A Reader’s Guide to Shudder’s Revival of Creepshow

In 1982, co-creators Stephen King and George Romero leaned into their love of 1950s horror comics with the anthology film Creepshow, featuring three tales of terror hand-crafted for the screen. The film is considered a cult classic among horror fans, and was highly successful, spawning two movies and a spiritual successor (for legal reasons) in the television series Tales from the Darkside. With that kind of pedigree, it’s only natural that it’d eventually catch the notice of our remake-obsessed 21st century culture, and Shudder has finally delivered, launching a series that stretches the film’s anthology concept across six standalone episodes.

The show promises a mix of original stories and adaptations of classic horror tales written by some of the genre’s finest—from a Stephen King body-horror nightmare about drinking discount corner-store beer, to an original work by Christopher Buehlman, to David J Schow’s lovely little tale about a man and his pet monster—all with a certain off-kilter horror-comic sensibility. To celebrate the return of Creepshow, we thought we’d highlight the adapted stories the show will bring to the screen.

“Gray Matter” by Stephen King
It wouldn’t be Creepshow without Stephen King’s involvement, and “Gray Matter” is a good pick for an adaptation. It’s a gruesome story involving an alcoholic who drinks a case of expired discount beer that appears decidedly “off,” with the result that he slowly begins to… change in extremely grotesque and disturbing ways. Like much of vintage King, this story perfectly captures the tone of a group of gossipy older locals talking up the affairs and mistakes of various townspeople, with a growing note of menace coming via the narrator’s repeated mentions of  townspeople going missing as the beer drinker begins to display ever-odder behaviors, from shunning light, to eating a cat, to, most disturbingly, dinking his brewskis warm. The story moves at its own pace, slowly building the horror as it balances between the gothic-horror framing device and the ickier, pulp horror elements, and ends on an uncertain and unsettling note.

The House of the Head” by Josh Malerman
This ghost story from Josh Malerman (Bird Box) is a little off-kilter, beginning by describing a dollhouse overseen by the main character, Elvie, who fills it with her “people,” and outlining her strange attachment to the thing, and then sets them down a dark road with the introduction of the “ghost”—a decaying head that Elvie finds sitting one day in one of the dollhouse’s rooms. It’s odd how much horror Malerman is able to wring from what’s essentially a series of static tableaux; he describes the horrified little dolls’ changing poses in great detail as the head continues to terrorize them despite Evie’s best efforts. It’s a story that works incredibly well with just descriptions, emotions, and reactions; each stain of red paint splattered over the dolls is a stark and lurid as heart’s blood.

The Finger” by David J. Schow
David Schow’s narrator is a lowlife who begins a story about finding a finger someplace near the L.A. River with the fact that his “friend” flew all the way to a call center to murder an annoying collections rep, and the tale remains as rambling and darkly funny from there. Schow relishes in describing the squalor of the narrator’s trashy house, his “emotional parasite” of an ex-wife, and his strange hobby of locating disturbing “found objects,” including a finger that grows from a singe digit to several, to a hand, and then to a murderous but remarkably friendly pet monster named Bob. As over-the-top as the plot goes, the pleasures are in the weird details: the way Bob watches “long-form multi-arc television dramas” when he’s not out killing the narrator’s enemies, to the way he snuggles a pair of “truck nutz” as he sleeps in the narrator’s freezer, to the almost blasé way the characters treat the mayhem unfolding around them. It’s a nasty, hilarious story about a man and his pet, and it works beautifully.

By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain” by Joe Hill
Two children find the carcass of a lake monster on the beach of Lake Champlain and spend the rest of their morning trying to get anyone to believe them. Joe Hill has a knack for writing young characters, walking the line between cruelty and innocence, and he gives Gail and Joel vivid enough imaginations that we’re never entirely convinced they aren’t dealing with something stranger than a massive boulder. Without giving too much away, the tale also does a great job keeping the story from hinting too much one way or the other until the big reveal, building to its conclusion with subtle hints and clues before ending on a note of uncertainty.

The Companion” by Joe R. Lansdale
Long considered a master of Southern-flavored horror and crime fiction, Joe R. Lansdale’s story hits the ground running with a wild boar attack that leads to a fisherman named Harold releasing an animated scarecrow bent on his murder. It’s not a story that calls for much in the way of exposition, quickly ratcheting up the tension as Harold is trapped inside the house reading about the scarecrow’s lonely creator while the monster scratches and batters at the farmhouse trying to get in. The start-stop-start action makes for a frantic reading experience, and the story ends on a note that only serves to prolong the horror, even as the tension and action subside. It’s a quick-moving creature feature ready-made for the screen..

What do you think of Creepshow?

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