Evil Dead (2013)
It has been a slow few months in Blu-ray release land, but I’ve finally got one that I think is collection worthy, especially for you horror fiends out there. If you are any kind of a horror fan, you rushed right out in April to dry heave over all the nastiness in Fede Alvarez’s rusted Evil Dead reboot. While it wasn’t particularly scary, the film was a boomstick blast of brutality that had to be seen to be believed. Evil Dead also turned out to be one of the better horror remakes that I’ve ever seen, and trust me, they very rarely get my approval (to date, the only ones that I really like are Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Halloween (2007), and The Crazies (2010)). Visually striking and hugely entertaining, Evil Dead will most certainly look amazing on your 1080p television and makes for a wicked little alternative for when you’ve worn yourself out on Sam Raimi’s 1981 original. If you’ve got a Target nearby, make sure you head there to get your claws on the Target Exclusive Steelbook Edition, which has some killer box art. Some of the special features include a number of documentaries, a commentary with the cast, and even an interview with none other than Bruce Campbell.
So, if you wish to read Anti-Film School’s review of Evil Dead, click here. Otherwise, grab those credit cards and head over to Target so you can add this beast to your horror collection. It is one of the few remakes that deserves to be there.
-Theater Management (Steve)
by Steve Habrat
In 1987, director Sam Raimi remade his 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead, dropping the simple stone-faced terror that turned the original into such a hit and planting the tongue of the series firmly into its bloody cheek. This slapstick remake, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, would go on to become even more wildly popular than the terrifying ’81 original. Personally, I’ve never cared for Evil Dead II nearly as much as the original film and I was never convinced the film struck the proper balance of Three Stooges comedy and hair-raising terror. Hey, that’s just me! In 1992, Raimi and his ever-game star Bruce Campbell brought the series to a close with the even sillier Army of Darkness, a medieval epic that, at least to this guy, was infinitely more entertaining than Evil Dead II (I can just hear some of you horror fans now). Dropping almost all of the scares and embracing more action and adventure, Army of Darkness wins the viewer over almost instantly with its ever-quotable one-liners and its never-ending string of comic book gags. Yet while Army of Darkness does keep your eyes glued to the pulpy thrills, the jokes and the plot end up getting stretched to the breaking point, causing this brief eighty minute romp to wear out its welcome near the climax. Luckily, Raimi has the good sense to wrap everything up before Army of Darkness really falls to pieces.
After briefly flashing back to the events of Evil Dead II, which concluded with Ash (Played by Bruce Campbell) getting sucked into a portal opened by the Book of the Dead and spit out in medieval England. After tumbling out of the sky, Ash is immediately confronted by Lord Arthur (Played by Marcus Gilbert) and his men, who instantly accuse Ash of working with Duke Henry (Played by Richard Grove), Arthur’s sworn enemy. Ash is taken, along with the captured Henry, to a nearby castle where he is forced into a pit, which houses a snarling Deadite waiting to rip souls to pieces. Ash dispatches the ghoul and in return, he wins the trust of the terrified villagers, the beautiful Sheila (Played by Embeth Davidtz) and the castle’s Wiseman (Played by Ian Abercrombie), who bargains that if Ash is to venture into the haunted countryside and retrieve the mysterious Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, he can return to present day. Ash reluctantly accepts the offer, but after goofing the magic words he was supposed to say upon retrieving the book, he inadvertently awakens an army of the dead. To make matters worse, this army is led by a demonic twin of Ash. After Sheila is captured by a flying Deadite, Ash decides to align himself with the medieval soldiers and destroy the advancing demonic army.
