Chapelwaite: Season 1 TV Review

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

Premiered on Epix

chapelwaite poster large

Directed by Burr Steers (Episodes 1 and 2), Jeff Renfroe (Episodes 3 and 4), Rachel Leiterman (Episodes 5 and 6), David Frazee (Episodes 7 and 8), and Michael Nankin (Episodes 9 and 10)
Written by Jason Filardi and Peter Filardi, based on the short story, "Jerusalem's Lot", by Stephen King
2021, 60 minutes per episode, Not Rated
Premiered on Epix on August 22nd, 2021

Adrian Brody as Charles Boone
Emily Hampshire as Rebecca Morgan
Sirena Gulamgaus as Loa Boone
Jennifer Ens as Honor Boone
Ian Ho as Tane Boone
Julian Richings as Phillip Boone
Steven McCarthy as Stephen Boone
Christopher Heyerdahl as Jakub
Hugh Thompson as George Dennison
Trina Corkum as Mary Dennison
Gord Rand as Minister Martin Burroughs
Jennie Raymond as Alice Burroughs
Gabrielle Rose as Mrs. Cloris
Devante Senior as Able Stewart
Joanne Boland as Rose Mallory
Michael Hough as Daniel Thompson
Dean Armstrong as Dr. J.P. Guilford

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The Constant Reader. You know who you are. At this point, it’s safe to say that phrase describes pretty much all of us. While there are horror fans who aren’t crazy about Stephen King or find him to be overrated as all hell, it’s also safe to say that there are virtually no horror fans who haven’t read a fair amount of the man’s work and felt his influence. He’s more than massive in the genre; Stephen King is a giant in American literature overall.

Night Shift is Stephen King’s first short story collection. It was published in 1978 and contains a slew of his best early short stories: “Graveyard Shift”, “I Am the Doorway”, “Gray Matter”, “Quitters, Inc.”, and “The Ledge” are my personal favorites. However, the flavor of a collection is most often set by the lead-off story, and in Night Shift that honor falls to “Jerusalem’s Lot”.

Written in epistolary style, “Jerusalem’s Lot” tells the story of the infamous town full of vampires as something of a prequel. It’s the story of Charles Boone, the last in a cursed line. It’s 1950, and he’s inherited the family estate of Chapelwaite, a mansion with a history of pain and madness that sits just a few miles from the abandoned village of Jerusalem’s Lot in rural Maine. Charles Boone is a loner, a widower with but one companion, the ever competent and faithful Calvin McCann (who saw him through the death of his wife and ensuing “brain fever”). There are noises in the walls and prejudice in the town. Everyone hates the Boone family. As Charles digs in to find out why, he discovers a family legacy that will taint the very habitability of that part of Maine and give rise to an undead nightmare that may never die.

“Jerusalem’s Lot” is an intimately horrifying affair relayed in letters and correspondence from the pen of a man who’s destined to be driven mad by the weight of his family history and the influence of an old god, an unholy worm from beyond the stars. It’s a period piece right down to the “ou” in the word favour, an archaic-sounding horror that crawls with cosmic fear and gothic atmosphere. It’s also the bedrock on which the story of Salem’s Lot stands. It’s H.P. Lovecraft in a Bram Stoker setting, and it’s one of those stories that gets the reread treatment from me every so often. Since the age of nine, I’ve envisioned that ending scene in the spiritually noxious chapel where but one segment of the worm is enough to shatter your sanity.

I wanted that scene so badly, and I’m trying not to be bitter. My job is to be objective, so we’re going to dig into Epix’s ten-episode limited series with a calm heart and an even keel. I’ll try anyway. My job is NOT to tell you how to feel about this show, but I feel compelled to say that a stellar short story provides a framework where a lot of blanks must be filled in to give you ten episodes. It’s something that people often fail to consider in their assessment of an adaptation of a beloved story.

