Me and Lil’ Stevie
CREEPSHOW II (1987)
By Peter Dudar
(Exterior-day: Establishing shot of quiet Maine town by morning. There is a little boy sitting on his bicycle just outside the local newsstand, waiting for a very special delivery. An old army-style canvas-covered delivery truck adorned with comic book graphics pulls up, and the little boy sits up tall on his bike. The truck parks, and then there is a figure rummaging around the back of the truck, sorting through bundles of magazines. The figure tosses a bundle out onto the curb, and the boy goes to reach for it. Suddenly, the boy stops and looks up at the figure in the back of the truck. The camera pans upward and we see that the figure is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)
Lil’ Stevie: I wouldn’t do that, son…I really wouldn’t.
Peter: Why not? Little Billy, here, just wants the very first copy.
Billy: Yeah! It’s all mine! I got here first!
Peter: Go ahead, Billy. Open it up. You’ve earned it.
(Billy opens up the package. Instead of being filled with comic books, the package is filled with autographed pictures of Justin Beiber.)
Billy: Nooooooo! (abandons his bicycle and runs away screaming).
Lil’ Stevie: Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk…they fall for it every time!
Peter: Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another fun-filled episode. Today, we’ll be discussing Michael Gornick’s 1987 film directorial debut, CREEPSHOW II. Gornick, like a lot of other directors that have cut their teeth on Stephen King projects, has a long history of working in the cinema, serving as a cinematographer, production manager, camera and sound engineer, actor, and producer. He is equally steeped in made-for-television projects as well. So, when George Romero (director of the original CREEPSHOW, 1982) passed on the project, Gornick stepped in (he was cinematographer on CREEPSHOW, and was familiar with the spirit of the project).
Lil’ Stevie: And the fans of CREEPSHOW rejoiced! Boo-ya!
Peter: Not exactly. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As you already know, Constant Viewer, we examined the original CREEPSHOW back in episode 7, and we happen to consider it a favorite of ours, so we want to treat this entry as fairly and unbiased as possible.
Lil’ Stevie: Which means we sat our butts down and re-watched it, for old time’s sake.
Peter: The film begins pretty much as we’ve established with the delivery truck, turning Little Billy’s wraparound segment into an animated storyline featuring him and “The Creep” (Tom Savini, special effects maestro and character actor, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, 1996).
Lil’ Stevie: You’re already getting it wrong. The Creep is played by Joe Silver (RABID, 1977).
Peter (sighing): Silver provided the voice. Now, quit interrupting. It bears mentioning that the original film was constructed with comic book panels and artwork interspersed with the live action sequences. It made the movie feel like a comic-book-come-to-life, which was an enormous part of the campy charm that made the original so cool (not to mention comic art veteran Bernie Wrightson’s stunning contributions). All of that is traded off for “The Creep’s” animated spookshow-host narration. I found this to be an annoyance more than an upgrade. At the time of this film’s theatrical release, HBO was already knocking ‘em dead with their “Crypt Keeper” in TALES FROM THE CRYPT. This feels like a bad rip-off.
Lil’ Stevie: Can we talk about my stories? My stories are what bring the movie to life!
(Peter reaches down and snatches up an autographed photo of Justin Beiber)
Peter: Here, this is for you. Aren’t you his “Number-one fan?”
(Lil’ Stevie turns aside and throws up).
Peter: Holy cow! How are you doing that? You’re a puppet. You can’t throw up!
Lil’ Stevie: (Dragging his sleeve across his mouth) Oh yeah? Well, you can’t write for beans!
Peter: (Shaking his head). You disgust me. Anyway, the REAL Stephen King provided three stories for the film; OLD CHIEF WOOD’NHEAD, THE RAFT, and THE HITCHHIKER (with THE RAFT being the only one of the three segments to appear as a published story. It was released in Gallery magazine in 1982, and then in the collection SKELETON CREW in 1985). The first story, OLD CHIEF WOODN’HEAD, concerns Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour). The Spruces (a loving nod, perhaps, to Tabitha King’s family) are an elderly couple who own and operate the only general store in Dead River, Arizona. The town, it seems, has washed up and blown away, and its few remaining citizens (most of them being Native American) are in debt to the Spruces. Ray Spruce doesn’t seem all that concerned, though. He’s done very well over the years, and feels obligated to give back to the people that supported him.
