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.




Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He doesn’t want to lead you. He just wants you to follow.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) (SPOILERS) The general failing of the prequel concept is a fairly self-evident one; it’s spurred by the desire to cash in, rather than to tell a story. This is why so few prequels, in any form, are worth the viewer/reader/listener’s time, in and of themselves. At best, they tend to be something of a well-rehearsed fait accompli. In the movie medium, even when there is material that withstands closer inspection (the Star Wars prequels; The Hobbit , if you like), the execution ends up botched. With Fantastic Beasts , there was never a whiff of such lofty purpose, and each subsequent sequel to the first prequel has succeeded only in drawing attention to its prosaic function: keeping franchise flag flying, even at half-mast. Hence Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore , belatedly arriving after twice the envisaged gap between instalments and course-correcting none of the problems present in The Crimes of Grindelwald .