Revisiting the film of Stephen King’s Creepshow 2

We look back at the films based on Stephen King's writing. This time? It's Creepshow 2...

The film: The Creep arrives in town with a fresh batch of stories for another boy named Billy, who delights in grabbing a copy of the Creepshow comic. He reads the tale of Old Chief Wood’nhead first, in which an elderly couple find themselves victimised by an armed robbery in their general store. Next, The Raft, in which four college students take trip to a lake to go swimming, only to find out there’s something in the water. Finally, a married woman travelling home from a meeting with her lover loses control of her car and runs down a hitch-hiker, but flees from the scene to keep her life in order.

Welcome back to our ongoing journey through the adaptations of Stephen King. We’ve arrived at Creepshow 2, the sequel to the earlier collaborative effort of King and George A. Romero. Michael Gornick takes on directorial duties here as Romero moves to screenwriter, adapting three of King’s short stories for the new anthology. Originally intended to feature five stories like Creepshow, budget cuts unfortunately left us with just three tales of terror. And, like a lot of films discussed so far, Creepshow 2 falls into that decidedly middling area with plenty of great ideas, but also a few not-so-great ones.

The first part of Old Chief Wood’nhead has a lovely, elegiac quality to it as married shopkeepers the Spruces mourn their dying town and the Native American tribe that rely on them for supplies without the money to pay for them. George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, and Frank Salsedo give dignified performances, and the gentle scene they share sets up the tonal shift into the armed robbery’s violence at the hands of Sam (Holt McCallany in a rather unconvincing long black wig), perfectly. McCallany plays his bad guy a bit too broadly for him to be really scary and the Chief’s slow, creaky movements lessen his impact somewhat, but the animation is good, particularly in his facial expressions.

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The Raft is the strongest story, a compressed teen horror movie with all the hallmarks: remote location, character archetypes, and a mindless antagonist (in this case, some black sludge) that picks them off one by one. The simplicity of the tale allows Gornick to build up some great tension in a short space of time and the kills are genuinely disturbing in an environment that never feels safe. It helps that the four performers establish their roles swiftly, particularly Paul Satterfield’s dumb jock, Deke, so that we can move to the scares fast. Never has a sentient oil slick felt so threatening.

The Hitch-hiker suffers a little from having a protagonist who isn’t very sympathetic. She’s having an affair with a gigolo, she accidentally runs someone down in her car, and runs away from the scene concluding that it’s totally fine because no one caught her in the act. It’s hard to blame the hitch-hiker for wanting a little revenge. He also gets a killer catchphrase: “Thanks for the ride, lady!” Lois Chiles is fantastic as the determined Annie Lansing though, keeping up a wry monologue throughout most of the story to get her through her nightmare.

As with the first Creepshow, where the film excels is in its special effects, though it doesn’t use them quite so often or as creatively as it predecessor did.There’s some glorious blood splatters in Old Chief Wood’nhead and Tom Wright’s make-up as the lingering hitch-hiker picking up injuries during his quest for revenge gets deliciously more grotesque as the story goes on. Perhaps the best, though, is the oil slick in The Raft, and the gnarly way it eats through the students’ skin as it consumes them alive. Tom Savini’s get-up for The Creep brings the returning character to life so vividly, it’s a shame that he’s then relegated to animation for much of the film’s interludes.

The animation sequences best encapsulate the problem with Creepshow 2. Unlike the comic book panels of the first film, the animations don’t carry the same vivid iconography and feel like filler for the runtime that was initially comprised of five stories. The interludes take some of the momentum away from the anthology tales, relying on the little boy, Billy (not to be confused with the Billy from the previous film), to carry us through. Only Billy’s tale isn’t great and the humour falls flat.

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Sadly, that lacklustre feeling permeates much of the film. The schlock or the black humour isn’t as broad or as present and although Romero is responsible for the screenplay, the film lacks the enthusiasm that worked so well in Creepshow. That was a film with an atmosphere that brimmed with joy and love of the genre until it couldn’t help but infect the audience too. Creepshow 2 simply doesn’t work as well, despite some bright spots along the way.

Scariest moment: As college student Laverne sleeps, her fellow survivor, Randy, decides it’s a good time to cop a feel while she’s unconscious. Not only that, but she then has her face eaten off by the predatory goo. Worst trip ever.

Musicality: The score from Les Music and Rick Wakeman is one of the film’s strongest elements, shifting and transforming with the tone of the various stories. A highlight is the music for Old Chief Wood’nhead: that first mournful scene has a melancholic score that feels straight out of a John Ford ending and later on, we get a couple of Herrmann-esque violin screeches during the Old Chief’s vengeance.

A King thing: As with the first film, Creepshow 2 features one of Stephen King’s more substantial roles in film based on his work. It’s not quite as lengthy as his starring role in Creepshow’s The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill, but he appears here as the truck driver in the final segment, The Hitch-hiker.

Join me next time, Constant Reader, as we travel to ‘Salem’s Lot.