Leaving most of the toe-curling thrills and chills in that legendary cabin, Army of Darkness quickly opts for Three Stooges style humor and heaping doses of fantasy action. For those who love blood and guts, the only carnage to be found is at the beginning, when one poor sap is shoved into the pit with a Deadite and a geyser of gore sprays into the heavens. It is absolutely hilarious and almost like Raimi is purging all of the gore from his system before launching headfirst into seventy minutes of solid belly laughs and action. Most of the time, it feels like Army of Darkness is poking fun at the action genre, from the tough-as-nails hero Ash and his bottomless pit of one-liners (“Give me some sugar, baby!” “Name’s Ash. Housewares.”), to the gratuitous explosions that rain down on the final showdown. Never once does it feel as if Raimi is taking all the action and adventure too seriously and he launches it at us at breakneck speeds. While this certainly keeps Army of Darkness very interesting, it also exhausts the film by the grand finale. It appeared that Raimi was moving at such a furious rate that he almost wore himself out and lost his grip on the entire project. Luckily, Mr. Campbell and his glorious lantern jaw comes to the rescue.
The true success of Army of Darkness rests on the chain saw of Mr. Bruce Campbell, who seems to be having an absolute blast jumping and throwing himself around like a madman. Right from the get-go, Campbell’s Ash chews right through Raimi’s dialogue and he does it with plenty of fiery confidence. Just wait for the scene where he has to recite the magic words before retrieving the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (cinema buffs will remember those magic words from The Day the Earth Stood Still). When he isn’t muttering a classic one-liner (trust me, it is LOADED with them), he is busy socking, slapping, and poking himself in the face or busy battling a handful of feisty miniature versions of himself. His enthusiasm for the role is infectious and it is an absolute blast watching him throw himself into every scene with such gusto. In a way, it is almost a shame he is so good because every other actor or actress in the film is caught in his shadow. As for everyone else, Gilbert and Grove are largely forgettable as Lord Arthur and Duke Henry. Davidtz is just a pretty face until she gets to unleash her dark side near the end of the film, but most of her sinister vibe comes from the prosthetics applied to her face. Abercrombie checks in a fine performance as the Wiseman who believes that Ash is the savior that they have been waiting for. Keep an eye out for George A. Romero alum Patricia Tallman as an evil witch, Sam Raimi’s brother Ted in a number of different roles, and Bridget Fonda as Ash’s gal Linda.
To me, the fact that Army of Darkness isn’t simultaneously trying to be funny and scary is why it works better than Evil Dead II. I understand that many will not agree with me, but I just never thought that Evil Dead II was as funny or scary as it thought it was (I was left longing for the slow build and straight faced terror of the original). Army of Darkness is well aware that it is just a roller coaster ride and it makes absolutely no apologies about it. There are small tastes of the horror that Raimi unleashed in 1981, but for the most part, this is strictly an action comedy ripped from the pages of a comic book you have never heard of. And while the medieval action does wear thin, Raimi picks it up for one last boomstick blast of demonic action in the aisles of present day S-Mart. Overall, as a gonzo send-up of the action and fantasy genre, Army of Darkness is about as giddy and playful as they come. The action may start to slip from Raimi’s grasp, but this is Campbell’s show from the first frame all the way to the last. He may very well be the grooviest action hero of all time, and his shotgun never runs out of ammo. Gotta problem with that?
Army of Darkness is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
I think that most horror fans would agree that Sam Raimi’s 1981 ultra-low budget horror film The Evil Dead stands as one of the scariest and most influential efforts within the horror genre. The very idea of trying to remake the film for modern audiences was absolutely blasphemous. For years, Hollywood threatened to dig out the Book of the Dead and even Raimi himself hinted that he might return to that dingy cabin in the woods for more groovy mayhem, but it seemed like just a bunch of fluff. After years of rumors, horror fans finally have director Fede Alvarez’s ultra-gruesome reimagining Evil Dead, and it arrives in theaters with an overwhelming amount of hype, a giddy blessing from the makers of the original film (Raimi, original star Bruce Campbell, and original producer Robert G. Tapert all serve as producers here), and a tagline proudly declaring it as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” That is a pretty bold claim! Well folks, this reimagining (the filmmakers are adamant that it ISN’T a remake) is far from the scariest film you will ever experience. Hell, it doesn’t even come close to reaching the levels of terror that Raimi reached back in ‘81. However, you should be warned that Alvarez’s Evil Dead is without question the most brutal, violent, shocking, and repulsive mainstream movie you will see. Once that howling demon charged out of the woods and the blood started flowing out of that cabin, I absolutely could not believe that this film earned an R-rating. Get your barf bags ready!
