George Romero and Stephen King are both titans in the world of horror, having delivered audiences countless seminal terrifying tales over the decades that are just as effective today as when they debuted. An underappreciated entry into both of their legacies is Creepshow, directed by Romero and written and starring King, which served as an homage to the EC Comics that the pair grew up reading, offering both genuine frights and campy comedy in an anthology film that contained all manner of horrors. Shudder's new anthology TV series does far more than cash in on the Creepshow name, but has managed to tap into the lifeblood of that film to deliver the perfect blend of humor and horror, uniting both fresh and familiar figures in the genre.
In the series premiere's first story, "Gray Matter," a terrible storm is approaching a small town, with some locals holed up in a market. When a young boy walks in hoping to get beer for his father, the town police chief goes to check on the patriarch amid the hurricane, only for the boy to reveal the horrifying real reason why he ran the errand instead of his father. The second story, "The House of the Head," depicts a young girl who notices strange behavior from the inhabitants of her dollhouse, inciting more curiosity in her than abject fear. The discovery of a "toy" decapitated head is only the beginning of the nightmare for both the dolls and the young girl.
From the opening moments of the new series, featuring a crate made famous by a segment in the 1982 film, it's clear that this Creepshow is going to lean heavily into delighting longtime fans. Each episode is crammed with Easter eggs to that film in both subtle and obvious ways, not so much in a way that feels pandering to the viewer but more as a secret handshake from the production to let us know they love the film as much as we do. Given that showrunner Greg Nicotero got his start working with Romero on projects like Day of the Dead and Tales from the Darkside, it's clear that this is much more than just a paycheck and more of an opportunity to embrace the original film's tag line and offer viewers "the most fun you'll ever have being scared."
Having enlisted the talents of Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad), Tobin Bell (Saw), and original Creepshow star Adrienne Barbeau, the first segment effortlessly sells the spirit of a Lovecraft-ian creature-feature, merely teasing audiences with what secrets lurk in the darkness, yet giving some glory shots to the impressive practical effects depicting an inventive monster. The second story might not have as much star power, but we're still given a perplexing mystery that has low enough stakes that it burns more slowly, leaving us with just enough questions to leave us unsettled.
While the original Creepshow, and this series, might seem like a B-movie, there are distinct differences between a film that suffers from a low budget and settles for poor direction, writing, and performances, and an experience that embraces urgency, removing subtlety from the equation entirely. The original horror comics from EC Comics often only had a handful of pages and panels to convey a terrifying story, with every moment of the adventure feeling deliberate, motivated, and sometimes exaggerated. To the uninitiated, the cast's performances might feel hammy, almost like they are serving as parodies of B-movies, yet their talents help sell a specific tone that made those comics and the original film so special. There are plenty of laughs to be had, with the distinction being that we're laughing with the series and not at it. As each story unfolds in less than 25 minutes, nuance goes out the window to deliver a digestible dose of dread. Still, seeing a "Missing" poster plastered on the side of a brick wall that feels like it was printed out minutes before the camera starts rolling might be a bit distracting, but that's a small price to pay for how well-crafted so many other elements of the episode are.
In ways both good and bad, the series lacks a production value that other contemporary series offer, except when it comes to the creature effects. Nicotero has made it clear in previous interviews that each segment was filmed at break-neck speed, partly as a means to honor the independent feel of the original films. The drawback is it feels as though the stories are somewhat restrained and the walls of a scene feel as though they can be blown over, yet this mirrors Tales from the Darkside and adds a bit of surreality to the experience, unnerving us in a fascinating way. Luckily, whatever production costs were saved on the TV aesthetic went right into the practical effects, surprising us with their effectiveness.
Whether you're looking for a new series that you can jump into without having to keep track of a twisted narrative or if you want to rekindle your love for horror stories whose sole motivation was to entertain you with macabre subject matter, Shudder's Creepshow will appeal to fans both new and old to make it the perfect way to prepare for the upcoming spooky season, in addition to being a worthy successor to Romero and King's legacy.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Creepshow debuts on Shudder on September 26th.0comments