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Wild Werewolves: Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers #1

by Steve Habrat

Before English director/”Splat Pack” member Neil Marshall freaked audiences out with his 2005 girls-versus-cannibal-humanoids film The Descent, he made what could very well be one of the most entertaining werewolf horror films out there. That film would be 2002’s Dog Soldiers, a low-budget hybrid of Night of the Living Dead, Predator, The Evil Dead, The Howling, and The Wolf Man. Marshall’s Dog Soldiers is far from a flashy werewolf horror film—it doesn’t feature elaborate transformation like we saw in films like An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, and it isn’t particularly interested in commenting on the bestiality lurking in each and every one of us. Despite all of that, Dog Soldiers still unleashes some seriously terrifying werewolves on the viewer and the claustrophobic hopelessness does begin to gnaw at the viewer. It has a dark sense of humor about itself, slipping in a number of sarcastic jokes about the horror taking place around our ass-kicking heroes. It’s also extremely gory, featuring a number of stomach-churning gross out gags that make it very easy for the viewer to understand how Marshall became a member of the “Splat Pack.” You may want to approach this one with a raincoat and maybe even a barf bag.

Dog Soldiers introduces us to Private Cooper (played by Kevin McKidd), who is attempting to pass a grueling test to join a British Special Forces unit. As a final test to join the unit, Captain Ryan (played by Liam Cunningham) asks Cooper to shoot a dog. After Cooper refuses to kill the dog, Ryan fails him and sends him back home. Some time later, Cooper and a unit of British soldiers are taken to the Scottish countryside for a training exercise. Among the soldiers are Seargent Harry Wells (played by Sean Pertwee), Private “Spoon” Witherspoon (played by Darren Morfitt), Private Joe Kirkley (played by Chris Robson), Private Terry Milburn (played by Leslie Simpson), and Corporal Bruce Campbell (played by Thomas Lockyer). Shortly into the exercise, the soldiers find a SAS unit that has been ripped to shreds. The only survivor of the unit is Captain Ryan, who is babbling incoherently about his attackers. As the soldiers try to make sense of the situation, towering assailants leap out from the brush to rip them limb from limb. The group is narrowly rescued by Megan (played by Emma Cleasby), a zoologist on her way to an isolated farmhouse nearby. She takes the group to the farmhouse so that they can regroup and figure out a plan of attack, but the assailants follow them and surround the house. As the unit boards up the windows and assess their resources, they slowly discover that they are up against a pack of werewolves that can only be put down with silver bullets.

Where most werewolf horror films aim high with the special effects and make-up, Dog Soldiers dares to keep much of the elaborate stuff out of the frame. There are no static transformation scenes or lengthy glimpses of the werewolves. Early on, we get to see them only in split second bursts as they charge through the woods towards their next meal. To add extra tension, he gives us black and white POV shots of what the werewolves are seeing, something that called to mind the demonic POV of Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead. Once the soldiers are barricaded in the farmhouse, he circles the house to imply that there is no escape for these characters—at least while the moon is full and high in the sky. As the attacks escalate, Marshall scares us silly with werewolf claws bursting through windows and boards. Eventually, Marshall is forced to shed some light on his towering beasts and they certainly don’t disappoint. They stand menacingly over their victims, slightly hunched with jaws snapping and dripping with strings of saliva. They call to mind what we saw in The Howling, just with less hair and even freakier, if that was even possible. The true beauty is that they are practical and not done with a bunch of computerized fakery. When it comes to the inevitable transformation scenes, Marshall lacks the money to really pull off something eye-popping. Instead, he uses some smartly placed cuts and camera placement that allows the actors to reveal bits of make-up that have been added to parts of their face or hands. The rest is left up to our imagination and it’s extremely efficient.

Dog Soldiers #2

With the special effects controlled, Marshall uses his story to add another layer of unease. While the premise of the soldiers barricade inside a farmhouse paying not-so-subtle tribute to Night of the Living Dead does send some giddy thrills, he allows the claustrophobia to really keep us gnawing at our fingernails. The ammo runs out quickly, the attacks are alarming cramped, and when a character becomes werewolf chow, our stomachs drop to the floor. Another subtle tribute to Night of the Living Dead pops up in the way that two of our central characters go at each other’s throats. There are twists with certain characters and others mislead our heroes in the fight to destroy the werewolves. There is also the lack of supplies, which forces the characters get a bit creative with keeping themselves alive. Some of these are faintly humorous (the sword, a letter opener, a can of hair spray and a lighter, and a fist fight), but they are all used to extremely gruesome effect. The highlight is easily a fistfight with a werewolf that ends with a one-liner that strikes you like a lightning bolt.

