Monday, April 15, 2013

Evil Dead

Alternate Title:  How are the Mighty Fallen

One sentence synopsis:   Five young adults go to a cabin in the woods to enjoy a pleasant evening's conversation on the mysteries of life. (I wish.)

Things Havoc liked: I've never been a big fan of horror flicks. For one thing, I don't think any of them are scary so much as just gory, and while there is indeed artistry to gore, it's rarely found in the found footage dead teenager movies that one has seen over the last 20 years. Classics like Alien, The Exorcist, or the more recent Cabin in the Woods notwithstanding, this genre is wasted on me unless something different can be done with the material. That said, one of the few directors who ever managed to make horror entertaining to me was Sam Raimi, specifically in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, a pair of utterly classic comedy-horror movies starring the irrepressible Bruce Campbell. The very reason I liked them is indeed that they weren't the usual parade of horror movie cliches, the jump scares and over-the-top gore effects and teenagers backing into dark rooms one by one in search of a killer who will, obediently, kill them. Instead they were hilarious, slapstick-filled, rip-roaring pastiches of Z-grade horror shlock. Raimi went on to do bigger and (occasionally) better things thereafter, while Campbell went on to become the reigning king of B-Movies and star or co-star in awesome television shows. But as horror grew continuously stupider throughout the 90s and 00s, I occasionally looked back on those movies wishing that there was something else like them out nowadays. As a result, while I can't say I was looking forward to Evil Dead, I had some hope that with both Raimi and Campbell returning as producers, there might be some semblance of the magic of the old films here, something that would take me back to a memory of better times.

Things Havoc disliked: There was not.

Okay, admittedly, this movie has one of the better premises for five young men and women to go into the woods to an isolated cabin from whence there can be no escape (one of the characters is a Heroin addict undergoing an enforced withdrawal courtesy of her friends), but the mere fact that such an excuse has to be invented is indicative of the major problem here. Evil Dead is a movie about five young men and women going into the woods to an isolated cabin from whence there can be no escape.

I mean, is it really necessary for me to say anything else at this point? The original films were parodies of this sort of movie, mocking the pretensions of the Cabin Fevers and Friday the Thirteenths and all the other schlock horror movies that did nothing more than assemble a cast of young twenty-somethings and killed them in increasingly gruesome ways. Long before Scream thought itself original by pointing out that, *GASP*, horror movies are generally contrived exercises in nauseating stupidity, Evil Dead 2 took this notion for granted while crafting a hilarious slapstick romp around them, while Army of Darkness took the premise and ran with it straight off the Cliffs of Insanity, becoming a movie that was half Dragonslayer, half Ghostbusters. And after twenty-plus years and a budget thirty times the original, this is what Evil Dead now has to show us? This formulaic, paint-by-numbers five-man-band film in which the characters die in predictable, gruesome ways after making the most boneheadedly stupid decisions known to man? This is what Evil Dead has been reduced to? The tagline for the film declares that Evil Dead is the most terrifying film you will ever experience, but even if that had been true, whose fucking idea was it to remove the comedy from Evil Dead? Is the world not well-enough supplied with Dead Teenager movies as it is that they need to raid this franchise of all franchises? How can Sam Raimi, who practically invented the art of the horror-mockery, possibly hope to make a movie like this not 12 months after the release of Cabin in the Woods, a film that riotously skewered this exact movie premise. Is there really a single living soul in America who expects that a film in which five young people with no personalities are stranded in a spooky cabin, they will all come out the next day fresh and renewed, and ready for the challenges of a bright future?

And yes, some of this might have been forgivable (I guess) if Evil Dead actually lived up to the tagline, but this movie is neither terrifying, nor frankly even competently done. The basics here are all wrong. At times, characters die by simply being hit in the head with a door, while others linger on after being stabbed, mutilated, beaten, and shot repeatedly with a nailgun. Makeup effects, while visually gruesome, are terribly inconsistent, with characters' injuries changing or disappearing between scenes, whenever the plot "forgets" about the hideous compound fracture that someone sustained not five minutes earlier. Moreover, in grand horror film tradition, the characters are all the stupidest people alive. Even after evil forces are clearly seen to be at work, they walk alone into dark rooms and then spend long periods lingering over minute details on a wall or window while turning their backs on objects or corpses they should really not be turning their backs on. One sequence near the end of the film has one of the characters repeatedly wedge themselves into increasingly confined and inescapable spaces on purpose while being pursued by evil demons and undead monstrocities, only to be astonished when they find great difficulty in escaping from the evil forces that afflict them. Other characters do incredibly stupid things (read the evil book, pick up the evil object, summon the evil monster) for no reason whatsoever and then compound their stupidity by refusing to tell anyone else that they have just done these things. Within half an hour of the film's beginning, I informed my viewing companion that for the rest of the film, I would be rooting for Satan.

Final thoughts:    Evil Dead is the Richard Nixon of horror movies, a film that was once idealistic and hungry to stand out now reduced to a crumbling, reclusive ruin, aping the movies it once sought to pillory in quest of some quixotic drive I can scarcely guess at. The film is not atrociously made, but given its history, for Raimi to produce a film this generically awful is a measure of how tired he has become. Evil Dead II, for all its shlock, was a film that brimmed over with life and humor. Evil Dead, the remake, is a moribund piece of cinematic garbage, made all the worse for its association with a film series that was once great.

Final Score:  3/10

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