Creepshow – Season 1, Episode 1: Gray Matter/The House Of The Head

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In a horror comeback worthy of a Jason or a Michael, 2019 saw the return of a horror legend the likes of which I genuinely never thought I’d see ever again – Creepshow.
George Romero and Stephen King’s 1982 ode to anthology horror was an endearingly camp spook-a-Rama that saw zombies, alien plant spores, killer cockroaches and the hungry inhabitant of a chained up crate inflict all manner of nastiness on a surprisingly starry cast and sequel was memorable if somewhat inferior.
However, the sheen of the movie was somewhat tarnished by a third, direct to video entry that most people aren’t even aware exists and I personally refuse to admit its existence due to how freakin’ awful it truly is – however, the man we have to thank for this very zombie-like resurrection is Greg Nicotero, the special effects veteran who toiled on everything from 80’s gorefests like Day Of The Dead, Evil Dead II and Intruder to such things as The Chronicles Of Nania and From Dusk Till Dawn until eventually became a big cheese on The Walking Dead. But could this true titan of horror succeed in bringing us back the creeps?

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Gray Matter – As Hurricane Charlie whips the butt of the coastland like a Dickensian stepmother, three of the last people in town to remain huddle in the local store to wait out the buffering winds. However, while the chief of police, his best buddy Doc and shopkeeper Dixie keep each other’s spirits up, the timid form of local boy Timmy Grenadine comes a-knocking to buy a case of Harrow’s Supreme beer for his out of work, alcoholic father, Richie. Claiming his dad is “really sick”, the trio of adults are understandably alarmed that a man would send his son into a hurricane to help him get his buzz on so the chief and Doc head on over to the house while Timmy tells Dixie exactly how sick his father has gotten. Like, real sick. Turning into an alien blob with an insatiable thirst sick.

The House Of The Head – Evie is a little girl with a big imagination who is excited when her parents get a large dollhouse for her to play with. Dubbing the denizens of the house the Smithsmiths, Evie contentedly plays with the figurines of the two parents, their young son and the family fog happily until one day she spots an odd newcomer in one of the rooms – that of a doll version of a blank-eyed, decapitated zombie head. Even weirder, every time the little girl goes away and comes back, all the figurines have moved positions as they seem to be reacting in horror to the malevolent intentions of the threatening bonce and she tries to help matters by adding extra figurines of policemen and even a Native American chief in order to save the Smithsmiths from an awful, dolly-like fate. Panicking about the inevitable fate of her beloved dolls, Evie physically interjects, removing the head from the house and throwing it across her room. But has she just switched the Smithsmith’s fate to her own family?

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If there’s a noticable flaw with Creepshow’s first, awkward steps negotiating the horror genre for the first time in decades, it feels genuinely uncertain how much to balance the horror and the camp. George Romero’s orginal movie tackled the EC Comics nature of the film by tackling it head on and tackling it hard by actually having the big scary reveals and ghoulish twists by actually having the real life frame become a comic panel and even had scene transitions take the form of a pan from one page to the next as if you were actually reading a horror comic while buried under your blankets. While this new version follows this trend to an extent, you can tell there’s probably been a debate behind the scenes as to how modern the scares should be which leaves the season’s first two stories stuck somewhere in the middle. Another issue that sticks out is while getting two stories an episode (as opposed to the standard one) may be great value for money, it also means the filmmakers only have around twenty minutes to get your point across so by the time the episode has finally built up some steam, it means it’s usually time for it to wrap up.
Never is this more evident that Nicotero’s opening segment, Gray Matter, that sees the unquenchable thirst of an alcoholic father see him undergo a Lovecraftian transformation into an insatiable blob monster that runs out of time before it has a chance to get really good and thus feels a little pointless despite the nice amounts of cloying atmosphere the director wrings out of his tight time limit. It’s unfortunately the same for John Harrison’s The House Of The Head which gifts us with a uniquely creepy concept, yet isn’t allowed to do anything with it as the legitimately unnerving tale simply splutters to a halt instead of going big. Maybe if the stories had switched their endings, and the first episode had ended with a quieter, more subdued climax while the second has actually seen the head become a literal threat to the family much like it was to the figurine one, both segments might have felt more satisfying instead of coming across as disapointingly comprised.

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However, for Creepshow enthusiasts such as myself, there’s plenty to keep you watching, be it Nicotero’s updating of the Creep (still a reliably jerky puppet) or the involvement of several faces who had something to do with the original such as Gray Matter being adapted from a Stephen King story and featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and The House Of The Head being directed by John Harrison, a man who scored the music for a couple of Romero projects including the original Creepshow itself and Day Of The Dead which coincidentally was where Nicotero got his start in the business. Elsewhere, we have a juicy genre cast joining Barbeau that includes Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell and Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito who keep things imminently watchable even if the episode doesn’t gives them much to do except creep around a scummy house and scream in terror.
However, despite both stories ending way too abruptly (possibly a reaction to most modern anthology shows giving their stories around 45 minutes to an hour to tell their tale), the show undeniably pulls its weight in the special effect department with satisfyingly icky monsters, drained corpses and a bug eyed severed head – but then, should we have expected anything less from a show where Greg Nicotero is pulling the strings?

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So, while Shudder’s attempt to breath new life in the bones of the Creepshow franchise may have plenty of nuggets for long time fans, newcomers may wonder what the fuss is about. However, it’s early days yet and there’s still plenty of time for the Creep to work though kinks out of his joints yet.

Gray Matter – 🌟🌟🌟
The House Of The Head – 🌟🌟🌟

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