Splatterhouse Rock

Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead trilogy hits a pretty sacred spot for me. The first entry is the first NC-17 movie I’ve ever watched, a horror movie that jarred with my previous idea of Raimi as the director of something as wholesome as Spider-Man, and a truly demanding work of emotional exhaust. The second entry (for the record, the last one I saw) is a rollickingly impressive toss of slapstick and disturbing material that deftly avoids undercutting the comedy or terror of the moment. The third entry is of course just a good-time adventure picture reminiscent of the ol’ Harryhausen works that made me want to grow up to be Bruce Campbell’s Ashley J. Williams and one that is absent of horror movie elements in a deliberate manner. They’re all pictures I have intense nostalgia for and while I accept the flaws in them (except Evil Dead II, it is flawless, fite me), they are movies I don’t take to kindly to remaking.

Even the original trio of producers – Robert Tapert, Campbell, and Raimi themselves – through their Ghost House Pictures company were the ones who had an active and involved hand with making Evil Dead, Uruguayan filmmaker Fede Alvarez’s feature-length debut after making a very impressive (in spite of film grain and some dated CGI) indie short film on YouTube called Ataque de Panico (if you’re into giant robots like I am, check it out, it’s only 5 minutes long). The more news I heard about it, the more jaded I was towards the idea of the remake all the way into the advanced screening I sat in on surrounded by folks excited for the return of the “Ultimate Experience in Grueling Terror” and once it began… well…

Rather than Ash and his close friends, Alvarez and Diablo Cody’s scri– wait, what the fuck?! Diablo Cody? Seriously? Huh. The script focuses on five friends along the same relative lines towards each other as the original gang: David (Shiloh Fernandez) brings his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) to a retreated cabin in the woods in the hopes of connecting with his sister Mia (Jane Levy), whom he’s had a strained relationship bordering on abandonment long since the death of their mother. Mia’s own friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are already there to lay down the real stakes of David and Mia’s reconciliation – Mia has by now had an alarmingly near-fatal heroin overdose and they’re keeping her out of the world for a while to help her break out of her addiction.

There are many reasons why it pains to say that (despite reviews picking on the characters) this focused-on group – although pretty much nobody in it is three-dimensional – are significantly more interesting than the cannon fodder of the original 1981 film’s five people. One of the reasons reciting this fact frustrates me will be obvious later on in this review.

During this retreat/intervention is when Eric and David dig around and end up finding the Naturon Demonto and Eric screws around with it enough to mean bad juju for the group, begin with the possession of Mia and the utterly disturbing self-torture her possessed herself through. Dismissed as heroin fit. Which, needless to say, will bode very unwell for these folks.

OK, with that plot run-through done with, I’m sure it’s ok to just come out at this point and say that Evil Dead ’13 at once assuaged half of my doubts and unfortunately validated the other half and that’s why I haven’t grown as appreciative of it as a movie as most of the other Evil Dead fanatics I know who are every bit as dedicated to that trilogy as me. It is actually a really well-done film, dedicated to practical effects in gooey visceral manner akin to Raimi’s own magic bag of tricks (if not as much with giggles that keep us from going “ew!”). Fede Alvarez probably has a great amount of future in a cinematic craftsman as he’s just about ready to spray shot by shot without any discrimination with blood whenever he can. He does it well enough to be believable and make us avert our eyes – maybe the biggest point of this for me is when Mia, possessed, deliberately scalds herself in the shower to the point of boils erupting on her body.

Which could go both ways really – technique aside. It’s fine to recognize the Evil Dead franchise as one based largely in its physical violence and DIY pools of red, but it’s always been more than that, underneath it. The first Evil Dead wasn’t just a splatter pic, it was a ghost story that spent half of its runtime establishing the mood and the location of its terror, building itself up. Evil Dead II was essentially one giant showpiece for the talents of Bruce Campbell, God bless him. Even say the classic early works of Peter Jackson could specifically be defined exclusively by being a bloodbath (though personally I feel Evil Dead ’13 out-bloods Dead Alive by a bit) took it to being more than a flow and based its viscera display on a sense of humor that Jackson made appealing without being ordinary.