This all leads us to the violence of Dog Soldiers, which really makes you see why Marshall earned a spot in the Splat Pack (some of the Splat Pack members include Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, Robert Rodriguez, and Alexandre Aja, among others). There are stomachs ripped wide open, guts dangling in plain view, severed heads flying across the screen, and even werewolf limbs hacked off like butter. It’s a gooey blast that just keeps on delivering for horror fans. There is an added layer of “EWW” since Marshall films most of the action with gritty handheld cameras, which give the film an unshakably raw feeling. As far as the performances go, everyone does a fine job with their roles. McKidd is no-nonsense as Cooper, who is forced to become the groups leader when their Sergeant gets taken out of the game, and Cunningham is despicable as the slimy Ryan, who is up to no good from the get-go. Overall, with plenty of high-octane action, well-placed chuckles, rampaging scares pinning you to your seat, and gasp-inducing gross outs, Dog Soldiers is a must-see for horror fans. It may not have the depth that other werewolf horror films possess, but that certainly doesn’t hold this beast back. Arguably one of the scariest werewolf horror films ever made.

Grade: A-

Dog Soldiers is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

TRAILER THURSDAY! Halloween Edition

One of the most fun horror films to watch on Halloween is without question Sam Raimi’s ultra-low budget 1981 breakout The Evil Dead. It’s got ghouls, gore, chainsaws, Bruce Campbell’s chin, and more. Check out the gruesome original trailer below!

Evil-Dead-Poster

Equinox (1970)

Equinox #1

by Steve Habrat

When you take a look at some of the giant creature features made during the 1950s, most of them are extremely campy due to their low budget. Most were made quickly and on the cheap, simply to fill out a drive-in double bill. However, when compared to the 1970s B-movie Equinox, which was made for—get this—just under $7,000, the Atomic Age creature features were dripping in cash (the rickety 1958 effort Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is said to have had a budget of $88,000!). Made as a short student film by Dennis Muren in 1967, Equinox was picked up by Tonylyn Productions and completed by Jack Woods and producer Jack H. Harris. At a quick glance, Equinox may seem like just another monster throwaway, but if you dare to look closer, you will begin to see how influential the film really is, especially when held up next to a specific cabin-in-the-woods cheapie released in 1980 by none other than Sam Raimi. Today, many audience members would probably die laughing at some of the special effects that Equinox has to offer, but as a testament to resourcefulness and creativity, the film is a major triumph. We are watching a group of kids make magic and they could barely afford the wand to cast the spell!

Equinox begins with a young man named David (played by Edward Connell) being sent to an asylum after stumbling out of the woods in a daze and getting struck by a passing car, which apparently has no driver. A year after being committed, David is visited by a local reporter named Sloan (played by James Phillips), who is interested in hearing David’s outlandish story. David claims that he went to visit one of their college professors, Dr. Arthur Waterman (played by Fritz Lieber), with his girlfriend, Susan (played by Barbara Hewitt), his best friend, Jim (played by Frank Bonner), and Jim’s girlfriend, Vicki (played by Robin Christopher). After finding Dr. Waterman’s cabin in ruin, the group stumbles upon a cave where they meet a crazy old hermit who gives them an ancient book filled with mystical writings and drawings. Shortly after coming into possession of the book, the group bumps into a park ranger named Asmodeus (played by Jack Woods), who is also looking for the mysterious book. Asmoedeus begins stalking the teenagers and conjuring up a handful of demonic beasts that will stop at nothing to get their claws on the book.

When it comes to the narrative, Equinox is simply concerned with ushering the audience from one monster attack to the other. But then again, isn’t that why we are watching Equinox in the first place? The creature effects here do have a bit of a Ray Harryhausen vibe about them, especially a giant ape-like beast that is one of the first to attack the group of teens. In the short time that Equinox occupies the screen, we get to marvel at a giant green squid rip apart a cabin, a green-skinned giant that looks like a demonic Fred Flintstone, a howling hooded specter appear in a graveyard, and last but certainly not least, a winged red demon, which is perhaps the most visually striking of all the monsters to appear in the film. It should also be noted that these monsters are pretty spry. The winged demon leaps through the air and barrels down on the kids while the ape-like brute stomps and pounds its way around a rocky hill while one of the kids dangles from some roots. These moments are extremely amazing, especially when you take into consideration that they were accomplished with almost nothing.

