Based on the fictional town of the same name by Stephen King, Castle Rock starts with the rescue of a missing boy, the suspicious death of his preacher father and, 27 years later, the mysterious suicide of Shawshank State Penitentiary warden Dale Lacy and the discovery of an inmate, described as “the devil”, hidden underneath one of the prison’s cell blocks. From there, creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason gradually introduce us to characters from some of the author’s most iconic works as they attempt to guard and uncover the town’s darkest secrets. While this supernatural thriller has all the qualities of Dark and Stranger Things, it explores King’s core themes while creating something truly unique with his mammoth bibliography.

Set in the author’s home state of Maine, like many of his storylines, Castle Rock is a rural, close-knit community corrupted by its unspeakable, shared past and the dark side of American history. This is outlined by the aforementioned Lacy at the start of Episode 2, ‘Habeas Corpus’: “I lay awake at night thinking of all the blood spilled under my roof alone. People say: ‘It wasn’t me. It was this place.’ And the thing is, they’re right.” From Dolores Claiborne and The Tommyknockers to It and Needful Things (the latter also set in Castle Rock), this theme is a crucial King hallmark. It’s the polished direction of JJ Abrams, though, that elevates Castle Rock above most King adaptations and the author himself. 

Even the most hardened King fans can comfortably admit that series based on his works are either horror classics, like the original adaptations of ’Salem’s Lot, It and The Stand, or generic, forgettable flops, like more recent efforts Under the Dome and The Mist. Castle Rock, however, never sacrifices suspense for gratuitous special effects. Instead, it relies on the horror of the characters and not just the monsters that plague them, just like King himself and arguably his most successful adaptations, namely The Shining, Misery and The Shawshank Redemption.

Thankfully, you don’t need to be a horror connoisseur or even a Stephen King aficionado to enjoy Castle Rock. It offers a compelling plot and strong performances (most notably André Holland and Bill Skarsgård, who is equally sensational as Pennywise in the remake of It) that supersede both the genre and author. All the eclectic references from the cavernous King universe are just an irresistible bonus for the fanatics. After only three episodes, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m hopelessly hooked.

Sam Shaw
Dustin Thomason

André Holland
Melanie Lynskey
Bill Skarsgård

14 Dec 2018

Posted by Jim Reader

Jim is a London-based journalist who has worked for a number of titles, including Bizarre, Vogue, Boxing News and the Daily Sport. He graduated from the University of Nottingham in 2009 and became a Master of Research in American Literature in 2010.