It’s not that Evil Dead ’13 isn’t scary. Or that it HAS to be more than the sum of its gore. It probably wouldn’t bother me as much if Evil Dead ’13 didn’t have an avenue by which to be more than it is now.

But it does. And it stares me right in the fucking face.

Mia’s struggles in trying to break out of her heroin addiction. Any movie with a premise based on the bodily tortures of someone by their own hand or a friend’s and bothering to use THAT as a backstory for one of the leads must be able to see how easily one could compliment the other. But the movie screws itself over by making Mia essentially the first victim of the possession and, as such, she’s out of commission for most of the picture. We don’t get that sort of depth to the story and it was right there… right there in Alvarez and Diablo Cody’s faces. The most we get as a result is when Mia first starts acting strange, her friends and brother act horribly dismissive towards her actions as a withdrawal fit. Like goddamn. Such potential wasted.

On the other hand, it’s possibly this might be a blessing in disguise. Most of the film lies on Shiloh Fernandez and Lou Taylor Pucci’s shoulders and tell you the truth, neither of them are nearly enough to hold my attention long until the next violent setpiece. Hell, they don’t have the same blank [insert victimized posture here] presence that Campbell’s unimpressive performance in the first film had, they’re just reciting words about “insanity” and such. Can’t say much about Jessica Lucas or Elizabeth Blackmore. Jane Levy is easily best in show and that’s because she has a lot more descent into madness to work with, as well as being the easiest emotional anchor, even once she’s far gone into Deadite territory (if I’m being honest, I can’t tell where Levy’s appearance ends and Randal Wilson’s performance as her possessed version begins because they compliment each other so very well). So, if they did try to make it a tale of dealing with addiction, they may very well have had the movie fall on its face.

As such, the movie simply stands as a testament to how much blood one can spill into a movie before the MPAA tells them “Whoa… no…” (right down to a final setpiece that had my friend whispering to me in the theater “Slayer would be proud”) and that’s fine enough. It doesn’t make for a bad movie at all. But it makes for one that leaves a lot to be missed in terms of substance, especially when teased like it is, and all the bloody gushiness in the world can’t make up for it to me.

On a final note, all that shit in the credits. In the theatrical cut, it’s all the biggest fan service that could bug me. It’s great to see Bruce Campbell’s face, but we didn’t need it. It’s cool to hear Professor Knowby’s voice, but it’s after the fact. And in the TV/Home Video cut… well, what was necessary about the car scene? There’s no tension, nothing implied, we just know “Oh, she’s… not possessed. Which we knew.”

Ay yi yi yi, Evil Dead, folks. It could be better.

Hail to the King, Baby!

What a world to be alive in when there are at least four versions of Army of Darkness. Count ’em, four of those fuckers! I’ve only seen three – the theatrical version which I own on DVD *ahem* in a special manner (I’ll get into it at the end of this review), Sam Raimi’s preferred director’s cut which I don’t own yet because I suck, and the television cut which is the first time I watched it on Sci-Fi sorry Syfy back when watching that channel wasn’t anywhere near punishing – but I also know of an international cut. And given that Army of Darkness is one of the most fun movies that has ever graced the earth, even if I still prefer its two predecessors in the Evil Dead series, that makes it a wonderful world when you could get a slightly different experience like Douglas Adams edited this movie rather than Raimi and Bob Murawski. If it were a perfect world, my preferred cut would be the first half of the director’s cut (which actually tightens up the crazy windmill scene where Ash deals with a bunch of mini versions of him in a manner only Ash could be excused for) up until Ash faces his evil version, the theatrical cut starting from his line “Good, bad, I’m the guy with the gun” (absent from the Director’s cut because even Raimi can be a fucking idiot) and go all the way down to the end, for reasons I will go into later on as well. But the world is wonderful enough where we have both. Maybe one day I’ll make an editing exercise of this, Soderbergh-style.

