Tag: evil dead

Evil Dead II


Evil Dead II (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” begins like any other cabin-in-the-woods horror picture: an unsuspecting couple goes on their romantic weekend getaway and suddenly their plans are completely derailed. Something unusual, shocking, almost off-putting: not eight minutes into the picture, the woman is dead—beheaded!—and buried in the ground. The man named Ash (brilliantly played by Bruce Campbell) is left to fend for himself against the demonic forces residing in the woods. Terror and… hilarity ensues. The work, written by Sam Raimi (who directs) and Scott Spiegel, is a satire of horror movies.

It is not so much a love letter to horror films—the first “Evil Dead,” a straight-faced scary movie involving a group of friends who meet in their doom in the very same cabin of this sequel—is closer to that. This is a love letter to horror images, from the undead rising from the grave, malicious-looking trees capable of uprooting themselves, a severed hand moving on its own, to buckets of blood being sprayed from the walls. It is so over-the-top that one cannot help but smile at its earnestness, its willing to entertain no matter the cost. And it does not run out of energy.

There are numerous crafty sequences powerful enough to embed themselves in our memories. I will give two examples. The first involves Ash finding himself surrounded by laughter… not of other people but of inanimate objects (deer mounted on the wall, bookcases, lamp) that shouldn’t be capable of moving let alone laugh. The demons are mocking him for being alone, for being weak, for being terrified. The evil knows it is going to win and so it plays with Ash for as long as possible. Ash can’t find himself to do anything at that point but laugh along. That is, until his laughter turns into sobs of desperation. He is the target and the evil force aims to drive him mad; he is entertainment to them—and he, along with his tormentors, in turn is entertainment to us. Clearly, the satire has bite.

Another example: the unbroken shot involving a chase between Ash and the unknown force that follows him from the woods to the cabin. We take the point of view of villain. But notice the content of the chase: it is a slapstick comedy. Ash wriggles about, stumbles, inserts himself in various cracks and corners like a little mouse. He opens and breaks down doors… and the evil is capable of doing the same. Things go wrong for our protagonist and yet somehow the force never gets to him, perhaps on purpose. It is loyal to the theme of Ash being its plaything. The evil is not evil because the ominous Book of the Dead says so. It is evil because of its actions: It enjoys tormenting its victim for the sake of entertainment. Raimi is in complete control of not only the images but the messages he wishes for us to consider. It is clever nearly every step of the way. (“Nearly” because I am not a fan of the final scene that sets up the next movie.)

“Evil Dead II” is not just any other remake or sequel or reimagining. I think this terrific follow-up can be considered as the “alternate spirit” of the original. Both share the same setting, but emphasis is on completely different ideas. Similar special and visual effects are employed, but they must be utilized in different ways in order to accomplish a specific goal. Together, these two make an excellent double feature for those who wish to analyze and understand specific types of storytelling told through similar vein. There is plenty to appreciate here.

Evil Dead


Evil Dead (2013)
★ / ★★★★

“I’ve had enough of this shit.”

So have I, Mia. So have I. Less than halfway through, it is glaringly apparent that Fede Alvarez’ reimagining of Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic “The Evil Dead” adopts an obnoxious (and obvious) approach to tell its story: turn up the volume to 11, make it five times as gory as the original, and drain every bit of charm out of the characters so when they get injured, maimed, or die, we do not even blink at the fact. It is a movie more concerned with delivering surface, evanescent sensations rather than attempting to provide an experience that lingers in the gut and mind. One trick pony by nature, it’s completely forgettable.

Take a look at the infamous forest rape scene as an example. In this film, the visual effects are quite impressive. When the trees’ branches wrap around Mia’s neck (Jane Levy), it really looks like there is a grip around her throat that is preventing her from breathing. The black, slug-like demon crawls out from the tree, onto her legs, and inside her. By contrast, in Raimi’s film, the branches do not look as though they possess intention to hurt, kill, or rape. Not only are they thin, they look like they’re already dead or dying.