Equinox #2

While the monsters are the true stars, the handful of amateur performers do their absolute best to keep the viewer entertained. Connell is the headliner of the show and despite a few hiccups here and there, he manages to nail being both the levelheaded leader and the whimpering lunatic yelling for his cross. Bonner’s Jim is fairly one dimensional, a forgettable sidekick for Connell’s David. About the most memorable moment for Bonner was his run-in with the ape monster. Jack Woods gives probably the most colorful performance as Asmodeus, the creepy park ranger with a demonic side. He does bring some serious menace to the role, even if one particular scene finds him swishing his mouth around and drooling on the camera, which is supposed to show his evil side coming out. The crew also adds a bit of black face paint around his eyes just to further drive the point home. As far as the ladies go, Hewitt’s Barbara would fade from memory if it weren’t for her scene with the face-contorting Woods. The rest of the time, she is asked to act all spaced out and wander around confused. There is, however, a nice little twist at the end with her character even if we can see it coming. Christopher is probably the least memorable of all the characters as Vicki, the girlfriend of the beige sidekick Jim. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by horror and science fiction writer Fritz Lieber as Dr. Arthur Waterman. He doesn’t speak any lines and he is only seen briefly, but it is neat the filmmakers managed to convince him to show up.

While the special effects make Equinox a must-see for horror fanatics, the film is also a must for fans of Sam Raimi’s low-budget cabin-in-the-woods nightmare The Evil Dead. While not nearly as gruesome or terrifying as Raimi’s film (although, there is quite a bit of gore in Equinox), there are still plenty of similarities between the plots of Equinox and The Evil Dead. Both films deal with a group of kids reading from an ancient text and battling against relentless demonic forces that wish to rip them to shreds in the woods. Equinox was also a major influence on Star Wars and Dennis Muren even went on to be a key crewmember on the film. Overall, Equinox isn’t a film that you should walk blindly into. To truly appreciate all the blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into the creature feature, it is best to do a bit of research on the film. It may have a choppy plot, strained performances, and creaky scares, but Equinox is an inspirational work of art, one that proves that anything is possible if you can dream it. This is a one-of-a-kind cult classic that was the original warning to stay away from that old cabin in the woods.

Grade: B

Equinox is available on DVD.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Army of Darkness 1

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.

Army of Darkness 2

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?

Grade: B

Army of Darkness is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

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.

Evil Dead (2013)

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.

Grade: B+

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

by Steve Habrat

With remakes, sequels, and prequels being the name of the game in Hollywood today, I don’t really think it surprised anyone to hear that the iconic musical The Wizard of Oz was getting a prequel. It seemed that Hollywood had the good sense not to even attempt trying to update that one! Could you imagine someone other than Judy Garland belting out ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow?’ Yeah, I didn’t think so. Well, enter director Sam Raimi, the man who gave us The Evil Dead and the Spider-Man trilogy, and Disney, who seems to have their hands in everything these days, and, once again, we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard of Oz! Truthfully, Oz the Great and Powerful isn’t a bad movie at all and it is all the more interesting that Disney handed the project, which is based on the works of L. Frank Baum, over to a director like Raimi, who seems more comfortable tossing body fluids all over his actors rather than exploring the land over the rainbow. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that Oz the Great and Powerful is actually quite fun, charming, impeccably acted, and, dare I say, cool, but there are also a myriad of problems buried beneath all the eye candy (pacing, character development, chopped editing), which may prevent it from ever reaching the classic status of the original film.

Picking up in 1905 Kansas, Oscar Diggs (Played by James Franco) or “Oz,” as he is called, is working as a small-time magician for a traveling circus with his assistant, Frank (Played by Zach Braff). Oscar is a fast-talking womanizer, giving every pretty girl he meets a music box that he claims belonged to his grandmother when in actuality he has several of them waiting to be passed out. After Oscar is revealed to be a fraud during his magic act, visited by his true love, Annie (Played by Michelle Williams), who is planning to marry another man, and chased out of the circus by an enraged strongman, Oscar manages to crawl into a hot air balloon and float away from all of his problems. Shortly after making his escape, Oscar is sucked up into a tornado and transported to the mystical land of Oz. Upon his arrival, he stumbles upon Theodora (Played by Mila Kunis), a beautiful witch that believes Oscar is the wizard that will save them all from the clutches of the wicked witch. She explains that if Oscar can save the people of Oz, he will become their beloved wizard and king. Theodora takes Oscar to the Emerald City, where he is introduced to the skeptical Evanora (Played by Rachel Weisz), who guards the Emerald City throne and acts as the aid to the wizard. After some convincing, Oscar reluctantly agrees to help the people of Oz and sets out to track down and destroy the wicked witch. As he ventures deeper into the land of Oz, he meets Finley (Voiced by Braff), a flying monkey in a bellhop suit, China Girl (Voiced by Joey King), a porcelain girl with broken legs, and the beautiful Glinda the Good (Played by Willaims), who all agree to aid Oscar on his quest.

