Evil Dead (2013)

I swore I would try to judge the Evil Dead remake on its own merits, but when you decide to remake an iconic low-budget horror film that basically still holds up, you’re kind of automatically inviting the comparison.  There’s nothing groundbreaking or innovative about this new film.  It’s simply what ‘The Evil Dead’ might have looked like if Sam Raimi had had a budget way back when.  If that’s all they were striving for, then they succeeded.  If you’re expecting more than that, as I did, you might leave feeling disappointed.  Though my exact feeling wasn’t disappointment, per se.  I mostly walked away saying, “That film seemed unnecessary.”  So what do you call that feeling?

Five friends meet up for a weekend in a cabin, as five friends are wont to do.  Right away, the exposition of how everyone knows each other is conducted in some of the clunkiest dialogue ever put to film.  “Hello, Mia, who is my sister.  Because you are my sister, you should remember that time our mother died.  By the way, I’m totally here for you as you try to quit drugs cold turkey.  I’m here for you as your brother.  Because you’re my sister.  Hey, how about our mom dying, huh?”  ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, which I might remind you was MAKING FUN OF this exact setup, actually pulls off this setup much better in about half the time.

After a trip to the basement, where the remnants of some nasty ritualistic business are found, including an ominous looking book that is wrapped in barbed wire and appears to be bound with stitched human flesh, Mia’s detox really starts to kick in.  Hippie Nerd Scholar guy cuts the barbed wire off the book, ignores every dire warning that appears to be written in blood, and recites the secret evil curse he has painstakingly revealed by shading with a pencil.  Basically, they took listening to a tape in the original, which anyone would reasonably do, and replaced it with stupid guy being the stupidest guy who ever stupided.  Whatever.  Mia attempts to escape her friends and gets attacked and raped by a thorny tree, which IS a direct lift from the original and therefore a good idea to keep.

After finding Mia and dragging her back to the cabin, ya know, for her own good, things take a turn toward the demonic.  As things get worse and worse, Hippie Nerd Scholar begins to piece together that he might be to blame more than any old detox side effects.  Who will survive the night?  Will the demon be defeated?  Does this count as a zombie movie?  https://kjburke.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/evil-dead-and-the-zombie-movie-dilemma-revisited/

If you can look past the standard horror cliches and horribly idiotic characters, which is itself a horror cliche, there are some redeeming qualities to be found.  I liked how the detox angle gave the other characters pause.  Someone trying to get over an addiction might really be seeing and doing some horrible things.  Maybe they shouldn’t still be clinging to that notion once Mia is trying to murder them and is unaffected by tranquilizers, but it started in a good place.  I also enjoyed one character succumbing to cumulative injuries.  So often, we see the plucky kids shaking off absolutely everything, but this time there was just one too many puncture wounds to overcome over the course of three or four different beatings.  We also saw some classic implausible gore, which is usually reserved for campier productions or at least ones with lower budgets.  ‘127 Hours’ be damned, if you get your hand trapped, just pull it off.  Duh.

In conclusion, I am tempted to knock ‘Evil Dead’ down a few pegs for its sheer lack of a need to exist, but that wouldn’t be fair.  Instead, I will have to hold other things against it.  Such as the aforementioned clunky exposition and stupidity of the characters.  There’s also a fairly jarring hero switch-up at the end which is effective at first due to the ambiguity of who is possessed or not, but it transforms quickly from ‘can they be trusted?’ to ‘oh, I guess we’re rooting for that person now.’  And as much as I dislike cliches, this is one film that might have been better served by it all being a detoxed fever dream in the end.  Like, it really rained blood for twenty minutes, you easily tore off your own hand and everyone is dead?  That stuff all really happened?  C’est la vie!

Grade: C+

The greatest use of hyperbole in the history of the world

The greatest use of hyperbole in the history of the world

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Evil Dead and the “Zombie Movie” Dilemma Revisited

It sounds like such a simple thing.  ‘Let’s get together and watch zombie movies.’  Little did I ever know how much of a dialogue would be created by the concept of what a zombie is exactly.  Over the years (yes, I said years) of doing this, we have used as loose and accepting a definition as possible.  Nothing, after all, is more shameful than having the film you chose be disqualified from the Golden Zombey Awards as well as a ranking on our master list.  (Fuck you, Carriers!)

