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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Raimi’

31 Monsters #20: The Evil Dead

October 20th, 2009 No comments

As a not-especially-hardcore horror film fan in the early ’80s, I was aware of the reputation of director Sam Raimi’s low-budget shocker The Evil Dead, but hadn’t seen it. That changed in 1986, when I moved to California and found myself with a roommate whose kitchen was decorated in early Chainsaw Massacre, and a neighbor whose monster mask-sculpting business left his apartment looking like a severed head emporium. They taught me about Phantasm and Zombi and even Frankenstein Island. And yes, Evil Dead as well.

The original Evil Dead told the story of five young people visiting an abandoned cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. Among the items left behind by the previous tenant were an ancient text called the Book of the Dead, as well as an audiotaped reading of its passages. When the latter was played, it summoned demons that possessed both the kids and the woods themselves. The sole survivor of the ensuing night of horror was Bruce Campbell’s Ash, who tossed the book into the fireplace and seemingly dispelled the evil. However, in the final moments, an unseen force raced through the woods and threw itself at the screaming hero.*

Truth to tell, I wasn’t very impressed with The Evil Dead the first time around. It struck me as just kinda cheap and nasty. At that point, I still wasn’t schooled enough in the horror genre to appreciate what Raimi and his cohorts had managed to pull off on their micro-budget. It wasn’t until we attended the premiere of Evil Dead II that I “got it.”

Now, I’ve already told the tale of our first, ill-fated excursion to see the premiere of ED2 in full zombie get-up. It was a fun night–and we got our photo taken with star Bruce Campbell, who was himself costumed as his Deadite-slaying character Ash–but we never got to watch the film. It wasn’t until a few days later that I had the opportunity to see it. And I was blown away.

One of the things that I loved about ED2 was the crazy inventiveness of it all, especially the camera work. One shot began on a close-up of Campbell’s face as he lay on the ground, then zoomed rapidly up about thirty feet into the air, spinning as it did so. Another breathtaking sequence was filmed from the point of view of the unseen demonic force as it chased Campbell through the woods and into the cabin. In what appeared to be one unbroken shot (actually involving several hidden edits), the camera blasted through the windows of his car and crashed through door after door, seemingly only inches from catching its intended victim.

Another remarkable thing about the film was its surprising sense of humor. Raimi was (and is) a longtime fan of the Three Stooges, and their influence was obvious, particularly during the sequence in which Campbell’s hand became demon-possessed and embarked on a campaign of self-abuse. Bruce Campbell was forced to smash plates over his own head and throw himself into the cabinetry.

Evil Dead II veered from horrific gore to cartoon comedy, occasionally to disturbing effect. In one quirky scene, Campbell went mad as the contents of the cabin–everything from gooseneck lamps to mounted deer heads–came to life and cackled at him.

And, of course, there were copious amounts of gore. Raimi used fountains of (intentionally) fake-looking blood and ichor, only to have the resulting fluid vanish in the next shot.

Finally, there was the completely-out-of-left-field twist ending. I will not reveal it here, but at the time I viewed it as the ultimate “screw you,” both to Campbell’s character and the audience itself. It made me want to see the next sequel immediately. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be until 1993 that Army of Darkness–also a favorite film of mine in its own way–loped into theaters.

Both Raimi and Campbell seem much too busy these days to produce the oft-requested fourth film of the Evil Dead series, but Raimi’s recent release Drag Me to Hell (which just came out on DVD, as is well worth your attention) returned to his low-budget horror-comedy roots.

*When it came time to make the follow-up, footage from the earlier film was unavailable due to rights issues. Therefore, the first seven minutes of Evil Dead II were  a remake rather than a sequel, with the plot collapsed to its basics and three of the original characters removed from the recap. In much the same way, Army of Darkness reshot and compressed the action of the first two films in its own prologue.

Lesson #1: Do Not Piss Off The Gypsy Woman

May 31st, 2009 No comments

Okay, I think that I’m going to have to officially call “bullshit” on the possibility of there ever being another film in the cult favorite Evil Dead series. For years, the excuse has been that director Sam Raimi is too busy with the Spider-Man franchise to make a modestly-budgeted horror film. And yet, here is Drag Me to Hell.

Not that I’m complainin’. It’s great to see Sam Raimi back to his roots, and even if it doesn’t quite match the manic glee of Evil Dead 2, I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun being scared.

witchDrag Me to Hell is an old-fashioned tale with a bit of modern relevance. A young bank officer played by Alison Lohman, seeking to show a bit of spunk in hopes of winning a promotion, turns down a loan extension for an old woman behind on her rent due to medical expenses. Except that Granny Deadbeat is a gypsy, and she places a horrible, demonic curse on Lohman’s character. The loan officer has three days to dispel the evil before being, well, dragged to Hell.

What ensues owes more than a little to 1958’s Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon). Both films rely heavily on suggestions of monstrous forces at work in the form of sinister winds and strange shadows. In fact, unlike the earlier film, Drag Me to Hell never actually shows its devil. 

That’s not to say that Hell is always subtle in its scares. This is a Sam Raimi film, and like Evil Dead 2, it is painted in buckets of ichor. (Amazingly, it won a PG-13 rating. I guess as long as you don’t show boobies, you’re golden.) And if I do have one criticism, it’s that it goes for the “boo!” moment a little too often. 

Still, it’s also like Evil Dead 2 in that it’s all so over-the-top that it’s hard to get too grossed out. Raimi’s love of the Three Stooges makes its presence known from time to time, most notably in the shape of a falling anvil.

Oh, and then there’s the bit with the goat. You’ll know it when you see it.

One thing that impressed me was that so many of its scares take place in broad daylight. It’s one thing to frighten someone alone in the dark with only an unreliable flashlight, another to manage it on a nice, sunny day.

The other way in which Drag Me to Hell resembles Night of the Demon is that it deals with a curse which can be physically passed from person to person. Lohman’s character, ever more desperate, begins to seriously consider whom she might herself consign to Hell. And there are several strong contenders. 

What I found most interesting about Drag Me to Hell is my own reaction to Lohman’s moral choices. She starts off such an appealing character that I was initially inclined to forgive her tossing an old woman out of her home. A moral lapse to be sure, but an understandable one given the circumstances. And besides, the old gypsy is so loathsome, vicious and relentlessly cruel in her retribution that it’s hard to give her much sympathy.

Yet, Lohman continues to make questionable choices. (You’ll know that when you see it as well.) And she never accepts responsibility for her actions until it’s far, far too late. Maybe these weren’t worth a one-way ticket to Hades, I pondered, but I began to think that perhaps the old lady had a point.

Drag Me to Hell is a fun night of terror. With Raimi’s trademark camera tricks, a wonderful musical score by Christopher Young, and one truly angry goat, it left me hoping that this won’t be the last word in horror from our old friend Sam.