Creepshow 2 Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
George A. Romero’s most profitable brush with the mainstream was 1982’s Creepshow, which was distributed by Warner Bros. Yet, his so-called “independent spirit” made it difficult to redeem his earned industry caché and he was forced to dial back his plans for his third Dead film, Day of the Dead (1985), as well as Creepshow 2 (1987), which was reduced from five shorts to only three. Romero himself wrote the screenplay (with uncredited help from Lucille Fletcher), based it on Stephen King’s stories, rather than having King himself adapt them, and handed off directing duties to Creepshow’s cinematographer, Michael Gornick. The results are certainly a step down from the heights of the original film, which is perhaps the best film of its kind (or at least a very groundbreaking one in terms of its comic book qualities), but Creepshow 2 is better than its lack of reputation may suggest.
In the first chapter, Old Chief Wood'nhead, a local Native American elder gives valuable tribal heirlooms to a small town hardware store owner as a token of appreciation for lending them money over the years. Soon after, ne'er-do-wells rob the store, kill the owner and his wife, and steals the heirlooms, prompting the store’s wooden Indian mascot to spring to life and seek bloody revenge. Here, the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses constantly overlap. Gornick and Romero get a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing folksy charm and comic book aesthetic, thanks to George Kennedy & Dorothy Lamour’s adorably sappy performances and cinematographer Richard Hart & Tom Hurwitz’ outrageous photography. Yet, the material is stretched paper-thin and the continued attempts at ‘natural’ character development grows tedious. In turn, the bloody retribution is way too quick.
In the second chapter, The Raft, promiscuous, drug-abusing college students take a trip to an isolated lake where they’re marooned on a raft by a slimey, man-eating blob. It is an improvement in pacing and entertainment value, despite its derivative concept or perhaps even because of it. The simplicity of a monster eating nearly naked co-eds fits the anthology format nicely, even without the benefit of the typical EC Comics irony. The creature/gore effects are also appropriately gruesome, setting the stage for Chuck Russell’s 1988 bigger-budget Blob remake.
The film ends on a high note with The Hitch-hiker. This time, a woman rushing home from an overnight affair strikes a roadside hitcher and leaves the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for her, the poor sap she hit doesn’t stay dead. The Hitch-hiker feels the most like something Romero himself might’ve directed, unlike the first two episodes, which feel pretty detached from his stylized black comedy. It features a perfectly punchy tempo, fulfills the EC brand of morality tale storytelling, and features some delightfully nasty gore effects.
Romero & Richard P. Rubinstein’s Laurel Entertainment produced both Creepshow and Creepshow 2, though the second film was distributed by New World Pictures. As a result, Warner Bros. maintained video distribution for the first film stateside, while Creepshow 2 has bounced around a bit. Anchor Bay first released it on DVD in 2001, then recycled their transfer for a Divimax special edition and various other barebones re-issues. For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Arrow has scanned the original 35mm interpositive in 2K and restored/remastered the material (again at Pinewood Studios). Creepshow 2’s smaller budget means it doesn’t have the special effects or production values of its predecessor, but it is directed by a cinematographer who helped develop Creepshow’s comic book-inspired palette, so it is slick and amazingly colorful. The first two stories look particularly sharp and clean, due to their flashier/brighter lighting schemes. There’s loads of information in the backgrounds of wider shots and close-up textures are tightly knit. The third story was shot largely in the elements at night, which creates some balance issues and upticks in grain. While it is a grand upgrade over the almost indiscernible DVD, Arrow may have boosted contrast a little too high in an effort to unveil extra detail, because there are some black pooling issues and a few rough gradations. This is also one of the more dirty prints I’ve seen from Arrow in a while. Still, the problems are never excessive, the color quality is rich, and its overall detail ‘bounce’ is fantastic.
Arrow has included the original mono (scanned from the 35mm source) alongside stereo 2.0 and 5.1 remix options, presumably taken from the Anchor Bay DVDs. The mono and stereo tracks are presented in LPCM and the 5.1 is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. I’m a bit confused on what the ‘appropriate’ track is in this case, because the movie was reportedly presented in stereo as well as mono. Either this is the original stereo, or a mixdown of the remix. To my ear, however, the 2.0 track is the best in terms of balance, clarity, and consistent volume. Its tones are almost identical to the single-channel track, but the two-channel spread serves the musical soundtrack much better. The score, which is credited to Les Reed and Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, also sounds nice on the 5.1 track, but the centered dialogue/incidental effects seem muffled and some of the updated surround effects don’t really work.
Commentary with director Michael Gornick – This track, moderated by Perry Martin, was originally recorded for Anchor Bay’s US/UK special edition DVDs. Gornick has a velvety radio-friendly voice and fills the track with facts and figures from start to finish. Martin helps him on his way with pertinent questions, but doesn’t have to do much to keep the director focused.
Screenplay for a Sequel (10:45, HD) – A new interview with Romero, who discusses the legacy of EC Comics, the original Creepshow, Creepshow 2 production woes, Gornick’s work as director, and the series’ legacy.
Tales from the Creep (7:59, HD) – The next Arrow exclusive interview is with make-up artist Tom Savini, who appeared as the physical manifestation of The Creep in Creepshow 2. He talks about his passive role on the film as an actor only. He also mentions his ‘pay or play’ contract with New World, which means he was paid for directing the movie even though he didn’t.
Poncho’s Last Ride (14:44, HD) – Actor Daniel Beer (Randy during the Raft segment) recalls a series of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, including the time he almost died of hypothermia from swimming in the freezing lake water.
The Road to Dover (13:31, HD) – The last new extra is an interview with actor Tom Wright (the Hitch-hiker), who runs down his earlier career and the process of creating a character using his skills as an actor and stuntman.
Anchor Bay DVD featurettes:
Nightmares in Foam Rubber (32:02, SD) – A substantial interview featurette with special make-up effects artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero
My Friend Rick (2:43, SD) – Berger recalls hunting down and, later, working with make-up legend Rick Baker.
Behind-the-scenes footage (5:50, SD)
Two trailers and a TV spots