Lil’ Stevie: The beginning of the story sees Ray outside his store, painting new war stripes on Chief Wood’nhead; the cigar store-style Indian statue that stands on the store’s front porch.
Peter: While he’s working, his neighbor, Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo, MAGIC IN THE WATER, 1995) pays him a visit. Whitemoon brings a pouch of Native American jewelry that he has collected from his people as a kind of promissory note to pay off the debts his people have incurred. “I’ll guard it with my life,” Ray promises. He tries to convince Whitemoon that prosperity is in the air and that the town is going to come back, but he and Whitemoon already know this isn’t to be. The pouch is the only payment he is going to see for his kindness, and by taking it, he allows Whitemoon’s people to remain borrowers rather than beggars.
Lil’ Stevie: You NEVER promise to guard something with your life. You just don’t do it.
Peter: That’s right. Because Whitemoon’s nephew Sam (Holt McCallany, GANGSTER SQUAD, 2013) and his buddies want that wampum. They hold up the store, taking what little cash the Spruces have, but Sam has his eye set on the pouch of jewelry. The heist quickly turns into a killing spree, with Martha gunned down while her husband watches helpless, trying to talk Sam out of what he’s about to do. When Ray refuses to let go of the treasure he promised to guard with his life, he, too is murdered and the pouch is pried from his cold, dead hands. And then Sam and his buddies are racing off to leave Dead River for new digs in Hollywood.
Lil’ Stevie: Not if Old Chief Wood’nhead can help it…
Peter: Precisely. In E.C. Comics-style vengeance, the Chief (Dan Kamin, MARS ATTACKS, 1996) comes to life and goes on the warpath against the hooligans who killed the folks that took such good care of him. The siege doesn’t end until all three are dead, with Sam’s scalp (which he treasured) clutched in his hand as he finds rest at his original post outside the store. The Chief is the real star of this story, and the makeup effects for the statue come-to-life by Gregory Nicotero and company deserve mad props. This film is one of the last of its breed; the kind with guys in rubber suits and prosthetic appliances providing the scares rather than CGI. It pays off as you watch the Chief’s subtle facial movements and statuesque body motions.
Lil’ Stevie: …and the blood shots, squirting all over the walls as the Chief swings his tomahawk.
Peter: On kind of a funny off-note, I’d always believed that Rodney Grant played Sam Whitemoon. Grant is the Native American actor that portrayed Wind In His Hair in 1990’s DANCES WITH WOLVES. It turns out that Holt McCallany isn’t even Native American. Crazy, huh?
Lil’ Stevie: Hilarious. You’re an imbecile.
Peter: (pulls out a tomahawk and crunches it into Lil’ Stevie’s head.) Heh. That’s funny, too. The second story, THE RAFT, is about four college kids who race off to a lake after the summer season has ended to go for a swim in the lake’s secluded waters. A joint is passed around as Deke and Randy drag their best gals, Laverne and Rachel, to the lake in Deke’s bitchin’ Camaro. They arrive at the lake with the radio blasting terrible 80s music, and the boys race right into the lake and begin paddling toward The Raft. The girls follow reluctantly, and as they are swimming, the boys notice a weird, oily membrane floating on the water (the membrane eats a duck alive, to their horror). Once they are all up on the raft, the kids are held hostage by the membrane, which now seems to move and have a mind of its own. Rachel buys it first, gently prodding the membrane to see what it is, only to have the membrane snatch her off the raft and eat her up. Deke dies next, as the membrane slides effortlessly between the raft’s slits and begins chewing away his flesh.
Lil’ Stevie: Randy and Laverne manage to survive all night, but thanks to Randy’s randy hormones, Laverne falls prey to the membrane. As the gelatinous blob eats her alive, Randy decides to make a break for it and swim to the shore…but will he make it out alive?
