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Posts tagged “Sam Raimi

Drag me to Hell: movie in review

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I just watched Drag me to Hell last night. Not my first screening, but the first since it was released back in 2009. And you know what, the movie is still entertaining. But with almost any movie, there’s a line between those who love it and those who hate it and there are moderates who thought the movie was…”uh, okay.” I’m not entirely sure how trustworthy Rotten Tomatoes is anymore with movie reviews, however, I still often jump over before writing my own review and was surprised to see the rating difference between critics and audiences for Drag me to Hell. Typically, when it comes to horror, audiences will on average adore the film while critics bash it to a pulp with a sledge hammer. Horror has never been a respectable genre of storytelling. When horror has been deemed worthy, the powers that be typically label the work as thriller or even…(gasp!) drama. Consider one of the most highly decorated horror film, The Silence of the Lambs (1991), which has sense been cast into the realm as “crime drama…” Seriously…a movie about a guy who eats people helping catch a guy who skins people in order to make a woman-suit is considered a “crime-drama,” a gene that includes all the Godfather movies, Heat, The Usual Suspects, Fargo, The Departed, The Dark Knight, Furious 7, Casino and just about every other gangsta movie? I think my point has been made.

And of course I’ve gotten waaaaay of track here.

Back to the critics verses audience reactions.

According to Rotten Tomatoes (carefully placed trust), the critics adored Drag me to Hell, giving the movie a whopping 92% “fresh” rating, while audiences seemed more ho-hum with a 61% “fresh” rating. Despite the movie review website’s precarious standing with most movie nerds, I’d say they pretty much nailed Drag me to Hell. Critics, for the most part, watched the movie for as it was, just another Sam Raimi flick with a smart story surrounding mortgage and recession and selling all your belongings and still not being able to afford to repay the debt. They saw Drag me to Hell as both entertaining and a bit tongue-in-cheek on the social commentary. Audiences were less enthusiastic. Based on some of the review and statements I’ve read, most of everyone had expected a return to form for Raimi, the genius who gave us the eternally awesome Evil Dead trilogy (The Evil Dead I & II, and Army of Darkness). According to on average audience repose, what they got instead of the expected “Evil Dead-” esk movie, was something more messy and less funny as Army of Darkness. Many believed the acting was cheesy, particularly with the casting of Justin Long. There was also more than desired amounts of CGI and pointless jump scares. My assumption with what disappointed audiences was the odd mixture of comedy and horror, for many the film failed to capture the classic formula of Raimi’s early romps.

Here’s a quick fire synopsis:

Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has a loving boyfriend (Justin Long) and a great job at a Los Angeles bank. But her heavenly life becomes hellish when, in an effort to impress her boss, she denies an old woman’s request for an extension on her home loan. In retaliation, the crone places a curse on Christine, threatening her soul with eternal damnation. Christine seeks a psychic’s help to break the curse, but the price to save her soul may be more than she can pay.

Pretty much cut and dry. Nothing complicated, and considering the era of recession and people all over the United States losing their homes in the 2008-2010 mortgage crisis, pretty much on point with the troubles of the day and age. And when we stop and think about it, isn’t that what horror is supposed to do? To look outward at society and then bring those questions into the plane of fictionalized storytelling in order for us to embed those questions, to see them from another perspective? Well…I think its understandable why critics loved the movie. However, I’m still confused on why audiences were less enthused. For me, yes, the movie can be faulted on a few glaring issues. The ringer for me was the use of CGI. Thankfully, the use of CGI was limited to a few scenes, however, one of those sequences could have been wonderfully done with practical effects. The part when the gypsy is attacking Christine in the shed and the heroine drops an anvil on the old woman’s head. How much more wonderful had the scene been done with real practical effects… Personally, that is one of my few laments with Drag me to Hell. Otherwise, the movie, I thought, was fantastic. The opening scene is chilling. Demonic movies typically get under my skin, and not only watching this young boy, but listening to him being dragged to hell…well, I’m sure you can imagine. As for the comedy, Raimi has an interesting taste of balance. Though admittedly, there seemed to be far few laughs in this one then in his previous horror movies. And maybe we’ve discovered why most of the audiences felt the pacing was off, maybe they’d ventured out to the theater hoping to see the same gag level as Army of Darkness. But that’s not what Drag me to Hell was about, it wasn’t a spoof or even a satire. In fact, if we could gauge Raimi’s most beloved horror movies on a scale of satire, with The Evil Dead (1981) as a (at least) semi-serious film, all the way up to Army of Darkness (1992, and by-the-way, is labeled as fantasy…see! Just saying, horror gets not respect!), with The Evil Dead II (1987) somewhere in the middle, I’d say Drag me to Hell is just a tad below The Evil Dead II on a scale of comedy verses horror balance. There were some silly and over-the-top sequences, but the horror trumped the laughs.