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Charles Boone (Adrian Brody; The Jacket, Splice) is a sea captain who’s raised his three children – dependable Honor (newcomer Jennifer Ens); headstrong Loa (Sirena Gulamgaus; Orphan Black); and young Tane (Ian Ho; The Handmaid’s Tale) – at sea their entire lives. When his wife dies, he takes his family onto land and relocates to the family estate of Chapelwaite he’s inherited from his cousin, Stephen Boone (Steven McCarthy; The Strain), following his suicide. The reeling family finds a town that doesn’t want them because of their name and their skin color (their mother was Polynesian). It’s a town full of scandal and misdeeds, small-minded and domineeringly religious. That alone would be enough to make you reconsider your relocation, but the trouble runs much deeper for the Boone family. There’s an ancient evil that’s hung-over Charles’ family for generations and a blood connection to a sinister book called De Vermis Mysteriis (The Mysteries of the Worm) that yearns to turn the daytime world into a permanent night of vampire hell. To that end, an ancient vampire named Jakub (Christopher Heyerdahl; 50 States of Fright) has repopulated the nearby village of Jerusalem’s Lot with a mix of human servants and vampires. In nearby Preacher’s Corners (where all the decent folk live), a mysterious illness the locals attribute to the Boone family is decimating the town. Tragedy soon finds Charles and his children. No one who’s supposed to be dead in and around Preacher’s Corners, Chapelwaite, and Jerusalem’s Lot stays that way. Charles and the residents of the town must face the undead head-on before the evil spreads further.

With a greatly expanded cast of characters and a lot of dramatic tension to create, Chapelwaite has its work cut out. As you’d expect, the result is a mixed bag. The cast is a raw ensemble led by a veteran star in Adrian Brody, who goes for the overly serious, gravelly Batman voice much of the time. It works reasonably well because of the caliber of the actor, but it’s an interesting choice when combined with the ludicrously dark color palette that permeates every frame. Chapelwaite is pure gothic atmosphere, and even when it drags hard, it looks incredible doing it. You can’t argue the production value and effort from the cast.

The drag is real here, though. If Jason and Peter Filardi had taken the story as is, it would have resulted in a couple of episodes; maybe three. They do an admirable job of giving lives and stories to a portion of the town that is needed to turn a horror story into something that is more family drama than inexplicable cosmic horror, but giving seven or eight episodes worth of “new King” on top of that Lovecraftian framework is a daunting task. You could even say some drag is inevitable there, but you can’t get around it. Pacing is tricky when you’re fattening up a lean and mean short story to the point of bloat.

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On the set design/art/SFX side of things, Chapelwaite is a treat. The best example of this is the return of the De Vermis Mysteriis to Jerusalem’s Lot in the opening of Episode 9. The vampires worshiping and heralding the arrival of the evil tome to the unholy church is kind of a thing of beauty, if we’re being honest. Jakub’s look is that of a classic Salem’s Lot vampire crossed with Reverend Kane from Poltergeist II: The Other Side. The gore SFX are more than up to the task. It looks every bit the part of a Salem’s Lot prequel set in the mid-1800s.

Then there are the worms. So many damn worms – bathtubs full of them, barn lofts full of them, crawling right out of Charles’ nose! The worm that we don’t get, however, is the old god itself. And if you’ve read the story…if you love the story as I do…you know that is an issue. All the excellent subplots in the world and well-done human drama can’t change the fact that you have to see that piece of the worm erupt from that shattered pulpit to pay off the cosmic horror! It’s vital. I’m going to have to stand on this hill for the foreseeable future.

Chapelwaite is ultimately a hybrid, a blending of Salem’s Lot and “Jerusalem’s Lot” that decides to eschew much of the cosmic horror of the latter in favor of the familiarity of the former. I’m not saying it was an unwise choice. There’s much to love in Chapelwaite. The breakout performances of Jennifer Ens and Sirena Gulamgaus, a memorable new ancient bloodsucker in Jakub, and the wickedly enjoyable tale of the minister and his wife are prime examples of well-written new material. It feels like Salem’s Lot, with all the small-town prejudice and ugliness counterbalanced by some nice redemption angles…and that, fellow Constant Readers is pure Stephen King! The Filardis deserve credit for that.

I’m simply going to remain angry that I didn’t get my giant worm, however. I’ll get over it.

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Season: 3 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US
Buy from Amazon UK

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Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Reviewer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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