Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #47
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 1, 1987
Sub-Genre: Horror Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $14,000,000
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: Michael Gornick
Producer: David Ball
Screenplay: George A. Romero, Lucille Fletcher (uncredited)
Based on Stories by Stephen King
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero, Tom Savini (Consultant)
Cinematography: Richard Hart, Tom Hurwitz
Score: Les Reed, Rick Wakeman
Editing: Peter Weatherley
Studio: Laurel Entertainment, Laurel-Show Inc, New World Pictures
Distributor: New World Pictures
Stars: George Kennedy, Lois Chiles, Dorothy Lamour, Paul Satterfield, Jeremy Green, Daniel Beer, Page Hannah, Philip Dore, Kaltey Napoleon, Maltby Napoleon, Tyrone Tonto, Frank Salsedo, Holt McCallany, David Holbrook, Don Harvey, Dan Kamin, David Beecroft, Tom Wright, Richard Parks and Tom Savini as The Creep
Suggested Audio Candy:
John Harrison Creepshow
Attempting to follow in the footsteps of an anthology as consistently brilliant as Creepshow is a formidable undertaking. Historically, this has proven a particularly tough sub-genre to nail and, after George A. Romero’s tasty five-tiered treat, any successor would be required to perform a minor miracle to stand a snow cone’s chance in Dubai of being considered fit to bear the same moniker. Wisely, Michael Gornick’s second installment of a trilogy of two (James Glenn Dudelson and Ana Clavell’s cataclysmic third need not figure) doesn’t attempt to juggle too many hacky sacks and opts for two less segments than Romero’s five.
One would presume that he didn’t wish to set himself up to fail as three cohesive pieces is enough of a conundrum for most, let alone a quintet. However, it also presents an altogether different dilemma as each of its parts has a longer duration to fill and more emphasis is placed on each holding up their end of the bargain. Gornick counters this by drastically reducing the overall running time from 120 minutes to just over the customary ninety. Mercifully, his choices prove to be astute as his sequel is suitably Creepshow from the opening frame and, in that respect, feels more ike a natural progression than a cobbled together patchwork of pity as could so easy have been the case.
On primary viewing I remember being rather enamored with both The Raft and The Hitchhiker portions, while the opening vignette, Old Chief Woodenhead, revealed itself as the runt of the litter. However, during a discussion with a dear friend, and spotting a twinkle in his eye as he recalled it fondly, it felt ripe for revisitation. Thus, I have decided to flip this appraisal on its head and tackle this trinity of terror in reverse order. That means we will be coming to the good Chief last and give him plenty of time to dust off his tomahawk. I trust my gut and it rarely provides a bum steer so I’m not expecting any great revelation. However, I’m nothing if not fair and just. Should I be proved wrong in my initial estimations, then I shall gladly eat my headdress.
The closing slice of this demonic patty is commonly regarded as the best. Lois Chiles plays adulteress Annie Lansing, a woman with a distinct mission. Having just engaged in extra-marital relations with her surreptitious side dish, she rues not necking a Red Bull before travelling home at the dead of night to beat her husband back before his suspicions can become aroused. Driving while weary is never advisable and she soon learns the error in her ways as she hits a bump in the road and grinds to an unforeseen halt. However, this is no pitted pot hole we’re talking of here and, instead, a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker who appears destined to have hitched his last ride.
After accidentally ploughing down this wayward bum, she decides that the world is unlikely to miss anyone unhinged enough to attempt catching a ride from such an isolated location. Besides, her main concern is delivering her Mercedes-Benz to the next available car wash to remove any stubborn fragments of skull matter lodged in her radiator. Thus, she does what any dog-tired duplicitous other would in her situation and sheepishly drives off into the night, leaving her road kill for the jackals. If cars could tiptoe then Annie’s would be using all ten of them.