This is of course just my opinion. If you haven’t seen this one, I’d definitely add it to the list of must watch Raimi pictures. Drag me to Hell was creepy, fun, gross, and socially imaginative.

My Review: 5/5

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The Evil Dead: a 34 year review

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Before we walk through the woods and enter the cabin, I’d like to take a moment and recognize Sam Raimi. Today is his birthday. Born this day in 1959, Sam has held a distinguished career. He’s directed numerous horror pictures adored by many twisted people and non-twisted people alike, worldwide. He’s got a fan base reaching from the dark Necronomicon fueled world of Evil Dead (1981) all the way past Darkman (1990) into the comic book world of Spider-man (which is still considered by many as the best film adaption to date). He’s even directed a little known western called, The Quick and the Dead (1995). He’s dabbled in television, and I’m not just talking about the highly anticipated return of everyone’s favorite chainsaw welding sassy hero in Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (2015), but also the short lived 90s shows, M.A.N.T.I.S and Legend of the Seeker. And he has also produced some amazing and totally underrated horror flicks, including both 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Possession (2012). And this is just a tip of the iceberg. Sam Raimi, in my humble opinion, is an amazing storyteller, not without his faults. His vision has a unique blend of terror and comedy that is often precarious to mix. Many couldn’t quite jive with his return to form with Drag Me to Hell (2009) with its strange formula of laughs and jolts of absolute fear…well, all but the true die hard fans. I actually loved Drag Me to Hell. It was wonderfully sadistic! In celebrating the macabre directors birthday, I thought it was high-time I reviewed his most legendary and longest lasting cult film, The Evil Dead (1981).

Longest lasting cult classic…? What does even mean? More to point, longest lasting, as in a franchise property in which is still being watched, talked about, and continued, to date. Sam’s Spider-man days are over. There are no more westerns. No more trips to hell. No more over the top 90s television action. No more blown apart scientists with one heck of an anger management problem. His one true lasting cult creation, is Ash and those demon bastards in The Evil Dead. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What a sec? Wasn’t there a remake of Evil Dead?” And though this as nothing to do with our discussion, I do have this to say, there was and there wasn’t. Confused? Good!

We can debate this all day long, and I’ve been in a few conversations on social media about this subject, but in my opinion, Evil Dead (2013) was not a remake or reboot. It was simply another “cabin in the woods, kids find Necronomicon” movie. The 2013 misadventure kept to the familiar themes of the original while maintaining its own story arch and more gritty vibe. To me, that spells continuity, the continuation of the “Evil Dead” mythology through a new cast of characters. Hell, it was even rumored (and still is) that Ash will team up with Mia in some future (probably never going to happen) film. How could they team up if Mia’s story was a reboot of the original? They couldn’t, simple enough. Thus, Evil Dead (2013) was not a reboot of The Evil Dead (1981).  It would be easier to argue The Evil Dead 2 as a reboot of the first film then it would the 2013 film. Just saying…stop arguing with me!!!

Again…I’m getting really far off topic here. Can we talk about just The Evil Dead (1981) for a moment?

Okay then!

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The Evil Dead first released to theaters in October 1981. It was a low budget film with a no name cast of teenaged-twenty-somethings, shot on 16mm film in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000. Though not the first “cabin in the woods” horror movie, you could probably give that credit to either Equinox (1970) or The Red House (1947), but you could make a strong argument that The Evil Dead solidified “the cabin” as a pop trope in horror stories.  The plot is easy to follow. A group of friends head out to a lonely cabin in the woods for a little R&R. The place is dilapidated, albeit cozy.  Its a celebration of friendship and perhaps even a little romance, despite the third wheel. But there’s a eerie presence in the cabin. Strange sounds in the cellar. The boys investigate and discover a nasty looking book and a tape recorder, among other things (including a poster of The Hills Have Eyes on the wall). They play the recording and the archaeologist on the tape recites some of the words he’d translated from the Necronomicon. His incantation awakens something dark and demonic in the forest surrounding the cabin. One by one, Ash (Bruce Campbell) watches his friends get possessed. Before daybreak, he must find a way to survive…or meet the same fate as his friends.