Still I dropped that bomb earlier about how, despite never ceasing my adoration for Army of Darkness as the one movie I am most likely to pop into my DVD player more than the other two films in my Blu-Ray player, I still consider those The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II the superior pictures. For one, those two previous movies actually still have that raw “we made this” sense to them that the studio production of Army of Darkness simply lacks… though Army of Darkness clearly eschews hiding that to embrace the fact that it is a great big adventure. It’s moving the adventures of Bruce Campbell’s Ashley J. Williams into a new fucking direction and it’s an absolute blast for that.

The other thing is that, maybe, as a result of Raimi and crew now having made into Hollywoodland and getting to make Army of Darkness there with that Universal Studios money, Army of Darkness‘s storytelling is less ambitious. It is not as dedicated to making a genre picture as its two predecessors (it is inarguably out of the horror genre – even the presence of living moving skeletons in the film is more Harryhausen tribute in swashbuckling adventure form rather than even the slightest effort at being spooky in even the obvious fun sense) and it’s less thematically sophisticated – taking basically the bare premise of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (as it’s obviously an unofficial adaptation of) and removing all Twain’s wit to make room for Raimi’s Three Stooges inspired slapstick sensibility. Which is fine, better you work with what you know than what you don’t know as well… nobody really likes Evil Dead II for its clever dialogue play, but because of Ash’s visual suffering.

Ash’s suffering has now taken a brand new turn here. He’s not stuck in one creepy wooden cabin anymore, but – as we last left him in the end of Evil Dead II – he and his Oldsmobile ARE still stuck somewhere he’d rather not be in. He’s in the Middle Ages, briefly enslaved in a misunderstanding yet still clear asshole move by Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert) until Ash is able to prove himself a bit more of a top dog than Arthur by killing two Deadites – the possessed undead creatures from the franchise – which have been giving our 14th Century boys a bit more trouble than they’ve wanted. The Wise Man (Ian Abercrombie) recognizes Ash through his “boomstick” and chainsaw as a prophesied hero who would “fall from the sky” to rid our Medieval fellas of their Deadite scourge, but of course Ash is reluctant to get involved in the quest to find the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis in the far end of the land and bring it back to them until The Wise Man also states that the book will of course be able to send Ash back to his own time and his deadbeat job at S-Mart that he misses so much.

And like that, after courting one of the beauties there (Embeth Davidtz) like he didn’t days before have to kill his old girlfriend, Ash is now off on his quest to save the day and get back home.

This is obviously the Ash show, even if we have a wider cast of characters now. Everybody is just moving out of Campbell’s way as he delivers annoyed, snarky sarcasm every single step he has to take, but with a newfound certainty and undertones of grizzledness to his fatigue that wasn’t in his hysterics during Evil Dead II (though the scene where he is stuck in a windmill with the night’s effects messing with him still harkening slightly back to the sort of torture he had to go through in the second film) that frankly make him… there’s no other word for it…. a badass. He’s totally rude (my favorite delivery of a line in this movie is a nearly unnoticeable throwaway: as he’s being congratulated by the peasants in his return, he is so done with this shit that he tells one of them off-hand “Get the fuck out of my face.”), he’s much more of an asshole than he ever was in the series, he totally thinks his life is bullshit at this point, but he’s also maybe the most badass here than he ever has been in the series. And Campbell’s ability to still make a character so blatantly dismissive yet charismatic as an adventure hero this time around promised great things for that show the following year The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. that only three people in the world watched (seriously, I’d recommend it).