Evil Dead introduces us to Mia (Played by Jane Levy), a drug addict trying to go cold-turkey with the help of her estranged brother, David (Played by Shiloh Fernandez), his girlfriend, Natalie (Played by Elizabeth Blackmore), nurse Olivia (Played by Jessica Lucas), and childhood friend Eric (Played by Lou Taylor Pucci). Desperate to make sure that Mia doesn’t fall back into her nasty habit, the group decides to take her to an isolated cabin in the woods, a place where the friends spent much of their childhood. Shortly after arriving at the dilapidated cabin, Mia begins complaining of a horrible odor coming from somewhere within the cabin. After a bit of searching and snooping, the group stumbles upon the macabre basement, where they find a slew of dead cats and a strange book wrapped in a trash bag and barbed wire. Naturally, curiosity gets the best of the group and they decide to read a couple of passages despite the countless warnings scribbled on the pages. Soon, Mia begins suffering from bizarre hallucinations that the group waves off as just another symptom of withdraw. However, after a violent attack with a shot gun and a hair-raising warning that they are all going to die, the group begins to suspect that there may be supernatural forces emerging from the woods.
Alvarez certainly scores points with attempting something new with a familiar formula. He could have easily just served up a bunch of dimwitted teenagers retreating to a cabin for a weekend of drinking and hooking up, but he opts for something more mature and that certainly toys with the audience, at least early on. During the early hallucinations, you can’t help but suspect that maybe this is all just in Mia’s head, but Alvarez hits the breaks on this when Eric mumbles passages from that dreaded book. From that point on, all the emphasis is put on the blood, guts, and gore and Evil Dead delivers it all while wielding an assortment of power tools and, yes, that legendary boomstick. Your stomach will do a somersault as one character slices off her own face, you’ll cringe as nails are shot from a nail gun into another characters arm (and face and leg), you’ll cover your eyes as one character yaks bloody vomit all over another character’s face, and then, in the ultimate gross-out moment, a character pulls a syringe needle from just underneath their eyeball. Just when you are convinced Evil Dead can’t get anymore gruesome, the grand finale finds the lone hero facing off against a yellow-eyed demon with nothing but a chainsaw, all while gooey blood rains from the blackened sky. It is the blood-dipped cherry on the top of this gore sundae.
While Evil Dead excels in the effects department, it takes a dip when it comes to the acting. Alvarez appears to be under the impression that audiences will be flocking to his Evil Dead simply for the extreme gore, but he forgets that what made the original film so memorable was the acting, especially from Bruce Campbell. None of the actors or actresses in this Evil Dead come close to giving the performance that Campbell did, but two of the five really stand out. Levy does a fine job as the drug-addict Mia, and she does make you chew on your nails when she is overtaken by the growling poltergeist. She snaps her head around and goes wild-eyed while howling, “you’re all going to die tonight!” In between Levy’s frenzied blasts, Pucci is busy with being hilariously terrified and appalled the entire time. In this humorless and heavy affair, his Eric manages to make us chuckle (his reaction to the self-mutilation in front of him is absolutely priceless). While Levy and Pucci are busy stealing the show, Fernandez and Lucas look like they are trying way too hard to be serious, but there is a nifty little fake out with Fernandez’s character near the end of the film. Blackmore’s Olivia is completely underdeveloped and almost forgotten until Alvarez needs her to start hacking, chopping, and shooting both herself and her chums.
