the back of It’s varsity jacket when the Teenage Werewolf attacks the Losers Club in the house on Neibolt Street?

Seize the Season

At long last, the calendar has flipped to the most important time of year in the Macabre Republic: the High Holiday season, in the merry month of mayhem. These thirty-one days always seem to fly by faster than a witch late to a sabbath, so I encourage you to start celebrating early. Here’s hoping that your October is stocked with autumnal treats and attractive haunts, and that your Halloween proves a harvest of horror.

Speaking for myself, I am to be in the spirit all month long here on this blog. There will be plenty of Halloween-related posts to follow. Thanks to the recent release of the second cinematic chapter, this isn’t just the season of the witch but also the season of IT. I accordingly have a lot of items planned relating to Stephen King’s epic novel that should float the boat of Constant Readers.

First, for all those who can’t get their fill of fall, here’s a poem to kick off the season. It is from my collection Autumn Lauds (for a closer look inside this book, click the designated heading in the menu above).

 

Octoberzest

Apple cider
Perfectly perfumery bottle, eau de orchard

Candy corn
Fairy horse of sweet tricolor bicuspids

Yankee Candle
Flaming aromatic–earthy wood, sere leaves

Pumpkin pancakes
Limited time: we all bound to IHOP

Decorative hay bales
Squarely redolent of rural remotes

Cinnamon-sugared doughnuts
Dessert worthy of the Van Tassel banquet table

Not just of mists and mellow fruitfulness
(as Keats asserted)
But a season of scents and tastes to savor

 

E.C. Writer: Nine More Stephen King Works That Would Make Great Creepshow Adaptations

Counting the films Creepshow and Creepshow 2, and the premiere episode of the new streaming series, there have been nine Stephen King pieces brought to the screen to date as pseudo-shudder-comics segments. What other King stories might be ripe for adaptation on future (assumably green-lit) seasons of Creepshow? Here are my nine ideal candidates, chosen from works that have yet to be adapted elsewhere (as anything more than a dollar-baby):

 

1. “The Reaper’s Image” (1969)

Some brilliantly dark atmosphere could be recreated by drawing on this early story, set in the “Samuel Claggert Memorial Private Museum” and centering on a reputedly haunted looking-glass stored with other Gothic bric-a-brac in a gable room. Also, the inevitable appearance of the Reaper in the mirror would allow for the practical-effecting of a particularly Creep-y ghoul.

 

2. “The Blue-Air Compressor” (1971)

King’s modern-day conte cruel (whose story idea developed from the author’s reading of E.C. Comics) concerning a vengeful fledgling writer offers up some nasty violence and horrific imagery that would be right at home on Creepshow. Even better, King’s self-identifying intrusion into the narrative makes this potential adaptation the perfect opportunity for him to film his latest Creepshow cameo.

 

3. “Suffer the Little Children” (1972)

In his endnote to this story in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, King writes: “it feels a little bit like the Bradbury of the late forties and early fifties to me, the fiendish Bradbury who revelled in killer babies, renegade undertakers, and tales only a Crypt-Keeper could love. Put another way, ‘Suffer the Little Children’ is a ghastly sick joke with no redeeming social merit whatever. I like that in a story.” Enough said.

 

4. “Nona” (1978)

This story checks all the (f)right boxes: more rats than you can shake a stick at, a violent killing spree, a supernatural femme fatale, and a graveyard climax. The fact that “Nona” is set in a little town called Castle Rock would make this a timely adaptation (given the series of that title currently streaming on Hulu).

 

5. “Popsy” (1987)

Featuring a reprehensible lead character who receives his macabre comeuppance, this story seems tailor-made for Creepshow treatment. Throw in a terrific twist ending and some grisly concluding imagery, and you can’t help but wonder why the producers of the new series didn’t turn here first (rather than to “Gray Matter”) when searching for a King story to adapt.

 

6. “Sneakers” (1988)

Creepshow has never qualified for highbrow status, so a tale of a haunted toilet stall would hardly compromise its aesthetics (as the story’s protagonist notes, the very idea combines the “gruesome” and the “comic”). The graphic horrors filling “Sneakers” (nightmares of a “slumped mossy thing”; the eventual encounter with the ghost of a mutilated corpse) would certainly keep such an adaptation well-clear of the crapper.

 

7. “Mile 81” (2011)

This story (one of King’s professed favorites) has a happier ending than those typically adapted for Creepshow, but features an eerie setting (an abandoned rest area) and a series of spectacularly grotesque set pieces. The monster car driving this narrative makes Christine seem like a kid’s toy.

 

8. “The Little Green God of Agony” (2011)

A Gothic shocker (in which a less-than-admirable viewpoint character is forced to learn the errors of her ways) that seems another perfect fit for the Creepshow mold. I can imagine the series’ fx specialists taking wicked delight in designing the story’s eponymous abomination (a slimy, pulsing, sentient sac of pulp).

