Mission Creep

Shudder’s New Take on Creepshow is a Love Letter to Horror

The original 1982 Creepshow, a horror anthology film created by George Romero and Stephen King, was an homage to the EC Comics of the ‘40s and ‘50s, most notably its Tales From the Crypt series. Over the course of its vignettes illustrated with comic panel animation and visual effects, Creepshow vacillated between gross horror comedy and darkly funny tales. Often, each story offered some sort of moral lesson at the end. The film was a box office hit, easily becoming Warner Brothers’ highest-grossing horror film that year. It spawned one sequel that largely did away with the Romero vibe. (Don’t bother looking up if there is a Creepshow III–most everyone involved, along with the franchise’s fans, acts like it doesn’t exist.)

Now it’s 2019, a time with a revived demand for King properties and a new horror streaming service, Shudder, that prides itself on reinvigorating the genre. The new Shudder version of Creepshow, which debuted a couple of weeks ago, takes great pains to replicate the feel of the original, and announces its influences right off the bat.

Greg Nicotero, a makeup effects artist and former executive producer for The Walking Dead who studied at the feet of Romero on Day of the Dead, runs Creepshow 2019. He also met special effects guru Tom Savini on the set of the original Creepshow. Like in the movie, the show introduces each story with comic panels, mimicking what it’s like to flip through a comic book.  King or his son Joe Hill (who appeared in the 1982 version as a child) have written many of the stories, and the ones that they didn’t draw inspiration from King’s work. Other writers include Bird Box’s Josh Malerman and Body at Brighton Rock’s Roxanne Benjamin.

Creepshow uses practical effects as often as possible, with input from Savini, who also directed an episode. (Green goo never looked so enticing, or so real.) The new show will feature 12 stories, two in each of six episodes, as opposed to the five stories that the original film told. They litter the first story, Grey Matter, about a father’s slow descent into madness as his alcoholism literally alters his DNA and affects everyone around him, with callbacks to the first film and to other King properties. It also directly references The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, a segment from the original in which King starred.

Creepshow

But all that reverence for the source material means nothing if the actual stories aren’t spooky, and, in that regard, Creepshow delivers. Gray Matter deftly walks the line between gross-out special effects, creepy scares and moral platitudes. It’s not too horrific, not too funny, not too scary…but just creepy enough to get under your skin.

The second story, The House of the Head, ditches the morality tale and goes straight for the creeps: A little girl discovers that her dollhouse is haunted, and she tries to fix it when the haunts become real. While it lacks the body horror of the first segment, Head provides suspense in its own right and features a lot of great miniature work and practical effects for which the franchise is known. I liked Gray Matter more, but the switch in tone is what makes Creepshow what it is—if each story were an hour long, it wouldn’t capture the original’s feeling of breezing from one story to the next. And that way, there’s something for every type of horror fan in one show.

In the second episode, the show’s puts its camp cards on full display and the fun comes out to play. Bad Wolf Down is a werewolf story set in World War II, complete with over-the-top Nazis and gung-ho Army officers straight from a 1950s serial. The story’s twist puts a refreshing spin on the werewolf myth, but the real treat is how the set design manages to embrace its low-budget aesthetic instead of compensating for it. During the werewolf transformation scenes, the show liberally uses animated comic book transitions before cutting to the finished, full-makeup werewolf. Rick Baker would be proud.

The second part of episode two is simply titled The Finger. DJ Qualls stars as a misanthrope named Clark who discovers a finger outside one day. He takes it home, because why not, and the finger begins to grow into an almost xenomorph-looking baby. Man and creature get along just fine until the creature starts to murder people that Clark doesn’t like. This episode rests largely on Qualls’ shoulders, and he does a great job of acting with his prop counterpart. The show even throws in some clever fourth wall breaks as we get inside this man’s head. Eventually, the whole story unravels and the darkly comic tale ends with Clark’s demise. We’re not supposed to take it seriously, but it’s clear that Nicotero and company take every element of this show seriously, and that’s the fun of it.

Two episodes have streamed as of this writing, but new episodes of Creepshow drop on Shudder (which is $5 a month) every Thursday. If you’re looking for something to get you into a mischievous Halloween spirit, this is the perfect show.

Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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