It may be hard to believe, but Alvarez’s Evil Dead is absolutely dazzling to look at. Some scenes look washed out while others are plunged into complete darkness. The film is thick with a grimy and grungy atmosphere that is made all the more surreal through peculiar camera angles and an oddly beautiful score from Roque Banos. When things erupt, Banos cues what sounds like a toxic alarm to announce the snarling ghouls and I must say, it is an effective and icky tool. For a film with so much going for it, it is frustrating to find Alvarez falling back on the same old jump scares and loud music blasts to nab a jolt. As much as I hate to say it, this tactic just seemed cheap and lazy when layered over the rich production. Overall, even though it isn’t as scary as it promised and at times feels completely unnecessary, Evil Dead gets the job done when it comes to nauseating its audience and it does it style. It is an absolutely blast spotting references to the original film and there are more than a few moments that will go down in the horror history books. Make sure you stick around through the end credits for a surprise that will have horror fans everywhere erupting in applause.
by Steve Habrat
I’m going to sound like the stickler here but I’m just being honest, I really don’t care much for Sam Raimi’s 1987 free-for-all Evil Dead II, a loose remake/reimagining of 1981’s low budget The Evil Dead. Brash, frivolous, and gallingly noisy, Evil Dead II never really justifies its existence outside of setting up for 1992’s Army of Darkness. I guess I’ll never understand why Raimi wanted to fiddle with a good thing, reimagining The Evil Dead as a horror comedy, shoving in as much slapstick as he possibly can, and sucking all the terror out of the experience. I detest the glossier finish on Evil Dead II and the bigger budget feel to the project. The film is nothing but a continuous stampede of special effects and gags, only a few hitting their mark and the rest just splattering the audience with black goo. It truly breaks my heart because this film is legendary in the horror genre, praise coming from fans and critics alike and when I saw it all those years ago, I was extremely let down, especially after being taken aback by The Evil Dead. I’ve given the film multiple chances over the years and my disappointment is still firmly in tact. What am I missing?
Evil Dead II hits the restart button and begins with a small introduction/explanation of The Book of the Dead. After a zippy, special effects heavy intro, Ash (Played once again by Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Played by Denise Bixler) retreat to that dreaded cabin in the woods for a romantic getaway. This time, they are not accompanied by a handful of other friends looking to have a good time. As soon as they arrive, Ash stumbles upon a recording of spoken passages by an archeologist from The Book of the Dead, which naturally when played wake up that moaning unseen force lurking in the woods and opens up all the occupants of the cabin to demonic possession. Linda gets possessed early on, leaving Ash to battle the forces of evil by himself. Soon, the archeologist’s daughter Annie (Played by Sarah Berry) and her research partner Ed (Played by Richard Domeier) arrive at the cabin with recently found missing pages from The Book of the Dead. Two tobacco-chewing locals, Jake (Played by Dan Hicks) and Bobby Joe (Played by Kassie Wesley DePaiva), who are familiar with the several trails that lead to the secluded cabin, accompany Annie and Ed. When the new group arrives, they quickly start working on a way to stop the evil forces from preying upon the cabin and possessing those inside.
Evil Dead II hits the ground running in the first few minutes and then moves at the speed light for eight-four minutes, never stopping once for a break. I’m not opposed to Raimi’s banshee-out-of-Hell approach with the sequel but it is such a far cry from the original, I was left wishing for the slow build of the first film. The film also dares to venture outside the cabin to other places (an air strip, a brief flashback to the archeologist finding The Book of the Dead), diminishing the out-of-the-way anxiety that hovered over the original film. The sad part of all of this is Raimi could care less if he is scary this time–he just wants to shock the viewer repeatedly, making us jump out of our skin by the relentless power of everything in the frame. His camera does more darting around, loud howls and bangs are turned up to twenty on the soundtrack, fake blood is sprayed everywhere, and his monsters have grown in number. The film is so excessive, it almost borders on gluttonous.