First, let us discuss the good parts of Oz the Great and Powerful. Raimi kicks things off with a dazzling funhouse opening credit sequence that really comes to life in 3D. He then continues to play with the 3D effects as he presents the opening fifteen minutes in scrunched black and white (fire breathers blow flames out at you while debris is thrown into the black bars on the side), transitioning to Technicolor widescreen as Oscar floats into Oz, an obvious nod to the original film.  Oz itself is absolutely breathtaking; a dream world with massive flowers, neon hummingbirds, and toothy river fairies filling the widescreen to the point where you fear the screen may burst. And then there is the meticulously recreated Emerald City, which is absolutely magnificent and almost always sparkling gloriously in the background. I also can’t forget the two animated travel companions that align themselves with Oscar, China Girl and Finley, both of which look utterly fantastic in all their CGI glory. It is clear that this Oz is all about how lavish the filmmakers can make this fantasy land look and you have to hand it to the special effects department. They do construct an environment that will have the adult viewer speechless and the children reluctant to leave the theater.

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

While all the eye candy is pleasant enough, it still can’t conceal the fact that there are a number of problems with the film. Oz the Great and Powerful runs slightly over two hours, fairly lengthy for a children’s film. It seemed like Disney was afraid that the length would turn some viewers off, so they asked Raimi and his editing department to cut certain scenes short. This chopping and slicing severely wounds some of the character development and trips up the pacing. Without saying too much, one of the witches is not fleshed out properly, making a major transition within her character seem a bit hollow when it should have hit with some major emotional force. The early scenes between Oscar and Theodora also seem clipped and rushed, with a love story developed and then quickly discarded. And then there is the dragging middle section, which goes on and on as the characters pace around and debate how to deal with the wicked witch. Screenwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Mitchell Kapner then decide to introduce several more characters too late in the game, yet ask us to really become attached to them even though they haven’t been in the film twenty minutes (I’m looking at you, Master Tinker and Knuck). And then we have Oscar’s arrival in Oz, which found our hero barely batting an eye or questioning this strange new environment. He was just a little too clam and nonchalant about the bizarre things he is seeing and being told.

Even though characters are not properly developed, the performances are still quite strong, which is surprising. Many have said that Franco was miscast as Oscar, but I actually liked him despite the fact that his character is a heartless jerk. Franco is certainly enjoying himself and his enjoyment is infectious. It has come out that Robert Downey, Jr. and Johnny Depp were considered for the role, but I can’t really picture Downey in the role and Depp seems like he’d be a little too quirky. Then there is Mila Kunis, who I personally felt stole the entire film. Even though her scenes as Theodora are brief, she makes the best of them and tries to work her way into out hearts before her stunning transformation. I don’t really want to spoil anything, but Kunis really nails her massive part. Weisz is seductively evil as Evanora, who is skeptical of the overly confident magician Oscar and quietly manipulative of her poor heartbroken sister. Rounding out the witches is the sweet-as-sugar Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good, a radiant sunbeam that gushes over the munchkins and China Girl. It is almost impossible not to fall in love with her. Then we have our to CGI characters, Finley and China Girl, both who could have become seriously annoying but end up being rather clever additions. They actually steal some of the films best lines, especially the feisty pint-sized China Girl.

While Oz the Great and Powerful suffers from a number of problems, one can’t deny that Raimi doesn’t craft a rousing twenty-minute finale. It has everything you could possibly want and then Raimi puts a cherry on top in the form of fireworks just because he can. I really can’t rave enough about it, mostly because epic blockbusters like this fail to muster a satisfying climax. For the fans of Raimi’s earlier work, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find the director refusing to soften during the eerier moments of the film. His flying baboons will nab a few jumps, his trip into a haunted forest will send chills up and down your spine, and he even throws in a haggard old witch that looks like she would have been right at home in The Evil Dead or Drag Me to Hell. Rest assured that there are no evil trees ready to violate any of the female performers. Overall, Oz the Great and Powerful is going up against gigantic hype and inflated expectations, which basically sets it up for overwhelming disappointment. While it certainly has its fair share of problems, Raimi doesn’t forget to give this epic a big heart and irresistible charm, which single handedly makes up for everything else. Oh, and make sure you see it in 3D. You’ll thank me later.

Grade: B-

Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Raymond Esposito

by Raymond Esposito

Echoes in a Quiet Room

When Steve asked me to write an article for Anti-Film School, I was honored. When he said, the topic was “my” top five horror movies I thought, “Perfect. Two things that I love…horror and my opinion. I can write that in about ten minutes.” It took me almost five weeks…not to write the article but to choose the movies. For a horror fan and dark fiction author, asking me to pick my five favorites is like asking me to eat a single potato chip…I can do it, but it’s really difficult. There are, after all, so many great horror scenes spread out across so many movies. The challenge loomed even larger when I considered all those scenes that filled me with dread, but didn’t actually belong to a horror film. Take for example, Saving Private Ryan. It’s a war movie true, but there is one scene in that film that disturbs me more than most horror scenes I’ve watched. Near the end of the film an American soldier fights a Nazi. The Nazi gets the upper hand, pins the American’s arm and so begins the short struggle with a very large knife. The American soldier pleads while the Nazi slowly impales him all the while softly whispering. I always skip it. I’ve watched hundreds of other knife scenes that had no effect on me, but this one is different. Perhaps because there is nothing more frightening than watching another human plead for their life – not in screams of horror, but in the soft voice of reality.

