“Creepshow 2: Old Chief Wooden Head” (1987)
Directed By Michael Gornick
Starring George Kennedy, Philip Dore, Kaltey Napoleon, Maltby Napoleon, Tyrone Tonto, Dorothy Lamour, Frank Salsedo, Holt McCallany, David Holbrook, Don Harvey and Dan Kamin
From acclaimed author Steven King and legendry independent filmmaker George A. Romero comes the second installment to their classic horror anthology with “Creepshow 2.” Divided into three separated stories that are centered on a young teenage boy who picked up the latest issue of the popular comic, the film itself is considered a living breathing comic book that captures all the conventions, spirits and nature of a typical night at the movies for those who enjoy the horror genre.
The film was directed by long time cinematographer Michael Gornick, who makes his feature-length directorial debut. Gornick crafts and shapes the elements of terror, humor and fear with this second installment to the popular franchise.
Although all three stories within the film’s storyline are unique, fun and gory, there’s one in particular that I’m very fond of. It’s the film’s first 30-minute issue titled, “Old Chief Wooden Head.” Starring longtime screen veterans George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour, and introducing Holt McCallany in his first feature role as Redman Bad Boy Sam Whitemoon (“Alien 3,” “Fight Club” and the recent “Gangster Squad”), the tale of “Old Chief Wooden Head” takes place in a small desert town known as Dead River. Ray (Kennedy) and Martha Spruce (Lamour) have lived their whole life and raised their family with their small store in Dead River.
Now the town is economically decadent and Ray gives credit to his costumers including the Indians of Ben Whitemoon’s tribe (Salsedo). When Ray is repairing the wooden statue of an Old Chief (Kamin) in the front door, Ben arrives and asks him to keep the jewels of his tribe as a guarantee for their debts.
After leaving, Ben’s nephew Sam unexpectedly arrives with two other punks (Harvey and Holbrook) to rob Ray’s store and leave the elderly couple in a pool of their own blood. After robbing the store, the three expect to travel to Hollywood in search of the American Dream, but in the wake of his owners’ demise, the statue of Old Chief mysteriously comes to life to seek revenge.
To set the stage, when I was just starting to get into horror thanks to my father, “Creepshow 2” was one of my first introductions to the genre. Like most of the films that inspired me to become a filmmaker, I tend to have a deep emotional attachment to the ones that break the mold for yours truly. After recently revisiting the film over spring break, all those wonderful memories started coming back to me of the first night my father and I watched this former childhood memory. While watching, I’ve noticed that out of all three stories that create the film’s 92-minute running time, the first segment of this opus is the most realistic of the the three.
Once again, it’s very rare that horror films have decent or even believable performances. Most of the time they’re over acted, flat or not very convincing. But here (like the very few horror films that do) it’s the opposite. Although there are some minor flaws that I noticed within the performances,
the heart of the entire segment is about the characters encountering death for the first time.
During the robbery, just before Sam and his gang make off with the stolen goods, there’s a minor confrontation between Sam and Martha. Sam has Martha held captive with a shotgun pointed at her side. While trying to get Ray to turn over the bag of stones that Ben brought in earlier, there’s a struggle between Ray and Fatso (Holbrook) that ends in a freak accident. Getting frustrated at the situation, Sam accidentally pulls the trigger, instantly killing Martha. Ray then pushes Fatso to the side to make his way toward Sam.
Unfortunately, Ray met the same fate as his loving wife: Sam pumps the shotgun and blows him away. Following their deaths, Sam and Fatso reflect on the situation. It turns out they didn’t want to shed blood nor end someone’s life. There’s a five-minute scene before they leave the store that starts Old Chief on his bloody crusade to snuff the gang for their despicable acts.
Although the scene mainly focuses on Fatso’s reaction to the violent crime, the scene is really about their reactions when encountering death for the first time. Sam does feel some sort of remorse when you listen to the tone of his voice, which gives him a simple arc and makes him more of a human being rather than just another thug with a gun. On the other hand, Fatso shows full remorse after witnessing the death of the elderly couple.
Even though both are revolting pieces of human trash, they are human. It is the pinnacle moment of the picture that creates a reality rather than a fantasy, which in my opinion, makes the characters more frightening to the naked eye.
Although I consider “Old Chief Wooden Head” to be an outstanding short film with a unique approach to the horror genre, if it were separated from the rest of the film, it has a life of it own and stands out from the rest of the other segments that creates the film. Yet the film in its entirety brings the thrills, chills, justice and revenge style of terror that any horror fan will cherish and consider a classic to watch over and over.
Three Out of Four Stars