Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Review: Evil Dead

Version I Watched: Only one available right now, went to see it in theatres.

History: This is something that was in the works for quite some time. An idea of a remake was going on for years but it was somewhat abandoned around 2009 because it wasn't really going anywhere. However two years later Bruce Campbell himself confirmed that it was up and running. This is the first not to be directed by Sam Raimi. Instead it was written and directed by Fede Alvarez with Diablo Cody working on revisions of the script. While seen mostly as a remake there is some ambiguity about it's connection to the original based on comments from the director. It has already spawned theories about it actually being Evil Dead 4. Bruce Campbell was offered to have a cameo but he declined. Just this last weekend for it's opening it brought in $26 million dollars which is pretty good since the budget for this was approx. $17 million. It has been receiving some mixed reviews but mostly positive. A sequel is already in the works.

Personal History: Seen the movie this is based on quite a few times. But I saw this the Saturday after it opened so I can't say I have any history with this. This was my first (but far from last) viewing.

Review: I told myself just before I sat down to write this that I was going to try my best to not make comparisons to the original. And while I'm not going to make direct comparisons, there were some things in that realm that I wanted to talk about. Kinda hard to not think of the old version when a remake of a classic like The Evil Dead comes around.

Going into this I wouldn't say I had high expectations. With almost every movie I wouldn't say I have high expectations, mostly because I can feel out whether I'll like something or not without knowing a whole lot about it. However I was fiercely pumped to see this one. This is the type of pumped I get only every once in a while for something. Maybe only once or twice a year to be completely honest. But to keep my excitement high I didn't want to risk having things potentially jaded or spoiled for me. All I ever saw for this remake before buying my ticket was the awesome poster (with a tagline that raises your expectations quite a bit, a lot like the Saw V poster) and a few screenshots. A buddy of mine told me to watch the red band trailer, but I honestly don't watch trailers anymore unless it's for something I'm unfamiliar with and need something to tell me if I'll like it or not. So I didn't know what to expect outside of new visions of old tricks from the original movie.
Speaking of trailers, I was surprised to see that there were none before my screening. It didn't even have the "Welcome to our theatre" video play before the show. Not sure why, maybe they had a schedule or something. In a way it made the experience more unique. Also the location of the screen I saw it on. Depending on the size of the theatre you usually go to you may not know what I mean but bear with me. Some of the bigger theatres tend to have varying sizes in screens and seats. Lots of times in the main lobby there will be a larger screen in a room with many more seats, usually reserved for the big blockbusters when they first come out. Then sometimes you'll have screens at the end of a long hallway with a slightly smaller screen and less seats where sometimes older movies will play because the concern of having enough seats isn't as present. Now I'm not sure why Evil Dead was playing on one of these smaller screens but it was at the showing I went to. In a way I appreciate this more along with the lack of trailers because of the experience I feel it should have. With horror it makes more sense to watch it in an out of the way and isolated area instead of on the big main screen where everyone is crunching on their popcorn and playing with their phones while the 15 year old girls who snuck in are screaming every five minutes because of a jump scare. You know what I mean? No? Well, fuck it, let's move onto the actual review.

Over the past couple days I've been revisiting some older horror movies, and by older I mean the late 70s. One night I watched Dawn of the Dead and the next night I watched Zombie (or Zombi 2, or Zombie Flesh Eaters, or whatever the hell it's called in your region). Certainly a different perspective and style of horror than kids these days are used to. And while Dawn of the Dead drops you right into the action and keeps things exciting, Zombie on the other hand is pretty slow in the beginning. The first zombie shows up quickly but the rest of the zombies take quite a while to get there. There are tons of examples from many eras of horror where it just takes way too long to get to the horror. And I don't mean get's to the blood and guts. I'm talking about the 30+ minutes of partying in movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel (and those are more recent examples) before it gets to anything resembling a sense of terror in the tone. So when Evil Dead starts off with a possession and ritual it was clear that they weren't intending on burying the lead. After that all that needed to be done was to establish the characters and the reason they're at the cabin and BOOM off and running. One thing I was glad to not be disappointed in is what would come over the next hour plus.

