Creepshow Review – “Gray Matter”/”The House of the Head” (Spoilers)

In an awesomely surprising move, Shudder dropped their new anthology series Creepshow several hours early today and horror fans couldn’t be more thrilled.  They’ve been eager with anticipation ever since the terrifying streaming service first announced this follow up to the 1982 Stephen King/George A. Romero classic.

But in the almost 40 years since that original film, could a new TV revival ever live up to it?!  In a word, yes.  Even from the very first few frames, the awesome comic book inspired intro takes us back to the time these creepy stories were first told many decades ago!

Our new host of the series! Wonder if he’s related to the Cryptkeeper!

SPOILERS AHEAD!!! You’ve been warned!

“Gray Matter” – Directed by Greg Nicotero, Story by Stephen King, Teleplay by Byron Willinger and Philip De Blasi

One of the best things about this story is that it brings together these two legendary villains: Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), albeit as good guys.

Our premiere story starts off with a bang (or should we say “with a monstrous scream”) as heavy hitters Greg Nicotero (Walking Dead) and Stephen King (far too many classics to list here) give us a tale of gruesome terror!  Our story begins with a hurricane sweeping into town as a young boy seeks shelter in a diner.

He tells the waitress, along with the Chief of Police (Tobin Bell) and town Doctor (Giancarlo Esposito) that his father is quite sick and in need of help.  Chief and Doc (as they’re referred to) brave the storm to go to his house and check on the boy’s father.  From there, he tells the waitress and harrowing tale about how his father’s rampant alcoholism eventually led him to become a literal monster, hell-bent on feeding upon flesh itself.

As we intercut between Doc and Chief searching the ransacked house, the boy tells more his story and ultimately reveals that he intentionally led them there so his father would have something (or someone) to eat.

In many ways, the body horror element feels like a callback to the original Creepshow vignette, which saw Stephen King himself playing a farmer whose body slowly became covered with alien moss.

Stephen King’s claim to acting fame back in 1982. He was actually pretty good and had excellent comedic delivery and timing.

The makeup and gore effects are incredible, it’s quite clear that Greg Nicotero’s experience on Walking Dead really came in handy here (as well as 1985’s Day of the Dead).  Unfortunately however, the few times it resorts to CGI, it doesn’t look great. But thankfully, there’s very little of it overall.

Stephen King’s style and signature weaves itself throughout.  Everything from the young boy’s yellow raincoat (just like Georgie in It), to the use of alcohol as the “monster”.  The boy’s father keeps drinking, and it’s his beers that start to transform  him physically.

King has been quite vocal about his own struggles with alcoholism and addiction.  Previous works of his, including “Misery” and “The Shining” used their monsters as thinly veiled metaphors for this destructive vice, and the same could be said here.

Obviously no alcoholic father has ever physical transformed into a flesh-eating monster, but many have unfortunately become violent monsters who sadly abuse their spouses and children.

“Gray Matter” serves as a cautionary tale, as well as an awesome callback to classic monster horror!

“The House of the Head” – Directed by John Harrison, Written by Josh Malerman

Great, we were already afraid of dolls, and now we get to be frightened by these tinier figurines!

For our follow up story, we go to a place less gory than before, but infinitely more eerie and creepy!  We begin with a little girl, Evie, who absolutely loves her dollhouse, and the small figurines who live inside.  She enjoys setting them up and playing out their lives as a happy family.

But she soon notices a figurine that’s just a severed head, and everywhere it goes, trouble seems to follow.  Every time she comes back to her dollhouse, the family appears in a different position, terrified, as the severed head wreaks havoc upon them.  She even attempts to bring in a doll of a police officer and Native American warrior to stop it, but both fail miserably.

Eventually, after she throws the toy head out of the dollhouse, it manifests into a life sized head, and Evie is terrified as she fears the same fate will befall her and her parents.  Giving away the dollhouse to some other poor soul is her only recourse, but as she does so, she can’t help but express the utmost guilt upon her face.

This story works beautifully for two main reasons.  Firstly, our protagonist is a little girl dealing with this massive issue by herself, thus making her all the more vulnerable.  Secondly, we never actually see the figurines move (except for once at the very end, but that’s more a transition to the credits).

Even the expression on its face changes with each times it moves off screen!

By having the movement take place off screen, it becomes much creepier and avoids looking fake.  Each time Evie peers into her dollhouse, we can’t help but feel an intense dread, as we’re not sure what we’ll see this time.  The only real fault is that when we finally see the severed head become life-sized, the story ends right after, with Evie getting rid of the dollhouse.

Perhaps it would have been scarier to linger for just a few more minutes and allowed it to cause chaos to Evie’s own parents and house.  But sadly, this is never realized.  Despite this, “The House of the Head” is still an awesome and creepy story, which will ruin dollhouses that same way Chucky and Annabelle have ruined larger sized dolls!

Only one episode in, and Shudder is off to a great start with their new series!  Hopefully, the next pair of stories brings us just as much gleeful mayhem and terror!  What did you think of the episode?  Let us know and in comments below!  And don’t forget to check back next week for another review and recap of Shudder’s Creepshow!

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