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

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

Seems silly, doesn't it? A wedding. Given everything that's going on.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010)
(SPOILERS) What’s good in the first part of the dubiously split (of course it was done for the art) final instalment in the Harry Potter saga is very good, let down somewhat by decisions to include material that would otherwise have been rightly excised and the sometimes-meandering travelogue. Even there, aspects of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I can be quite rewarding, taking on the tone of an apocalyptic ‘70s aftermath movie or episode of Survivors (the original version), as our teenage heroes (some now twentysomethings) sleep rough, squabble, and try to salvage a plan. The main problem is that the frequently strong material requires a robust structure to get the best from it.

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.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…