There were some unique and clever approaches to the plot and how the story handled itself this time around. This version of the story revolves around five friends, one of which is a recovering dope addict and her friends hope to help cure her while they're away at this cabin. One thing you may not notice unless your told is this. The characters names are David, Eric, Mia, Olivia, and Natalie... in other words... D.E.M.O.N. Although that's more of an Easter egg than anything else. Basically Mia is David's sister and she is the drug addict (and most of the bad stuff happens to her as you'll be able to predict easily). Now what I liked about this approach is not only did it get away from the cliche of a bunch of teens going away for the weekend to party, but also it brought something of a medical approach to it. Olivia is a registered nurse. So when shit starts to go down and Mia starts acting strange there is naturally a medical explanation for her behavior. She is, after all, going through an insanely tough withdrawal. It wouldn't be odd for her to have freak outs and do crazy shit. So of course you'll have plenty of freak out moments almost literally screaming at the screen from their ignorance. It's expected for this genre. There would be no horror genre if it weren't for bad decisions. Outside of those three peeps Eric is the dickwad who reads the book that brings the demon out. And then Natalie is David's girlfriend but she barely has a presence outside of a big scene later in the movie. Feels like she's there to serve as a blonde to look at and then a potential kill.
Now what I REALLY liked about this approach was the new approach to the book of the dead. I haven't watched the original in some time but I remember that after the stupid kids read from the book it brought forth the demon and then all hell broke loose. Pretty simple. In this one on the other hand it expanded on the book of the dead, presenting a ritual that lasted throughout the entire movie. This is previewed in the beginning when a ritual is done to cleanse the soul of another demon possessed girl (by burning her to death). So over time we're presented with new drawings from the book to expand on why Mia is doing the things she's doing. It's a part of the ritual that gives the demon more power over their host. Although some of it is a bit bizarre and frankly quite convenient if you ask me. I'm also thinking of when the book was originally written an eternity ago. I wonder how it was originally used because it feels like this ritual is self inflicting. But I can see how it could be done against someone by force. Now I'm diving too far into something that has no bearing on the story at hand. Basically once the initial possession happens Mia has lost control of herself. The demon pretty much takes over right away with little to no control from Mia herself.
Which brings me to something that some of you readers may be wondering. This is going to sound sadistic but I bet you're wondering if the infamous tree rape scene is in this version of the story. Well... yes. It was of course approached a bit differently because of the new interpretation. Basically Mia slips and falls into a big pile of spiky tree branches that grab her arms and legs, holding her tight. Then a bizarre, horrific looking woman appears in front of her and a long black vine comes dripping out of her mouth. The black vine slithers it's way up Mia's skirt, basically getting the demon in via rape. It felt more intense than the original rape I remember, making it a bit more unsettling.
Then for the last bits of new interpretations was the way the demon traveled from person to person. It didn't just simply jump. It traveled more like the plague in a zombie story. Not long after Mia gets full blown possessed she tackles Olivia and vomits a fire hose's worth of blood all over her. This caused the demon "disease" to spread via a bacteria approach. Similar things happen at different points of the film. When I thought about it initially it did seem odd since this involves a being from the other side. But it does make more sense since there's already worldly limitations to the demon's power and abilities based on the ritual that goes along with it. At the early point of the ritual it would seem odd for the demon to be so overpowered already. None the less it was a new way to meld two types of horror elements together making for a nice blend. I was a fan of it. Better than just having the demon jump from person to person. Something like that always seems to make the demon seem so powerful only doesn't choose to use their power when they could.

Now if I had to describe this movie in one word it would be wet. It seems like it almost every scene something looks or feels moist. In the opening scene alone there is a very thick fog. Then it seems like in half the scenes it is raining outside. Because of this the characters are running around without grabbing a towel to dry off and they all just look wet. Then the cabin is old and damp because it's seen much better days. A bunch of the wood that makes the cabin is falling apart because of the moisture over the years. This is on top of all the blood that is shooting everywhere constantly which adds another element to wetness to it. Not an actual complaint, but it was a similar effect to wanting to go home and shave after seeing the piss colored beard Markie Mark and George Clooney have in The Perfect Storm. Although I will say there was one part in particular that I appreciated the rain. But that's in the last scene and I don't want to spoil that. Did not see it coming, though. And it did add an element of insanity to the movie as a whole. It certainly made it look good.
And speaking of looking good, the effects in this were incredible. I was excited more than anything else knowing there was going to be as many organic effects as possible. Online there are claims that computers were only used for touch ups but I highly doubt that. The opening scene when a possessed girl is burned alive does not look very natural. It looks very computery. Everything else on the other hand looked great. Just about everything was done with props or really well done makeup. I'm specifically thinking of the scenes with dismemberings. It all looks amazing. They are not clean cuts, either. You see bone, veins, everything. It's all a rough looking thing for them to do and it is heightened by the effects used. It's all very cringe worthy and honestly looks about as real as it can be (in a stylized way for a horror movie of this type).

