Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Film Appreciation - Good to the Last Gasp

This week, Cody Hamman writes about his appreciation of the 1987 horror anthology Creepshow 2.

In 1982, genre legends Stephen King and George A. Romero teamed up to bring us Creepshow, a classic anthology film that paid homage to the stories and style of the E.C. Comics horror publications of the 1950s.

This sequel followed five years later, with Romero writing the adaptations of a handful of King short stories and Romero's longtime cinematographer Michael Gornick taking his place in the director's chair. According to Gornick, King couldn't handle the screenplay himself this time because he was working on his epic novel It, and Romero couldn't direct because was busy trying to get other projects going, specifically an adaptation of King's Pet Sematary. (Which he did not end up making.)

Being a late 80s release, Creepshow 2 hit just as I was getting into horror, and was one of the films that I would watch over and over through the years. The first one also got its fair share of viewings, but I think 2 was watched more overall.

The film begins in the middle of a lovely looking town. I believe this part was shot in Dexter, Maine, and is one of the many film locations that I hope to visit someday. Young Billy, a boy who's a bit twisted and a superfan of the Creepshow comic book (this character was also featured in the first film), rides in on his bike and gets his copy of the new Creepshow issue as soon as its thrown off the delivery truck by the Creep himself (played by Tom Savini). Things then segue into the first of the film's animated segments. While the first film had very brief animated sequences between the stories showing the pages of a Creepshow comic being flipped through, the animated sequences are expanded in this one as we get a walking, talking Creep introducing the stories and also follow the adventures of little Billy.

The first story up is OLD CHIEF WOOD'NHEAD.

Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour, in her final film performance) have been running their general store in the town of Dead River for over thirty years, with the wooden Indian statue Chief Wood'nhead standing proudly on the front porch. We're introduced to Ray as he touches up the Chief's warpaint while singing his own rendition of "Jimmy Crack Corn", which has stuck with me so that I often sing it myself.

Hard times have hit Dead River and most customers can't pay for their purchases, but Ray doesn't want to close down despite his wife's urgings to do so. To make up for their inability to pay, the local Indian tribe, represented by Benjamin Whitemoon, deliver to the Spruces a collection of cherished items for them to keep until the debt is paid.

Unfortunately, Benjamin's criminal nephew Sam knows of this and that the items are worth $10,000, so he shows up to rob the Spruces, aided by his sidekicks Fatso and Rich Boy. Sam is a man with a plan, which he lays out to us in a fantastic monologue after he sits in the store's photobooth. Sam plans to hit the road in Rich Boy's Firebird and go to Hollywood, where his good looks - which he takes note of every time he catches a glimpse of himself with "Look at this sweetheart" - and particularly his long hair, which he's been growing for nine years, are going to make him a star and get him "paid and laid". The robbery scene, resulting in the murders of the Spruces, used to deeply disturb me when I was a kid. Ray and Martha are good, likeable senior citizens, murdered in cold blood by a trio of despicable punks. These days, my focus is more on how entertaining Sam's vanity and aspirations are.

The murder of the Spruces is also disturbing to Chief Wood'nhead, as the statue comes to life and sets out to avenge his old friends. In slasher fashion, the criminals are dealt with before they can escape to Hollywood and, true to these kinds of tales, the source of Sam's vanity is also his downfall.

The second animation sequence features Billy picking up a package at the post office, an order he placed through an ad in Creepshow.

The second story, which may be the most popular segment of the film, is THE RAFT.

The Raft is the only one of these stories that has been published in prose form, and was already available in King's short story collection Skeleton Crew a couple years before Creepshow 2 was released. It's a very simple tale about four college kids (from Horlicks University, the college in the first movie) who go to a lake in late October to swim and take advantage of the fact that the lake's owners haven't yet taken a raft in off the water. It's "a little bit of summer that someone forgot to clean up and put away". But there's something strange in the lake, and the kids find themselves trapped on the raft by this thing, which is like a living, hungry oil slick. An aquatic Blob that devours every fleshy thing that it comes in contact with.

This was my favorite story in the film as a kid, always having been a fan of stories about groups of people trapped in (or on) one location by outside forces. I also crushed on both of the actresses in this segment during my youth; Jeremy Green as Laverne and Page Hannah, Daryl Hannah's younger sister, as the shy and quiet Rachel. Another character jokes with her, "quiet down, you talk too much". As a quiet person myself, if I had a dollar for every time someone has said that to me, I'd have a nice fat roll of bills.

The lake they filmed at is in Prescott, Arizona. Might I visit that lake and take a swim someday? Why not?

After The Raft concludes, we check back in on Billy as he's menaced by a group of bullies, then move on to the third and final story, THE HITCH-HIKER.

The Hitch-hiker is about a woman who, while hurrying back home after an extramarital rendezvous with her personal man-whore, does a hit and run on a hitch-hiker on the side of the road. But as she continues on her way, the hitcher keeps appearing to her as a bloody, mangled apparition who repeatedly exclaims, "Thanks for the ride, lady!"

Because of this, Creepshow 2 is one of the most quoted movies in my life. My older brother latched on to "Thanks for the ride, lady!" and will take any opportunity to say it. Even more than ten years after his "born again" lifestyle has cut horror viewings out of his entertainment diet, he still quotes Creepshow 2. In fact, one time that he quoted it while I was around, his church's preacher was also present and he then reminisced to the preacher how cool Creepshow 2 was back in the day.

Stephen King cameos in the Hitch-hiker segment as a truck driver, and the woman is played by Moonraker Bond girl Lois Chiles (who stepped into the role after former Jeannie Barbara Eden had to drop out).

Once the woman has reached her final destination, we check in on Billy one last time to see his Creepshow purchase violently solve his problems, just as one did at the conclusion of Creepshow 1.

Creepshow 2 took a hit from some budgetary limitations and a bumpy production, having to lose some of the comic book homage opticals and stylistic flair that its predecessor had. Budget restrictions also led to a couple of planned story segments being dropped. The first film contained five stories, and the original plan was for part 2 to have the same. They had to pare it down to three, dropping a zombies-and-bowling tale called Pinfall, which has still never been produced or published anywhere, and The Cat from Hell, a published story that was later adapted by Romero for the Tales from the Darkside movie and included in the short story collection Just After Sunset.

Despite the troubles it had before and during production, Creepshow 2 is definitely a worthy follow-up to the original and still works very well, with effective stories that are really fun, enjoyable, memorable, and quotable.


  1. Loved this one too!!! Haven't seen it in years but just reading about it makes me want to go rent it////////1

  2. I don't like this anywhere near as much as I like the first movie, but it's not bad. And it's at least ten times better than "Creepshow 3," which -- if you haven't seen it -- is best left skipped.