Time for a little anecdote methinks. You see, I appreciate her predicament more than most as, around fifteen years ago, a similar thing happened to me. After groggily trundling off in my automobile one morning, I made the mistake of getting a tad too close to a cyclist as I approached a roundabout. Whilst making no contact, and I reiterate NO contact, I clearly startled the unfortunate peddler who proceeded to wobble the moment I passed by him. I recall exiting the bustling roundabout and taking a cursory glance in my rear view mirror just to check on his status. Alas, the news was far less than encouraging. The hapless biker, strewn from head to toe in aerodynamic Lycra if I recall correctly, was still in mid-spasm and things only got worse. As his front wheel turned to face the opposite direction, his upright status was compromised and he took a tumble right in the face of incoming traffic. Plummeting like a sodden shit satchel, his face met the harsh gravel surface and, I would imagine, his teeth landed in a nearby basket. This presented something of a moral dilemma. I was running late for work and, besides, what good could I do now?
Thankfully, a wasted youth watching movies came to my aid, providing me the necessary tools to make the best decision for all parties involved (or me at least). Recalling the opening ambush from Aliens, I considered the fate of Apone and Dietrich and it all became clear. Their fates were already sealed and fading vital signs suggested gestation was all they had to look forward to. Thus, Ripley did what any Lieutenant would have done in such circumstances and fled from the scene as fast as the APC could take her. I believe damage limitation is the correct term.
So I kept driving and the last image I recall was a heap of torn Lycra wrapped up in metal, with wheels still turning. I remember laughing hysterically as I sped away but fret not as I’m not that twisted. It was sheer disbelief of the hideous sight I’d just been made privy to and been indirectly accountable for that fueled said laughter. Having checked the local rag for weeks post cycle-gate, I found no mention of perishing Lycra clad twenty-somethings so began to rest easily once more. However, even now, each time I hear the trundle of bicycle wheels, I receive a faint chill down my spine.
I guess what I’m saying is that, whilst not condoning her duplicitous actions, I can’t really blame Annie for her decision. Having said that, had I watched The Hitchhiker prior to starting my ignition that day, I suspect it would’ve played out a lot differently. You see, despite being ploughed down unceremoniously and left for dead, said hitcher still has a destination to reach and, considering Annie’s hasty retreat from the scene, it only feels right that she come good on ensuring his delivery. This would be the ideal opportunity for her to make amends and a good deed could help to alleviate any guilt over her infidelity. Everyone’s a winner right?
Few lines of dialogue have the ability to encourage a stool to brush against the fiber of my underwear quite as decisively as the one uttered by our rapidly decomposing hitcher. “Thanks for the ride lady” achieve this effortlessly although, to his credit, he varies his delivery occasionally to keep things fresh with the similarly disconcerting “hey lady…thanks for the ride.” In truth, he’s not thankful for the ride in the slightest and, instead, hell-bent on making her life a short-lived misery in the most ghoulish manner imaginable. Each time our peevish passenger clambers up Annie’s hood or hangs from her door-frame, he’s a little more the worse for wear. Naturally, she tries everything to remove this stubborn stain, ramming his cadaver against trees and repeatedly reversing over his head but he just won’t let it lie.
The Hitchhiker is perched at the tail-end with sound reasoning. It’s a cautionary tale at heart, no man-eating oil slicks or rowdy red indians, just a harsh reminder of the dangers of driving tired and consequence of action. Therefore, it resonates on a more personal level than its larger than life stable mates. It also poses the question of what to do should we pass a hitchhiker on our travels. Offer them a ride and they invariably repay you by tying your girlfriend between two articulated lorries and opening her up like a piñata. Meanwhile, leave them in your dust trail and they’ll still make your life a living hell. Methinks the moral of this story is simply to take the subway.
The Hitchhiker Judgement: 8/10
Rick Wakeman Creepshow 2
The Raft offers another cautionary tale, this time on the perils of trespassing on prohibited property. The allure of entering a place deemed strictly off-limits can prove just too strong to ignore and, once again, I can back up my words. You see, when I was a ten-years old mischief-maker, myself and a group of fellow thrillseekers decided to camp out in an old closed down liquor store for shits and grins. All was going to plan until I lit a candle for added ambiance, knocked it from its perch, and igniting an unruly inferno. We exited hastily, running as fast as our puny pins could carry us to the nearby fire station. There we reported witnessing said fire blazing as we passed by; coming away looking like heroes when we knew full well we were the villains of the piece.