Then we have Ash, our all-to-eager hero from the first film who returns to be even more of a macho hard ass. Campbell embraces a more physical style of acting, aiming for slapstick rather than rattled, cautious terror. He fights with his possessed hand, he mutters chuckle worthy one-liners line “Groovy”, dashes through the cabin screaming bloody murder, and is showered in more fake blood than you can ever imagine. Campbell is a talented guy and a joy to watch as he is clearly having the time of his life dispatching demons with a chain saw, but I liked him better when he was an everyman, scaled back realistically to a genuine normal guy with no where to run. Evil Dead II is the film that builds him up into the unstoppable horror hero that he is, with severed hand replaced with a chain saw and packing a sawed off shotgun to shatter heads. He is a complete riff on the macho hero of the 1980’s, even loosing one of his shirtsleeves to show off his built arms, his face always covered in sweat and perfect gashes, and a girl always super glued to his arm. Campbell does end up being the highlight of Evil Dead II, his character actually becoming more of a classic than the film itself.
Evil Dead II never allows our minds fill in the blank and this is what causes it to trip over itself. Everything gets explained, from The Book of the Dead to even that terrifying force lurking in the woods (you get to see it here). Perhaps if The Evil Dead never existed, I might have different feelings for Evil Dead II, maybe more accepting of its horror comedy act. The film is well made and well executed from a technical standpoint; the effects are pretty good but just severely out of place. I just can’t figure out why this film is hailed as being scarier than The Evil Dead. I don’t think there are many scares to be found throughout the film. Maybe it is the fact that it continuously assaults the viewer every step of the way, but even then, I think the film comes off as more irritating the bloodcurdling. Overall, Evil Dead II is mildly enjoyable and worth taking a look at just to see what everyone raves about. But if I want to see something that is going to send me hiding behind my couch, I’ll take the original any day of the week over this nutty circus.
Evil Dead II is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
As far as low budget film projects go, Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead is wildly successful with stirring up some hair-raising creatures from Hell with not much at all. I’ll never forget seeing The Evil Dead for the first time in my basement with one of my childhood pals. He came over to hang out for the afternoon and he brought with him The Evil Dead, a film he had just recently seen for the first time and that he was just dying for me to see. I had heard more talk about The Evil Dead II and that it was the best in Raimi’s Evil Dead series, acting as the most terrifying out of all his installments. To this day, I will never forget watching The Evil Dead for the first time. It scared the hell out of me in broad daylight. I went on to see The Evil Dead II several years later, and I have to say I am in the camp that believes that Raimi’s original is the best in the series. Not only does it impress me that he accomplished so much with so little, but I prefer the film’s solemn approach to the slapstick comic approach he used in the second film. Shot on the fuzzy 16mm format with only 150,000 smackaroos, The Evil Dead stands tall on its no-nonsense premise and plunking our hero Ash in the horror all by himself. Talk about a nail biter.
The Evil Dead follows five Michigan State students, Ash (Played by Bruce Campbell), Linda (Played by Betsy Baker), Scotty (Played by Richard DeManincor), Shelly (Played by Theresa Tilly), and Cheryl (Played by Ellen Sandweiss) who are traveling to a secluded cabin for a weekend of fun. When they arrive at the cabin, they begin exploring the chilly basement and stumble upon The Book of the Dead and a companion tape of readings from the book. The group plays the recordings for a little harmless fun, unknowingly unleashing a growling, unstoppable force that begins to posses them one by one and turns them into deformed homicidal maniacs. As the group slowly shrinks, Ash finds himself pitted against forces beyond his comprehension and drastically searching for a way to save what is left of his friends.
The Evil Dead is a film that refuses to crack a smile, or perhaps maybe I have never seen it. Many see this film as coated with a thin layer of black humor. I have to disagree, at least when it comes to the original film. The Evil Dead is resourceful with the little it has to work with, relying heavily on the idea that no help is coming and these kids are on their own. Not since George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead has a horror film genuinely made me feel like the characters are hopelessly doomed to meet a grisly end. Further effective is the way Raimi makes us buy this isolation and sense of being cornered. Raimi careens his camera around the woods at white-knuckle speeds, establishing that there is some form of monstrous force lurking in the thick wall of trees that confine the cabin. What that force is exactly is never fully revealed, Raimi smartly leaving us only horrified reactions for his actors as they flee this force’s wrath. Raimi escalates the horror of this unseen force with ingenious sound mixing, a chorus of angry moaning and demonic growling steamrolling over trees and barreling full force at whoever is standing in front of it.
