Creepshow 2 (1987) [Arrow Blu-ray review]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-01-02 04:55

Creepshow 2 (1987)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: December 13th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

As far as hot takes go, I’m afraid I don’t have many in me. For the most part, I don’t harbor wildly contrarian opinions that would make you raise an eyebrow or question my sanity. Maybe this makes me boring or predictable, but I guess it also really registers whenever I do happen to say something that’s a little out there. All of this is to say that you should perhaps hold onto your seat because here’s one that’s been met with some perplexed looks over the years: if forced to choose, I’m the guy who would rather watch Creepshow 2 over the original in most cases. I say this knowing full well that it doesn’t make much sense, especially since I must concede that, yes, the original is a better movie, having been directed by a master in George Romero.

And yet, something about the follow-up has always been slightly more appealing, even if it’s hard to make an objective case for it. I suppose we all have inexplicable cases like this, where a film just works its magic on you, leaving you powerless against its charms. In this case, Creepshow 2 boasts a ton of charm in the form of outrageous characters, clever Stephen King conceits, and a willingness to indulge the entertaining, mean-spirited verve that defined the best moments in the original film. If the first Creepshow was a loving tribute to EC Comics, then the sequel feels like a demented Saturday morning cartoon, complete with outsized personalities and over-the-top violence.

It’s no coincidence that the frame story this time takes on the form of an animated tale involving a young boy’s encounter with bullies. After receiving the latest issue of the Creepshow comic book fresh off the truck (delivered via the Creep, played by an unrecognizable Tom Savini), young Billy spends the rest of these interludes evading his tormenters before turning the tables with his mail-order Venus flytrap. I fully recognize how absurd this sounds, but it exactly captures where Creepshow 2 is coming from. Arguably, it is actually more self-assured in this respect than its predecessor: where that film is sometimes a tonal mishmash, this one is thoroughly committed to silliness. It’s almost as if everyone involved decided to make three Jordy Verrill segments this time around—and it’s glorious.

Speaking of the actual segments, the gore-soaked festivities kick off properly with “Old Chief Wood’nhead, which finds an elderly couple (George Kennedy & Dorothy Lamour) struggling to keep their general store afloat in the ominously named town of Dead River. As you might suspect, the local economy has dried up, leaving behind few customers and even fewer customers who can actually pay anything. One particularly beleaguered customer is Native American elder Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo). In an effort to repay his tribe’s debts, he gives the couple some sacred jewels only to see his own nephew (Holt McCallany) and an idiot group of thugs later rob the store, killing the poor, sweet storeowners in the process.

Revenge promptly arrives in unexpected fashion when the couple’s cigar store Indian comes to life and takes the scalps of the younger Whitemoon and his friends. It’s a gruesome little revenge tale cast (like most Creepshow segments) from the old EC mold, which sets up awful characters before chopping them down. And, man, does this one ever set up an outrageous bunch of assholes that deserve their comeuppance. McCallany is the standout here as Sam Whitemoon, an absurd dickhead looking to rob the store just so he can abscond to Hollywood, where his gorgeous mane will help him get “paid and laid.”

His wildly dickish demeanor stands in stark contrast to the dignity dripping from Kennedy, Lamour, and Salsedo. These are all good people who don’t deserve to be victimized; in contrast, it’s very satisfying to watch McCallany and his goons die incredulously at the hands of a fucking Native American statue (a concept that works better than you might expect due to some top-notch effects work). “Old Chief Woodn’head” sets the perfect tone: it feels like the sort of thing only Stephen King could dream up, and it’s brought to life in some rather broad strokes, from the hyper-earnest performances to the over-the-top bloodshed.

Easily the anthology’s most popular tale, “The Raft” follows suit. In what amounts to King’s riff on the decade’s “dead teenagers” trend, the segment boils the proceedings down to the essentials: here, we have a group of careless, hedonistic college kids heading out for a woodsy, lakeside retreat, only to meet their doom. The usual slasher middleman is cut out, though, replaced here by a mysterious blob that emerges in the water to cut these kids down in their primes. Again, this feels like only the sort of weird shit King might dream up, and, as silly as it sounds, it totally rules, mostly thanks to the rad, face-melting effects work that peels the kids’ flesh off in agonizing fashion.