Karma can be a bitch and so it proved as we were pulled over on our long walk home by an officer of the law who saw straight through our tall tale and duly jotted our names into his naughty book. He then informed us that he would “swing by in the next couple of days to have a little chat with our parents”. Needless to say, all three of us slept like John Merrick for the next few days but he never came good on his promise. Actually, given that the blaze wasn’t intentional, I would argue that we acted pretty damned responsibly by reporting the incident in the first place although the fact remains that we ignored the signage warning us to KEEP OUT and almost paid the price for our insolence.
Meanwhile, the teens in The Raft pay the ultimate price for not heeding such warnings. While they mean no real harm and are merely looking to kick back and soak up some summer rays, their trespasses have not gone unnoticed. Initially it seems as though the only danger is that their vessel will subside under the weight of al those raging hormones but it isn’t long before they are faced with a far more prominent threat in the form of a fast-approaching and particularly portentous oil slick. It just so happens that this particular slick has a penchant for nubile high-school kids and takes great pleasure in introducing each in turn to its blackened castigation. Although barely a few yards from shore; they may as well be out at sea, such is the ruthless efficiency of our slick homicidal spillage.
The Raft would struggle to stretch itself any thinner than its half hour duration. Having said that, there really isn’t anything about it not to find appealing and it seems perfectly suited to its midpoint positioning. There may not be an abundance of ingenuity on display but the villain of the piece is wonderfully resourceful and any punishment dealt is both swift and uncompromising, taking full advantage of the FX mastery of Howard Berger and Gregory Nicotero in the process. It also reminds us that trespassing is not an advisable endeavor and I count myself lucky that there were no nearby lakes when I was growing up.
The Raft: 8/10
Old Chief Woodenhead
I can delay the inevitable no more. The time has come for me to pay another visit to Old Chief Woodenhead and I have a slice of humble pie on-hand just in case my gut is proved misguided in its initial assessment. Essentially a cautionary tale about the perils of pissing off a giant hand carved Red Indian with a foul temper, I’m all out of anecdotes with regards to this particular fable so it’s time to revisit this old acquaintance with a fresh pair of eyes. To recap, first time out it seemed rather unspectacular, with only a handful of inventive dispatches and a turn from George Kennedy to raise it above mediocrity. So how does it stack up on reappraisal?
First things first. As the opening act, Old Chief Woodenhead has the unenviable task of setting the tone and setting a precedent for what will follow. This is made all the more thankless by the fact that Romero’s five-piece original barely placed a foot wrong and a dropped baton at such an early juncture could spell catastrophe for the sequel. That said, it still has a duty to entertain and, on secondary assessment, I regret to inform you that time is not the great healer on this occasion. I just don’t get it, I mean, I do get it but it still pales in comparison to the company it keeps. The theme is not an issue as Something To Tide You Over offered a similarly simplistic tale of retribution and that didn’t stop it being my favorite Creepshow segment. It just does it a whole lot better is all.
Old Chief Woodenhead meanders along at its own leisurely pace before presenting us with the customary payback. No frills here, just an old-fashioned tale of a vengeful Red Indian made out of timber. It’s not that The Chief himself doesn’t cut a foreboding figure and I sure as hell wouldn’t wish to get on his wrong side. Give me Ted Danson buried up to his next in sand whilst being psyched out by a cantankerous crustacean any day of the week. In another anthology, maybe it wouldn’t stick out like the sore thumb that it is. However, having been spoiled to the power of five previously, it’s all a little trite for my liking. Sorry Chief. Please don’t take it to heart.
Old Chief Woodenhead: 6/10
Let’s be honest, Creepshow 2 was never likely to match up to the original. Sometimes the stars just align and it certainly doesn’t harm having Romero as your ringmaster. Inevitable comparisons aside though, Gornick supplies an admirable second stab and, as a companion piece for the original, it could have been a whole lot worse. Alongside the risible Creepshow 3 it suddenly looks like a work of genius. However, when all is said and done, it’s little more than another half-decent horror anthology.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Rating: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Gornick’s compendium has its fair share of grue and The Raft supplies my personal standout as a hapless water baby is snapped in half and pulled sub-aqua, foot in face as he sinks into the blackened sludge. Meanwhile, The Hitchhiker sends us out on a high courtesy of some increasingly rancid roadkill. Theres even a dash of shoehorned in skin on the platter although said vixen looks decidedly less appealing once the oil slick sucks some face.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2014 (Revised Edition 2016)