And it’s not like Campbell doesn’t have a bunch of studio sets and big budget stuff to keep him in the moment anyway, as Raimi begins to expand his toybox of techniques he’s learned between the previous Darkman and here, to the continued effect of cartooniness from Evil Dead II (except in a more appropriate playing field now). Some are kind of easy to catch, like the superimposition used for the mini Ashes scene, but they’re all really bubbly and the artificiality of it is only a minor annoyance. I can’t get mad at catching the claymation bones of a villain as he has a thrilling swordfight with someone. I can’t get too angry at Raimi’s camera movement trying to hide the fact that Ash’s final Oldsmobile battle rig isn’t moving when just the introduction of the thing in the fighting zone is bombastic enough to get me going “Yeah!”. That ending battle between the knights and the undead is chaotic and everywhere and I love it all the more for that, especially when it can still make clear the stakes and location of all the major players. The movie takes care of just the bare minimum of what it needs to and you can either enjoy the ride or take a hike. It’s not that long anyway, it’s a brisk 81 minutes, so stop your whining.

Of course, unlike The Evil Dead or even Evil Dead IIArmy of Darkness is so light and frothy that we never once have the idea that anything will go wrong and Ash will fail. So I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything by pointing out the biggest major difference between the theatrical cut and the Director’s cut which is their endings. In both versions, Ash drinks a potion the Wise Man makes him to have him sleep through time, but in the Director’s Cut, Ash drinks one drop too many and ends up waking in an apocalyptic future rather than the time he came from. It definitely is more in line with both Twain’s novel and how the Evil Dead movies before it ended with their own “Ash is still in deeper shit” moment, but I can’t say I’m fonder of this ending that what Universal mandated for their American release of the film.

Which is Ash getting back to his time just fine and suddenly saving the day again from a Deadite at S-Mart with all the confidence and cockiness a hero needs to make a battle against a demon seem like an effortless inconvenience. It maintains the humor, the grandeur (hell, it translates it and transforms the mundanity of an suburban department store into a fucking battleground), and of course, the badassery that makes me absolutely love the movie entirely. Every line Ash has here is a quip and we just keep loving him more and more. I wish it wasn’t edited and shot in a discontinuous manner that felt like Raimi was begrudged to make this ending (the Deadite never really gets a final blow so much as just dies). But it’s still totally awesome and the movie ending on any other note than Ash having just reholstered his shotgun, telling a girl to “Hail to the King, Baby!”, and making out with her would have been an outright tragedy, I don’t care how dark the Director’s Cut ending would have been.

It’s way too good to be King.

And of course, a King Campbell was in my eyes. I hadn’t seen Evil Dead II yet in high school and obviously his performance in The Evil Dead was too bland and cookie-cutter to be stand-out, so it is his Army of Darkness performance that really made the guy shine in my eyes making him my favorite actor as a teenager as I kept watching a movie or tv show that would be on the air if he even had the smallest appearance (bad move since that meant I sat through The Love BugMcHale’s Navy, Man with the Screaming Brain, etc. the poor guy’s been in a lot of stinkers) and always having a blast to see him on-screen no matter what he was doing.

So back to the manner in which I own the DVD. Well, since I live in Miami for a while where Burn Notice was filmed, my mom found out they were filming right outside her workplace, so I talked my way out of work that day, arranged to meet with my friend there, snuck on set and well…

Photo on 10-27-15 at 4.39 AM #2

Hail to the King, Baby!

For God’s Sake, How Do You Stop It?!

There’s an observation within two horror franchises that I’ve seen communicated to a point that I can sort of meet them halfway: When it comes to the Resident Evil games’ entry into over-the-shoulder shooting gameplay around the time of Resident Evil 4 (technically its sixth entry) and to Aliens’ release as a runner-up to Alien, it simply makes sense that the franchises have now delved away from horror to becoming outright action. We’re not scared of there being monsters behind the door, we know they’re there and we’re going to hit them first (though I maintain that Resident Evil 4 is still a very scary horror game).

Evil Dead II turns that thing all the way around. As far as director/co-writer Sam Raimi was concerned, the only real evolution from horror now that we know the monsters are there… is comedy. To laugh along with them as they take out their torments on poor Bruce Campbell’s Ashley “Ash” J. Williams. While still retaining a lot of the overt yet solid creepiness of the horror genre.

If I may be frank, I honestly believe the comedy shift favors Evil Dead II more than the action shift favors Aliens or Resident Evil 4. It is as a result one of my favorite movies and one that I consider superior to The Evil Dead.

