Friday, June 13, 2008

The Evil Dead - movie review

Mom, I promise that the next movie I review will not be a horror movie. I don't know how I got on this kick anyway. (However, I did set the DVR to record Sleepaway Camp tonight ... they've got a Grindhouse Month thing going on over there at IFC - excellent way for me to catch up on all the schlock I've missed over the years).

The Evil Dead* is the movie that put Sam Raimi on the map as a movie-maker. Sure, ED looks like it was made on a budget of about $3,000 but Raimi still manages to create an incredible atmosphere of dread, disgust, fear and sheer terror with only a couple of fog machines, mannequins and a tanker-truck's worth of red-dyed Karo syrup.

The premise is trite by today's standards, although it was probably still vaguely fresh in 1982: a group of friends head out for a weekend in a remote cabin deep in the [Tennessee] woods. You just know no-one is getting out alive - or at best unscathed. Raimi slowly ratchets up the tension right from the get-go: cutting ominously between the car of unwitting kids and the scurrying POV shot through the undergrowth, undercut by creepy music.

The kids - two couples and the sister of one of the guys (the guy being Bruce Campbell, in the role that launched him as a cult hero) - settle into the cabin and eventually end up loosing demons via a Book of the Dead that just happens to be down-cellar. They start getting picked off one by one, attacked and then possessed by the demon[s]: first the sister, in a pretty horrible scene that can only be described as "rape-by-trees;" then the other two girls. I was just beginning to wonder why it was that only the women succumbed to the demons when the other guy (the not-Bruce-Campbell-guy, as he's got to survive to become "Ash," the hero of two more ED movies) sprang to evil life. Suffice it to say that Bruce Campbell ends up having to hack all his former friends, lovers and siblings to pieces in order to make it to ED2.

Speaking of hacking things to pieces, the gore in ED is superlative, especially on such a miniscule budget. It's slow to start - a few scratches here, some gouging there - but once it starts, there is blood and goo and nasty fluds galore. At one point near the end of the movie, Bruce Campbell has to go back down-cellar to retrieve the shotgun shells. He makes it about halfway down the rickety stairs when he realizes that it's not water dripping from the pipes - it's blood. And then the blood starts oozing out of the electrical sockets (a point of contention with me as clearly there are no power lines running to this cabin in any of the exterior shots) and filling the lightbulbs - a particularly nice touch, I thought. Anyhow, Bruce Campbell just barely makes it out of the cabin alive (carefully closing the front door behind him in another nice touch), and he is completely doused in blood. I may be paraphrasing another blogger I recently discovered who adores ED, but Bruce Campbell's character Ashley (soon to be just Ash) could totally have been Carrie's date for the prom ... after the bucket fell. It's awesome.

I'm truly a neophyte when it comes to horror films, but it really seems to me that the art of a good horror movie has been lost, or at least misplaced. Today's horror movies seem to be either (a) PG-13 fluff, (b) torture-porn or (c) just not that scary. There are exceptions to this, of course: I thought The Mist, The Ruins and The Descent to be sufficiently plotted, acted and gore-ified; I hear The Orphanage is fabulous and I can't wait to see it. But most of the true horror gems seems to have sprung from the 1970s and 1980s, The Evil Dead included. Sam Raimi proved that he would be a force to be reckoned with, particularly given a little money. I can't wait to catch up on the ED sequels.

* Total misnomer, by the way, as only one out of the four bad guys was actually "dead" before they were consumed by the possessing demons; the three girls were still very much alive when they transformed. In hindsight, I suppose the label "evil dead" could apply to the demons themselves.

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