Monday, May 23, 2011

Stephen King Month: Creepshow 2 (1987)

There are a lot of basically unrelated sequels to Stephen King movies (the Children of the Corn series, Pet Sematary Two, etc.), but Creepshow 2 is the only King sequel that fits my criteria for this project, since it's based directly on King source material (a few of his short stories). It's also a much more straightforward King adaptation than the first Creepshow, despite nominally sticking to the conceit of mimicking old E.C. comic books. Unlike George A. Romero, who directed the first movie (and wrote this one), sequel director Michael Gornick doesn't try to approximate the look and feel of lurid horror comics with his visual style, sticking instead to a more sedate, basic shooting style (which is a little odd considering that he was Romero's cinematographer on the original). Instead, he puts all of the E.C.-style stuff in the interludes, animated segments that feature a Cryptkeeper-like ghoul introducing the various stories.

Even those bits kind of look like '80s Saturday-morning cartoons, though, and the whole thing just comes off as a little low-rent and second-rate. Even the quantity has been reduced -- only three stories here instead of five, and only two that really pack any punch. "Old Chief Wood'nhead" opens the movie limply, taking way too long to get to its horror conceit (a wooden store Indian that comes to life to avenge the deaths of its owners) and then underplaying the eventual carnage. The concept is pure E.C. cheese, but Gornick doesn't know how to goose it properly, and it ends up awkwardly balanced between camp and seriousness.

The next two stories fare better, and even have moments of genuine creepiness. "The Raft" makes good use of a minimalist monster (basically just a film of slime floating on the top of a lake) but is undone by some truly awful acting, and "The Hitchhiker" has a classic moralizing E.C. premise but stretches itself a little thin. The woman who runs down a hitchhiker and then flees the scene clearly deserves a proper comeuppance, and seeing the man, bloody and beaten, continually in her path is a nice way to torment her. It's a little like an old ghost story given extra trappings, including an opening scene that features the woman visiting a male prostitute, as if King and Romero needed to make her just a little bit more distasteful so that her torment would be easier to accept.

It's too bad that the Creepshow franchise didn't continue (there was a direct-to-video Creepshow 3 in 2007 that involved neither King nor Romero), because the idea was fun and King clearly has affection for the old E.C. style. But even by this second installment, the commitment to the idea seemed to be waning.

How far to Castle Rock: Although the first Creepshow had a couple of Castle Rock references, there aren't any in this edition.

King cameo: He plays a truck driver who stops to help the injured title character in "The Hitchhiker."

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