And yet despite the clear gap in budget and quality of effects, notice that Raimi’s is the better scene. There is patience from behind the camera. There is a rhythm to the editing—inciting us to call for help even though we know it is only a movie. When the camera moves, it is always with purpose. It is quieter, less busy. It feels personal. Sad, even. The rape feels drawn-out which amplifies the horror of the scene. You wish to look away. You feel shaken. In Alvarez’ film, the rape is just something that happens. Onto the next violent sequence.

If you’re on the market for young people cutting off their faces with glass, being shot with a nail gun, and chopping off their arms with an electric knife, then perhaps this version is for you. Or maybe not. Consider: Why bother reimagining a story when the screenwriters (Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues) fail to inject new blood in a franchise that, while gory, is fun, funny, inviting, filled with knowing winks to the genre and, above all, creative? It just doesn’t stand out from other grim-faced demonic possession movies. What’s the point?

The setup is not without potential. I liked that these characters do not visit the cabin in the woods to have fun during their weekend getaway. Olivia (Jessica Lucas), Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), David (Shiloh Fernandez), and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) are there to help Mia (Jane Levy) overcome her heroine addiction. There are easy parallels between drug addiction and being possessed by a foreign entity. It is curious and disappointing that the screenplay fails to capitalize on the metaphor and deliver a work with surprising thought or insight. It is all about making the violence look grand, shocking, spectacular. I didn’t care one bit.

I wanted to care about Mia and David. These are siblings who have lost touch just before their mother died. The expository dialogue hints at pain, sadness, and anger they have for (but hide from) one another. But these are never explored—even when one of them has been possessed by evil. I think the problem is that the writers have a limited definition of horror. It is not always about disturbing and gross-out images. In fact, I argue it should rarely be about that. The horror genre is a conduit, a mask, a mirror for something we cannot face head-on. And because they don’t understand what horror really is, we are given a cheap, factory-made horror film.

The Evil Dead


The Evil Dead (1981)
★★★ / ★★★★

Windows magically being repaired two or three scenes later, decaying flesh along the hands and arms looking like modified gloves in order to minimize time and effort in reapplying makeup, and the fog sitting so thick in one area of the screen that one could practically pinpoint the precise location of the fog machine are only some of the myriad “mistakes” (read: charm) in Sam Raimi’s horror classic “The Evil Dead.” And yet the movie stands the test of time because it is propelled with unbridled passion for the work. Love can be felt in every square inch of this movie—flaws and all. One does not have to wonder why it has such a strong cult following.

The characters may not be smart nor do they undergo compelling development, but the writer-director is consistently one step ahead. Notice his vision right from the opening sequence in which five university students (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker, Theresa Tilly) drive toward the isolated rundown cabin in the woods. Editing is swift and generous: we are placed inside the car one moment and out in the woods the next. Both places are alive: the chattering of youth who are excited to begin their weekend getaway and the hunger of the spirits in the woods waiting to possess their next victims. There is energy in the push and pull between natural and supernatural forces. Although apparent that the film has low budget, it cannot be denied that it is filled to the brim with purpose.

Its purpose is to entertain. Nothing else. In modern horror films, it takes at least telling a third of the story until the main players get on the same page and recognize that something bizarre or horrible might be happening. In this movie, the cellar door bursts open on its own during the first ten minutes. There is no room for stupid questions like, “What’s going on?” “Is this really happening?” “Should we call the police?” These unsuspecting victims are thrown right into the mouth of hell; we expect most of them to die in gruesome ways (and they do) and for one to survive. And all this is before they find the dreaded book with human skin as its cover.

Campbell has the face of a hero, but the practical special effects is the star of the show. Here is a movie that shows viewers dismembered human body parts but because the person—or what was once a person—had been possessed by evil, the chopped up limbs remain to tremble on their own. It is a terrifying image even by today’s standards.

