The Evil Dead: a 34 year review
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?
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
Horrible Women, or my favorite women in horror
With February being Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d do my part in honoring the many women who’ve made the genre I love so bloody fantastic. Women who have broken boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also social and cultural as well. Now, in all honesty, horror is not with its own stereotypical tropes, but in fairness, horror has also done more to mangle down those grey stone walls of truism. Slasher movies for one have a nasty habit of typecasting women into weak character roles. Yet, looking at it from another angle, you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, perhaps even slasher movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. 2013’s home invasion horror movie You’re Next may or maybe count as a slasher flick (we’re going to roll with it), but in the film while there are a few damsels in distress, Erin Hanson (played by the beautiful Sharni Vinson) utterly dominates the movie, chewing bubble gum and kicking ass, taking no prisoners. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you the F out! Lets all be honest here, lets put aside our egocentric macho bullshit and come clean. Lets admit it, women have done more for horror than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!
Lina Leandersson as Eli in Let the Right One In (2008):
Let the Right One In released in our most desperate hour, during a very strange and scary time for vampire tropes. I hate to mention here on my blog, but it needs to be said, in 2008, vampire lore had been polluted with Twilight-esk glowworm sparkle making me want to scream for trying to ruin a classic horror monsters! Yuck! And thank Zeus those days are over. Let the Right One In was an welcomed breath of fresh air, an absolute amazing horror flick. And Lina Leandersson playing the century’s old vampire Eli was magnificent. She was so innocent until she wasn’t. The best scene has to be at the pool when Oskar is confronted with some rather violent bullies. You do not see her inflict the carnage, but when Oskar comes out of the pool and you see all the gore surrounding this small adolescent girl, it is a utter chilling moment in horror history. Her portrayal as his protector was totally believable. The American remake was decent, but for this list I have to go with the original Swedish version. It was by far the superior.
Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully in The X-Files (1993-2003, 2008, 2016):
What can really be said about our favorite doubting Special Agent? The X-Files had a huge impact in my life growing up. And the show is still good. Better than most of what passes as TV nowadays, not to sound like some bitter old man. Gillian Anderson’s portrayal as Dana Scully is interesting. She’s the yin to Fox Mulder’s yang (not to sound dirty). She was the rational part of the relationship, Mulder was the wide eye dreamer who jumped at any and all shadow that spelled conspiracy or extraterrestrial or both. She was a skeptic, sure, but she had to be to level out Mulder’s eccentricism. She was also the scientist, the doctor, the brains of the operation. Her portrayal is interesting because its a role typically played by men. Are men not the more rational? DON’T ANSWER THAT! (cough-cough, wink-wink).
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986):
Though the first time Miss Weaver portrayed Ellen Ripley was in Alien (1979), she did not feel to me as strong of a character as she was in its sequel, Aliens. She was a survivor, for sure in Alien, but in Aliens she kicked some major xenomorph ass! In James Cameron’s epic sci-fi horror, Ripley was easily the strongest character not only because of what she did, but the fact that she did it while struggling with PTSD, struggling with the memories of the traumatic events from the first film. She was a protector when at times you felt she was the one needing protection. Hell, she came out on top while every single one, save Hicks, of the supposedly badass Colonial Marines gets bush whacked! She even goes toe to toe with the “get away from her you bitch” queen bee! Aliens is an excellent movie for many reasons, but the best is watching Ripley transform from traumatized survivor to tuff-as-nails She-Ra!
Jane Levy as Mia in The Evil Dead (2013):
I have no idea what some nerds have against this movie. It is absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t a reboot, it wasn’t a remake, it wasn’t a continuation; 2013’s The Evil Dead was simply another cabin-in-the-woods movie cast in an Evil Dead universe. The mood from the very beginning is grainy and dark, given the subject matter of Mia’s rehabilitation with drug addiction. And it just gets darker. And her struggles felt real. And when the table turns and her inner-demon, as they say, comes out…her creep factor goes sky high! It was fun watching Mia start off playing the victim of the demon that had taken hold of her, and then in actuality becoming the monster (and scary one at that!). And it was satisfying seeing her, by the end, transform into a person willing to literally and metaphorically come out swinging. Mia was not some Ash trope, she was her own character, and a strong and realistic one at that.
