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.