I can say for sure that I adored this movie. Sadly horror tends to be a genre that has a greater rarity of actual quality over other genres. It's way easier to name, let's say, five awesome comedies in any given year than it is to name five awesome horror movies in any given year. I feel lucky that a few years ago we got the incredible Paranormal Activity, and then a few years later came Cabin in the Woods, but other than that there wasn't a whole lot to write home about. This was easily not only one of the better horror movies in recent memory but also one of the better horror remakes. It can be somewhat compared to when Dawn of the Dead was remade. A horror classic got a modern redo, and you know what, it was surprisingly awesome. And this is another case. It had a lot of the elements of the original but adapted for a modern audience. Also it was a lot more serious than the original. But the original was unintentionally hilarious at parts so it's good that it didn't have that present. But best of all it was no holds barred. The filmmakers weren't afraid to take it to the level it needed to go to. It wasn't tainted, it wasn't watered down, it was full blown hardcore hard R horror. It was gore-tastic! This one is really not for the faint of heart. There is stabbing, slicing, beating, the use of an electric turkey carver and a chainsaw, there's fire, boiling hot water, and enough dismembering to keep the prosthetic limbs business going for quite some time. Guts and gore everywhere. What a ride!
One thing I couldn't help thinking about during all this gore was perspective. The original movie was pretty intense for it's time. It was released without a rating but in recent years it was formally given a rating of NC-17. It had a ton of violence and of course the infamous tree rape scene. There have been multiple versions released with different cuts, usually depending what region you find it in (in the states the most common version is uncut so don't worry). Lastly it was one of many horror titles to make the UK's video nasty list in the early 80s. Keeping that in mind, this interpretation of the story did initially get rated NC-17 causing for some cuts to achieve an R (which means an unrated DVD is on the way!), but the amount of blood and violence overall is easily far more intense than the original movie yet this is only an R. Matter of perspective of course. Just a bit bizarre. A modern perspective will do that I guess.

And speaking of modernizing, sadly there were elements of it being modernized that didn't work out so well for it. The main problem I'm talking about is the cinematography and the editing. I was disappointed to see but shouldn't have been disappointed when the more intense scenes had the MTV/Michael Bay look to them. This was first present in the scene when Olivia is attacking Eric just after she was possessed. There were so many closeups, shaky cams, and quick cuts that they may as well have been in a butcher's kitchen throwing wet and bloody meat around while the camera was zoomed in as far as it would go. I know this has been done in recent years to make things more exciting, but instead it makes it more confusing. Also it doesn't make it scarier. It just makes it messier. It would have been way more unsettling to set it pulled farther back. Seeing each strike as it actually happens in real time instead of going from one angle to another to another to another really quickly. Not much else to say on this subject. If you've seen just about any movie that has action in it over the last few years you already know what I'm talking about.
Then there were some story and style directions they took that I was not a fan of as well. One of these things was the cliches throughout the story. I realize this was based on an 80s slasher flick but if other parts can be updated then why not update the plot? So many stupid horror cliches are present here, such as being withing reach of ending everything but one little thing happens that causes the hero to not go through with the kill. But ironically on top of this some of those stupid choices were done forcibly for the purpose of the proposed story moving forward. There were so many times when someone could have ended it all without an issue but then nothing that happened after it would be able to happen. It does take me out of it because it felt more like the story was going in the direction it think it needs to go instead of how it should go. Granted I loved what happened at the end of the movie, I just wish they had a better route of getting there.
Also, could there be just one demon possession movie these days where the demon isn't a variation of what the demon sounded like in The Exorcist? C'mon, be more original than the deep raspy voice, it's not even scary anymore.

All in all this was an awesome flick despite the downsides. It was very intense, very violent, and a good homage to the original it was based on. A good way to give a modern perspective on it is that it's a more serious toned Cabin in the Woods but without the secret society and giant gods threatening to destroy earth. I highly recommend this one for horror fans. But keep in mind it is far from being for everyone. With how much gore is in this it'll be mostly appealing to those who can stomach this. I can imagine quite a few people having trouble getting through it because of it's insanely intense violence. So approach with caution. But otherwise if you can take it then I say go for it. And if it helps this movie has no sex and surprisingly very little swearing. Just something I noticed. In the end it's well worth your money. And when you do go you can think over how this could potentially be a loose sequel and that it could be the same cabin as in the original story. You can hypothesize with all the other fans on how it's connected.

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