So that was my dilemma. How does one decide the “best” or the “scariest”? Is it based on how many times one jumps in fear? Do you have to spend the entire film cowering in your seat? Does it matter if you were five or forty-five years old when you watched it? Can a movie from the seventies scare anyone these days? These were all difficult questions I needed to consider. I mean I can’t just “rank” things without a proper criteria – that’s anarchy. I spent a number of weeks contemplating these and many other questions. It was a quest not for my five scariest movies, but for the criteria to reduce a list of at least twenty five choices. (Steve said be creative, but I was certain he didn’t mean go ahead and make up my own rules.) Five. I needed just five.

Resonance. That was my final criteria. I decided it did not matter when the movie was made, how old I was when I saw it, or even if it was the overall scariest movie. It had to be a film that resonated long after I watched it. And resonate in a “bad way.” By that I mean I had to find myself in situations where I remembered the movie and maybe ran a little faster up the stairs, or closed the door a little quicker…and locked it, or actually decided not to do something because I remembered “that scene.” Now that level of fear may seem a little extreme for a forty six year old guy who writes horror stories. All I can say, in my own defense, is that an active imagination is both a gift and a curse. I feel sorry for people who are so pragmatic that a horror film could never scare them or those who can dismiss the darkness as just the world without light…people with imaginations understand that the darkness is so much more than just daytime’s counterpart. Those pragmatic souls may lead a braver life than me, but I don’t think they’re having as much fun. When it comes to horror, well I’m still ten years old.

Resonance. Like that scene from Saving Private Ryan. That helped. It brought my list down to eight films. Did I want to cheat? Hope that Steve would overlook my three “extra” films? Maybe he just threw out a number and didn’t really care about the actual count. I considered it. I realized however that not all eight films ranked the same in their resonance. I mean, The Strangers left me as enraged over the characters’ stupidity as I was filled with dread. That single line from the darkened doorstep, “Is Tamara here?” was creepy but it’s not like it made me pause each time the doorbell rang (well maybe for a couple of weeks.) The randomness of why the killers choose that couple, “Because you were home,” certainly confirmed my belief that the world can be dangerously random, but hey, that’s why I have a gun and a 135 pound dog. So The Strangers didn’t feel like top five material. So seven it was. And while I’ll admit I was a big fan of keeping the lights on after that opening scene of Darkness Falls, today it is hard to recall why I found it so frightening…it no longer resonates in emotion or in memory…so I was down to six.

I turned to the three films competing from my long spent youth. One was a keeper because it changed me so fundamentally that it had to be number one. The other two presented a real problem. The first film stayed with me for years and I can still recall that fear. Forty years later the “idea” still resonates. The other by and far was the scarier film and if I wanted to be popular, this would be the choice. The Exorcist should be on anyone’s list of scary films, but for me it would be number six because as crazy as it sounds, The Omega Man gave me more nightmares than the young Linda Blair and her friend Captain Howdy. It resonated longer and broader too. The hooded “white” people. Those crazy eyes. Jumping from windows onto Heston’s car and that primal requirement to “get inside before the sun set” were all the perfect fodder for my five year old imagination…and eight…and ten. Perhaps it was the combination of my age in 1971 (5), the fact that I saw it at a drive-in, and that my brother and I kept the scare alive by taking turns screaming… “Watch out for the white people,” while locking each other out of the house at sunset or in the dark basement. Today it can’t hold up to new films…but when I was five…oh boy!

So nine hundred and something words later I arrive at my top four. Number four is a little odd, for two reasons. The first is that once they cleaned up the film quality for DVD, the effects were sort of lost…I mean the gore looked fake.. The second, and bigger issue, is that following The Evil Dead were the Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness and both films turned the original into a sort of “horror-comedy trilogy.” This was not how I felt in my first viewing of The Evil Dead and I don’t believe Sam Raimi intended it as a comedy. Nonetheless, my seventeen-year-old self loved this movie and I still do, at least in memory. It stayed with me for a long time. Partly because of that “demon in the basement” scene…that is one of my primal fears…basements. But mostly because of the texture of the film and those cackling demons. Demons can talk, they can scream, hell I don’t care if they sing, but that damn giggling…that’s creepy and I want it to stop.

