Three decades ago this month, CREEPSHOW 2 opened on just 867 screens. Despite this measured rollout, the film immediately drew genre fanatics to local cinemas: CREEPSHOW 2 surprised at the box office, debuting at number two behind Universal’s Michael J. Fox vehicle THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS, which opened on 466 additional screens — 1,333 to be precise.
It may have lacked the star power the first-place-holder boasted, but distributor New World Pictures believed in their film — and perhaps more importantly, so did fans. Each theater showing CREEPSHOW 2 raked in an average of $4,133, while SECRET OF MY SUCCESS was drawing significantly fewer bucks, at $3,458 per theater.
SECRET may have been a larger commercial success than CREEPSHOW 2 (when it premiered, SECRET had already been on the market for weeks)… but would the victory in the theatrical sprint trump the ultimate marathon?
The simple answer is no.
Proof positive can be found in the creation of all sorts of CREEPSHOW 2 merchandise — even today, CREEPSHOW 2 apparel is fairly easy to find. There are also some absolutely stunning posters for the film, ranging from affordable to “keep-dreaming” prices, but they all seem to sell, just the same. A number of different editions of the film have seen release over the years — including a particularly amazing Blu-ray rendition, courtesy of Arrow Video.
With complete honesty, this simple statement should help bring things into focus: I’ve never seen a T-shirt, or a poster, or, hell, even a Blu-ray of THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS. Not on a store shelf, nor in a dusty garage. To take it one step further — I don’t believe I’ve even seen that film.
While CREEPSHOW 2’s opening theatrical competition may have featured a then-red-hot Michael J. Fox, it was still the talents of director Michael Gornick, George Romero (now producing) and Stephen King that carved the film a permanent place in the history books.
When you take a long look at the film, it isn’t too difficult to understand its cultural position, even 30 years later. Of the anthology’s three chapters, two are outstanding. It may be worth noting that the picture’s closing segment, “The Hitchhiker,” lacked any genuine ingenuity — likely preventing the picture as a whole from reaching iconic status — but the two segments that precede it are nothing short of brilliant.
After a brief prologue featuring Tom Savini all decked out (and looking wonderful) as “The Creep,” we move on to a story about dishonor, disloyalty, disdainful behavior, death and ultimately, bittersweet revenge.
“Old Chief Wood’nhead“ casts three hooligans under a spotlight of judgement after the story’s antagonists all but defecate on the very people they call community members and family. They rob the locals blind, and murder the warm and welcoming Spruce couple — owners of the dying town’s only convenience store — but they leave behind a survivor that only the most superstitious of folk would ever recognize as a potential threat: the noble wooden statue that stands watch over the store — and, it would seem, its proprietors.
While the Chief may look to be nothing more than a well-crafted decoration, the blood of the innocent proves more than enough to animate the behemoth and trigger a brief but bloody rampage in the name of vengeance.
But the best part about “Old Chief Wood’nhead” is that it isn’t even the best story in the anthology — that honor goes to the second installment, “The Raft.” This segment isn’t just a superior effort, it’s one of the greatest short films ever shot.
The scenario is simple: four carefree youngsters hit a small beach, do a little swimming and catch some rays on a wooden drifting raft. That’s set-up 101 right there… but the conflict comes from deep in left field, where memorable concoctions are rarely birthed.
Out on the water, rippling and shifting unnaturally is a mass of something completely foreign: it resembles an oil slick, or the sludge atop a stale body of water… and as it edges closer to the raft, the swimmers soon realize it really doesn’t resemble anything remotely near natural.
But if eyeballing it wasn’t enough, then first-hand contact certainly convinces this group they’ve inadvertently placed themselves in mortal danger. The muck reaches, and reaches… and grasps, consuming its first victim’s flesh, muscle and tissue in the blink of an eye. That’s when reality sinks in: there may be no escape from this raft… other than death.
You can’t ask for a stronger story — the characters are each very unique to one another, yet they share a believable chemistry. Their discomfort in the situation is an early and unanimous realization. Their terror begins to feel palpable, desperation yanking at their logic fibers. It’s a shockingly tense surface story, with little in the way of symbolism or commentary; it’s all about a swift test of mortal perseverance… and knowing King’s and Romero’s work, we’re all aware the chances of this group surviving are about as thin as a Virginia Slim.
Clinging to viewers’ psyches like the lake’s gooey mass clung to four unfortunate young bodies, “The Raft” is no doubt one of the major driving forces behind the film’s enduring fan love.
All in all, CREEPSHOW 2 has enjoyed a position among the greatest horror anthologies ever produced; in the last 30 years, we’ve seen some remarkable pictures of similar nature, but for as good as many of them are, they’ll likely be forgotten when CREEPSHOW 2 is still celebrating anniversaries in 10, 20… who knows, maybe even 40 years.