This certainly wasn’t an opinion I was willing to jump to immediately, simply based on nostalgia. While I saw The Evil Dead for the first time in middle school and so was able to latch unintended nostalgia onto it, I didn’t see Evil Dead II until I was in college. Yep. But I did see it in 35mm when I first saw it, so it had that going for it. Which is nice.

Before I go any further, I really need to be a stickler for something – constantly I see Evil Dead II referred to as a remake and it is most certainly not such a film, but it’s easy to see where the misconception comes from. Originally the screenplay by Raimi and Scott Spiegel (drafted in the middle of the production of Crimewave – a noir parody film that was Raimi’s sophomore film and written by the Coen bros. I made it sound better than it is) called for the film to be opened up with the recap of the original film using its footage, but rights issues in one way or another got in the way.

As a result, Evil Dead II opens up with a newly-shot and cast re-run into the main events of The Evil Dead sped through in the first 15 minutes – Ash is in this version of events joined solely by his girlfriend Linda (Denis Bixler replacing Betsy Baker) albeit because who wants to start a movie with the protagonist killing his four friends within the first few minutes? Like the previous film, Linda becomes possessed from the now-renamed Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (soidifying the book’s presence as a Lovecraftian Element rather than just implying it). Ash reluctantly dismembers her to save her soul and is tormented for it. And we reach the end point of The Evil Dead where the force actively rushes for Ash next right before the ending credits.

Except THIS is where Evil Dead II really starts for all intents and purposes. If you haven’t seen The Evil Dead (in which case, go watch it now! Why are you reading this?) You may use the preceding minutes in Evil Dead II to fill in where we are in Ash’s story, but if you have seen the previous movie, that opening only serves as a refresher. The editing even gives the frame a frozen-frame zooming-in motion as if to motion to the audience that NOW we’re really getting into the story.

And just as we’re left with Ash realizing he is so fucked, the first third of the movie proper has one character and one character only – Ash. By himself. In the Cabin. As one would expect, such a premise would need a charismatic and able lead actor to guide the audience through the various psychological and physical torments Ash goes through, especially one that could allow himself to be at once victim and clown to take hold of Raimi’s intent of turning this demon possession story into a Three Stooges Halloween Special without making the joke on the ghouls themselves. It’s certainly not going to be that bland handsome face who was more of a function than a character in the first movie so I guess Evil Dead II is kinda doomed.

Except Bruce Campbell is exactly that kind of actor who can perform all those demands of mugging and slapstick and jumps through those hoops ably, making me kind of mad the movie moves on to the arrival of four other characters pretty quickly. I could watch Campbell throw himself about all fucking day if I have to. When his evil hand begins having a life of its own, Campbell is so perfectly able to make his own appendage distinguishable enough in movement to be its own character and especially a threat to himself. When the hand begins to turn against him slamming plates on his head, it’s hilarious. How could it not be? But right before that, when Ash lies on the floor crying “give me back my hand”… Campbell doesn’t make it any sort of joke. He’s seriously scared and alone, his voice quavering and weak.

Maybe a trained mime or clown would know how to do it better than Campbell does it, but it fools me and that’s enough to – alongside his energetic frenzy at both fear and laughter – to make this Ash one of my favorite performances I’ve seen in a motion picture and needless to say my favorite Campbell turn (I haven’t seen his 1997 Running Time though, which Bruce would emphatically call his favorite performance he has done. Maybe it’ll change my mind).

It’s not exactly where one could say Campbell developed his awesome ability as a magnetic (if one-note) lead who isn’t used half as much as he should (I’d claim it was just prior when he played Renaldo “The Heel” in Crimewave; maybe Cleveland Smith if we really want to go back), but the amount of over exaggerated caricature in a single eyebrow arch or drop of a jawline is what makes Campbell one of my favorite actors.

