Inspired by the EC comics of the 1950s (and of course the original film), it’s an anthology of three segments with a wraparound story. “Ol’ Chief Wood’nhead” concerns a kindly shopkeeper whose wooden Indian takes revenge after a robbery. “The Raft” is about four college students on a lake menaced by a hungry blob. “The Hitch-Hiker” is the tale of a woman haunted by her hit-and-run victim.
The first segment is pretty offensive. The store owner is white, and while he’s friendly and generous to his Native American customers, his wife is condescending, saying things like, “You’re too good to these people, Ray.” Ray is likable, but even he gets in on the cliches with dialogue like, “Sam Whitemoon, you’re a disgrace to your people.” Not to mention the reverence with which the “good” Native American character treats the wooden statue. And in the true spirit of the ’50s, the “bad” Native American Sam appears to be played by a white dude in brownface. In addition, the statue kills in the most stereotypical ways possible: arrows, a hatchet, and scalping. While class issues are present, like Sam’s counterpoint, his rich white friend Andy, Sam’s desire to get out of poverty is overshadowed by how absolutely terrible a person he is.
Race and class issues come up again in the third segment, a bit more successfully. Annie, a wealthy white woman, kills a shabbily dressed hitch-hiking African American man—she’s distracted because she damaged her luxury car’s leather interior. She feels guilty but rationalizes the incident, concluding that she’ll turn herself in later if she can’t live with it. Shortly after, she balks at the extensive damage done to her vehicle while ramming the man after he comes for her: “Look at this car! $3,000, $4,000.” The second segment seems more about environmental issues; the blob is supposed to resemble an oil slick (It looks more like a tarp to me), and it has bits of garbage floating in it.
The movie has a fairly impressive pedigree. It was written by George A. Romero. Greg Nicotero (of The Walking Dead among many, many other things) is a make-up effects technician. There are cameos by Tom Savini and Stephen King. However, “The Raft” is the closest any of them come to being scary. The goo is intelligent and sneaky; its skin-melting effects are gory and extremely painful to its victims.
“The Hitch-Hiker” is more funny than anything, once I put aside my white guilt. In one scene, the man is hanging out of Annie’s sunroof and resembling nothing so much as Superman flying while she speeds and tries to dislodge him, and at one point he ends up stuck on her bumper, pounding on her hood with his fists. He’s not an invulnerable monster; also, scary ghosts don’t say things like, “How you doin’, lady?” “Ol’ Chief Wood’nhead” is cringe-worthy, but only because it’s predictable and derogatory.
Despite my complaints, I have to admit I’ve watched this many times with my sisters, and we still quote it to this day, particularly “Thanks for the ride, lady.” Like the EC comics, the stories are infused with dimestore morality and creative gore. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for something hokey and fun.