Gaylen Ross as Francine in Dawn of the Dead (1978):
While I struggled between Gaylen as Francine in the original and Sara Polly as Ana in the 2004 remake, because I feel both characters and women were strong in each of their respective films, in the end I had to go with Gaylen Ross. Blame it on my favoritism to the original classic or on my love for Romero or whatever you want. Regardless, who can deny the magnetism in Ross’ portrayal as Francine? She was a lone woman surrounded by male machismo and was still able to keep her voice heard over all the grunts and farts. From the very get-go, when they land at the mall and she states “Stephen, I’m afraid. You’re hypnotized by this place. All of you! You don’t see that it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a prison! Let’s just take what we need and get out of here!” Yet, while being overruled by the male majority, she remains patient and lets it slide until her prophecy becomes reality. Of course, her best line is when the boys hatch a plan to secure the mall without consulting her and she confronts them with her own demands, telling Stephen mostly to never leave her without a gun again because (she states mockingly) “I just might know how to use it.” And what’s more interesting is that she is not only the lone woman in the group, but also pregnant. That in itself says something to the strength of her character to deal with these boys and keep her cool in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (1973):
As horror director and visionary Tom McLoughlin put it (and I’m paraphrasing here) Linda Blair as Regan was everything sugar and spice and everything nice, and she was set up so beautifully pared with her mother, but when she turned on us she became is absolute terror because while she is being victimized by the demon (or demons if you have read the book) she is also the monster, this evil thing that is in total control. Linda Blair did such a marvelous job with her role that The Exorcist is without argument the scariest movie ever made. But it was not just Blair and Regan that made the movie sensational, it was also Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, a strong independent single mother, balancing a profitable career and parenthood. Both actresses deserve mention as this list.
Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser (1987) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988):
I wanted to give Ashley Laurence’s portrayal as Miss Cotton credit in both films because she was pretty much the same character types in both films, though you can imagine that in Hellbound she was struggling more with the hellish (no pun intended) events in the first movie. Miss Cotton was a believable loving daughter who did what she could to love her step-mother, but as they classic trope demands, her step-mother was quite wicked and unlovable. I love Cotton’s character. She’s not weak necessarily. She is a survivor. And she most certainly has her wits about her during times of tribulation. Consider the moment in Hellraiser when she first opens Lemarchand’s box (aka The Lament Configuration, aka The Puzzle Box). When the cenobites first appear, though terrified, for obvious reasons, she is still able to keep her cool and hatch a plan to trade her life for Frank’s. And at the end, when the cenobite attempt to alter the deal she sends each and everyone of them back to hell via solving the puzzle box. In Hellbound, though traumatized, she not only confronts the return of her wicked step-mother, Julia, but manages to humanize Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the other cenobites, turning them back to their original self’s. Clare Higgins also deserves mention here. I was not impressed with her portrayal as Julia in the first Hellraiser, her character was too needing of Frank to stand on her own. But in Hellbound, the gloves came off!! She was a strong and dominate villain, blood thirsty and seductive, even without skin. Yet, despite strong acting from Higgins, I’m more favorable toward Laurence as Cotton. She was smart and foul mouthed, a perfect combination.
Well, there you have it folks! Just a few favorites from the numerous women who have not only embraced, but also defined horror. Who are some of your favorite women in horror?
Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
A tale of revenge and BBQ!!!
Drag me to Hell: movie in review
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:
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
November 5, 2015 | Categories: Horror, Reviews | Tags: Army of Darkness, Demonic, Drag me to Hell, Horror, Justin Long, mortgage crisis, movie review, recession, Reviews, Sam Raimi, social commentary, The Evil Dead | Leave a comment