A convenience store in a dying town where debts are paid with honour and those who would break the trust of the town must pay in blood; an afternoon in the wild, four friends enjoying the warm sun and the cool water in an isolated lake; a cheating wife rushing to get home before her husband and not paying attention to the road ahead of her as she fumbles and drops first her lit cigarette, then the hitch-hiker on the side of the road…
Billy had a long wait for the second issue of his favourite comic Creepshow, almost five years since the original five-story comedy horror anthology directed by the great George A Romero from a screenplay by Stephen King before the arrival of its sequel, directed by the cinematographer of the first film, Michael Gornick, making his feature debut with Creepshow 2.
Though the original creators remained involved, it was in a more limited capacity; the three tales were all based on ideas by King, though only one had made it into short story form, The Raft, first published in 1982 and later collected in Skeleton Crew, and the screenplay had been written by Romero based on these ideas.
With a framing story featuring makeup artist Tom Savini as the Creep, delivering bundles of the Creepshow comic book, the opening story is Old Chief Wood’nhead starring George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as Ray and Martha Spruce of Dead River, Arizona, visited first by local tribal elder Benjamin Whitemoon then by his nephew Sam and his friends, an armed robbery whose consequences are swift.
Next, college students Deke, Randy, Laverne and Rachel find themselves trapped on The Raft and menaced by what appears to be an oil slick, a dark mass which moves across the surface of the lake but maintains its shape and responds to motion, attacking and stripping the flesh from whatever it comes into contact with, be it seagull or teenager.
Finally, Lois Chiles is Annie Lansing, selfish and cavalier as she ploughs into a stranger on the side of the road and flees the scene, confident that there are no witnesses, only to be haunted by the apparition of the The Hitch-Hiker, unable to escape and losing her mind as the increasingly mangled body clings to her car.
Presented on Blu-ray as a brand new 2K restoration from original film elements for Arrow, Creepshow 2 is not a masterpiece by any measure, effects artist Howard Berger commenting in the special features “We didn’t have the time, and there was no money whatsoever;” initially planned as five segments, two were abandoned to lower the production costs, ultimately a false economy.
Neither as stylish or as smart as the sly cautionary tales of the original, conspicuously absent is the black humour which made that a classic, possibly a consequence of the pressure on location and time constraints which would have allowed little improvisation or creativity, nor is there sufficient menace or atmosphere, the three segments stretched beyond what is effective while the crudely animated framing story is charmless.
One resource which could not be tallied by accountants was the huge camaraderie on the difficult shoot, Gornick displaying faith in his team and in turn inspiring loyalty and by ensuring his cast were taken care of, shutting down shooting on The Raft for two days while Daniel Beer was hospitalised with hypothermia rather than forcing the actor to continue working.
Where Creepshow 2 is most successful is as a showcase for Berger and Greg Nicotero, friends of Gornick since they worked together on Romero’s Day of the Dead, their contribution dissected in the supporting features, the film a demonstration of their creativity despite the circumstances and the value of practical over digital effects, particularly the astonishing full body prosthetic of Old Chief Wood’nhead himself, Romero himself describing the project as “a heroic job under difficult circumstances.”