Peter: This was my favorite segment of the film, and Gornick’s cinematography skills really shine in how this was shot. It’s beautifully done, the way the camera floats past the kids on the raft at eye-level. It’s great stuff. Again, all that’s missing is the neat comic book panels from the original film.
Lil’ Stevie: The acting was a tad weak in this one. None of these kids had star quality, and none of them had any meteoric rise to fame because of this movie.
Peter: Sad but true. The last segment, THE HITCHHIKER, stars Lois Chiles (MOONRAKER, 1979) as Annie Lansing, the wife of a successful attorney. Lois has been throwing her husband’s hard-earned money at her favorite gigolo for sex, but in spite of her infidelity, she’s terrified of being home one minute late from the affair as it will anger her husband severely. So, after an evening of wanton sex with her lover, she notices she’s late and will never be home on time. She floors the pedal of her BMW in her bid to get home, and in the process, she accidentally runs over some hapless hitchhiker (Tom Wright, BARBER SHOP, 2002) holding a sign reading DOVER.
Lil’ Stevie: Stephen King cameo! King plays a truck driver, who happens to be the first on the scene after Annie Lansing disappears in her BMW.
Peter: The shaken adulterer speeds away, trying to convince herself that she can always turn herself in if she can’t live with the guilt, but the guilt has already begun to manifest itself. It seems the Hitchhiker isn’t really dead, and will haunt her ride home. The corpse seems to turn up over and over again, until Annie is literally running his body into trees, and then driving back and forth over the poor guy’s remains until he is the nastiest road kill you’ve ever seen.
Lil’ Stevie: We really ramped up the gore on this one. Like the first segment, this tale is all about revenge.
Peter: It’s really all about guilt. We don’t honestly know if the Hitchhiker is really haunting her, or if she’s injured her head in the accident and is hallucinating the whole thing. But Annie eventually makes it back home and parks her totaled car in the garage, where the Hitchhiker visits her one last time…
Lil’ Stevie: And her husband finds her dead body in a haze of carbon monoxide. Maybe she couldn’t live with the guilt after all.
Peter: A couple of things about this movie…Putting aside the lack of comic book panel framing, this film’s stories verge more on the serious side rather than the campy side that the original movie had. The first film’s characters were more like caricatures, more stereotypical than typical. This film opted to play it straight, leaving the comedy to the goofy animated “Creep” segments, and that detracts from the overall impact of the movie. It’s no wonder that so many King and Romero fans were disappointed with this film (and that’s taking into consideration that Romero wrote the screenplay based on King’s stories). The stories are very stripped down and one-dimensional, making them predictable in their outcomes. But they work. They are entertaining stories built on morality plays. What would you do if you accidentally ran someone over and killed them? What would you do if you and your friends were stuck on a raft with something trying to eat you?
Lil’ Stevie: I’d make sure you got eaten first!
Peter: Thanks. I can always count on you. I guess my final word on this one is that it falls under the category of “What could have been…” This could have been great if it stuck to the formula that made the first movie so great. It could have been great if they left out “The Creep” and stuck with the nifty comic book with its pages flapping in the breeze. It could have been great with a bit more campy humor. And it could have been great with one or two more stories. The three tales (and the wraparound story with Billy getting chased by the bullies) just don’t offer a satisfying meal for us to feast on. Two vengeance tales and a badly-acted hostage story fall short of a complete anthology film.
Lil’ Stevie: Unless you’re Mario Bava. BLACK SABBATH (1963) rocks!
Peter: In the meantime, we’ll keep hoping King and Romero get it together and put out a legitimate CREEPSHOW III, unlike the one that was released in 2006 that had nothing to do with either of them. Agreed?
Lil’ Stevie: Agreed. Well, boils and ghouls, we’ll be slaying ya…er, seeing ya next month! Bwahahahaha!
(Peter leans down and picks up Billy’s bicycle and climbs on, setting Lil’ Stevie on the handlebars.)
Peter: Thanks a lot, Billy…thanks for the ride! (Pedals away).
© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar