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Creepshow Episode 1.01 Review – ‘Gray Matter / The House of the Head’

September 27, 2019 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Creepshow Gray Matter Image Credit: Shudder
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Creepshow Episode 1.01 Review – ‘Gray Matter / The House of the Head’  

Warning: This review contains spoilers. Don’t read if you haven’t seen the episode yet.

Creepshow was a big movie for horror fans of the 80s. The combined talents of Stephen King and George A. Romero teamed up for a loving homage to the popular horror comics they grew up with. It was an anthology movie with a series of short stories that managed to combine horror and comedy in such a way that is still memorable today. Even King himself had an acting role, although his character had a very lonesome death. The first film arrived in 1982 and was followed by a sequel in 1987. Creepshow 2 isn’t as beloved as the first, but still fun enough in its own right.

Most people aren’t even aware that Creepshow 3 was even made, which is for the best because it was horrible. Enter Greg Nicotero, who is not only a fan of Creepshow and knew George Romero, he ended up working on the special effects on Creepshow 2. Beyond that, he has enough clout in Hollywood these days thanks to the success of The Walking Dead that if he wants to do an anthology series with the name, AMC is going to let him. So they put it on their Shudder streaming service and here we are.

Let’s see what horrific stories await us this time, kiddies…

Season 1, Episode 1: ‘Gray Matter’ / ‘The House of the Head’

Directed By: Greg Nicotero / John Harrison

Written By: Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi / Josh Malerman

The first of these stories is “Gray Matter”, which longtime Stephen King fans will know comes from his first collection of short stories, Night Shift. In case you’re wondering if King can make anything scary, this story would be a good litmus test for you, as it’s very similar to “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill”, only played completely straight. It’s not a meteor from outer space that brings the horror, but instead some bizarre fungus found in an old can of beer.

The adaptation plays more or less the same as the story, so if you’ve read it, you’re going to know beat by beat what happens. It was smart for to lead off with this one. It’s a Stephen King tale and it features a cast of well-known and respected character actors: Adrienne Barbeau, Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell. They anchor down what is honestly a pretty ludicrous story of a man turning into an amorphous blob monster thanks to a moldy can of beer. King wrote it very well, and it certainly fits the tone for Creepshow, but it’s not meaty enough to have been attempted before now.

Right away you can tell they’re attempting the same vibe as the original films, perhaps more so, as we sometimes transition scenes with comic panel jumps, or perhaps page turns. The opening of this particular story is first told in animated format, before moving into live-action. There’s also some nice animated bits between stories with ads for products. Blink and you’ll miss the Easter egg referencing the original.

“Gray Matter” is the stronger of the two stories, mostly because it comes from a stronger source material. King’s story is tight and relies on what you don’t see, allowing the reader to fill in the gaps with their imagination. As such, the adaptation is hurt somewhat by giving us a look at what Richie Grenadine has turned into. To their credit, Nicotero and the effects crew have made an impressive fungus monster, and the way it looks and splits apart evokes the 80s remakes of The Thing and The Blob, which were no doubt inspirations.

The adaptation also rewrites the ending somewhat, as it gives us a more apocalyptic finale instead of the moody, suspenseful one King left us with. I’m not sure I like it personally, but I can understand the need to give a story like this more oomph to fit in with the whole EC Comics flavor they’re going for. A somber end just doesn’t fit the tone, you know? This is supposed to be the most fun we’re having being scared.

From there we move on to “The House of the Head,” which is from Bird Box author Josh Malerman. It’s the lesser of the two stories but it’s also the more interesting of the two. It’s something that would honestly benefit from further exploration, and yet that would probably also hurt the concept. A girl is playing with her dollhouse, complete with a doll family, when suddenly there is a grotesque severed toy head inside. She doesn’t know how it got there. But it begins to move around inside the dollhouse on its own, and the dolls are very afraid.

It all seems low stakes, except the dolls are moving around. She puts in authoritative figures (literally) inside to help, but they end up decapitated. They even bleed, which doesn’t make any sense. It’s not scary to us because it seemingly poses no threat to anyone but the dolls, but at the same time, it should be scary because none of this should be happening. It’s one of those bizarre little twists in the real world that would fray the sanity of the adult. I think that’s why it was smart to make the lead a child, because a child would simply work to solve the problem. And even she has her limits.

The only real problem I had with the story is that outside of one brief moment, the story never once manages to pose a threat to the girl. The concept is unique and I was always entertained and wondering what was going to happen next. However, the next step was obviously for the head to threaten her and that never happens, so the whole exercise felt pointless. Perhaps it will return in a future episode to terrorize some other kid.

Creepshow is off to a great start in its first installment. It started out strong by choosing a Stephen King story and attaching vetaran character actors, then following that up with a weird, unique tale to keep the viewer intrigued. All the while it retains the tone and feel of the original movies. So if you’re already subscribed to Shudder, give this a watch. If not, then it’s pretty cheap, so you should get on that. They don’t make them like this anymore!

The final score: review Good
The 411
Creepshow begins its run with a solid first episode and two strong and different stories. "Gray Matter" is the better of the two but "The House of the Head" is an interesting follow-up in its own right. It keeps the spirit of the movies and is a fun watch that flies by. Definitely check out Shudder and give this a watch.

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Creepshow, Joseph Lee