The Evil Dead

Just finished watching the original film The Evil Dead, its outtakes, and listening to the commentary tracks. Interesting that Bruce Campbell claims that while the movie was shot in 1979 it was only finished and in theaters in 1983. imdb lists it as a 1981 movie. So much time has passed that I don’t know whether perhaps it might have appeared in a festival by 1981 and might have been adjusted and placed into theaters a couple of years later, considering that it was unrated and could not get quite the number of theaters because of that. Had it been submitted, it is expected that the movie would have been given an X.

The fun of looking back at this original low budget flick is that it has audacious camera movement and such good instinct, regardless of the pacing some audiences might find slow today but this time around seems just right. The movie is about 85 minutes long. I would not know where to trim it, except that when someone walks into a room and you know something scary may happen it is best not to rush that.

There was a remake simply called Evil Dead but it is not THE Evil Dead. Especially if you are a filmmaker, The Evil Dead (officially 1981) is the most interesting. Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn (1987) may be more slick with production values and more humor (imagine getting a middle finger from your own severed hand), the original is still the better film and more of a must-see. Army of Darkness is the third Evil Dead movie, despite those words not appearing in the title, as it picks up with Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) immediately after the events of Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. I like it. It is full of superficial fun. But the whole saga was bumped up a notch or two with the profane, politically incorrect, unapologetic TV series Ash Versus Evil Dead which picks up the character decades later with Ash in his fifties as a very flawed “chosen one” who must get hold of the Necronmicon (Book of the Dead), confront the Deadites and the entities that manipulate them. Sam Raimi directed the pilot episode and his style is maintained by his entire team. The introduction of Ash’s father played by Lee Majors made me happy as a life long Six Million Dollar Man fan. And yes, there is a jokey reference to that because Ash has a mechanical hand at that point.

The Evil Dead has as its signature scene a woman being attacked by trees in a way that Campbell and Raimi say loses a segment of the audience, about 25 minutes in. The scene is impressive filmmaking, at once evoking film student wildness and fine tuned inventiveness with an actress Ellen Sandweiss who is uniformly called a good sport having participated in Super 8 films with Raimi and Campbell for years. If it is possible to be whimsical and genuinely horrific. If you don’t want to submit yourself to the tendrils of terror that might creep up your spine watching this deceptively simple small budget movie, at least watch it with one or both of the commentary tracks as a sort of film school.

Friday the 13th (2009) (or 12th Movie)

I first saw this remake at a preview screening offered by Toronto University film club. Great audience reaction. It was directed by Marcus Nispel who had previously remade Conan the Barbarian which was not initially a good sign but he knows what he is doing with the frame. Not sure it needed to have a twenty-minute-plus pre-title sequence. The version I have in my possession is called the “Killer Cut” and I would be hard pressed to say what was added back in. There is still a level of restraint even though the menace of Jason Voorhees is not compromised.

Of the 12 official Jason movies or Friday the 13th movies to date (a lot more would have happened if not for rights issues holding it up), the ones I might be able to recommend are these:

Friday the 13th The Final Chapter (1984) Despite the wishful thinking of this title, it is well directed even if it includes a coroner attendant who has unwholesome intentions toward a body and it is played for laughs, as is his inevitable demise. The movie has Crispin Glover one year before he gave us the weird George McFly, and Corey Feldman answers the question of who would win in a fight – a Goonie or Jason Voorhees.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives has an element of wit, including an early shot that evokes the James Bond logo with a strolling Jason turning to throw a machete instead of shoot a gun but with similar blood oozing down the screen.

Friday the 13th Part 3 I have this on DVD with 3D glasses. This is where the character found his notorious hockey mask the first time around. It has edge of your seat moments and is better than it deserves to be.

Friday the 13th (2009) This movie gives you an original, although the inciting incident at the start is now 1980 and the tendency for Jason to show up anywhere and sense potential victims in the woods is explained by an underground tunnel system with bells that alert him. If you needed that explanation, you now have it.

Out of curiosity for a huge variation on the theme, there is Jason X with a cameo by David Cronenberg, and an interesting sci-fi twist. Stupid but still intense where it has to be. And there is the somewhat fun and insane, hugely compromised but entertaining Freddy Versus Jason. It unfortunately deleted much of the jokey dialogue Freddy had become known for and you have to get past things like why an injection will render an already undead character unconscious.

