Friday, October 25, 2013

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Anthology Flick Friday Gets the Creeps... CREEPSHOW II That Is

When you talk about horror anthology flicks the conversation inevitably turns to 1982's CREEPSHOW. Thanks to a successful theatrical run and a healthy afterlife on cable and home video, CREEPSHOW is one of those flicks that seemingly every horror fan has seen at some point. And you know what? It holds up pretty well thanks to a solid list of talent both behind the camera (George A. Romero, Stephen King and Tom Savini) and in front of it (Tom Atkins, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Vivica Lindfors and EG Marshall).

Given its success – the flick grossed more than twice its budget at the box office alone and was a video store staple throughout the 80s – it always surprised me that it took five years for a sequel to turn up in theaters (via New World!). And though it's better than I remembered, the downgrade in both look and talent make this one feel at times like little more than a straight-to-video cheapie.

While the flick's trio of terrifying tales are still inspired by Stephen King stories, Romero took over the screenwriting reins and passed the directing chores to CREEPSHOW's director of photography Michael Gornick (in his only feature effort). Lost along the way are the first film's use of comic panel artwork and imagery, a surprise given Gornick's presumed role in helping shape the look of the original CREEPSHOW.

Trimmed from five segments down to three, CREEPSHOW 2 opens with a wraparound starring an unrecognizable Savini as "The Creep" before segueing into 'Old Chief Wood'nhead' which features George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as down-on-their-luck store owners who run afoul of a narcissistic Indian (tv veteran Holt McCallany) who has dreams of being a star in Tinseltown once he puts the dusty old homestead in his rearview mirror. Not surprisingly, the regal, titular wooden Indian that stands guard in front of the store does not take kindly to Sam Whitemoon besmirching his people's good name and much Indian-inspired mayhem follows.

The second tale – based on King's classic and creepy short 'The Raft' – feels like it gets the short end of the stick in this anthology. The basics of the tale remain the same, with pals Deke (Paul Satterfield) and Randy (Daniel Beer) heading to a remote lake for a fall fling with their gals. When a deadly, oil slick-like shape in the water eats one of the girls, Deke, Randy and Laverne (Jeremy Green) must outwit, outlast or outswim the powerful blob.

I still remember stopping by the local 7-11 on my way to school in order to grab the copy of The Twilight Zone magazine that included the tale and devouring it – much like the blob devours the characters – during class. A few changes occur between the printed page and the big screen, most noticeably the ending and the fact that Randy becomes a less sympathetic character thanks to his attempted tryst with Laverne. (It has been years since I read the story but I remember their coupling being more consensual while in the film it comes off as sorta assaulty.)

It doesn't help the tale that Deke – played by the better actor of the two male leads – is the second to go. Beer's line delivery throughout is pretty stiff and robotic, making me wish that he had been yanked through the cracks instead of stoner jock Deke. (It came as no surprise that Satterfield has gone on to a solid career in both both soaps and series TV).

Rounding out the flick is the one-note, drawn out 'The Hitchhiker' in which adultery-minded Mrs. Lansing (Lois Chiles) hits and kills a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) while trying to get home from a tryst. Panicking at what she's done, but unwilling to face the consequences, she continues on – feeling safe in the belief that nobody witnessed her crime. Alas, the bloody hitcher continues to pop up (choking out a gravelly "thanks for the ride, lady!" at each encounter), causing Mrs. Lansing to go further and further over the edge.

Former Bond Girl Chiles (MOONRAKER) is game and holds the segment together with her performance, but the whole thing grows stale in a hurry and the repeated catchphrase comes off like an attempt to find another "Where's my cake?!" for the flick to hang its hat upon.

Don't get me wrong... as anthologies go CREEPSHOW 2 isn't bad, I just wish the last two segments had been flopped so that 'The Raft' was given more time to spin its weird web. Minor quibbles aside, the flick zips by and the easily digested segments make for quick viewing over a couple lunch breaks or while taking care of stuff around the house.

Despite doing fairly solid box office numbers in relation to its budget, it would be 20 years before another CREEPSHOW installment was released. In 2007, CREEPSHOW III arrived with no involvement from Romero, King or Savini and features a largely forgettable cast and crew. In fact, Savini calls 1990's TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE – which features a Romero-penned segment originally intended for the second CREEPSHOW – the "real" CREEPSHOW 3.

But we'll tackle both those flicks another time... kiddies! – Dan Taylor

CREEPSHOW II was recently released on Blu-Ray and is available from Amazon.

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