1987's Creepshow 2, meanwhile, is...errr, not. Despite being culled from another set of Stephen King stories and George A. Romero returning to contribute the screenplay, it's a step down in every conceivable way. The visuals aren't nearly as stylish, having little interest in harkening back to EC's horror comics other than as a framing device. It lacks that sort of fiercely over-the-top verve. None of the stories are all that memorable; in fact, two of them were rejected from the original film. John Harrison's exceptional score makes way for what sounds like library music you'd hear on an '80s network TV police drama. Creepshow 2's star power is low-wattage by comparison, not that the lackluster material gives them all that much to sink their teeth into. I mean, think back to the most iconic imagery from the original Creepshow. Now look at this sequel, where you're saddled with a cigar store wooden Indian, an oversized garbage bag floating in a lake, and a hitchhiker sopping with blood and chanting a catchphrase.
Okay, sure, I'm probably being unduly harsh. I dug Creepshow 2 when I first watched it years ago, and I clearly like it enough to have paid good money for home video releases twice before now. I'd even say it's better than most horror anthologies: a format that's continued to fascinate me for decades, even though I walk away disappointed more often than not. It's just that whereas my appreciation for the original Creepshow burns brighter with each viewing, Creepshow 2 is just sort of...there.
Anyway, I guess four paragraphs in means it's about time to start tearing into some sort of plot synopsis. The same as the original Creepshow, this anthology is framed by the story of a kid who turns to the ads in his favorite fright comic to punch back against his tormentor. It's largely animated this time around, and young Billy is more fascinated by carnivorous flora than by voodoo dolls. The animation doesn't look all that great, and the payoff doesn't connect the way it does in the first film. It's hardly the first time you'll chalk up something in Creepshow 2 as "more of the same, only lousier".
The Creep's first yarn in this issue of Creepshow is "Old Chief Wood'nhead". George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour star as an elderly couple whose general store is seemingly the only business with its lights still on in this desolate dust bowl. Still, this once-thriving town was generous to them in decades past, and Ray figures it's only right to pay some of that back in its time of need. Despite not being able to settle his local tribe's accounts the way he'd like, Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo) offers a show of good faith that the Spruces' kindness will not be forgotten. The chief's nephew Sam (Holt McCallany) isn't planning on sticking around to see how all that shakes out. Sam and a couple of his pals are looking for some quick cash and junk food to fuel a one way trip to Hollywood, and it's not as if there's any other store around to knock over. Sam gets a little too trigger-happy while trashing the place, but whatever, right? They're about to leave this speck on the map behind in the rear view mirror, and it's not as if there are any witnesses to this double murder. Well, no one except that wooden cigar store Indian out front...
Next up is "The Raft", the only one of these stories I remember reading in print a lifetime ago. It's off-season, so these four college students have a hopelessly remote lake all to themselves. Pot. Skimpy swimsuits. Hair metal. Okay, it's November or whatever and the lake is inhumanly cold, but what are you gonna do? They still have a blast, swimming over to a wooden raft in the middle of the lake before figuring out what sort of hell to raise next. There's just this...thing floating atop of the surface of the lake: an amorphous blob. They figure it's just some sort of oil slick or something, but no such luck. Whatever it is, it's alive, it's hungry, and it knows damned well where its next meal is coming from.
Creepshow 2 screams to a close with "The Hitchhiker". Annie Lansing (Lois Chiles) appreciates what her husband's packing in his wallet but not so much what's on the other end of his business slacks. She's been paying a gigalo to give it to her every week, but the guy hasn't been putting those fistfuls of cash towards an alarm clock worth a damn. Annie loses track of time and is in a desperate rush against the clock to beat her husband home from his law firm. Breakneck speeds plus a stray lit cigarette plus a hitchhiker (Tom Wright) don't add up to anything good. Still, it's the dead of night, and Annie figures no one she passed on the road would be able to identify her in court or anything. And even if they did...? Eh, she knows a hell of a lawyer. Then again, she doesn't even have a chance to race her victory lap before that bloodied hitchhiker limps towards her Mercedes again. "Thanks for the ride, lady!" Annie runs him over. She shoots him. She crushes his hand. She blasts through a guard rail and through a frostbitten forest. She smashes the bastard into a tree over and over. No matter what Annie does, the mangled, unrelenting remains of the hitchhiker keep coming back for more.