 

9. “Bad Little Kid” (2015)

The ongoing trials of a hapless protagonist mark this darkly humorous tale as ready-made for adaptation. No doubt there’s an underlying malevolence to the antics of the potty-mouthed problem child of the title. This demon seed wearing a beanie hat with a propeller on top is every adult’s worst nightmare.

 

In Anticipation of IT

In my previous post, I grumbled about the new Creepshow series’ intrusive allusions to other Stephen King works in its adaptation of “Gray Matter.” Arguably the most prominent call back is to the book and film versions of IT. Reference is made to cataclysmic events in 1958, and the character Timmy shows up wearing a bright yellow raincoat just like the one recently popularized by Georgie Denbrough. Ironically, though, what at first seems the most facile reference to the epic narrative is anything but, and actually turns out to be drawn directly from King’s short story.

In the story, the narrator shares an anecdote about “a fella named George Kelso, who worked for the Bangor Public Works Department.” The Constant Reader’s attention is instantly caught by the choice of first name, not to mention the town (Derry would become King’s fictionalized version of Bangor) and area of employment. George Kelso, we are told, abruptly quit his job after venturing into the sewer and experiencing something horrible: “Frankie Haldeman, who knew him, said George went down into a sewer pipe on Essex laughing and joking just like always and came up fifteen minutes later with his hair just as white as snow and his eyes staring like he just looked through a window into hell.” This sudden loss of hair color prefigures Henry Bowers’s new look after encountering Pennywise underground in the 1985 novel. Perhaps the most suggestive parallel forms when George Kelso in “Gray Matter” eventually reveals the source of his terrible fright: “Turned around on his stool, George did, an’ asked Frankie Haldeman if he’d ever seen a spider as big as a good-sized dog setting in a web of kitties an’ such all wrapped up in silk thread.” Following this mention of a monstrous spider that makes the sewer its lair, the narrator proclaims that “there’s things in the corners of the world that would drive a man insane to look ’em right in the face,” which also sounds like an apt description of It’s mind-blowing deadlights.

King was only a fledgling writer submitting stories to men’s magazines such as Cavalier in 1973, and I am not suggesting that he already had his magnus opus of twelve years hence already mapped out in his head when he wrote “Gray Matter.” But the details are certainly intriguing, and the imagery and scenario of subterranean terror appear to have simmered in the author’s imagination a long time before being served up in IT‘s full-fledged feast of fear.

 

Creep Calm and Carrion: A Review of Creepshow’s Series Premiere

The first episode of the new streaming-series edition of Creepshow immediately links back to the original movie: an animated bit shows the Crate (which in the film segment contained the carnivorous Fluffy) being pried open to reveal a heap of Creepshow comics. In his moldering look, the horror-hosting Creep (nicely realized here as a practical-effect puppet) also recalls the ghoul in the original film. I like the restraint shown by the show’s producers, who don’t make over the Creep into a chattering Crypt-Keeper type; he expresses himself mainly through growls and evil chuckles, with his mordant and alliterative wit being limited to shots of the comic book’s story intros. Such connective tissue forms a great part of Creepshow‘s aesthetic strength. The dissolves from comic panels to live action are wonderfully done, and I love the glimpses of interstitial pages of the issue featuring advertisements for iconic Monster Culture items like horror masks and (“Aorta” rather than Aurora) model kits.

It’s only apropos that the series opens with an adaptation of a Stephen King story–the Night Shift piece “Gray Matter.” In this segment, a grieving father’s descent into alcoholism takes a grim turn when the man consumes some mold-contaminated beer. Richie’s subsequent transformation is gruesomely gooey, an at-squalid-home mutation reminiscent of “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill” in the original film (perhaps not surprisingly, considering that both King stories are inspired by the weird tales of H.P. Lovecraft). The motivation of Richie’s son Timmy is radically altered from King’s 1973 text, yet this serves to justify the boy’s recitation of the backstory of his father’s drunken demise.

Great suspense builds as the heroic police Chief Connors (Tobin Bell) and the cowardly Doc (Giancarlo Esposito, likewise playing against [suave-and-sinister-Gus-Fring] type) warily investigate the dark, decrepit house in which Richie resides. The creature revealed in the climax is impressively monstrous, another testament to producer Greg Nicotero’s fx mastery. “Gray Matter” plays the horror razor-straight, which unfortunately makes the resort to more familiar Creepshow-style campiness in the segment’s conclusion (as the characters engage in hammy hysterics while pondering the apocalypse) tonally jarring.

Speaking of jarring, I thought the manifold allusions to other King works (CujoPet SemataryIt) unnecessarily distracting. Must every King adaptation these days include a basketful of Easter eggs? These knowing winks are fast growing trite and tiresome.

In the second segment, “The House of the Head” (scripted by Josh Malerman, adapting his own short story) a young girl named Evie (the adorable-as-ever Cailey Fleming from The Walking Dead) finds her dollhouse haunted by the bizarre intrusion of a decapitated, zombie-like noggin into the stagings of domestic bliss. The story unfolds in fantastically uncanny manner, as inanimate objects appear to rearrange themselves while no one is looking. Both eeriness and black humor abound in the increasingly-horrified reactions of the dollhouse family, and Evie’s concerned attempts to introduce figures of physical and spiritual protection into the scene lead to some terrifying tableaux.