The film Paranormal Activity is more dividing than a presidential election. Audience opinion on Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 56%, which demonstrates that this film has only two camps…love it and hate it. The biggest criticism I hear from the haters is “it was stupid.” I’m not sure what that means, but perhaps they wanted more special effects. Maybe they needed to “see” the demon. Granted this low budget Indie only used a bag of flour and an old photo, but for me it comes in firmly in the number three position. It resonated. I jumped several times during the film and actually felt something I don’t often experience during horror films…fear. Sometimes it’s what we don’t see that frightens best. Years later I still worry that I may awake to find my wife standing over me in the darkness (I’m not worried that she’ll be dragged down the hall because I see that as my escape opportunity.) I thought about setting up a camera to assuage my fear but then thought, “wait I saw that movie…everybody dies.” We have an attic hatch in our laundry room. It’s a low ceiling attic, more like a crawl space and I’ve never been up there. I have no desire to come face to face with a spider in a place that I can’t run. (I have no facts to support that spiders live in our attic, but it’s prudent to err on the side of caution.) Sometimes at night when I pass that dark laundry room, I think about that hatch. I wonder if there is a photo of someone I know sitting amongst the installation. I often pick up my pace as I pass and try to keep my eyes forward, but at times…it’s just so difficult not to steal a glance.

Six months after I saw my number two film I was in a hotel traveling on business. Every now and again I get it in my head to take the stairs just to burn a few extra calories (I pretend twenty steps will offset that coffee cake muffin I ate). On this particular night, I took the two flights up to my room. It was a well-lit and well maintained stairway at the Hilton. Absolutely nothing to conjure thoughts of creepiness. Halfway up I remembered The Grudge and thought, “this is exactly why people die in horror films you idiot…now run!” I don’t often take my own advice, as my pragmatic self can be a real f-in kill-joy, but that night I did. Later… after I locked the door, turned on all the lights, checked under the bed and in the closet, and pulled back the bathtub curtain (don’t invite trouble leaving that closed) … I felt foolish for running up those stairs. The Grudge had so many great moments. Probably the “under the covers” scene was the worst, followed closely by “meow boy” and “whatever the hell that mouth noise was.” I still like to think about it from time to time. It doesn’t scare me as much today, but I can still remember how much it did frighten me. It still resonates at least in memory.

When a film touches a “primal” fear, when that film changes how you experience an activity, when it can transfer to any body of water…that is the ultimate definition of “resonates.” Before the summer of 1975 I was a water rat. We lived in Connecticut about thirty minutes from the beach and I loved the ocean. At the age of nine, I was certainly aware of sharks, but seldom thought about them beyond science class. After Jaws my love of the ocean was forever tainted. Besides being frightened of the sea, my nine year old self began to question the safety of ponds and lakes…and swimming pools. Several times I had a dream that my bed had been washed out to sea and the waves kept threatening to toss me into that dark green water where Jaws waited. I guess being in the ocean is like that attic crawl space…not much chance of escape. I live in Fort Myers Florida now and still go to the beach and I still swim in the warm gulf. Never though without consideration that perhaps at that very moment, a black-eyed death is charging silently towards me. And all these years later I still take a quick look at the deep end of my pool before I get in, I pretend I’m checking for snakes (they get in sometimes) and in part I am, but in truth I’m also looking for that fin. Jaws may not be a horror story in the classic sense, but its attack on primal fears, the way it forever changed my thoughts on the ocean, and for being an iconic symbol, it earns its place as number one on my list.

So those are my top five horror films…with some creative cheating to add the others…and it is what I love about the genre. It’s a personal experience – some things scare universally but most just individually. I don’t believe special effects cause fear. I’m not even certain it is the monsters on the screen. I believe the truly haunting moments, the terrifying things are just a reflection of the stuff we brought with us to that movie. The dark little thoughts our imaginations create and our rational minds work to hold at bay. And when every so often, if we’re lucky, a story stirs those fears, we hear the sounds like echoes in a quiet room, and they whisper to us… Yes, I understand.”

A little about Raymond:

American novelist, Raymond Esposito lives multiple lives. He is a husband, father of five, the executive vice president of an international professional services firm, proprietor of the website Nightmirrors.com, and when time allows, the voice of Graveyard Radio. His debut novel, “You and Me, Against the World,” is book one of his Creepers Trilogy and provides his own spin on the zombie apocalypse.