So, yeah, Creepshow's recurring theme of "raging assholes get what's coming to 'em" is in full force here, only with less memorable pricks and largely forgettable creatures. Where the original film's "Something to Tide You Over" was a force of wills with a sinister, theatrical scheme, too much of "Old Chief Wood'nhead" is just a dick waving a shotgun around. I appreciate the sentimentality of a small town taking care of its own and vice versa, but once that's out of the way, you're stuck counting the minutes until a wooden statue finally lurches to life. Even then, Old Chief Wood'nhead is only a real boy for a couple of minutes, the vengeance he wreaks isn't anything all that interesting, and the poetic justice at the end is...ugh. The first, worst segment leans too heavily on the novelty of its premise. Once the Spruces wave goodbye to Ben, too much of the build-up is woefully uninteresting, Sam's braying flunkies are nails-on-chalkboard insufferable, and the denouement isn't worth the wait.
A sucker for its sort of inescapable dread, I'd still point to "The Raft" as my favorite of these three segments. The blob is the only creature in Creepshow 2 that doesn't have to skulk after its prey, exactly; they've come to it. Stranded on a tiny assemblage of wood in a lake far from any other signs of life, its next meal has nowhere to go. If one of them tries to make a break for the shore, it's easy pickin's. This oversized amoeba can't quite reach them on the raft if they stand on the planks, but all it takes is one false step to be sucked into its waiting maw. The way in which it digests its food from the outside makes for Creepshow 2's most memorable and gruesome make-up effects, and its final scare is an image inexorably seared into my brain. Page Hannah's Rachel also makes for my favorite character in the film. Her arc -- the good girl who's generally ignored by her friends and desperate to shed her 'pure as the driven snow' reputation -- isn't exactly breaking new ground, but I love how all of that is conveyed without a single syllable of dialogue. It's all realized purely through Hannah's behavior and body language. The suspense has lost some of its luster for me after this many times through, though, and the shift from tender, mutual support near the end to skeevy rapiness is too stark and is out of step (literally?) with the precautions Randy dreamed up himself. I still like "The Raft" a great deal, but I seem to remember it being more effective than it really is.
"The Hitchhiker" is generally considered the fan favorite here, but it's too one-note for my money. "Thanks for the ride, lady!" Annie screams. The undead hitchhiker claws at her. She fights back however she can. Seemingly in the clear, she tears off in her Mercedes for thirty seconds until the hitchhiker, looking that much worse for wear, pops up to start the cycle all over again. Creepshow 2 draws to a close with what's essentially a one-character piece, conceptually not all that far removed from the original's "They're Creeping Up on You". However, Annie can't claim to be so gloriously loathsome as Upson Pratt, a Mercedes and a Maine highway aren't as atmospheric as Pratt's sterile New York sanctuary, and I'll take an army of cockroaches over stage blood and a catch phrase any day.
At the end of the day, Creepshow 2 is okay, but a sequel to the single greatest horror anthology ever committed to film deserves more than that indifferent shrug. On the other hand, Arrow Video hardly settles for okay with this Blu-ray special edition, assembling several hours of extras new and old, an indescribably gorgeous remaster that puts previous high-def releases to shame, and, in the limited edition release, their revival of an unfilmed segment in comic form. Strictly taken as a movie, Creepshow 2 comes Recommended with reservations. This package as a whole, though...? Highly Recommended and as essential an upgrade as they come to anyone else who shelled out for Image Entertainment's Blu-ray release a few years back.
Yeah, yeah, I know; it's only been three years since Creepshow 2 first premiered on Blu-ray on this side of the Atlantic courtesy of Image Entertainment, and maybe you're bristling at the idea of buying the same movie again so quickly. Honestly, I don't even need to write a review here; just marvel at these comparisons:
Arrow Video's remaster is in every way a revelation. Where the Image release is flat and dull, Arrow's presentation is vivid and alive. Though the animation that frames Creepshow 2 is somewhat soft at times, the linework is considerably crisper and better defined here. The live-action photography can be especially gritty and grainy, particularly when it doesn't have all that much light to play with. The resolution of that grain is immeasurably improved on Arrow's release, in keeping with the far greater level of detail on display. Look at the dashboard in that screenshot from "The Hitchhiker"; the odometer and the like are devoured in black on Image's release, but they're readily discerned here. Creepshow 2's crew suffered through all-night shoots on this segment, but to look at the clumsily timed Image disc, you'd think it was shot day-for-night, with the same blue tint slathered across pretty much every last frame. Arrow, meanwhile, revives the colors that such pains were taken to capture. What's particularly astonishing is how heavily cropped the Image release is. To really highlight the vast differences in framing, look at the comparison below. The red inset is from Image's Blu-ray release.
