Looking Back: Creepshow 2 (1987)

“Creepshow 2” is one of those odd movies that followed me around and was an ubiquitous title throughout my youth. I first discovered it while it was being reviewed on a Nickelodeon movie review program for children called “Rated K For Kids.” I’m uncertain why the very-young critics were assigned an R-rated horror movie. Nevertheless, their critique was harsh and the clip they showed was scary. It was enough to keep me from wanting to see it at the time.

A year later, I was checking out booths at the Maui County Fair and noticed one touting the option to pick up Showtime in a cable TV. The Showtime booth had promo art for “Platoon” and “Creepshow 2,” truly an odd pairing. Twenty years or so later, I was in this little cowboy town called Elizabeth, Colorado. The town had very little in the way of entertainment (as a local kid in a diner told me glumly). I made my way down to their only video store, which had one of those squeaky metal racks holding a disconnected assortment of titles. Among them was “Creepshow 2.” I figured it was about time I give it a look and stop avoiding it.

Before I begin discussing the film directly, here’s a comparison I like to bring up: the difference in quality between “Creepshow” and “Creepshow 2” isn’t all that different from “Planet Terror” and “Death Proof,” the 2007 films that made up the glorious “Grindhouse” Robert Rodriguez/ Quentin Tarantino double feature. While Rodriguez’s “Planet Terror” is a funny, affectionate double feature that duplicates the look, cheap thrills and campy sleaze of a drive-in B-horror film, Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is the better film because it’s not kidding around. Whereas Rodriguez painstakingly duplicated the filmy grit of its genre, Tarantino made the real thing. “Death Proof,” while funny and featuring a few self aware moments, has fetishistic sleaziness, moral  grime and a built-from-the-dirty-ground-up bevy of nasty thrills. I prefer “Death Proof” over “Planet Terror” because, while the latter is an ode to scuzzy drive-in movies, the former actually is a scuzzy drive-in movie.

George A. Romero’s 1980 “Creepshow” deserves its praise for being an early comic book movie, a big budgeted horror tribute to E.C. Comics and a horror offering for grownups as well as kids too young to watch it. On the other hand, Michael Gornick’s “Creepshow 2” isn’t a studio-budgeted work from Warner Brothers with a big name cast. In fact, it’s a very low cost lark from Roger Corman’s New World Cinema, starring of affordable B-movie actors. In short, while “Creepshow” is the cleverer, self-referential, winking, more established elder sibling, “Creepshow 2” is the distinctly dirtier, no frills, take-it-or-leave-it little brother. Both are out to entertain, give audience’s gag reflex a workout and nod appreciably at the work of William H. Gaines but “Creepshow 2,” what it lacks in pedigree, makes up for being authentically the kind of movie the first film went out of its way to replicate. Gornick’s film is cheap and so are the thrills, but there’s no studio gloss or safety net for all the bad taste it delivers, either.

If you’ve read this far and still care about the plot of “Creepshow 2,” I’ll be brief and careful (as the three tales in this horror-anthology are lean and easy to spoil). All three were written by Stephen King, though the first is the weakest of the lot.

“Old Chief Wooden Head” stars George Kennedy and Hollywood film legend Dorothy Lamour as an old couple whose mom n’ pop shop is terrorized by three vile thugs. This sequence goes on so long and is so torturous, it plays like a slightly watered down variation on the murder of Officer Murphy sequence in the same year’s “RoboCop.” Revenge on the young punks comes in the form of…well, there’s no point spoiling it. Following this weak installment, “The Raft” course-corrects the entire movie, establishing a tone, keenly aware B-movie feel and a tight scenario that is exploited in full. The final reveal is something of a genre classic. So is the redundant one-liner that becomes the catch phrase of “The Hitchhiker,” the final of the stories-within-the-story. Featuring former Bond Girl Lois Chiles gnashing her teeth in a wicked turn, it portrays a hit and run accident that gets worse and worse until it becomes a grotesque comedy.

While Romero wrote the screenplay and produced, he was off planning to helm “Pet Sematary” while this was in production. Nevertheless, King still gives good cameo in the final vignette, the goopy creature effects are excellent and even the ugly, sub-Saturday Morning Cartoon animation that bookends the tales is somehow charming. The scares here are mid-range at best but, if you want to see the kind of unassuming, toothsome horror movie that would appear as the second bill of a drive-in double feature, then step right up, kiddies.

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