Creepshow, Episode 1 (Gray Matter / The House of the Head)
Release Date: September 26, 2019
Director: Greg Nicotero (Gray Matter), John Harrison (The House of the Head)
Streaming Platform: Shudder
Barnabas: Since its announcement last summer, Shudder’s Creepshow series has been one of the most highly-anticipated projects in horror, and for good reason: the original film franchise (at least the first two films…) is beloved by genre fans, and this revival appeared ready to please. Helmed by legendary special effects artist and filmmaker, Greg Nicotero, Creepshow promised to channel the comic book-influenced and practical nature of the 80s classics, beginning with the first of six total segmented episodes. Suffice it to say that episode one is a strong start and a positive indication of what’s to come.
The first segment, Gray Matter, is directed by Nicotero himself and adapted from a short story of the same name by none other than Stephen King, who was an integral player in the genesis of the first two Creepshow films. It follows a young boy, Timmy, whose father Richie has apparently been consumed by his alcoholism and undergoes a gruesome transformation, much to the dismay of Doc and Chief, two old-timers who brave a storm to check on him. This segment has been largely considered the weaker of the two in this first episode, but I still found it enjoyable. Giancarlo Esposito and Tobin Bell play Doc and Chief, respectively, and unsurprisingly knock it out of the park; Adrienne Barbeau shows up too, a clever and fun callback to the first film, but much of the rest of the acting is pretty subpar. The writing definitely falls off toward the end, but it is a fun and atmospheric little romp laden with some disgustingly cool practical effects work (to be expected with Nicotero). I will say that, as appears to be the trend lately, some late CGI contributes to my few negative points about this segment and only sort of ruins the ending.
The second half of episode one features a chilling and intriguing story written by Michigan native (!) Josh Malerman, titled The House of the Head, and directed by John Harrison. This spooky tale centers on young Evie – portrayed with adventurous charm by Cailey Fleming – who begins to notice some strange goings-on in her intricate dollhouse. At first, her regular human dolls move around seemingly at random, always in a newer position than last she checked until she realizes that they almost look… scared. When a creepy plastic head that she’s never seen before pops up in her dollhouse, Evie monitors the family and purchases new dolls to protect them while trying to figure out the head’s agenda. This premise alone is hugely innovative and invites us, the viewers, to come along for the ride just as Evie experiences it.
I will admit that I never thought I would be so invested in the misadventures of a plastic doll family, but The House of the Head did a great job of pulling me in and making me concerned for these actual toys. Part of that inclusion stemmed from the overall simplicity of the plot, and how it never got too big or complicated for its britches. Fleming’s performance was adequately childlike and wondrous, and the segment ultimately played like a strong Goosebumps story, which I loved. Not much more to say here, really – while it never quite terrifies with a big moment, The House of the Head is a creepy little supernatural tale done right.
To sum it all up, episode one of Shudder’s Creepshow revival is a step in the right direction: atmospheric, spooky, and chock-full of impressive effects work and unbridled passion for horror storytelling. I think it does well in capturing the spirit of the original film franchise, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the episodes. Before I forget, the bookending scenes featuring the new and improved Creep are fantastic, and the comic book-inspired transitions should make any fan of the films more than happy.
Verdict: Not chopped
Samael: Finally. With what seemed like an eternal wait, we finally get Shudder’s Creepshow Episode 1! Just like the movies, the infamous comic book makes an appearance, briefly showing us glimpses of what’s to come through small text boxes and images. The Creep, though, has a small change; he doesn’t say a word. The first tale had the type of atmosphere that I enjoy most: dark and rainy. We start off with a town sheriff and his partner wandering back into the police station when all of a sudden a young man shows up. He looks visibly starved and distraught and tells the secretary the problems he’s been having with his father at home. The pacing and storytelling were just as superb as the atmosphere. We learned the boy’s mother died and his dad became an alcoholic, and eventually, a monster. I mean, he has to eat right? The monster’s getup looked pretty cool. A giant, slimy, starving blob of a man. First episode: 7/10, very solid.
The second story starts with a little girl and her dollhouse, but eventually, a zombified head appears in her dollhouse out of nowhere. When she leaves the house, her dolls move around by themselves, becoming noticeably scared more and more each time. The creep factor in this one is reminiscent of Are You Afraid of the Dark? but bloody and not for general audiences. This episode does well in making you wonder what event will unfold next and answers the question of “what would happen if that zombified head made it out of the dollhouse?” That was itching at me. This story didn’t have much atmosphere but made up for it with tension and an interesting and unexplained premise. Exposition can really ruin a movie/show and the mystique of it. You know this episode is supernatural solely by the events that unfold, and it retains its mystique throughout. Good acting, creepy premise, and it really felt Goosebumps-ish, capturing the feel of 90s horror, at least for me. Overall: 8/10. I enjoyed this a bit more than the first. Check out Creepshow on Shudder if you haven’t already.
Verdict: Not chopped
And that’s all she wrote, creeps! If you’ve seen episode 1, please leave your thoughts below, and take a listen to our previous episode where we discussed our expectations for the show: Episode 65 – Attention, Creeps!