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.

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.