The worst might be Jason Goes to Hell. Despite an opening segment that is effective and culminates in the military confronting Jason, the desire of producer (and original 1980 film director) Sean S. Cunningham to get rid of the goalie mask and make something “original,” we have to endure a meandering story where Jason’s heart falls free of his destroyed body and it can make its way into the mouth or another orifice of other people it encounters to take them over to resume his evil ways. At one point Erin Grey (Col, Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) is on the floor and the Jason heart slides between her legs. And I’m sorry you had to read that. One decent character evokes Quint from Jaws as he offers to kill Jason once and for all, “You get the mask, the machete, the whole damn thing.” Except that the mask had been out of the equation by that point. There is an amusing final thought as implied by the title that has Freddy’s knife hand reach from hell to retrieve the Jason mask. The following clip should be cued to it.

Raise a Little Hell

Hellraiser used to seem like it had a confusing story to me. I’d seen it and immediately forgotten what happens. But now I might have a handle on it. Most of the movie takes place in one house, apart from bookend scenes about buying a magical device that won’t be confused with Rubic’s Cube. The cube kills a man who had been living in his brother’s home and having an affair with his brother’s wife. One day, the brother is helping movers do their job and accidentally gouges his hand on a nail that honestly should not have been missed. His blood drips into the floorboards and partially resurrects the dead sibling who then compels the cuckolding wife to lure men into the attic for would-be trysts so they can be sacrificed and their life’s blood can restore the flesh of the abomination. The teenage daughter is caught in the middle, as she witnesses the half-restored uncle and interacts with hellish creatures called Cenobites who want the cube that started the whole mess. The DVD has an excellent laconic audio commentary by Clive Barker and the actress Ashley Laurence who plays the teenager Kirsty.

Discussions involve the evolution of ideas as they are brought to life with a relatively limited budget of one million dollars 1987 money. They kept it simple enough and focused, often to a point where if the frame had moved a little to the left or right the illusion of location might be destroyed. A little is said without naming titles that some far more expensive movies in horror rely on jump scares but this movie is more about a sense of creepiness and sustained dread while still having a touch of organic humor. It has some of the Eighties look that you might expect, but it can draw the viewer in. I took these movies for granted in my own youth and have only seen the first Hellraiser. The iconic “Pinhead” mouthpiece of the Cenobites continues and As does Ashley Lawrence as Kirsty Cotton who appears in the second and third of the series. Barker is self deprecating about his “amateur status” as a director but what ends up on screen fools us well enough. At one point Barker had offered to write a script Pinhead Versus Michael Meyers if John Carpenter would have agreed to direct it but Carpenter wanted to leave his creation The Shape alone. Personally, I wish Carpenter had agreed. It would have given The Shape genuine demonic status, even if the “Versus” gimmick is inherently has a ring to it of pandering to the market.

Some Halloween Viewing

Splice – From Vincenzo Natali the director of Cube, Splice involves Sarah Polley as a scientist and her associate Adrien Brody crossing a line in terms of getting to know a half-human hybrid.

Hostel and Hostel II These ones are directed by Eric Roth and are two sides of the same coin, the second focusing more on the machinations behind the scenes of the organization behind the evil abductions that have become a thriving business in the service of horrible people. Much of these films are gut wrenching as well as allowing the protagonists to vent and have a catharsis of sorts

Saw – I only have the first one and may have also seen a couple of the later sequels but have little interest in the premise because I have to turn these movies off as some of the suspense or dread builds before something terrible happens. But the first movie has a certain focus to it, and the low budget confines work in its favor in the hands of director James Waan.

Fido – Canadian movie with Carrie Anne Moss and with Billy Connelly as a pet zombie. I had this on DVD, enjoyed it, and then made the mistake of lending it to a guy that was going to produce one of my movies. He moved and never gave it back. So that is the horror aspect.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 James Gunn script) I am nostalgic about the original Romero movie, but this is a rare remake that is as good.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is technically a new adaptation of Who Goes There, but it is perceived as a remake of The Thing From Another World. It is the best version.

The Thing (2011) Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a scientist recruited to join a Norweigan team that is claiming a find in the Arctic. It is not a remake, despite the title, but a prequel showing the events leading up to Carpenter’s film.

Us (2018) effectively directed and conceived movie about doppelgangers on one level and on another about the arbitrary circumstances with which we find ourselves with advantages in life as Eloi as opposed to being in a life of disadvantage and suffering like Morlocks. There has been push back from the praise this movie has received, because of a rush to cater to diversity. But the movie viewed on its own terms is deserving of success.

