Blu Reviewed: Arrow Video's Creepshow 2 – Limited/Special Editions

Of the numerous horror anthology films that were released during the subgenre's prolific 1980s golden age, none are so beloved as the Stephen King and George A. Romero collaboration Creepshow. It's a perfect storm of everything that makes the anthology storytelling format so much fun: wonderful atmosphere, an all-star cast of great character actors, five (mostly) very effective tales that mix creepy chills with offbeat humor, and some of the most memorable creature effects of Tom Savini's storied career. Half a decade before Tales from the Crypt debuted on HBO, Creepshow near-perfectly adapted the spirit of EC Comics' iconic series to a live-action format that still managed to maintain a comic-book feel. A sequel was inevitable – but it was just as inevitable that this sequel would have trouble living up to the original's instant-classic legacy, especially with the lower budget that it wound up getting. As such, despite King and Romero returning as co-writers, Creepshow 2 has always struggled with an odd reputation in our pop-cultural consciousness. More often than not, if it comes up in conversation the immediate response will be, “Creepshow 2 isn't that good, compared to the original.” But also more often than not, this is immediately followed by “except The Raft story – that creeped the hell out of me as a kid. And The Hitch-Hiker was pretty cool. And so was Old Chief Wood'nhead.” The result is a fairly paradoxical legacy: a film that as a whole is remembered as not living up to the original, but that contains three stories, all of which are remembered pretty fondly on their own by those who grew up on '80s horror. Now Arrow Video is resurrecting Creepshow 2 in impressive special edition and limited edition blu-ray formats, allowing us to take another, clearer look at this simultaneously neglected yet fondly remembered sequel.

The Film:

As Creepshow 2 begins, it becomes clear that the format of George Romero's script is a bit different, and a bit more narratively cohesive, than the first installment. Rather than simply segueing from segment to segment with animation turning pages between comic-book stories, we get fully-animated cartoon host segments, with a snarky, pun-loving narrator (played by Tom Savini in the opening and closing live-action bits) very similar to the Crypt-Keeper. These segments also have a narrative through-line of their own, which works almost like a 4th story for the film, and feels very much like a sample of what a Creepshow Saturday-morning cartoon might have been like. These segments are a real treat: they give Creepshow 2 a unique identity that sets it apart from the original, and they set up what would have been an awesome ongoing format with a familiar host, had the franchise continued. This animated host, The Creep, introduces us to each of the three segments that follow: a Native American curse/revenge tale called Old Chief Wood'nhead, a tense monster story called The Raft, and a darkly comic and over-the-top haunting tale called The Hitch-Hiker. Two more stories were planned, but had to be cut due to budgetary restrictions: one that ultimately wound up in the Tales from the Darkside movie instead, called Cat From Hell (where's Jackson Galaxy when you need him?), and one called Pinfall that was abandoned altogether (until the limited-edition variant on this blu-ray – but more on that later). Still, the three segments and animated wraparounds bring Creepshow 2 to a healthy 90 minutes, and even if the smaller number of stories betrays the sequel's lower budget in comparison to the original, it certainly doesn't feel lacking in volume of content.

The three stories themselves are all pretty good, and all have very memorable moments, although none are quite as good as the original at its best. The problem isn't the lower budget: the film works wonders on just $3.5 million (less than half the budget of the original Creepshow) with a very strong comic-book aesthetic and some very eye-grabbing, nasty effects. It just doesn't quite capture that narrative magic that the previous film had, in a way that is difficult to pinpoint exactly. Perhaps this is due to the shuffling-around that happened behind the scenes: Stephen King actually wrote the screenplay for the first film, but for this one he just developed the stories before passing the actual screenwriting duties off to George Romero, who doesn't do quite as good a job as King might have done with his own material. Meanwhile, Romero passed the directing torch off to his long-time director of photography Michael Gornick, who likewise is a pretty solid director, but not as great as a seasoned pro like Romero. It must be emphasized, though, that none of this is to say that Creepshow 2 is poorly written or directed; it isn't quite up to the standards its predecessor, but it is still better than many/most of the other horror anthologies of the 1980s. I would certainly watch this over Tales from the Darkside: The Movie any day. And since King and Romero still shaped the stories together, and the previous film's director of photography was still the one shaping the movie's aesthetic, there is no mistaking the fact that it looks and feels exactly like more Creepshow.

"Hey, you spilled my Creepy Crawlers goop!"

