Creepshow 2: Special Edition Review
The horror anthology has suffered a spotty history in cinema; having reached its zenith in the late 60’s, before growing mundane and repetitive. Amicus - Hammer’s main competition during this period - had made its reputation with the multi-story format, but the studio wouldn’t last forever. It was TV that allowed the format to blossom - championed by Rod Serling’s legendary work on The Twilight Zone, and later by sci-fi fans with The Outer Limits; two benchmarks in macabre fiction, that have influenced filmmakers for decades. Still, the interest in these shows was limited at the time, and it wasn’t until the revivals and the Twilight Zone motion picture, that the anthology format would find its largest audience. Nestled between them, was Creepshow, George A. Romero’s tribute to the sub-genre. It boasted a Stephen King script, wacky stories, and some grand guignol gore. Naturally, it was a significant success, leading to a sequel in 1987.
But Romero wasn’t interested in returning to the director’s chair, opting only to write the script. As before, it was based on King’s own work, and tales from the EC Comics of their childhood; pillaging the Tales From the Crypt series for its off-the-wall craziness. It was left to Michael Gornick to call the shots, and with his professional handling, Creepshow 2 stood a good chance of being fun, throwaway entertainment (attributes that made the original so memorable). Gornick was already a cult name among horror fans, having photographed most of Romero’s key work, from Martin to Day of the Dead. His talent for effective compositions was never in doubt, so it’s unsurprising that Creepshow 2 shows more technical pizzazz than most anthologies before or since. Yet, it’s also a mild disappointment, lacking the sheer exuberance and innovation of Romero’s opus. But many aficionados won’t complain. Creepshow 2 is a cult wonder, with so many great touches; making it hard to dislike, no matter how ridiculous the end result might be.
The first film had a pretty solid framework, and Gornick retains the same formula here. It follows a typical suburban boy, Billy (Domenick John), whose favourite comic book is - you guessed it - Creepshow. He gets his latest copy from the back of a garbage truck, as the Creep (effects legend Tom Savini under mountains of latex) dispenses with the latest gory tales. On the hunt for some Venus flytraps (a sub-plot left unanswered until the end), Billy goes about the town, as the stories commence. However, Gornick doesn’t go for a linear style, shifting from live action to animation. This film-within-a-film is pretty slight, with visuals that would seem sub-par on a Saturday morning cartoon. Yet, the crude stylings seem to fit the mood Gornick is going for. It’s a campy and rather silly affair, and it’s clear that Romero is trying to have fun with the script, putting the darkness of his Living Dead series to one side.
The first story is also the flimsiest. “Old Chief Wood’nhead” fuses the modern western with supernatural hokum, in what is, essentially, a revenge tale. It follows shop owners Ray Spruce (George Kennedy) and his wife Martha (Dorothy Lamour), who struggle to make ends meet in their small desert town. In order to attract customers, they have erected a wooden Indian - the “Chief” of the title - which brings them little money. However, Ray has formed a friendship with local Indian chief Ben Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo), who awards them with some precious jewels. However, disaster strikes when Ben’s evil son Sam (Holt McCallany), and his friends raid the store; swiping the jewels and leaving Ray and Martha for dead. But they didn’t count on “Old Chief Wood’nhead”, who comes to life, hunting them down one-by-one...
Hilarious is one word I’d use to describe the above synopsis, but that’s mostly the point. Seeing a wooden figure stalk three terrified men is pretty wild entertainment; defining the term “hokey”. It’s cheap and cheerful, and Gornick manages to make the material interesting, despite the idiotic premise. The entertainment value is clearly attributed to Kennedy and Lamour - two veterans of the Hollywood system, who give “Old Chief Wood’nhead” a degree of watchability. They take the script in their stride, delivering sympathetic performances. It’s impossible to take the chapter seriously, but somehow it works, largely due to the effects. Acclaimed make-up gurus Greg Nicotero, Ed French and Howard Berger created the Chief with skill, applying a “wooden” body-suit to actor Dan Kamin. The kill scenes also show some verve, as Woodn’head attacks his victims with a volley of arrows, a swipe to the head with an axe, and a pretty nasty scalping. That said, the real star here is probably Holt McCallany (Fight Club), who is perfectly cast as the sneering Sam. Otherwise, Creespshow 2 gets off to a pretty dire start.
The follow-up is much better; based on a story from King’s Skeleton Crew compendium. “The Raft” is a fiendishly enjoyable slice of B-movie hokum, which includes that favourite horror movie archetype - the teenage gang. Naturally, they don’t live to see the end credits. The teens in question have driven down to a remote lake, for some holiday fun. They swim out to a raft on the water, but their fun is interrupted when a flesh-eating oil slick starts attacking them at random. What will they do? Wait for the slick to disappear, or try and swim for dry land? Clearly inspired by The Blob, the story retains the comic book style, and succeeds in grabbing a ghoulish smirk from the audience.
Nicotero and Berger once again had their hands full, since the blob was a pretty difficult visual to accomplish. Gornick wanted it to glide along the surface of the water with menace - an aim which isn’t really achieved. The effect looks like a bin-bag being pulled across the water, but honestly, “The Raft” is too fun to care. It’s now famous for inspiring a scene from Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, but the bloody “touch-up” scene was done here first. As usual, the teenage stars are dull stereotypes, but the running time wouldn’t allow for acute characterisation - they exist only to be eaten. The deaths are wildly over-the-top, as the blob eats through their flesh, leaving a mound of bloody bones. The story moves along at a sharp pace, and concludes with a very effective “jump” moment, that justifies the silly scenario. Well, almost...
