Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Evil Dead Saga
To describe the Evil Dead franchise in one word would have to be cheese. Good, old-fashioned cheese that ages over time to be appreciated by a new generation. Its unlike any other film series that gets gradually different in its sequels even if there is two and one recent film that is both a reboot and remake while having some connection as a continuing entry. While the tone of the series does change within each installment, each one goes from different and fresh ideas while straying away from the uncanny valley of degrading the series like Teenage Mutant Ninjia Turtles or the RoboCop films. Instead, the tone of the film is downgrading but still keeping that enjoyable energy that existed in the first one.
The Evil Dead started as a short film made by Sam Raimi in hopes of expanding it to feature length. It certainly drummed up interest with investors and as a result, we got one of the most important horror films of the genre. Sure the plot is basic but what makes it scary is how the terror progresses. Its the traditional group of college students that go to a cabin in the woods for their spring break. But what they find there is a book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis that is said to be the Book of the Dead. As it turns out a professor was trying to analyze it but ended up releasing a gruesome batch of evil spirits upon the woods. Well as you can imagine, these five university fall victim to the demons that lurk in the small house as one by one they get possessed and try to survive till morning.
The center of the movie is a character named Ash played by Bruce Campbell who would later be known for this series and many other films to numerous to name. It was this series that jettisoned his career as a B-movie king of the 1980s and 1990s. Its also interesting to note the journey his character goes through from each film. Here, he is a basic student that is trying to make sense of what’s going on and attempt to stop the evil. We do root for him seeing how big of a leader he becomes near the end when stuff hits the fan.
The biggest highlight are the scares and boy, does it get frightening. I’m tempted to compare how terrifying it is to today’s standards but it basically Diet Coke to Rob Zombie’s movies. Back then, it was really pushing. The gore goes straight to the jugular without being subtle like a pencil to the ankle to one getting molested by a tree. And yes, you heard me right. A character gets groped and….well, it would be too much to describe in words but I think you get the picture. The whole movie is one fest of twisted scenarios that seem like they would come from your deepest nightmares. Sure the movie was shot with a low budget and on 16mm film but the way its executed feels very gritty and brash like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its like watching a grindhouse movie that’s been washed off with Windex while being dipped in dark chocolate. It doesn’t feel too polished nor too amateurish.
As impressive as this entry is, I often don’t find myself turning to it a lot. Instead, I often jump to its sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and I think I have a good reason why. Rather than be straight-up horror, it goes for some camp vaule to keep the series fresh and new. And it was in this direction the series would take in being goofy popcorn fun but the good kind. It picks up where the last one ended as Ash is still stuck in the cabin but this time the group of demons labeled as “Deadites.” This entry is split into two as the first half focuses on the Ash character trying to survive the horrors of the cabin while the second half is set on a new character. The professor’s daughter Annie returns with extra pages from the Necronomicon but finds that the whole party is dead with the doctor’s wife resurrected into an ugly hag of a Deadite in the cellar.
Ash has to face new problems now as the two try to stop the evil that lurks in the woods, Ash’s possessed girlfriend and at one point his own hand. I’m not kidding. His own hand gets too evil to the point he has to lob it off with a chainsaw. To keep this from being two gruesome, the fights between Ash and his dismembered hand play off like a Tom and Jerry cartoon as he chases it down with a shotgun but his hand literally keeps getting the “upper hand.” What keeps this from being darker like its predecessor is how it goes for comedy and less horror. There are some scares but its played up for laughs more. For example, there’s one scene where a Deadite’s eyeball is knocked out of its socket and lands into someone’s mouth. On paper, it sounds gross but the execution makes it funny. We embrace its fake strings and how ridiculous it looks to the point we can’t help but laugh at how poorly constructed it looks but how they convince it as being serious makes it funny.
But the one fans known the best has to be Army of Darkness. Of all the entries in the series, I feel this one gets easily recognized a lot when you consider its premise and again, the tone it goes for. Like Evil Dead 2, it goes for horror comedy but its far more campier and obviously Stooge influenced. Again, it picks up from the last installment where Ash somehow gets transported back to the Middle Ages and is hailed as a hero after a Deadite encounter. Yes, apparently the place is amok with Deadites as they try to take over King Arthur’s castle. Ok, he’s known as “Lord” Arthur but why not? Its meant to be a crazy take on A Confederate in King Arthur’s Court with demonic zombies.
Ash demands to go home as his hero stasis goes from every man to reluctant hero. He’s told there is a copy of the Necronomicon in this time period which has the ability to take him back home but in obtaining it, he unleashes the evil spirits within the process. Now, he can’t return home until he puts the demonic beasts to rest and this is where things really get good. The climatic finale is a huge highlight as an evil version of Ash (long story, don’t ask) resurrects an army of decaying corpses and skeletons to take siege on the castle. There’s a wide variety of special effects and stop-motion animation that give it a Ray Harryhausen feel when the animated skeletons ram a log at the front doors or when they are sword fighting. Even though its obvious, the way the actors treat this as something serious makes it enjoyable and it feels like everyone is having a good time without being too self-aware.