Get Out (2017) Jordan Peele broke out as a feature director with this interesting mash-up of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Being John Malcovich. It is not especially scary enough to be straight horror and it is not really funny enough to earn the comedy classification it often gets. But there are scares and laughs.

A Quiet Place (2018) Solid cinematic directorial debut of John Krasinski. The premise of survivors needing to remain silent so they do not alert a monster lends itself to visual storytelling which is often a lost art. Solid.

Psycho (1960) versus Psycho (1998) The original Hitchcock film may seem quaint and slow, but it fits into the aesthetic of black and white and the late fifties. The remake replaces the line where the detective reacts to the story Norman tells with, “If it doesn’t gel it isn’t aspic” with, “If it doesn’t gel it isn’t Jell-o.” So that is an improvement over the original. The opening establishing shot of the city of Phoenix flies without any cut or dissolve right up to the building and into the window seamlessly thanks to digital technology, much as we can assume Hitchcock would have preferred to do, so that is no sin. A couple of scenes are shuffled around by the original credited screenwriter Joseph Stephano, and the director Gus Van Sant ads trippy flashes of abstract images of storms and the like during each murder, as well as including an overhead shot of the fallen Marion Crane and her bare buttocks in the shower that might have been in the original film’s footage but would have been omitted. Anthony Perkins owns the role of Norman Bates, and given the time period of the original it is believable that as an adult he might be so isolated and have a pathology about women. Vince Vaughn in the America of 1998 is less likely to feel isolation and avoid the city due to a sense of rejection. The shot for shot remake taking its guidance from Hichcock’s framings feels like it might have been a hollow chore for Van Sant, and he may have wanted to do it as an exercise but the proverbial storyboarded vision is Hitchcock’s so Van Sant is merely on-set director or co-director

The Babadook (2014) Bret Easton Ellis and Quentin Tarantino discussed this film on the BEE podcast, and both agreed that it was well done, QT stating that the acting was good and Ellis calling it the direction, but both also agreeing that they wish the monster itself had turned out to be a true monster and not a vessel for personifying a woman’s abuse and PTSD. This is a good point and there is a chance that much of the support for this movie is powered by those who actually like the issue behind it. I agree with QT and BEE, though as I praise the direction I don’t say “the acting” is the result. I tend to take good acting for granted, since there are a wealth of performers to choose from in a major film. I can blame bad acting on a director. But it is primarily the use of the frame that inspires my faith in a director. Jennifer Kent knows what she is doing here.

Halloween (1978) John Carpenter’s classic is easily the best, simple and full of what might be called concept shots, decisive and focused. Love it from the opening titles and Carpenter’s oddly catchy theme tune. It is okay to watch Halloween II, written by Carpenter and Debra Hill but directed by Rick (Bad Boys with Sean Penn) Rosenthal. It allows hospitalized Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to be sedated for a chunk of the movie. Don’t knock out your protagonist !!! And it introduces ideas about Michael Meyers being the brother of Laurie Strode that is ret-conned in Halloween (2018) so you could skip to that more recent film.


The Alexandre Aja remake Piranha 3D was effective enough that it inspires confidence in any new thing he directs. Regardless of the content, the direction is solid. He holds back information just enough with his choice of shot. I got around to watching one of his most recent flicks, Crawl, that involves a young woman who has been a competitive swimmer defying the authorities during a storm and returning to her father’s home to make sure he is okay. Barry Pepper is the father, and we are reminded that a couple of decades have passed since Saving Private Ryan. Together, along with would-be help from without, they fend off alligators that are taking advantage of a flood.

Most of the movie is contained in one house, mostly in the crawlspace or basement, and while the tenancy is to “open up” movies the fact is that the most effective horror and suspense involves isolation. The Shining, Misery, most cabin in the woods movies, have a sense of being trapped and having to confront the problem at hand. From the ordinary opening scenes through the building crisis to the choice of music that plays under ending credits the movie is well thought out and presented. In earlier decades, it might be taken for granted. But the decisiveness of Aja takes a bsic premise and keeps it, beat for beat, pumping along. It is not Jaws but it is more Jaws than Jaws 3 or Jaws the Revenge. It has less humor than his Piranha movie, but it is still quite solid entertainment.