But there’s something more to “The Raft,” I think, that makes it work. There’s a reason it’s (rightfully) hailed as one of the finest Creepshow segments: part of this owes to the concept—it’s simplistic, relatable, and just bizarre enough to distinguish itself. The execution clicks here, too, though—again, this is a pretty colorful set of personalities, highlighted by the usual tropes: the dickhead jock, the more “sensitive” guy, the seemingly sweet, shy girl. They’re a bit jumbled up here, though, as “The Raft” announces its intentions by swiftly killing what looks to be the final girl before moving onto the rest. Along the way, that seemingly sensitive guy commits sexual assault, effectively turning the short on its head: by the end, this segment also turns into another grisly morality tale, one that ends with an obscured warning sign as rock and roll tunes blare from the teens’ car, never to be heard by its former inhabitants again.

Final segment “The Hitch-Hiker” is also among the most infamous Creepshow segments, forever immortalized because of its titular characters’ refrain: “thanks for the ride, lady,” he constantly shouts at Annie Lansing (Lois Chiles) as she flees in terror. He shouldn’t be able to hitch a ride, much less thank her for it considering that she carelessly plowed right into him in a rush to hurry home to a husband she’s been cheating on. And yet he somehow continues to return from the grave, only to be effectively pounded into mush as Annie continues to commit vehicular assault.

In this case, the well-worn EC formula—which finds another awful person paying a ghastly penance for their sins—is underpinned by some obvious but poignant socioeconomic commentary. As King himself pointedly remarks in his cameo as a truck driver, the hitchhiker is a “black fella” who’s just been carelessly pummeled by this upper crust white woman who’s obsessed with a Mercedes. Her brief bout with guilt only lasts long enough for her to convince herself that she’ll never be caught; had her victim not literally returned from the grave, it seems likely that he’d be nothing more than a headline while she returned to a glamorous lifestyle she doesn’t truly appreciate.

It’s not particularly subtle, but it gives this final segment just the bite that it needs since it’s otherwise so thin, and the constantly dripping gore provides the icing on the cake. The deteriorating hitchhiker’s corpse is among the most impressive effects found in either of the Creepshow films, and Tom Wright’s spirited performance helps it to truly come to life, thus allowing the film to end on a solid note. I’ll be among the first to admit that “The Hitch-hiker” is the weakest of the three, but at least it’s not a bloated capper that weighs down the entirety of Creepshow 2.

In fact, the economical pacing here may explain why I prefer this sequel. Not only is it more tonally coherent, but it’s also more of a concentrated, straightforward blast. While this owes to the film having two segments trimmed because of its meager budget, it nonetheless results in a tighter, more entertaining experience. Even if Creepshow 2 isn’t my favorite anthology, its approach pretty much matches my ideal for the format: the stories are efficient sandboxes for fun performances and playful effects work, while the wraparound segment does just enough to provide a tonal and thematic through-line. Separately, these individual elements are above average; together, they congeal into one of my all-time favorites. No, it’s not as good as its predecessor, but I’ve probably watched it twice as many times, and that counts for something.

The disc:

As horrible as 2016 was in many respects, it was a banner year for Creepshow fans. Long starved for any kind of special features to accompany a bare-bones Blu-ray release, they were finally able to get a taste of Just Desserts back in July, effectively satisfying the need for a special edition re-release for the original. More recently, Arrow Video finally did the sequel justice with a terrific limited edition release that sports a brand new 2K restoration and a ton of supplements, easily outclassing the previous Blu-ray release from a few years back.

Headlining the extras is a commentary track with director Michael Gornick, which is joined by separate interviews with Romero, Savini, and actor Daniel Beer. Archive featurette “Nightmares in Rubber” provides a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s effects work and interviews with Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero. Berger also appears in “My Friend Rick,” wherein he reminisces and discusses the contributions of his recently-retired mentor, Rick Baker. Some more behind-the-scenes footage appears alongside an image gallery, trailers and TV spots, and the disc is housed in a deluxe package adorned with newly commissioned artwork.

One of the most notable supplements is also found within: in addition to the usual booklet with liner notes, Arrow has also provided a comic book adaptation of “Pinfall,” one of the film’s two unfilmed segments (the other, “Cat from Hell,” eventually showed up in the Tales from the Darkside feature). This is quite a treat, if not a glimpse into that better, alternate universe where Creepshow extended beyond these two films. Just as he did in Just Desserts, Romero here asserts his wishes that it had spawned a bigger franchise because it’s such a fun concept. As someone who adores this mostly unsung sequel, I can obviously only agree and be thankful that Arrow has gifted this edition for other likeminded folks, however few they may be.
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