The first segment, Old Chief Wood'nhead, is arguably the best, or at least the most consistently good. This is the segment of the film that gets it all right: well-developed characters, a take-no-prisoners tale of supernatural revenge with some effective use of Native American mythology, great special effects, and (as with the original) a great character actor at the heart of it. That character actor is George Kennedy, who is best known for two very different roles: his Oscar-winning performance as Dragline in Cool Hand Luke, and his comic role as the chief from The Naken Gun/Police Squad. What he gives us here is more in line with the former role: he brings sensitivity, heart, and a genuinely emotional dashed optimism to his character, and lays all the emotional groundwork that brings impact to the horrors that are to follow. There is no question that this segment is in a large part so good because he sets it up so well. It is in another large part so good because the effects by Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero of KNB are extremely effective in creating the story's statue-turned-bringer-of-justice. This was a very early job for both of them, and by convincingly handing this inanimate object that becomes a living thing, they announce their arrival very well.

The second segment, The Raft, is the one that most people remember, especially if they saw the film when they were young. Its sense of inescapable doom and formless horror, and the uncanny way that it creates a feeling of claustrophobia despite being set in the open air, gives it a power that really makes an impression. This story is perfect for an anthology: with its restricted setting and simple premise it would drag as a feature, but in 20 minutes or so it can keep the tension up without overextending itself. Even so, while its beginning and middle are very effective, it falters substantially at the end, when some very creepy and out-of-nowhere actions by one of its characters totally alienates the viewer, and fumbles the climax. The Stephen King story on which the segment was based does not have this problem, as the events of the last act are very different in regards to the character actions in question; just another argument for why Creepshow 2's biggest flaws might have been solved if Stephen King had stayed on as screenwriter. Nonetheless, The Raft has a lot to offer, particularly in its memorably nasty and gooey special effects. It's unfortunate that its baffling last-act screw-up makes it not nearly as good as it seems in the blurred childhood memories of those who were traumatized by the segment when they were young.

What can you really say, except
The third segment, The Hitch-Hiker, is a decidedly mixed bag. As it gets started, its emphasis on action over the ghostly chills we might expect feels rather odd and misjudged. Perhaps it's because the parallels feel so strong to the creepy and iconic Twilight Zone episode of the same name, but this has none of the subtle, moody creepiness. However, as the segment starts to skew towards grand-guignol bloody dark comedy, it becomes quite a lot of fun, with some crazy stunt work, nasty gore, and the memorably sardonic refrain of its ghost (prolific character actor Tom Wright). It's a fun cap-off to Creepshow 2, and it quite effectively sums up the film itself: not as good as the original, but quite enjoyable on its own terms.

Ultimately, this sequel is both of the things it is popularly remembered as. No, it isn't as good as part 1, but that's also true of most sequels. All three segments do offer a lot to enjoy, though, as does the very cool animated wrap-around. Perhaps the film is best through the lens of nostalgia: if it made a big impression on you as a kid, you'll probably still really like it. Even if you didn't see it back then, though, it still is a very enjoyable anthology, and while it is flawed, it is better than its detractors would have you believe. It really is a shame that Romero and King weren't able to continue the franchise with a Creepshow 3, 4, and beyond: they clearly set this up as an ongoing anthology, and this is at the very least good enough that I would have loved to see more.


The Video:

Arrow Video's new 2k restoration of Creepshow 2 generally looks very good. The detail is (mostly) quite sharp, and a healthy amount of film grain is visible throughout. As with the original, use of color and shadow is very important to creating that comic-book aesthetic, and the remastered picture does appropriate justice to this look. Creepshow 2 was never as good-looking as film as its more expensive predecessor, but Arrow has certainly made it look very good indeed; better than its low-budget origins might lead you to expect.

However, there is one area where the picture quality is noticeably lacking, and it is pretty clearly not Arrow's fault. It appears that inherent in the master is some softness in the animated portions, probably due to how those segments were integrated into the rest of the print. In addition to being noticeably soft, these portions also have some flecks and scratches afflicting the picture which are not present anywhere else, again suggesting that these defects are an inherent part of whatever negative of the animated portions was used to make the interpositive from which their 2k remaster was struck. Given how good the rest of the film looks, it seems pretty clear that Arrow did the best with this film that they possibly could, and these animated segments always had some technical issues. It's ultimately fairly minor, though: the animated parts still look more than good enough, and the film in general looks easily the best it ever has.


"Yes, this box is full of limited edition copies! And No, you can't have them-
I'm going to scalp them on ebay."

