Skip to main content

You will die! Like the others before you, one by one, we will take you.

The Evil Dead
(1981)

There are fairly few sequels I’ve seen before catching the originals. Aliens is one and, for a while at least (being an action orientated teenager), I preferred it to Ridley Scott’s clearly superior singular first outing. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is another. It was a picture I didn’t catch until about five years after its release, never having been much of a horror buff, and being unconvinced by attestations to its comedy value. When I did get round to it, I was bowled over, and promptly had to investigate Sam Raimi’s shoestring predecessor. And I was desperately disappointed. So much so, this is the first time I’ve glanced at The Evil Dead since. Was my first response unfair? No, not really.


It’s probably true enough to say that The Evil Dead is to Evil Dead II what Mad Max is to Mad Max 2, except that the first Max has significant merits in its own right as an exploitation/horror/revenge movie. In both cases, the tools, resources and fundamental approach shifts markedly between sequels, however. Raimi’s original is a fairly straightforward, no-frills cabin-in-the-woods movie, where five young people go off for some R’n’R only to discover the presence of the Book of the Dead and have Candarian demons unleashed upon them left, right and centre. Essentially, Raimi’s foot-in-the-door approach of recognising the best way to make a splash debut was to do horror results in his unashamedly going for it in every department, not least the determinedly copious gore/grue effects sequences, where the picture stops in its tracks to show them off.


There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm on display, as you’d expect from a director who is nothing if not kinetic, but if The Evil Dead was ever really scary I don’t think it is now. It’s actually rather boring, a succession of mostly undifferentiated attacks/freak-outs/screaming sessions/splatter that just go on and on. There’s all manner of impressive Dutch angles on display, and there are glimpses of the wicked sense of humour that would inform the sequel; the possessed female characters get all the best lines and silliest behaviour, which one might charitably suggest (it doesn’t) makes up for such adolescently inadvisable notions as the infamous tree rape sequence.


Bruce Campbell, as Kim Newman (a big defender of the picture on its initial release; as Raimi, Campbell and Rob Tappert note on the commentary track, the picture’s reputation was made in Britain, thanks to Palace Pictures’ keen marketing) comments in Nightmare Movies, macho hero Ash is “reduced to a display of whimpering collapse in the Jamie Lee Curtis manner”. But, while that cowardly custardness would be ratcheted up to mirthsome effect in the sequel, Campbell is yet to embrace his true inner-Ash here.


Campbell’s one of the most brilliant hams in the business, an actor with a natural flair for a cartoonish performance rarely seen (the Shat is another who can do it effortlessly). That’s a very different thing to being a bad actor, although some seem to have difficulty distinguishing between the two. But, aside from being very gamely thrown about the place, have things dropped on him and being liberally doused in all sorts of goo, and screaming commendably, Ash is pretty straight here. Without Campbell’s arch bluster, there’s nothing to drive the show forward, and all the tricks Raimi throws at the screen can’t actually make the proceedings very interesting. You can hear a line like “Scott, you’re going to be okay, you’re going to be just fine. You’ll see” delivered by Dead by Dawn Ash as hilarious, but, even given that the guy Ash is talking to is clearly not going to be okay, it’s not.


Raimi’s signature Evil Dead moves, his pursuing demon camera, crazy angles, Three Stooges sound effects, slapstick violence and giggling ghouls are all there, just not yet infused with his comic sensibility.   And Ash is very much Ashley here, he won’t be groovy for another half decade.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.