Anyway, that’s a lot of gushing for Campbell alone and there’s still plenty of movie to talk about. Maybe I’ve remained on it because for the most part, Evil Dead II still does all the things The Evil Dead did right: Peter Deming’s cinematography re-incorporating all the fog, the motion of the camera with off-kilter angles, blue lighting (this time without ever letting us see the light sources). But now with a decent budget, funded by Dino de Laurentiis – thanks to Stephen King’s vouch – giving designers Randy Bennett, Philip Duffin, and Elizabeth Moore much to up the theatricality so we don’t have moments where we catch it being a movie so much as a ride. Such showcases of their newfound budget includes the movie having stop-motion (most notably the undead Linda dance Ash witnesses) that looks like something out of Ray Harryhausen’s nightmares or the bigness of scenarios like the final battle where the house and woods become a living breathing monster set and completely go against Ash and his new sidekick Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), the only other character who doesn’t seem to just be there for the sake of body count and the daughter of the Professor whose voice is heard in the tape recording found in the cabin played throughout the film. It should be thrown in that even if the characters of Evil Dead II don’t have weight, they are all stock types to its immense favor of at least cannon fodder having personality within it (I wonder if Bobbie Joe would have been better if Holly Hunter, a friend of Raimi and Campbell’s who B.J. is based on, instead of Kassie Wesley DePaiva – though if I have to admit, she’s at least second-best in the small cast even above Berry. She’s got attitude at least.).

But Campbell and Raimi’s glee at just throwing the movie into whatever tonal gear they feel like without making it clunky (praise to editor Kaye Davis for keeping up) is undoubtedly the biggest anchor that turns Evil Dead II into such a one-of-a-kind movie that could only be made by the sort of folks that at once just love to make movies for the fun of it and yet at the same time know exactly what about the elements all together work to give the experience it needs. Going whiplash from psychological terror to live-action Looney Tune to underground trapped with a zombie to bloodbath to outright heroics in the end (everybody’s gotta love when Ash gets his chainsaw arm and shotgun it’s just so g… no, I won’t say it) and just when it makes the most unexpected turns of design and direction (the final beats are obviously De Laurentiis-esque though I don’t doubt they were entirely of Raimi and Spiegel’s invention), it leaves itself ready for another adventure of fear and laughs.

Maybe the biggest element that personifies Evil Dead II as a movie is where Ash is still in the cabin by himself and the Cabin elements – the lights, the windows, the boards, the cabinets, most ghoulishly memorable of all a single deer head mount with eyes as white all the possessed characters in the franchise – begin laughing at him, cruelly and cartoonishly, jerking around in sync with their giggles. And Ash, absolutely appalled by this point at how much he’s been messed with, goes into hysterics laughing along with the cabin all around and joining them before those bellows of delirious laughter become anguished screams and cries of despair without Campbell missing a beat.

That really is Evil Dead II in a nutshell and maybe the finest scene in both Raimi and Campbell’s career and watching it by itself as a short film makes a pretty obvious tell towards both how viewer will react to the movie (I’ve seen rooms of people laugh at it; rooms of people silent in horror) and to how certain and dedicated Raimi and Campbell are to leaving you just as crazy and exhausted as Ash, but completely fulfilled out of pushing through it all with him.

On a final note only vaguely related to Evil Dead II that I can’t discuss anywhere else, the 35mm screening I saw the movie in for the first time still had all of its trailers attached to the print and one of the things that played right before the movie began was a Loews Theater bumper of theater etiquette.

Featuring. Fucking. Sesame Street characters. And I am an unapologetic Sesame Street enthusiast. It was so awesome to watch it right before an Evil Dead movie.

Man, if the print burned up right before the movie started but after this video I would have felt like I got my goddamn money’s worth.

Oh, sorry, I probably should’ve ended this post about laughing scene. Yeah, we’re done here, I’m gonna watch this video again and again.

The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Horror

Around age 12, at one point in my life, I was playing soccer or basketball – one or the other – with my cousin and my brother. I asked my cousin off-hand what the scariest movie he ever saw was and he answered with The Evil Dead, which he happens to own at the time on VHS and lent it to me, which I was hesitant to do since I knew the movie was rated NC-17 (a pretty little known fact by anyone except probably those like me who were raised to avoid PG-13 movies until age 13 and R rated/NC-17 were right out of the question according to my parents). Still he insisted not only that I watch it, but that I watch it in the dark at night.

