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 (Cujo, Pet Sematary, It) 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.