Last but not least, is “The Hitchhiker”, in which dissatisfied wife Annie (Lois Chiles) leaves her lover’s bed to drive home. After skidding off the road, she accidentally runs over a pedestrian. But she doesn’t call the police. Instead, she speeds off toward home. Big mistake! Her road kill has returned in the shape of a demonic hitchhiker (Tom Wright), who can’t be killed, and won’t leave her alone! Easily the best of the three, this is a dark and moody piece, that lashes on the pitch-black humour. Chiles is a perfect fit for this role, and her escalating fear allows for much of the fun. Wright also embodies the title role with eccentric glee, employing various stages of grisly facial appliances, as Annie tries desperately to kill him. His constant use of the phrase “thanks for the ride lady!” is not only screamingly funny, but also memorable (the distributors used it throughout their marketing campaign); making “The Hitchhiker” a perfect homage to EC’s potent formula. With a cameo appearance by King himself, and plenty of the red stuff, Gornick definitely saved the best for last.
Admittedly, the stories are weaker than those in the first Creepshow, and they occasionally feel like three strung-together television episodes (funnily enough, Gornick had directed an episode of Tales From the Dark Side, furthering the similarity). The film functions as a neat, cheap shocker, with a few notable flourishes, but little in-between. To be fair, the film was fraught with production problems, as you’d expect from such a low-budget shoot. It’s a testament to the director and his crew, that Creepshow 2 is compulsive viewing, no matter how flawed the movie is. Suffering in comparison to Amicus’ classic anthologies - easily the best anyone has ever produced - it passes the time well, and is a definite recommendation to horror fans. After all, how many films boast King, Romero, and Savini on the same marquee? Creepshow 2 is a cult flick every step of the way...
Anchor Bay deserve all the praise they can get. As if their brilliance was in any doubt, those aficionados have given a minor film like Creepshow 2 a wonderful “Special Edition”. Such dedication to the splatter-loving audience is truly commendable, and they never cease to amaze this DVD-buying enthusiast. The Bay have ported over their “Divimax” release from the States, with a few notable inclusions. After popping the disc in, grabbing a cold one, and turning the lights down low, I was once again impressed by AB’s love of all things icky...
The Look and Sound
As you’d expect, Creepshow 2 has never looked better than it does here. The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer doesn’t take the breath away, but it’s a bright, clean picture, that avoids many of the problems encountered by old films on DVD. It’s both good and bad, with plenty of points in both categories. First, the bad. The colour palette is pretty dull (which might have been a creative choice), and appears washed-out in a few scenes. It might have been sharper, but the transfer boasts clarity nevertheless; reproducing shadow and blacks very well indeed. On the good side, there was a significant lack of grain, and the dark scenes during “The Hitchhiker” remained vibrant. The animated footage was also clean, with no lapse in quality. AB’s re-master is well above-average, and exactly what the film needed. A job well done.
Unfortunately, the audio is inconsistent - a regular bone of contention for the distributor. Discarding the original mono track found on the US release, we get a host of new re-mixes, which is steadily becoming the norm. Creepshow 2 comes in Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS and 2.0 Stereo. Such specifications would seem impressive for the casual viewer, but a low-budget film made 15 years ago, is hardly going to set the surrounds on fire. The 5.1 and DTS tracks are good, don’t get me wrong. But they seem wasted here - the film has some activity, but most of it feels forced; projected from the front speakers for much of the run-time. Therefore, I’d recommend the 2.0 option, since it is the closest to the original mono recording. Had they included the latter, the audio might have scraped a 7. That said, Creepshow 2 boasts a clear and vibrant transfer, that is sure to impress fans.
These were great! Scored to music from the film (which is suitably goofy), the menus embrace the comic book motif and run with it. The animation is fantastic too, with footage from the film playing as you make your selection. Pleasantly creepy, they make you long for Halloween...
Special mention should go to the box art, which houses the disc. It’s some of the best work AB have done for ages, and gets the lurid tone down to a tee.
One again, the Bay don’t stuff this disc with material, but treat each extra with tender loving care. Quality, not quantity! Therefore, this disc is sure to tell you everything you need to know about Creepshow 2...and then some.
Audio Commentary by director Michael Gornick, and DVD producer Perry Martin
This is by far the best extra in the set, managing to be wildly entertaining and informative all at once. Perry and Gornick talk about the film at great length, from the conception of the project, right through to its eventual release in America. He asks the filmmaker a variety of intriguing questions; especially his thoughts on audience reactions, and how he overcame the tight budget. The effects work is dissected well too, with Gornick offering a few trade secrets, that are complimented by the featurette. What makes this commentary so enjoyable, is Gornick’s memory for trivia and on-set activities, recalling everything from the casting, to shooting the animated segments. He talks about the original a lot too - if only Warner could release a new edition...
These were pretty decent. Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero are interviewed for "Nightmares in Foam Rubber," a 30-minute special-effects documentary, that reveals a lot about the troubled shoot. The process of creating each effect is covered, with the pair showing great affection for each other and their work (a partnership that would help form the renowned KNB effects group). Surprisingly, there’s a lot of on-set footage here, the highlight of which is Tom Savini donning “The Creep” make-up. There’s also the UK-exclusive “My Friend Rick”, which lasts 5-minutes. It involves Berger, and his tales of meeting the legendary Rick Baker, and how he broke into the industry on sheer luck.
Also on board are two trailers (which are packed with spoilers), some biographies and a batch of film notes. A respectable collection, and by far Creepshow 2’s finest hour.
Gory, over-the-top and very, very silly, Creepshow 2 just about works as a guilty pleasure. Those expecting something major from the Romero and King camps will be disappointed, but this sequel has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. Anchor Bay’s stellar work is once again appreciated, making this is a must-own for any fans out there. For everyone else, a rental is recommended; especially with the recent wave of Twilight Zone knock-offs flooding cinemas...