I chickened out not only at that chance of seeing it in the dark, but I did not chicken out on seeing the movie that very night anyway (though I remember having a heart attack when my mom watched me rewinding it, thinking she’d punish me for it – in retrospect, I don’t even think she knew the movie existed and so I don’t know why I feared it). That same cousin later on let me keep it (as was kind of his habit with any movie he lent me, he wasn’t really a cinephile though he did enjoy movies enough to occasionally pass by and borrow whatever was in my collection.)

For this reason among others that I will go into, The Evil Dead is a movie that has a special place in my heart for a great number of reasons. It is maybe the first horror movie not featuring Freddy Krueger that I took an extreme obsession towards. At the time, it was a movie that I was pretty surprised could be so tonally different from director Sam Raimi’s later Spider-Man (my favorite movie at that age), to be so cruel and gory within his first feature film (although now I’ve watched enough of Raimi’s films to catch the consistent in-your-face wacky style style that he’s had in every movie from The Evil Dead to Drag Me to Hell.

A much bigger reason for my adoration and constant watching of The Evil Dead was simply that I was impressed by how it was made. As both an emphatic IMDb browser then and already having been bit by the bug of wanting to make movies at that point, I began to take Raimi’s low-budget production history to making a superficially simple but effective horror story followed by acclaim at Cannes – from Stephen fucking King of all people – as a gospel for my goals (though I think if I had seen Mad Max – just as literal in portraying momentum via cinematic language as The Evil Dead – then as opposed to this past summer, it might have been my mecca instead).

For these attachments I find linking me to The Evil Dead as a movie (as well as the entire trilogy), it will be tougher than anything to actually approach said movie objectively. I’m much too fond of it for all the different attributes it has. That said, when you look at it hard enough, you can catch its flaws as a picture, I’ve just never thought of them as damning enough an element to make the film any less of a classic (if conceding that is nowhere near a perfect film).

The VHS copy I was lent of the movie had a cover that I actually think does a great job of portraying what the movie essentially is:

As you see in this blatant photoshoot, star Bruce Campbell (who plays Ashley, the protagonist for the entire trilogy and even makes a fanservice appearance in the 2013 remake that was produced by him, Raimi, and franchise producer Robert Tapert) standing next to a grave with a matte full moon and a pretty wary look in his eyes. Sure, it’s not nearly as fully of all that gooey gore that is the film’s very notoriety, but it pretty much is at once an obviously artificial bit of atmosphere setting – the atmosphere being a haunting and spooky one – while at once being effective simply because of how unambiguous it is about what to fear.

So much of the movie within from the get-go is dedicated to airy and foggy tones while allowing for enough darkness to get things shadowy without at all coming off as all-black amateur hour (fucking Friday the 13th). This while the rawness of the shoot gives it a more legitimate feel to it, a more immediate involvement akin to a found-footage film without hiding the good stuff or looking it was shot with an ass. It’s a hella great compliment to the soundmix featuring enough nightlife and silence within it – occasionally allowing the crushing of woods leaves and branches to define what we don’t see and what may be lurking waiting for the five teenagers – and also provided in angles and framings that verily provide impact, all diagonally and Dutch and bright lights to give outline to shapes in the dark. Lights that are very much visible when the shot widens enough, but that’s ok. It’s a ghost story without any real ghosts, just enough of a mood to make you fear before anything can happen to the gang.

The Evil Dead is essentially the equivalent of going through a novelty haunted house and seeing where the tricks come from in making those ghosts and monsters only after they jump out to scare you. With a lot of blood.