Think about it: most violent horror movies settle for showing hacked up bodies—which shows the aftermath of violence—but special projects, those that go the extra mile, tend to highlight the horror after the fact. And because they do, these types of images tend to stick in the mind. This is just one example. Another is the scene involving a woman being attacked by trees in the forest. It sounds amusing: plants attacking a human being. But the way it is shot in addition to the extended duration of the attack, it feels like we are watching a woman get raped in slow motion. (Her desperate screaming for help adds further urgency to the scene.) We are meant to be horrified, uncomfortable. Perhaps we might laugh precisely because doing so is cathartic. Isn’t that the point of horror stories: to provide catharsis?

“The Evil Dead” is no generic horror film. It is kinetic, smart, daring, and atmospheric. It can be enjoyed on a superficial level: college students get more than what they bargained for after a voice from an old tape recorder utters phrases in Ancient Sumerian. Or it can be enjoyed as an experience: how sounds of demonic voices (which changes depending on the person possessed) taunting never let up, how the camera remains dead still when showing a body part being torn off, how the enthusiastic writer-director juggles suspense, jolts, and horror with seeming ease.

Army of Darkness


Army of Darkness (1992)
★ / ★★★★

Ash (Bruce Campbell) was sucked into a vortex which sent him to the Dark Ages in England. He was equipped with three objects: a chainsaw, a shotgun, and a car. The Wiseman (Ian Abercrombie) believed that he was the chosen one, the person who would bring peace between the humans and the Necronomicons, the living dead. Our protagonist was instructed to find the Book of the Dead in the cemetery and say three words prior to taking it. Naturally, scatterbrained Ash was unable to recall the phrase and took the book back to the fortress anyway. As a result, zombies rose from their graves to collect their valuable possession. Written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi, “Army of Darkness,” while successful in making me laugh from time to time, missed the mark because it had forgotten its roots. It was no longer scary or darkly comic. The skeletons, instead of looking even remotely evil, looked like something I would want in my room. Some scenes went on for too long, particularly when Ash had to fight miniature versions of himself, and although things happened for the sake of something happening, there was no real drama in Ash’s predicament. For example, when he was with Sheila (Embeth Davidtz), he seemed perfectly content so why did he want to go back to his own time? The special and visual effects looked schlocky instead of endearing. Sure, the claymation in “The Evil Dead” and “Evil Dead II” was no masterpiece but at least the images were driven by a defined concept: the spirits in the forest wanted to possess living beings and kill whoever got in their way. In here, we were left with one-dimensional humor that often missed the punchline. I mentioned the scene when Ash faced mini-Ashes. It showed us that Ash wasn’t very smart. The Ash we met in the first sequel wouldn’t grab a kettle and drink the burning hot water from it. He certainly wouldn’t refer to someone as a “primitive” with such disdain and arrogance. We came to know and love him because he had humility and, despite the insanity around him, he was intelligent enough not to burn himself. He came up with other creative and less painful ways to deal with the dead. Not only did the material lose touch with its roots but it also lost touch with its main character. Nevertheless, I did come across one or two amusing scenes. I loved the part when Ash grabbed a “Chemistry 101” book from the trunk of his car and used it as a guide to make gunpowder. He treated the book like it held a recipe. This was the same guy who put hot water in his mouth, so I had a very hard time believing that he could convert two moles of potassium nitrate into grams. Maybe his Chemistry teacher in high school drilled him in stoichiometry that he never forgot how to do it but I had to chuckle at its inherent silliness. If the recipe for gunpowder were in Chemistry books, crime would most definitely increase. Directed by Sam Raimi, I wasn’t convinced that the “Army of Darkness” was a required appendage in the series. It felt more like a possessed hand that needed to be cut off.