The Evil Dead captures, for me, the potential for horror. I’m talking more in film probably then storytelling, though in storytelling itself you cannot find a more perfect and basic trope to work with than the “cabin in the woods.” As for film, though, The Evil Dead demonstrates the power of low-budget horror with a list of no-name actors but over-the-top effects. I guess today we’d call these indie films, or independent to be frank. Horror, in its long life, seems to have thrived better as independent and low-budgeted. Directors and cast members and producers have to rely on cost effective means, focusing on mood and tension, and maximizing production budgets as much as humanly, sanely possible. And when it comes to horror, such as this film, at a glance they’d need to used more of the budget on practical effects than anything else. The effects for me are what count. Good storytelling, that’s a given. But you’re trying to sale me on horror, you gotta bring the practical gore.

Some might say the effects in The Evil Dead look cheesy, and maybe some parts do nowadays. But in my book, given the budget restraints, The Evil Dead looked and still looks amazingly graphic. Shaky steady-cam and all the buckets of blood. A fantastic wonderland of dark imagery and terror and perhaps even a little humor.

The story isn’t complicated and that’s a good thing. It is friendship and love pitted against the fear of the unknown, the evil taking possession of those closest to us. Not every horror story needs to have some complex AHS plot. Add the practical gore with the simple story, and that’ll give you one hell of an entertaining need to watch movie.

My Rating: 5/5

 


The New Evil Dead

What? You thought you were going to get away without having me say something about the upcoming DVD, Blu-ray release of Evil Dead (laughs hysterically!)? The most surprising thing for me right now is how its only been about three months since this “new” take on Sam Raimi’s masterpiece was released to theaters. A quick turn around considering the movie is more than likely still showing somewhere. But i’m not complaining. The moment news broke that Evil Dead was going to be released in July, my jaw hit the floor in greedy anticipation.  Back in April, and leading up to the theatrical debut, there was a lot of doubt whether the film would disgrace the good work Sam and Bruce had done way back in the 80’s. However, after the red band trailer hit the airways, a lot of doubt was cast aside. Thomas‘ worldwide through in the towel and became true believers, watching the trailer over and over with morbid curiosity. To be honest, the trailer freaked me out, and because there is something fundamentally wrong with me, I became instantly hooked. I needed to see this movie.

If you missed Evil Dead in theaters and are waiting beggarly for Tuesday to finally come around, no worries, i’m not planning on spoiling anything for you.  But I will say, the casting was great (lesser known’s could have only pulled this off. Casting an already “famous” person would have been too distracting). The story and script were sound, keeping to the original in spirit, but adding a deeper level of struggle and conflict. And the gore, still so true to Raimi’s unique and unusual tastes. Above everything else, Evil Dead proved to countless horror nerds that reboots can be done correctly and respectfully, keeping as much to the original as possible, whilst also taking it deeper and adding different twists and turns for a newer audience. Back in April, after the credits rolled, in my lounged theater seat, I pondered over which Evil Dead was best. Let me be the first honest fanboy and say out loud that the remake is, in my humble opinion, (slightly) better than the 1981 original. I know, I know, how can I say such a thing? Well, its true. The original is indeed a masterpiece, for its generation. Considering its been over thirty years, this reimagining, against all odds, took Sam’s vision and added to it, sticking to the lower budget feel, but jiving it up for a newer audience. Now, remember, i’m only talking about the 81′ Evil Dead, not the famous chainsaw induced, limb removing sequel, Evil Dead II. Groovy? Okay, moving on.

Here’s a list of special features that will be included in either/or both DVD, Blu-ray release:

  • Commentary featuring stars Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Director Fede Alvarez and writer Rodo Sayagues (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • “Making Life Difficult” – The Intense and Physically Exhausting Creation of the Film
  • “Being Mia” – The Physical and Psychological Transformation into “Evil Mia”
  • “Directing The Dead” – Director Fede Alvarez re-imagines a cult horror classic
  • “Unleashing The Evil Force” – Exploring the origins and design of the new Book of the Dead (Blu-ray exclusive)
  • “Evil Dead the Reboot” – Cast Rehearsals, Bruce Campbell, Deadites and more! (Blu-ray exclusive)

If your asking yourself, “What? That’s it? No ‘Directors Uncut’ version?” Than you and I are on the same page! Yup, looks like this “first” release is just going to be the film and a couple of extras. And I say, “first” release because we all know these guys are going to double dip and release another version sometime down the road. My bet, some time around October. Does this make me instantly hate them? Am I now going to refuse the release and boycott all sales? Nope, not in the slightest. I’m just going to sneer and complain while at the same time purchasing  my DVD copy; the Blu-ray can wait till something “uncut” comes out. Yeah, whatever, you know you’ll be doing the same thing!

If you somehow missed all the hype and haven’t bothered to watch the red band trailer, here it is below:

If you’ve seen the trailer and the movie and want to check out what the meager extra features will be, check out this short video below:

Evil Dead (2013) is set to release July 16th, 2013.