The “It” Girl and her Grown Up Self

The last girl to play Beverly Marsh went on to do Ginger Snaps. This girl has done Nancy Drew. All of the kids are still engaging in It Chapter 2, although not as vivid as in the first half. Unlike the TV version, the adult counterparts of the Loser’s Club don’t have iconic Seventies and Early Eighties television personas to distract from the characters at hand. Even the first victim of Pennywise in this episode, Canadian film director Xavier Dolan, is not at first recognized. The director of these It movies, Andy Muschietti, has me hopeful for how The Flash will be presented. He has a confident sense of camera placement and well motivated scene transitions between the present and the past.

Where the film falters may be in a sequence like the intercut between Beverly in a flooded washroom stall and Ben Hanscom singing into sand until she is able to reach down and somehow pull him out and the whole time we are just letting it play out with no sense of any rules in this universe as to how and why this is happening. When a superficial event is not actively motivated by Pennywise it just sits there and feels like filler, arbitrary and likely something that could end at any moment and be as reasonable as the resolution we are given. In a movie of this length (two hours and forty-nine minutes) it is odd that this makes the cut. It is just fine that like the TV adaptation this version omits the “orgy” between the kids after helping Beverly clean up blood that may or may not be there in her washroom. Having not read the book, I don’t know whether Richie participated in that considering what seems to be a new level of his character added to this iteration. The TV version had a purpose for Bill’s rickety bike “Silver” in helping revive his catatonic wife, but she is not in this movie and Silver seems to have no function other than letting Bill have a nostalgic ride by himself and giving Stephen King an amusing cameo running the hock shop that sells the bike.

The movie feels topical as the Loser’s Club taunt Pennywise and reduce his power by calling him “Just a Clown” and we are meant to think of a real world figure in a position of power who has disproportionate concern about how he is spoken of on, say, Twitter. There are what I call “movie jokes” forced in some scenes, like when Eddie who is not established as a joker has just been stabbed and as he runs off makes a quip to the assailant grown-up bully Henry Bowers about his hair-do belonging to the Eighties. This arguably goes full circle from an early quip by Xavier Dolan’s character Adrien to his bullies that, “Meg Ryan called and wants her wig back. ” Even though as a viewer that line makes no sense considering that there has never been anything especially wrong about Meg Ryan’s hair. It is about the same in Innerspace and some scenes from When Harry Met Sally. But then I am not a hair expert.

Overall the film is entertaining and has moments of depth, of a piece with the movie that preceded it. Those who have not seen the TV version might not get the use of, “Beep beep, Richie” to shut him up when he is on a roll, since neither this movie nor Chapter One establish it. I like the way the final form of Pennywise keeps his face in this version. There are enough scares and anticipation and creepiness that the movie entertains, flaws and all.

John Carpenter’s The Ward

If you want to see Amber Heard in a mental institution, this is the movie. The effective scenes of tension and command of the frame you expect from Carpenter are there and just when you think you have a complaint (hey, these other inmates are just standard issue aspects of a psyche – the quiet one, the crazy singing one, the one who seems to not belong because she is sane) there turns out to be a reason for it. There is even a shock treatment scene and a Nurse Ratched character, but it is no Cuckoo’s Nest. It shares with a few movies of its time my least favourite kind of ending, without getting into details. The journey is better than the arrival at the destination. The commentary track discusses the idea that in a Nineteen Sixties setting certain events would not have been scrutinized. We keep watching for the suspense and the jump scares. The Ward is a contained idea, with genuine scenes of jeopardy that still play almost a decade later, despite knowing the ending. Worth visiting this compromised version of the Carpenter aesthetic. It could not be done anamorphic but still feels wide and decisive. He did not compose the music this time around, but it still feels like the Carpenter stamp is there. Also worth looking at the Masters of Horror anthology episodes he directed, “Cigarette Burns” (which to me plays a lot like Flicker by Theodore Rozzak) and John Carpenter’s Pro-Life which is laced with satire and insanity.

Halloween Season Must Sees

They don’t all take place at Halloween time, or October, and they are not all horror. I am surprised that no Hitchcock films made the list. ┬áMaybe Frenzy might have made it, but Psycho felt obligatory. The intention is to get people watching these films that enrich the viewing of anything that follows. The Babadook by Jennifer Kent didn’t make the list but it is very well done. Maybe that should be adjusted.