To purchase “You and Me, Against the World,” click here.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

by Steve Habrat

To say that you have no idea what you are in for in The Cabin in the Woods is a complete understatement. You can’t even fathom the twist that is waiting to be sprung on you half way through this monster of a horror movie. That, my friends, is something you need to be excited about. I’ve said it multiple times, horror has hit rock bottom, from countless remakes, sequels, and retreads, leaving us only a handful of notable films to celebrate. It is truly hard to believe that there is such a shocking lack of vision and creativity working in Hollywood. I can’t believe they are paid millions to repackage and resell recycled garbage that we have already seen before and much better at that. The Cabin in the Woods lays waste to that approach; at first giving us the same weary old setup and then suddenly launching a shock and awe campaign that you will be truly unprepared for. It’s the first real crowd pleaser horror movie to come around in a long time, one that demands you see it in a packed house with tons of other unsuspecting viewers. You will be in for one wild night at the movies.

The Cabin in the Woods follows five college students, virgin Dana (Played by Kristen Connolly), slutty Jules (Played by Anna Hutchison), athletic Curt (Played by Chris Hemsworth), polite Holden (Played by Jesse Williams), and stoner Marty (Played by Fran Kranz), who head to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend of debauchery. After exploring the eerie basement, the group finds a worn out diary that they proceed to read from, conjuring up a bloodthirsty force in the woods that slowly descends upon the cabin. Meanwhile, a strange organization watches the kids from hidden cameras placed strategically around the cabin. It turns out that this organization has an agenda all their own and they are hiding a horrifying secret that threatens the world.

Considered a “loving hate letter” to horror by its director Drew Goddard and producer Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods adoringly tips its hat to the classics every chance it gets. Keep an eye out for a hilarious nod to Evil Dead II, a siege on the cabin that is evocative of Night of the Living Dead, and a sequence that would have felt right at home in the calmer moments of the original Friday the 13th. It also helps that the early premise is loosely based on the original 1981 The Evil Dead.  When the twist is revealed, The Cabin in the Woods evolves into a new breed of horror movie that embraces every single subgenre you can possibly think of. I hesitate to say anymore about it other than it does go for broke and it comes up a winner because of it. Fans of the genre will be left beside themselves and at times it was almost overload, so much to take in that you will be flirting with heading back to the theater to experience it again. It’s absolutely exhilarating.

The Cabin in the Woods does have a talented cast behind the wheel, not a weak link in the bunch and then springing a surprise guest on us in the final moments. I loved Chris Hemsworth as the jock Curt, the overly confident hero who uses his strength in some of the most hysterical ways possible. Wait for the scene where he comes face to face with a zombie girl. Fran Kranz also shines as the squinty-eyed stoner Marty who begins to suspect there is more going on than meets the eye. And then we have Richard Jenkins as Steve Hadley and Bradley Whitford as Richard Sitterson, who are members of the mysterious organization who steal every scene they are in. A good majority of the laughs come from their end, especially in a gambling sequence and in their deadpan observations while they watch the kids.

My one minor complaint with The Cabin in the Woods is that I wished it had been scarier than it turned out to be. Sure, it is loaded with jump scares that will have the easy targets filling the jeans, but I wish it had really freaked me out. The audience I saw the film with had a ball with the fake out scares, gasping every time that music blasted over the speakers. I did enjoy the campy melody that The Cabin in the Woods carries, right down to the self-aware chucklers like “We should split up!” In fact, the film is often times more of a comedy than it is a horror movie, but I think that is precisely the point of The Cabin in the Woods. Nothing really scares us anymore, never sending us home from the theater with a handful of sleepless nights. The Cabin in the Woods points out that horror isn’t just failing in America, but is crumbling all over the world, and simply not doing the job that it is responsible for.

The Cabin in the Woods turns out to be a blood soaked, anything goes party that takes absolutely no prisoners. It opts to wipe all the prisoners it could take off the map and then firebomb the map. As an evaluation of the sorry state of horror, it is spot on and leaves you itching to see more horror films like it. In a way it gives horror fans hope, that there is still some individuals out there in the industry who posses creativity and will take a few risks. It baffles me why the film has been shelved for so long and why the studio was so iffy about it. Well written, directed, acted, and featuring the mother of all horror movie finales, The Cabin in the Woods is an adrenaline shot jabbed right into the feeble heart of the horror genre.

Grade: A

Drag Me To Hell (2009)

by Steve Habrat

If Sam Raimi failed to properly mesh campy humor with horror in Evil Dead II, he more than gets it right with 2009’s superb horror outing Drag Me To Hell. It was nice to see Raimi return to horror, a genre he happens to do quite well, after his trio of big budget Spider-Man films that seemed to be wearing out by the third installment. Scaled back and armed with a smaller scope, Raimi’s return to the genre is triumphant, as he makes a film that is bursting with sheer terror all while retaining an old school aura. It helps that he uses the Universal Studios logo from the 1980’s and uses a retro looking Ghost House logo to begin the whole experience. Then, Raimi dives head first into a bottomless pit of body fluids and demonic torture, filling his frames with tributes to his Evil Dead series and putting his star Allison Lohman through a truly arduous experience that had to have left her covered from head to toe in bruises. I can only imagine what the stunt double looked like after the shoot was complete.

