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.

Crawl

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 Third Black Christmas (2019)

This movie succeeds in doing something it absolutely had not intended: It shows the concept of patriarchy as paranoid and silly. The intention may have been fourth-wave feminism, but the result is to illustrate a fear and in doing so expose its irrational panic. While it is a five million dollar budgeted Blumhouse film and it made Eighteen million worldwide and is therefore profitable, the imdb rating and scores on rottentomatoes for both critics and audiences tell a darker story than the one on screen. The movie had a reputation of being the “woke” version of Black Christmas, reflecting the sensibilities of the safe space generation. This remarkably turned off both audiences and critics.

In fairness, the movie is well executed. There is nothing wrong with the way director Sophia Takal places the frame. Then image quality is solid and the performances feel natural. As is often the case with movies going wrong today, it is the controlling ideas that sink it. The commentary track mentions “the cause” the movie is fighting for, and also references Scooby Doo as a tone they wanted to avoid, but they might as well have leaned into it. The professor (Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride) has the word “swine” on the chalkboard behind him as he shoots down the attitudes of a student by quoting Dr. Camille Paglia. Paglia represents the other kid of feminism besides Gloria Steinem’s brand, but it is placed here as if it is the code of the enemy. I agree with Paglia more often than not, so it is a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Might something be wrong with this professor and will he curse those meddling kids?

One of the male friends the internet would call a “soy boy” questions their outrage and their decision to provoke the bullies with an anti-rape song, he is shouted down until he has to say, “not all guys are misogynist” or something to that affect and his girlfriend shows him the door. The scene is devoid of any self-awareness. The movie spends time talking up a petition to get the professor fired and another push to get something other than straight white male authors on the curriculum. The audience is likely to say if you don’t like the reading list, go to another school. One element the Bob Clark original from 1974 and the 2006 remake had going for them was Andrea Martin appearing in both. I wonder what she might have brought to this otherwise often unintentionally funny variation.

Ultimately, the original written ending for this version was re-written during the shoot and the story behind the masked, hooded figure was changed. What they ended up with expects us to believe a premise like the black sleep of Kali in Temple of Doom where in this case a black goo smeared on a participant can turn that person into an unthinking maniac who nonetheless has a confidence and competence firing arrows. So in that way the young men are absolved of their actions by a cluttered and reactionary ideology of the writers.

When the quazi-heroine makes a gesture to dispatch the baddie and says a line that was censored in the final cut for PG-13 consideration, “Suck my cl**!” Cary Elwes should have replied, “As you wish.”

Force of Nature

Not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock movie Forces of Nature.

Recently rented a DVD of Force of Nature about a heist that happens during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.  Entertaining and brisk, well contained and efficient, script not lacking in humor or tension. Plenty of critics damn the movie with such faint praise before whining that there is disrespect using the Puerto Rico storm as a backdrop for a caper.  The same argument could be made about Titanic being a backdrop for a romance.  The critics or crickets then pad their word count with hostile asides about Mel Gibson who has a supporting role as a crusty old cop being looked after by his daughter, Kate Bosworth, who is a doctor.

Most of the movie is contained around an apartment complex and concerns a crook played by David Zayas (Dexter, The Expendables) and his accomplices trying to get at a stash of paintings.  A pair of cops – one who still believes in the job, Jess, Stephanie Cayo who is excellent and seems to be new to English-language movies and the jaded cop with tragedy in his past, Cardillo played by Emile Hirsch are the center of the movie as they have to urge a few residents to vacate the building due to the hurricane.  The cynical arguments have a ring of truth to them.  The blatantly foreshadowed ending may be predictable but it is also fun to anticipate. The director of this film, Michael Polish, does an effective job without drawing attention to himself.  I believe the storm is happening though it is mostly implied as the focus is on characters.

Apparently Hirsch has some scandal in his own career recently, which I only know about because of busybody critics dutifully keeping dirt alive.  But the digs against Gibson are especially annoying.  Like his colleagues and friends who support him, Robert Downey Jr., Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, Darlene Love, Whoopie Goldberg, and Richard Donner to name a few, I want to see Mel continue with his current slate of movies as an actor and also as a director. I know The Passion 2 written by Randal Wallace will be crazy, as will his Wild Bunch remake.  The man was bashed and fell off the wagon and babbled whatever was in his unconscious after a couple of rabbis and others campaigned to have Apocalypto shelved by Disney.  The Passion resulted in zero antisemitic violence and was a success after being rejected around the town. So a lot of people were fuming over their own failure. Luckily, Disney relased Apocalpyto and it was a hit.  I would not have expected to like a movie about Mayans.  Jaguar Paw is a unique and compelling character.

A butt-hurt cop James Mee allegedly leaked the police report. When Gibson battled alcoholism, and bi-polar disorder, just as he was pulling his career back together, his ex-girlfriend Oksana recorded his phone rants and exploited his condition either caused by his meds or from not taking enough of them. Her sister leaked those audio files to RadarOnline, which was a disgrace. That cost us all a Viking movie written by Randal Wallace and directed by Mel Gibson, because Leonardo Dicaprio had to drop out after all of the heat caused by the rants.  That was around 2010, and that was about when Winona Rider shared a party anecdote from the Nineties about glib jokes made by Mel to her and a friend.  They read as mere jokes.  They were also denied at the time and then ten years later when someone at Variety decided to re-publish that old report to take advantage of the pandemic and racial sensitivity to really stick it to Mel.  Whoever had that brainstorm should be fired.  At the low point ten years ago, at least the first person to hire Mel was Robert Rodriguez for Machete Kills.  Then Stallone used him for Expendables 3.  He is still quite good on screen and few actors can get away with saying to an empty room, “I’m an asshole” quite the way Mel does in Force of Nature.

While on the subject, maybe go back and look at the first movie he did as a director, Man Without a Face.  It is odd that at the height of his fame and popularity he chose to do a movie about the town pariah.