I mean, there is a shitload of blood within it. Like so much that, despite undoubtedly being the only “pure” horror film in the whole trilogy (as I will go late on with the other three films this month in obviously enthusiastic anticipation for Starz’ Ash vs. Evil Deadthe second film became a horror/comedy hybrid, the third an adventure picture that only occasionally touched on horror moods), it still has a very aware sense of humor about the buckets and buckets of fake gore that take place in all places the moment that the movie’s premise of five friends in a cabin in the woods becoming prey to released demonic spirits that possess them and scar them horrifically. An entire scene late in the picture dedicates itself to shocking Ash by having blood spurt and pour from incredibly nonsensical places from a film projecter to a light bulb.

Raimi and Tapert were totally aware of how shocking the power of the on-screen blood could be to punctuate the haunting mood of the film, but not simply on its own…

The characters surrounding The Evil Dead are inarguably cannon fodder, even Ash is devoid of any charisma that he’d be later on known for (that comes more in Evil Dead II than in Campbell’s deer-in-the-headlights performance… I meant “deer-in-the-headlights” in a good way, I promise). Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), Scotty (Hal Delrich), Linda (Betsy Baker), and Shelly (Sarah York)… all five of them are only there to suffer on account of their messing with the Naturom Demonto (isn’t it great to see Lovecraft references in indie films?). I once wrote a review on the blogspot page claiming that this movie’s main premise is to witness the suffering of friends and loved ones like Ash does and deal with the horror that the only humane thing is to cut them into pieces, but I think that might be kind of a bit too much credit to the characterizations. And especially when a lot of shots hold the victims at a distance while we see from the demonic forces’ point of view.

But the anchor to it all is simply that we do have to watch them slowly but surely lose control of themselves (alongside some very creepy makeup working to disguise these humans in a very Halloween way – but also the fact that the cast seems more game playing creepily lullabying or screaming demons than, y’know, people), at some points recognizing ourselves with Ash psychologically having to deal with this. And the gore only adds to it, watch all these folks we were just riding a car with at the beginning turn into pieces of flesh and liquefied meat. It’s disgusting and cartoonish yet effective, even Campbell’s melodramatic yelling as the butt of the joke keeps things from becoming way too sober to enjoy it.

Anyway, this has said a lot of stuff about my feelings about The Evil Dead and a whole lot of it is more how I’ve adored it in my adolescence rather than any objectivity, so let me just point out the few kinks in my love for it that grew over time.

First, the infamous tree rape scene, the one that most likely got it on the UK’s Video Nasties list more than all the gore in the film.

Fuck that scene. Pun not intended (and now that I realized I accidentally used it I am ashamed). But really, fuck that scene. I know a lot of people don’t have a problem with it, but I always did, even at 13. And I usually am not reluctant towards rape scenes in cinema or television (though I always find them uncomfortable to sit through, no matter how necessary to the narrative). And I know that it’s positioned at a point that sort of makes it essential to the rising of the violence, in that it is the very first time we see these forces attack and it is with outright brutality, but whereas most of these violent incidents can do so while being banal enough to feel sort of like semi-laugh moments, that’s just never been the case with this scene. And it didn’t HAVE to be a rape scene in order to get point across that something is in the woods attacking. Come on.

And the other thing is that, like I said before many times in this review, this movie is really obviously cheap and has its moments where the artificiality of it shows up in obvious ways. The most nagging of these to me is in the case the Professor (Bob Dorian’s in an audio tape attached to the Naturon Demonto)’s workplace under the cabin… which looks exactly like a filmmaker would just get the elements necessary to have your standard workdesk with any semblance of personality or liveliness. And then, y’know, add a fucking The Hills Have Eyes poster just because. Fuck is this?

But despite these pickings, there’s still so many things I want to talk about from the editing (of which Edna Ruth Paul got help from a certain Joel Coen… hey hey hey) to the music choice of old-timey stuff that wears its fears on its skeletal sleeve and that’s unfortunate because I simply don’t want to keep you guys here forever to talk about an impressive work of ingenuity and creativity to supply a creepy isolated house movie that you oughta just experience for yourself by now. Talking this long about a movie that I love as much as The Evil Dead might leave you all dead by dawn…