Essentially every live-action shot from Creepshow 2 is expanded on all sides, particularly the left part of the frame. Bizarrely, Image's egregious cropping isn't consistent, as the animated segments and opening titles are far closer in appearance (though still noticeably expanded on Arrow's release). I've had more than my share of Blu-ray-to-Blu-ray reissues pass through my hands, and Arrow has delivered one of the most significant upgrades I've ever come across.
Creepshow 2 skulks its way onto a dual-layer Blu-ray disc at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Arrow has piled on four 16-bit uncompressed or lossless soundtracks onto their Blu-ray release of Creepshow 2. For the purists, there are LPCM tracks in both mono and stereo (plus an audio commentary!), and...well, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix is so timid that it's easily mistaken for straightahead stereo. It's been the same story with that remix for a while now, so don't chalk that up to any foul play on Arrow's part.
The good news is that no matter which track you listen to, you're unlikely to walk away disappointed; fidelity and levels are remarkably comparable among them. The dialogue stems don't belie their age but generally sound fine, with just a few scratchy lines, such as that "over here, lady!" barked out in "Old Chief Wood'nhead". Despite having a discrete LFE channel at its fingertips, there's borderline-nothing going on in the lower frequencies. Even when a Mercedes plows head-on into a tree over and over and over, there's no real kick to it. Use of the surrounds is so sparse that I wonder why Lakeshore or whomever bothered with a 5.1 remix in the first place.
Only a tiny handful of effects really standout in the rears, such as the rumble of thunder early on or the screeching of tires after the undead hitchhiker is first sighted. The thin, utterly forgettable, keyboard-centric score is meekly reinforced from behind as well, but that's really the extent of it. I mean, I repeatedly put my ear right up against each of the rear speakers as a sanity check and was almost always met with nothing. No ambient noise on the road. No lapping water or whatever on the lake. Dead fucking silence. Whatever, though. No complaints about revisionism here: that's for sure. Still, as long as you don't have your heart set on any sort of pulse-pounding, hyper-aggressive remix, you'll almost certainly be pleased with whichever track you ultimately settle on.
Also included here is a set of English (SDH) subtitles, and that's yet another one up over Image's no-frills Blu-ray release from a few years back.
In stark contrast to the bare-metal Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment, Arrow Video has assembled a hell of a special edition. The quickly-sold-out limited edition comes packaged in a slipbox and includes a comic book adaptation of the unfilmed "Pinfall" segment, but the standard release is otherwise identical. That extends to the reversible cover art, which celebrates both halves of the equation: a skeletal spectre haunting a movie theater and The Creep cracking open an issue of his favorite horror comic. Michael Blyth's essay, "Deadtime Stories", acknowledges that Creepshow 2 can't help but pale in comparison to the original, but that doesn't mean it should be shrugged off either. My thoughts echo Blyth's, although his are obviously far more skillfully written, and I particularly appreciate his comments on how "Pinfall" would've fit into this anthology.
The Final Word
Image Entertainment's 2013 Blu-ray release of Creepshow 2 was awfully lackluster, so what did Arrow Video go and do...?
Yup! Arrow cut straight through that bullshit. Even though this sequel never approaches the dizzying heights of the original Creepshow, it's still better than average for a horror anthology, and I'm thrilled to see it lavished with the white glove treatment like this. Its presentation is a complete and total knockout -- worlds removed from the flat, lifeless, and severely cropped Image release -- and Arrow's heaped on several hours of extras to boot. The limited edition's comic adaptation of the unfilmed "Pinfall" segment ought to elevate it that much further, if you were one of the lucky few who were able to score a copy. This special edition comes very Highly Recommended to longtime Creepshow fanatics. Since I'm not all that wild about the film itself, I'd lower that to a somewhat less enthused Recommended to the uninitiated.