Preview: Chapelwaite on Epix
“Blood Calls Blood”
I must confess that when I first heard that Epix was turning Stephen King’s early short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” into a ten-episode TV series, I wasn’t terribly excited. I don’t subscribe to that service, so I planned to give the show a miss. I thought it would turn out to be like the TV series The Mist, which bears little resemblance to the source material beyond the general concept. I’m here to tell you I was wrong, and this show is worth checking out. There is horror a-plenty here if you have plenty of patience for the show’s somewhat measured pace.
Since we’re all adults, here’s the R-rated trailer for Chapelwaite
It’s been a while since I last read “Jerusalem’s Lot” and I only remembered the story in broad terms. I was surprised by how long it is—approximately 13,000 words, which makes it more of a novelette than a short story. Its first appearance was in Night Shift—it’s one of four previously unpublished entries in that collection. (Glenn Chadbourne later adapted it in The Secretary of Dreams.) I did remember that the story is told entirely in the form of letters, mostly from Charles Boone, and these letters also contain someone else’s journal entries. I also recalled rats in the walls of the house where Boone lived, a book called De Vermis Mysteriis, and that the story had Lovecraftian overtones.
Rereading the story, I discovered there is a lot to mine from it. Enough for nearly ten hours of television? Not on its own, certainly, and that’s where Peter and Jason Filardi, the writers behind Chapelwaite, show their ingenuity. We aren’t told much about Charles’s history in King’s story, so the Filardis have free reign to give him a backstory. When we first meet him as an adult, he’s the captain of a whaling boat traveling distant seas, married to a woman from a Polynesian island, with three children: daughters Honor and Loa and son Tane (Jennifer Ens, Sirena Gulamgaus and Ian Ho, respectively).
After his wife falls mortally ill, she makes Charles promise to give their children a stable home on solid land. As luck (maybe not!) would have it, he falls heir to a house called Chapelwaite, in coastal Maine on the outskirts of Preacher’s Corners, a legacy from his cousin Stephen to help heal an old family rift. Inheriting Chapelwaite gives Charles the ability to fulfill his wife’s deathbed wish, even if it ends up being a sprawling, vandalized Gothic mansion (a former housekeeper calls it a “sad house”) adorned with unflattering portraits of the Boone family. The steep steps leading down to its creepy cellar are incredibly dangerous, and the sound of skittering behind the walls is enough to drive anyone mad.
Life in rural Maine in 1850 isn’t easy for anyone. Charles has nothing but the best of intentions. He intends to use the sawmill that was also part of his inheritance to build ships, providing much-needed work for the townspeople.
However, a mysterious illness has been plaguing Preacher’s Corners. Charles’s arrival gives the deeply religious but equally superstitious residents someone to blame for their woes. That his children are mixed race and one of them wears a leg brace makes them less than welcome in town, at church and at school. It doesn’t help that Charles’s relatives are not fondly remembered by the locals.
Adrien Brody plays Charles Boone, bringing the full weight of grief, rage and misery to his performance. He is a haunted and tormented man, and his arrival at Chapelwaite triggers a family curse, a form of madness that has driven other relatives to suicide and murder. The cold open of the series shows Charles as a young boy being attacked by his father, who is clearly insane. “Blood calls blood,” his father screams as he rants about being unable to “stop the worm” and attempts to bury Charles alive. In 1850, Charles is also having disturbing hallucinations about worms. So. Many. Worms. I’ve never had an aversion to worms before, but this show is enough to give someone a complex about them.
In King’s story, Boone has a companion named Calvin who joins him on his excursions. The Filardis dispense with Calvin, introducing instead Rebecca Morgan (Schitt’s Creek’s Emily Hampshire), an aspiring writer who becomes the children’s governess. Her character adds depth and color to the series: the children grow fond of her, as does Charles, but she’s also guilty of mining the Boones’ cursed history (“the only story in town”) for her story. She is the emotional core of the series, a complicated, educated, fierce and modern woman (for her time) who is able to confront Charles when his behavior becomes erratic and potentially dangerous to his family. She also has a connection to the Boones—her father, who abandoned her mother when Rebecca was two—was Charles’s uncle Philip’s lawyer.
The Filardis pluck names from the story and develop them into full-blown characters. There’s the mysterious Mrs. Cloris (Gabrielle Rose, who was in the recent adaptation of The Stand), who knows more about the Boone history than she lets on, and Daniel Thompson (Michael Hough), one of the mill workers, as well as some of Charles’s relatives.
In town, there’s a drama involving the minister, Martin Burroughs (Gord Rand), who inherited the church from his rigid father-in-law, Samuel. After his children died from the mystery illness, Martin strayed from his wife Alice (Jennie Raymond) and had an affair with a young woman of ill repute named Faith, who subsequently gave birth to a deformed baby (like the one mentioned in “Jersualem’s Lot”). Constable George Dennison (Hugh Thompson) has a long history with the Boone family, and his wife is currently suffering from the illness.
In addition to the townspeople, there’s Able Stewart (Devante Senior), a young Black millworker who befriends the Boones, a seductive young woman known only as “Apple Girl” (Genevieve DeGraves) and Jakub (Christopher Heyerdahl), the villain of the piece. The series’ MacGuffin is De Vermis Mysteriis (the English version of which was created by Robert Bloch and adopted by H. P. Lovecraft). In King’s story, Charles finds the book on the altar of the abandoned church in Jerusalem’s Lot, but in the series several factions are searching for it. “Apple Girl” frequently tells Charles to “find the book.”
“Jerusalem’s Lot” is, of course, a precursor to ‘Salem’s Lot, but the story only vaguely alludes to vampires. It concentrates more on the Lovecraftian implications of the book, which can be used to summon demons from outside our realm. Peter Filardi, however, is intimately familiar with ‘Salem’s Lot, having written the script for the 2004 adaptation of the novel, and he leans heavily into that aspect of the story. In fact, the ka-tet that assembles around Charles as things heat up has some parallels to the vampire fighters in ‘Salem’s Lot, including a minister struggling with his faith. An interesting aspect of the series is that no one in 1850 knows how to defeat a vampire, so Charles and his allies must learn by trial and error.
As I said before, the series proceeds at a leisurely pace. It could probably have been done in eight episodes instead of ten, perhaps even six (it’s as long as the recent adaptation of The Stand!). Chapelwaite is dark and gritty, and it does not treat its characters kindly. The fate of the world is at stake (pun somewhat intended) and only a handful of people know that this epic battle is being waged. No one’s safety is guaranteed, and grim fates await many. Tension runs high during some of the many encounters between the forces of good and the minions of evil, especially in an episode where Charles and his allies are forced to “make a stand,” a term that will be familiar to any long-time King reader. There aren’t many other King easter eggs beyond some whippoorwill psychopomps and the idea of destroying everything so someone can rule in the coming darkness, which certainly had me thinking “O, Discordia!”
It’s an interesting hybrid—at the core, faithful to fundamental aspects of the source material, expanding greatly on the story and yet remaining true to the larger King fictional universe. I’m glad I got to see it after all.
Chapelwaite premieres on Epix on August 22, 2021. In Canada, it can be found on CTV’s Sci-Fi Channel.