In the special effects world of horror movies specifically, you’ve got a handful of icons. Tom Savini. Stan Winston. Rob Bottin. And you’ve got Greg Nicotero. His effects bonafides are beyond debate, but right now his current main gig is showrunner and sometimes-director of The Walking Dead, a TV show that remains incredibly popular and successful even as most of its original audience has given up on it. It remains to be seen how his legacy as a creator outside of special effects will shape up. And the second brick of that legacy is surely going to be the new Creepshow series on Shudder.
As you are no doubt aware, the original Creepshow is a legacy in and of itself. Nicotero didn’t do the effects for it (that was Savini), as he was just getting his start in the horror world when he visited the set as a guest of George Romero’s. But he’s probably one of only about three people perfectly qualified to reboot the franchise in 2019. Still, he is first and foremost an effects guy, and those skills don’t necessarily translate to directing, producing, etc.
Shudder is releasing the new Creepshow as a weekly series with two mini-stories per episode. This is perfect for me, as the binge model is something I never had the time to participate in, and shows that do that always give me severe FOMO. Nicotero directed the very first segment himself – Grey Matter, and it is paired with a second one titled The House of the Head in this premiere episode. Together they total less than an hour.
Grey Matter is set sometime in the 60’s or 70’s, though it’s hard to tell exactly when based on visual information alone – that setting is conveyed by newspaper headlines. It follows a small town sheriff and his buddy (Tobin Bell and Giancarlo Esposito respectively) hunkered down at a general store run by Adrienne Barbeau (an original Creepshow alumnus) during a nasty hurricane. When a troubled looking teen wanders in to buy beer for his reclusive father, muttering about not wanting to go back home, the two men set off on foot to investigate the situation.
The majority of the segment is spent on exposition and building dread about what might be found inside that house, if the two men can even make it there through the storm. And while the ultimate payoff is a spectacular bit of gooey effects-driven horror, the journey there is somewhat frustrating. The constant cutting back and forth between the flashbacks, the general store, and the two men in the storm feels as though it’s intentionally witholding, setting up mini cliffhangers every two minutes. But it’s largely effective and ends bombastically.
In that sense, the second segment – The House of the Head – is the exact opposite. A little girl with an elaborate, hand-made dollhouse one day discovers a severed zombie doll head has somehow appeared. Not only that, but the head and all the other figurines inside the dollhouse seem to be moving around whenever the girl isn’t looking, gradually telling a ghastly story in diorama form.
The tension and creep factor of this one is off the charts. It’s exactly the kind of story that a modern Creepshow calls for, a premise perfectly suited to the short format. But where Grey Matter ended with a bang, House of the Head ends with kind of a fizzle. It’s not a terrible ending, but it certainly leaves you wanting more.
And more of this new Creepshow is definitely what I want. The EC Comics vibe is intact in the wraparounds and in the segments themselves, usually in the form of scene transitions styled like comic book panels. There’s a mute Creep “host” character that toggles between live action puppet and hand-drawn animation – just like the original movie. And faux ads on comic book pages between segments appear to be littered with Easter eggs, but I’d need some repeat viewings to spot them.
My overall impression of this first Creepshow offering is one of much promise. I enjoyed both segments in this episode quite a bit, as well as the presentation of the show itself, but I still get the feeling there are better things to come, and that’s pretty exciting. After all, the fun of horror anthologies is the anticipation and uncertainty of the next segment to come.