“The House of the Head” is no doubt creepy, but in the end doesn’t really feel like a Creepshow tale. It starts with a killer premise but fails to pay off: there’s no explanation given for the mysterious head’s games, and the climax fizzles with an abrupt, and markedly undramatic, resolution. This had the potential to be a classic installment, but the story concludes not with a bang but a sigh-inducing whimper.

Still, don’t get skittish, kiddies. This premiere episode might have its peaks and (death) valleys, but there’s enough scary fun on display here that I can honestly say that the series promises to form an honorable hommage to the Creepshow films and E.C. horror comics alike.

Growing Rank: A Creepshow Film Segment Countdown

Creepshow debuts as a streaming series on Shudder today, but before reviewing the premiere episode (which, appropriately, features a segment based on a Stephen King story), I’d like to take a look back at the film series. Here’s a countdown of the eight segments included in Creepshow and Creepshow 2 (I will willfully neglect the nominal, non-King-related sequel, Creepshow 3), from the downright rotten to the positively putrid.

 

8. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” (Creepshow 2)

Tooth-achingly sentimental (uggh, that theme music) and painfully melodramatic, this slow-developing segment is by far the worst offering of the series. The uncanny effects of a cigar store Indian coming to life to take vengeance on the storeowners’ murderers is undercut by the resort to blatant cultural stereotypes (the bloodthirsty chief’s warpath leads to arrow-shooting, tomahawking, and scalping). Perhaps most dismaying of all, though, is the use of a glaringly white actor to portray Native American villain Sam Whitemoon.

 

7. “The Crate” (Creepshow)

Adrienne Barbeau gives an over-the-top performance as a boozy shrew of a wife, and the ostensible suspense is overdone (the initial opening of the mysterious box seems to take forever). The carnivorous creature released (dubbed “Fluffy” on the film set) looks like a cheap Halloween costume someone might rent. Filling up nearly one-third of Creepshow‘s runtime, “The Crate” proves terribly overlong.

 

6. “They’re Creeping Up on You” (Creepshow)

No doubt the most notorious and nauseating segment in the series (I’m sure that a significant portion of my present-day bug phobia can be traced back to its swarming scenes). Ultimately, though, there’s just not much to this piece, whose somewhat-nonsensical story strikes a singular note: a jerk of a germaphobe is overrun by myriad cockroaches.

 

5. “The Hitch-Hiker” (Creepshow 2)

The premise here is a strong one (a woman is haunted by the revenant of her hit-and-run victim as she speeds home from an adulterous tryst), and the increasingly grotesque deterioration of the hitch-hiker is well done as a practical effect. But the stricture of the situation (a single actress alone in a car for much of the segment) forces a jarring directorial decision–Lois Chiles’s continuous thinking out loud soon grows obtrusive, reducing the sense of verisimilitude.

 

4. “The Raft” (Creepshow 2)

The scene of Randy perving on Laverne naturally dominated my attention as a teenager, but now I am able to appreciate other aspects of this segment. When the sentient slick sucks Deke down through the slats in the raft, the jock’s violent sacking causes his leg to be bent gruesomely (a sight every bit as horrifying as that of the initial victim in the opening of It Follows). Based on the nature of the monster, this King story adaptation could have made for a tough sell visually, but the filmmakers succeed in creating a convincing float fatale.

 

3. “Father’s Day” (Creepshow)

The ranting, cane-rapping old man in this holiday-themed segment is terrifying even before he rises from the grave as a moldering ghoul. “Father’s Day” features some of the best kills in the series, including Ed Harris’s devastation by a toppled headstone. The closing image of a frosted, candle-crowned head on a platter makes for a garish graphic that might have been ripped right from the pages of a horror comic.

 

2. “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (Creepshow)

I love King’s comedic riff (starring the author himself as the titular yokel) on H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic-horror classic, “The Colour Out of Space.” Jordy’s steady, weedy decline is played jokingly, yet the story also jabs a primal nerve: the dread of contagion and terminal disease, and the anxiety of discovering signs of bodily breakdown breaking out. The verdant Verrill’s Hemingwayesque final solution to his human-Chia-Pet status certainly is no laughing matter, and makes for a sobering conclusion.

 

1. “Something to Tide You Over” (Creepshow)

This tale of marital infidelity, criminal revenge by a cuckold, and ultimate supernatural comeuppance plays like a quintessential E.C. Comics story. Leslie Nielson gives a strikingly chilling turn as the villain here (who knew Lt. Drebin could be so dreadful?!). His sadistic set-up (beachfront premature burial) creates a form of torment as relentless as the ocean’s breaking waves. The scenario is so harrowing, it almost renders the inevitable resurfacing of the waterlogged zombies anti-climactic.