Drag Me to Hell


Drag Me to Hell (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Originally, I was going to give this film a three-star rating but the more I think about it, the more I found myself liking/loving it. Every time I think of certain scenes (and there are definitely memorable scenes abound), I can’t help but have this smile on my face. Directed by Sam Raimi (“Spider-man” and “Evil Dead” series), “Drag Me to Hell” has more than enough energy to balance comedy with pure terror; it’s not afraid to look unrealistic and corny at times which I really admired. This film’s story thrives on simplicity: Alison Lohman (“Delirious,” “Matchstick Men,” “White Oleander”) wants to prove herself to her wealthy boyfriend’s (Justin Long) mother that she’s more than just a simple farm girl with a thick Southern accent (which she desperately hides via self-taught voice lessons). She figures that one of the ways to do so is to get a promotion in a bank where she works by impressing her boss (David Paymer) and beating out her enthusiastic–and sometimes ethically corrupt–co-worker (Reggie Lee). So when a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) asks Lohman for a third extension for her bank loan, Lohman lies to the old lady and tells her that there’s nothing she can do. The gypsy woman kneels and begs to no avail and she decides to cast a curse on Lohman. And what a rollercoaster a curse it is.

What I love about this film is its ability to take risks. Sometimes the horror scenes may look like they’re cheesy or that they should be from a midnight B-movie but one should realize that it’s all purposeful. Raimi wants to communicate to his fans, especially of the “Evil Dead” series, that he’s still got it after all these years and just because he’s directed big-budget Hollywood movies, it doesn’t mean that he’s above using tried-and-true elements like wind and loud noises to scare his audiences. But “Drag Me to Hell” is not just about showing the movement of the wind and deafening loud noises. There’s a certain craft imbedded in those elements (such as perfect comedic or horrific timing) that separates it from other uninspired and recent American horror pictures. Another thing that I loved about this movie is that it’s disgusting but the disgust doesn’t mainly involve blood or guts. You name it, this film has it: bugs being swallowed and regurgitated, animal sacrifices, possession, psychics, destroying corpses, green saliva, mucus, nosebleeds… Listing those scenes brings back a lot of images in my head; as disgusting as they are, I would definitely pay to see them again. Lastly, the thing I liked about this picture was that it took the time to establish its characters. For me to ultimately care for a lead character, I have to know what is at stake–why they actively choose to overcome certain challenges (of course, other than the prospect of death itself). Because sometimes a character does the things she does not for herself but for other people, which adds complexity to the story. In here, I completely bought that Lohman and Long are happy together even though they come from completely different backgrounds. And that relationship is often challenged by the supernatural that’s unfolding before their eyes.

As for the film’s negatives, I do not have much to say because I enjoyed it that much. However, I would have liked to have seen more of Justin Long. I know he can do horror mixed with comedy really well (such as in “Jeepers Creepers) so I thought he was going to be more than just the boyfriend who offers unconditional positive regard (Yes, that term is purposeful because his character is a Psychology professor). Lastly, I think it needed at least three more genuinely scary scenes with no comedy involved. Most of the scenes are a mix of the two genres so it would have been nicer to have alternatives. I also could’ve used more psychology talk; I loved the heated exchange between Long’s character and the fortuneteller (Dileep Rao) regarding theories from Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung about science and religion. As a Psychology student (partly), it was that much more enjoyable because I engaged with it. Regardless, these are minor flaws that I really had to think about so that’s a good sign.

“Drag Me to Hell” is not your typical horror movie. For one, it does not involve stupid, sexually-charged teenagers running around a deserted hallway as they try to escape from a serial killer, or cellphones/videotapes that have ghosts in them. It’s about how one decision that we initially thought others would notice and commend us for turns out to be the decision that ultimately shatters our lives. It’s been a really long time since I’ve enjoyed a first-rate PG-13 horror flick so watching this film was truly refreshing. I can only wish that Raimi would make another horrorfest (maybe take inspiration from those comedy-drama intersecting storylines?) because I could feel his passion through the lens. And yes, just in case you’re wondering, the title is very literal.