Much of the anguish of watching The Evil Dead stems from the idea that Ash faces evil all by his lonesome. Raimi understands that when we are by ourselves in the dark, our mind begins to play tricks on us. What was that creak? What is outside lurking in the dark? The Evil Dead relentlessly exposes us to this, slamming the viewer with long, drawn out periods of white noise with the occasional pop. It gives our hero the willies and it will give you at least a few sleepless nights. Raimi presents Ash as an all around good guy with the greatest intentions. He gives Linda a necklace to signify his affection for her, making things all the more gut wrenching when Linda gets possessed. Yet we find ourselves head-over-heels for Ash because he is all we have to grasp to. He has to transform from affectionate/sensitive boyfriend into a macho hero to keep himself alive until dawn.
The brilliance of Raimi’s effort can be found in the way he marries the effect of realism with the sensationalism of watching highly wrought special effects. Raimi effectively manipulates location better than most directors I have seen, using a valid cabin that is the furthest thing from a lavish Hollywood set. He further allows the viewer to get to know every room the cabin has to offer, forcing the viewer to feel as if they are staying the weekend with the kids. This place feels strikingly familiar, like the cabin that belongs to your friend’s parents or your fun uncle. Nothing feels staged with the inside of the cabin. It allows the viewer to feel like they are watching someone’s old home movies that were long forgotten. Raimi fuses this with the idea of sensationalism within motion pictures themselves. When Raimi unleashes his demonic monsters, they are beyond intricate and garish. There is so much going on with their make-up; it is impossible for the viewer to process it all in one sitting. Raimi’s hat trick is revealed when they meet their demise, the ghouls not just dying from a smashed cranium or severed head. Oh no, Raimi goes for overkill, an approach that bombards the viewer visually, showing us entrails leaking out of entrails and pus spewing out more pus. The film is understated and overstated from one second to the next, a stroke of absolute genius that is always hand in hand.
To this day, The Evil Dead still ranks as one of the scariest films I have ever seen and I seriously doubt it will ever fall of the list. On Halloween 2010, I had the chance to show the film to two friends of mine who had never seen it. I can now understand why my friend brought The Evil Dead over to have me watch all those years ago. It’s a blast to see people’s reactions to it on the first viewing. My friends had the most astonished looks on their faces when the credits rolled, like someone had just walked into their home and punched their beloved kitten. Yet the terror is everlasting in The Evil Dead, even if you have seen it multiple times. It still makes your skin crawl and your stomach do somersaults when Ash braves things by himself. It is a happy marriage of extreme and simple, making a wise choice to keep playing things straight and never allowing us to get too relaxed with it. In my eyes, The Evil Dead is Raimi’s horror masterpiece, one that has been often imitated (Cabin Fever) but can never, ever be duplicated (The Evil Dead II). It remains to this day a titan of the horror genre.
The Evil Dead is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Hello Boys and Ghouls,
It appears that we have a tie in our Reader’s Choice Halloween Horror Film Review. Now until October 26th, we will have this small poll that allows you to choose between The Shining and The Evil Dead. It will be a real spookshow! Get to voting because you don’t have long. This is YOUR chance to control the content of Anti-Film School and we want to hear from you. We hope you are all having a ghoulish Halloween!
The Evil Dead (1981)
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Do YOU want to see The Evil Dead reviewed on Halloween? Or how about Poltergeist? Perhaps The Blair Witch Project? Click on the poll link under Category Cloud and vote for one of the supernatural horror flicks to be reviewed on the day the supernatural comes out to play. This is YOUR chance to interact with our site and control what gets posted. Hurry, because the voting is only open for two more hellish days. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
NOTE: Anti-Film School does not claim ownership of the attached trailers.