There’s a director’s cut of this film with 15 minutes of extra footage that I highly recommend checking out. There’s more character development, more humorous scenes that got cut from the theatrical version, more battle footage I’m surprised to see got trimmed and even an alternate ending. Like Little Shop of Horrors, its bleak in concept but hilarious considering how you know the character Ash is easy to mess something up like the instructions of drinking a potion to get him back home. In the theatrical version, its changed so he gets home safe and still be a hero of his time. I’m honestly fine with both endings but part of me likes the one in the extended version slightly more just for how absurdly funny it is. But I can’t say this version is all around perfect. It goes use alternate takes of certain moments that I feel play down the campy quality. The infamous “Good… bad…I’m the guy with the gun” is swapped with a line that is less effective. There’s at least two instances where it does that surprisingly downplay the silly tone. Its hard to describe why but I feel those moments really add to the comedic quality Army of Darkness goes for.
Now of course, I have to talk about the new film because it has some connections to the old films or at least there will be in the future. The 2013 entry titled “Evil Dead” serves as a reboot and a remake while acting like a new entry. To compare, there was the 2011’s “The Thing” which was meant to be a prequel to John Carpenter’s film but at times felt confused if it was meant to be a remake of the classic or fill in the loose holes that I felt didn’t need to be. “Evil Dead,” however, avoids that trap by going in a fresh direction that pays homage to the series while giving it a new spin. Most critics treat this with a positive to mixed reception but I feel this is a superior entry that doesn’t tarnish what the franchise has done.
Sure it rehashes the teens going to the woods to party but with new twists. Instead, they go there to help one of their friends to quit her drug addiction in hopes of reconciling with old friends. This is a bit of a nitpick but why take someone like that to a desolate place in the woods is beyond me. You could argue they are trying to keep her away from things like social interaction with druggies via in person or by phone but it feels a little off when you think about it too much. Either way, the group comes across the Book of the Dead and this time a wide variety of horrid things in the basement. These are images I will tell you know that still haunt me like animal corpses in the basement or how freaky the Deadite act when they posses a victim. Even the infamous “tree scene” is one-uped with such a subtle yet disgusting concept that is far too frightening to describe here or even talk about.
In short, “Evil Dead” lives up to its advertising moniker as being “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” It goes straight for the horror and doesn’t hold back. It makes John Carpenter’s The Thing look like a whoopie pie in comparison to the truckload of blood and gore. Its not too bad to the point where it feels like a snuff film. I’m not talking about guts getting torn out or sick stuff like that that. But the violence is so over the top to the point we are more fixed on how realistic it feels and less laughing about the cheesy execution in the effects. Its like a Tom Savini wet dream of special effects. Think George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead but a tad extreme. I am happy to see that all of the special effects are 90% of the time practical. Director Fede Alvarez confirmed in an interview that most of “what you will see is real, which was really demanding… There’s a reason people use CGI; it’s cheaper and faster, I hate that. We researched a lot of magic tricks and illusion tricks.” Its a true testament to what practical effects can do. And I mean a true testament. Everything looks and feels real with we see an arm getting lobbed off with an electric kitchen utensil or a Deadite getting split in half vertically with a chainsaw. Its an insane film but I have a hard time recommending it for others.
And when I mean others, I mean those who really have a weak stomach. What I feel is missing is the humor that made the previous sequels all the more enjoyable. This soaks in its horror and doesn’t step back. From beginning to end, its an intense adrenaline rush that might turn some viewers off. I know from experience seeing I saw this with my sister and mother. While my sister enjoyed how insane the violent scenes where, I felt more bad from my mother who kept looking at her smartphone hoping the gory scenes would end. And it doesn’t help either that she’s not on top of movies like this so I best recommend this one with a warning. For those who can really stomach such much hard violence and like a gory film, you won’t be disappointed. Those with weak stomachs, might want to stick with Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Even though Evil Dead II can get violent, its never to the point of being gory and is more played for laughs.
Its funny to see a film series where I barley can think of an entry that I honestly disliked. Maybe the magic of this one is just how each entry acts like its own film to the point we treat them different varieties of chips or soda. Even Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness open with a recap while changing things around so viewers can be enlightened on what they missed. It really adds on to the fun factor of each one as they kept pushing the cult campy tone while show just how fun these movies can really become. It shows you can make a horror movie with mindless laughs and fun concepts that I feel are missing from some of today’s movies. All in all, I highly recommend checking out all of them with the exception of the new “Evil Dead” in case you want something different but still keeping with the roots of the series.
Posted on October 20, 2014, in Horror-Wood 2014 and tagged Army of Darkness, Ash, Book of the Dead, Bruce Campbell, Cabin in the Woods, campy, cheese, cult classics, Deadites, Director's Cut, Evil Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, Franchise, Halloween, Horror movies, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, Sam Raimi, The Evil Dead. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.