Alibi V.27 No.29 • July 19-25, 2018 

Idiot Box

King’s Domain

“Castle Rock” on Hulu

For decades horror author Stephen King has set his stories in and around a post-Lovecraftian version of his home state of Maine. Many of those yarns have taken place in the fictional town of Castle Rock. Until now, however, these tales have mostly existed independently of one another. With “Castle Rock,” the new horror series from Hulu, all those decades of dense, Stephen King mythology come crashing together. Fans are no doubt salivating at the idea of characters, locations and plotlines from Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, The Green Mile, Misery, It and countless other novels and novellas crossing over one another in horrific harmony.

“Castle Rock” starts out with the warden of Shawshank State Prison (no doubt that rings a bell) committing suicide on the eve of his retirement. Giving the ancient prison the once-over, the new corporate warden makes a shocking discovery: a mysterious, nearly mute young man locked up in a cage in the prison’s long-abandoned basement. He’s not on any prison record, and there’s no telling how long he’s been locked up there—clearly by the prison’s previous warden. The young man (Bill Skarsgard, who most recently played Pennywise in the remake of Stephen King’s It) speaks only three words: “Henry William Deaver.”

Deaver (André Holland from Moonlight) is a notorious local figure in Castle Rock. Now a famed death-row attorney, Deaver spent his childhood in the town. Almost 30 years ago, his adoptive father (the local parish priest) died under curious circumstances and Henry disappeared in the woods for 11 long days. Locals suspected the adopted boy had something to do with his father’s death, but—after being rescued by the local sheriff—he claimed to have total amnesia regarding the incident.

Summoned by a guilt-ridden young prison guard at Shawshank, Deaver reluctantly returns to Castle Rock, reuniting with his dementia-addled mother (Sissy Spacek). Deaver also crosses paths with Alan Pangborn, the retired former sheriff of Castle Rock. (King fans will certainly remember that name from Needful Things and The Dark Half.) While trying to get inside Shawshank Prison, Deaver uncovers a long-simmering conspiracy and unearths some dangerous secrets from his own past.

The ensemble cast of “Castle Rock” is impressive. Terry O’Quinn (“Lost”) appears as Dale Lacy, the deceased former warden of Shawshank (although he scores decent screen time in flashback). Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) shows up as a local real estate agent with a curious medical condition who used to live across the street from young Henry Deaver. And Jane Levy (“Suburgatory,” the Evil Dead reboot) drops by as churchgoing local gal “Jackie Torrence.” (Inside joke or major clue? … Only time will tell.)

“Castle Rock” favors slow-building chills over bloodcurdling horrors. Its complex, deeply tangled storylines don’t offer a lot of narrative closure, episode to episode. Producers are betting that hardcore King aficionados will shiver in anticipation with every Easter egg and inside reference, of which there are many. At one point, for example, O’Quinn’s voiceover recalls “the summer after they found that boy’s body out by the train tracks.” (Points if you guessed Stand By Me.) You don’t have to have read all of King’s books to get hooked on the creeping mystery at the heart to this spooky series—but a certain amount of King obsession will certainly enhance the viewing experience.

Season 1 of “Castle Rock” premieres Wednesday, July 25 on Hulu.