Drag Me To Hell introduces us to bank loan officer Christine Brown (Played by Allison Lohman), a sweet girl who seems to have everything going for her. She is up for a promotion at work, favored by her boss Jim Jacks (Played by David Paymer), and is in a relationship with successful young professor Clay Dalton (Played by Justin Long), who also happens to come from money. It doesn’t appear that Christine has a nasty bone in her body until she has to put up with her competition at work, the kiss-ass Stu Rubin (Played by Reggie Lee), who is also trying to snag the coveted promotion that Christine so desperately wants. That nasty bone also pops up when an elderly woman named Sylvia Ganush (Played by Lorna Raver) shows up at her desk hacking phlegm into a handkerchief and begging for a third extension on her mortgage payments. To prove herself worthy for the promotion, Christine denies Sylvia another extension, meaning that Sylvia will loose her home. Sylvia unleashes a violent attack on Christine and then proceeds to put the curse of the Lamia on Christine, meaning she will be ferociously tormented for three days by a demonic force and on the third day will be drug to the fiery depths of Hell.

After the sweeping Hollywood productions that were the Spider-Man films, Raimi once again seems back at home with a smaller film. Drag Me To Hell is filled with techniques that he applied so skillfully in 1981’s The Evil Dead. Raimi resorts to his old restrained moments that are broken by tantrums of horror that are maxed out. Every demonic attack in Drag Me To Hell is presented as a grand finale, making the audience ask, “What can Raimi possible do to this poor girl by the end?” It turns out, quite a lot, and you better believe he comes armed with a final second twist that is wickedly delicious. It’s also quite coincidental that Raimi sets his sights to demonic haunting and loose possession after swinging around New York with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He terrorizes Christine much like he did Ash in The Evil Dead, Christine always by herself when the Lamia lashes out against her, usually resulting in Christine being knock around a room or terrorized by guttural growls and clanking, mocking inanimate objects. I don’t want to ruin all the fun in spotting all the references to The Evil Dead in Drag Me To Hell, but during a sequence where Christine enters a shed in her backyard, keep an eye out for a very cool nod to his masterpiece.

Much like Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead, Allison Lohman is up for the beating that Raimi dishes out, making her a worthy successor to Ash. Christine retains the glowing persona that Ash had at the beginning of both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, a seemingly sincere person who is always trying to do the right thing. Yet when she cuts someone down to get ahead, she faces forces beyond her comprehension. She barely stands a chance to overcome the relentless Lamia. It helps that with a B-movie premise such as this; the actors are all game to approach the material on the material’s terms. No one here is going for Oscar gold, which actually makes everything more fun than it already is. Long is having a blast as a concerned boyfriend who is skeptical of everything happening to Christine. Raver’s Sylvia is sublimely hellish, popping up like a rotten jack-in-the-box to rip out a handful of Christine’s blonde hair. Lee is hysterical as the kiss-ass Stu and I would have loved to see more of him. Paymer plays his role straight, a bit left out of the schlocky events, although he does get a good one-liner when he is showered with blood spraying from Christine’s nose. Dileep Rao shows up as an overly mysterious fortune teller and Adriana Barraza shows up as a damaged medium that does battle with the wicked beast that is the Lamia, a sequence that is the standout of a film that is packed from beginning to end with standout moments.

A smart burst of nostalgia from a man that helped shape the horror genre way back in 1981, establishing himself as a low budget master of horror, Drag Me To Hell is bursting with moments that will have you chewing your fingernails clean off. He crams his frames with deranged special effects that are both unspeakable and merrily creepy. It was also nice to see Raimi trade his gallons of blood and guts in for gallons of pus, vomit, and phlegm, all which are sprayed manically on the audience. Drag Me To Hell is truly awesome because Raimi finally understands how to mix black humor with drippy horror, making the moments that he wants to be creepy sequences that reduce us to quivering piles of flesh and bone. It’s evenly balanced unlike the slapstick heavy Evil Dead II, which was more concerned with the chuckles rather than the teeth chattering. Of all the recent horror films that are either comatose remakes or uninspired garbage, Drag Me To Hell ranks as one of the best horror films of recent years, wetting our appetite for more horror from Raimi, a living legend. Sometimes it takes a living legend to show these new kids how it is done and Drag Me To Hell schools the new school of horror.

Grade: A-

Drag Me To Hell is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Evil Dead II (1987)

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.

Grade: C+ 

Evil Dead II is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.