The Audio:

Creepshow 2 is presented with three audio options: the original mono track, a stereo mix, and a 5.1 surround mix. While I do not have a surround setup on which to appropriately judge the 5.1 mix, the mono and stereo mixes sound very good. The music and sound effects are very strong, the dialogue is clear and understandable, and the remaster of the audio sounds nice and clean. While I can't speak to how they remastered this low-budget '80s genre film for 5.1 surround, it's pretty clear from the other two tracks that they did a very good job of what they needed to do: make a vintage flick sound as good as possible within the restrictions of the source material. What more can you really ask for?


The Extras:

"If you can come to life, do you think maybe
my Oscar can too, and avenge me against
the crap I've gotten stuck in over the years?"
As usual with Arrow's special edition releases, the extras are where they really show how much they love and care about these cult flicks from years past. Not only have they given a special edition to this often-neglected sequel, they've given it two editions. They are releasing Creepshow 2 in a regular special edition package (in their usual clear plastic case with reversible cover art), and in a 3000-copy limited edition, which comes in a heavy cardboard outer box with a comic book. That comic book: a newly-crafted recreation of the film's canceled 5th segment, Pinfall. For those who have always wanted to know what this lost story might have been like, the limited edition is definitely for you. But if you want it, you've got to hurry: it's already sold out at some retailers (including Amazon), and the stock has got to be getting pretty low at the others who still have it. Fortunately they're releasing the limited and standard editions on the same day, so those who miss out on the box set with the comic can still enjoy everything else about this impressive package. This is the right way to do limited editions, as far as I'm concerned: giving an extra-cool, exclusive version to the avid fans and collectors who like that sort of thing, but not creating artificial scarcity by making it the only version of the blu-ray released. I can't stand companies like Twilight Time that release only 3,000 copies of well-loved and much sought-after movies and then just sit on the rights, so most viewers never get to enjoy the film in an HD presentation unless they're willing to pay inflated prices to eBay scalpers. I would argue that the Arrow Video and Scream Factory model of dual limited and non-limited editions is much better for everyone – and it certainly doesn't cheapen how cool the limited edition is, or how rare it will probably be later this month.

The blu-ray itself is identical in both editions, and contains a wealth of special features. Unlike their blu-ray of Vamp which I reviewed last month, it ports over all the extras from the previous Anchor Bay special edition DVD: principally a half-hour documentary on the film's special effects with Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero, and a commentary by director Michael Gornick. Arrow has also produced a series of brand-new 10-15 minute interviews with George Romero, and actors Tom Savini (the wraparound segments), Daniel Beer (The Raft), and Tom Wright (The Hitch-Hiker). While presented as separate interviews, the unified style of the four pieces and the use of behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film effectively makes them feel like one nearly-an-hour new documentary about the production.

The interviews are very informative, and give some interesting insights into the making of the film. Romero is refreshingly honest about the sequel's production troubles and his feelings on how it stacks up to the original, as well as what the Creepshow movies meant to him, and why they were so much fun to work on. Savini gives a very different perspective than he usually provides in extras like this: the perspective of an actor who was mostly just a fly on the wall witnessing other artists' special effects work. Daniel Beer tells some pretty surprising and painful-sounding stories about the brutal, icy conditions under which The Raft was shot, and Tom Wright lets us know what it was like to do all his own stunts throughout the vehicular madness of The Hitch-Hiker. It would have been very nice to hear from a few other key people involved in the production – especially Stephen King – and it's a bit of a shame that Arrow didn't record a new commentary for the disc, maybe with King and Romero. Still, what is here is good, and even if we don't get to hear from everyone we might have liked to, almost an hour of pretty substantial new extras is impressive, especially given how generally neglected this film has been.


Creepshow 2 isn't on the level of Creepshow 1, but it isn't that far behind either. Being a lower-budgeted sequel to the most well-loved of all '80s horror anthologies somewhat inevitably makes it suffer by comparison, but it still is better than most of the films that the subgenre produced in that decade. Its latter two stories may be uneven, but every segment in the film has its strong points and its memorable images, and the effects and animation go a long way to make it a lot of fun throughout. Overall, it is a better film than its reputation might lead you to believe, and fans of horror anthologies will find a lot to enjoy. While it may not include everything you'd want in the special features, Arrow Video's blu-ray of Creepshow 2 is very good. The new extras they produced will be quite exciting for fans of the film, and will give newcomers a bit more appreciation for both it and the original. The new 2k remaster looks and sounds great, aside from those few flaws that appear to be inherent to the source. To top it all off, the limited edition package with the comic book is extremely cool, and it's great to see the movie's lost segment brought to life somehow. If you're a fan of either this film or its predecessor, the disc is certainly worth picking up, in either version.

Overall score:

For the limited edition:

For the special edition:

- Christopher S. Jordan