U.S. tagline: “When the curtain goes up, the terror begins.”
While nowhere near as memorable as George A. Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), Michael Gornick’s economical sequel serves up three more Stephen King short stories, which, despite its numerous flaws, does have its moments and is certainly worth a revisit, especially via Arrow Video’s newest, and extras-packed, Blu-ray.
“Welcome kiddies, to another edition of Creepshow!” intones our host The Creep (Tom Savini), who is first seen delivering the newest issue of Creepshow to a small, rain-soaked town as Billy (Domenick John) watches in awe. Like CREEPSHOW, the image switches to animation, but unlike that film’s classy comic-book panels and transitions, CREEPSHOW 2’s rather ragged, substandard animation (courtesy of Rick Catizone) acts as a sort of wraparound, which centers on Billy and a bunch of bullies and is at first a little off-putting, but The Creep’s intros from within his castle are good, classic EC Comics fun.
As voiced by Joe Silver – Canadian character actor best-known from two of David Cronenberg’s early efforts, SHIVERS (1975) and RABID (1977) – The Creep gets us ready for our first story, “a nasty lil’ bone-cracker” he calls “Old Chief Wood’nHead.” Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour) run a small convenience store in Dead River, a decaying, southwestern town that is (quote) “finally living up to its name.” With no business, Ray has plenty of time to touch-up the war paint on Old Chief Wood’nHead, an imposing carven statue of an Indian warrior that stands guard out in front of their humble store. When, in payment for their many debts, Ray and Martha are given some precious – and highly valuable – tribal jewels courtesy of Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank S. Salsedo), Ben’s nephew Sam (Holt McCallany), a wannabe Hollywood actor, and his two cohorts Fatso (David Holbrook) and Cavanagh (Don Harvey) rob their store and attempt to steal the jewels, only to have Old Chief Wood’nHead come to life and meticulously exact his revenge. Typical of many EC Comics, it’s a simplistic story as our three antagonists get their much-deserved comeuppances, but it’s simply too drawn-out and slow-moving; which certainly captures the languid pace of Dead River, but when compared to CREEPSHOW’s memorable first episode “Father’s Day”, it’s a rather tepid opener, even when compared to an episode of Laurel’s TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1984-1988) TV show.
For our next (quote) “bubbly bon-bon”, four kids, Randy (Daniel Beer), Rachel (Page Hannah), Deke (Paul Satterfield) and Laverne (Jeremy Green), in search of a good time, drive out to a desolate lake in “The Raft”, but are soon menaced by some sort of unexplained “oil slick” in the water which is ready to devour anything in its path. Originally appearing in the November 1982 issue of Gallery, one of the many skin mags which proliferated during the ’70s and ’80s, “The Raft” eventually made its way into King’s Skeleton Crew, his second collection of short stories published in 1985, but unlike the more fleshed-out short story, the filmed version is even more one-dimensional in its execution, without any backstory whatsoever and merely – if quite effectively – outlines their struggle against the mysterious, flesh-absorbing oil slick as it circles their pontoon. Some unexpected and memorable death scenes soon follow and keep things moving through its 20+ minutes, including the best ‘surprise’ ending of all three stories.
For the film’s third and last (quote) “morbid masterpiece”, Anne Lansing (Lois Chiles) is driving home after a late-night visit with her regular stud (David Beecroft), who is thinking of charging his clients “per orgasm”. On her way home, she tries to conceive of possible excuses for her rich husband, but when she drops her cigarette while behind the wheel and becomes distracted from the road ahead, she accidentally runs over a hitchhiker and then leaves the scene, only to thereafter be repeatedly beset by the vengeful – and increasingly mangled – hitchhiker, who keeps coming back for more no matter how many times she re-runs him over. Now famous for the recurring line, “Thanks for the ride, lady!”, “The Hitchhiker” could be considered a variation of the original, same-titled, TWILIGHT ZONE episode from 1960 with more gore, but minus the far-more-effective ending. Chiles, a veteran actress best remembered for her role in Lewis Gilbert’s MOONRAKER (1979), carries the entire film as she screams, yells and then then slowly loses her mind while she tries to put an end to the tough-to-kill hitchhiker. Then, in a jarring shift, the film returns to its animated wraparound story, wherein Billy, who has sent away for some mail-order “giant Venus Fly Trap bulbs”, eventually gets his revenge on the bullies as The Creep wholeheartedly approves, only to then drive off in search of another small town.
Following their other New World Pictures acquisitions, it was only a matter of time before Arrow Video would tackle CREEPSHOW 2, and even though it has been readily available on both DVD and Blu-ray, Arrow Video’s edition is the best it’s ever looked on home video. Picture quality is a major upgrade compared to previous DVDs from Anchor Bay, Image Entertainment’s lackluster U.S. Blu-ray or even 88 Films’ recent U.K. Blu-ray. Touted as a “brand new 2K restoration from original film elements”, Arrow’s disc reveals considerably more picture information on the left-hand side of the frame, which compositionally, works better; also, colours are much more pronounced and really pop off the screen, giving some of the images that much-needed comic-book appeal, which was quite lacking in previous transfers, including both Blu-rays. As usual, the LPCM English mono, stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio all sound fantastic, with nothing to quibble about.
In a very cool gesture, Arrow Video has gathered together all the significant extras from the various DVD and Blu-ray releases over the years, and have also included a bunch of new material as well. First up, the audio commentary with Michael Gornick (moderated by Perry Martin) from Anchor Bay’s 2004 rerelease is included where he discusses the budgetary constraints of the production; including revealing his eagerness to direct after helming a few TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE episodes, and how Tom Savini was originally planned to direct this sequel, plus plenty of other interesting anecdotes. In another extra originally included on Anchor Bay’s disc, “Nightmares in Foam Rubber”, is a nice half-hour piece dedicated to FX wizzes Berger and Nicotero about their initial meeting on Romero’s DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), their arrival on the C2 set, and tensions which arose between them and special make-up effects man Ed French, whom they eventually replaced on the production. Initially included on 88 Films’ Blu-ray, “Screenplay for a Sequel” has Romero discussing his work adapting King’s work into a workable script. The original script had five stories, including “Cat from Hell” (which was eventually used in John Harrison’s TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE ) and “Pinfall”, which were both dropped due to a smaller-than-intended budget being imposed on the production. In “Tale from the Creep”, Savini discusses his apprehension about wearing prosthetic makeup and reveals some interesting trivia surrounding “The Raft”, including Patricia Tallman, who later starred in Savini’s official remake of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990) doubling as a stuntwoman for Page Hannah. In “My Friend Rick”, Berger briefly talks about Rick Baker and how he eventually worked with him on William Dear’s HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987). New extras to this already well-stacked Blu-ray include “Poncho’s Last Ride”, which is an interview with actor Daniel Beer, who discusses both the bout of severe hypothermia he suffered while filming “The Raft” as well as his still rather uncomfortable love scene. In “The Road to Dover”, actor Tom Wright discusses his stuntwork on “The Hitchhiker” and how it earned him further roles in stuff like Rusty Cundieff’s TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995). Other extras include some behind-the-scenes footage, a generous still gallery, two theatrical trailers and a TV spot. The Limited Edition comes in a real spiffy slipcover, which includes the standard edition Blu-ray, some excellent liner notes from Michael Blyth and a cool comic-book adaptation of the unfilmed “Pinfall” segment by Jason Mayoh.