It goes something like this:

An external force of some kind alters human beings in such a way that they lose control of themselves and begin to cause harm to others.

This very inclusive definition has served us well and allowed us to enjoy some films that other undead enthusiasts might be quick to dismiss.  The Signal.  The Crazies.  Demons.

Demons?

This is where we seem to run into the most trouble.  A demon is definitely a different thing than a zombie.  My three year old niece knows that.  However, a demon’s M.O. lands gracefully under our loosely defined zombie.  A possessed person has certainly been altered, does not have control over themselves and usually seeks to cause harm to others.  For sure.  So why does it always make us uneasy and question our definition whenever a demon is involved in a film?

I think the biggest obstacle for me is the power of manipulation.  Part of losing control of yourself is the mindlessness.  Whether it’s a Romero walking corpse gnawing on an arm or a sick person grabbing an axe and chopping somebody up, neither being has the ability to just stop doing that.  A demon, on the other hand, can gauge the effectiveness of what it’s doing and change things up if needed.  And usually while providing a running commentary and cursing a lot.  That’s the other thing.  Being able to talk throws me off.

But these two things I mention are not even deal breakers.  The killings in The Signal are brought about by altered perceptions of reality and broken logic.  No one in that film loses the ability to speak.  But we counted it.  And of course there are the Return of the Living Dead zombies who can shout BRAINSSS!!!! or radio for more police to be sent.  To confuse matters further, ‘Demons’ is a pretty straight forward zombie movie that I know we had no debate over.  What it comes down to is our gut feeling, guided by the loose structure of our definition.  The Signal counts because we say it does.  The Bay doesn’t because we say it doesn’t.   (And it really, really doesn’t.)

Evil Dead has been the biggest headache over qualification that we have ever had.  By far.  We talked about whether or not we should go see it.  We talked even more about whether it counts after seeing it.  It contains many qualifiers that we have used to justify putting other movies on the list, but for some reason, it feels different for ED.  It makes no sense, I know.  4 of the 5 main characters lose control of their own bodies and attempt to harm the others.  One of them even becomes a killer by being bitten!  And yet still I left the theater with a “yeah, but…” feeling in my mind.  We didn’t line up to see The Last Exorcism Part 2 when it came out.  Possession is just a different ballgame.  No matter how many scenes I watched that totally fall under our loving umbrella of acceptance, I could never get past the feeling that these particular characters were battling one singular demonic force.  Even though said force was totally altering human beings and making them harm others.  Ugh.

So the final decision we made was that Evil Dead counts as a zombie movie because of precedents set, but neither one of us is happy about it!

 

Zombie Movie Night: April ’13

My pick for this month was Hunting Creatures, an amateur film from Germany.  The setup is pretty simple.  A rave at an abandoned warehouse goes horribly wrong because it just happens to be the place where scientists disposed of their failed eternal life serum experiments.  Almost everyone turns into zombies, except for some young criminals who ultimately decide to team up with the lead scientist and hunt the creatures down.  See what I did there?

Hunting Creatures has all the trademarks of an amateur shoot.  Bad acting, bad effects, minimalist plot.  I can’t knock the effort put in because it’s clearly not the WORST THING EVER, which is all you can really hope for from a film like this.  HC manages to get to the “hilariously bad” level, which ends up saving it from the bottom of the pile.  A belly laugh of confusion is still a belly laugh, after all.  Most of HC’s unintentional humor comes from its bizarre character motivations.  The scene where the young crooks meet the scientists is interrupted by someone bursting through the door and shooting people, but, whatevs!  It’s all good.  Let’s team up anyway!  Oddly enough, the zombie who shows some leadership ability along with true immortality becomes the most sympathetic and likeable character.  And the reveal of how he got like that is the film’s funniest moment.  Not intended to be, but, like I said, it still counts on the laugh meter.

It’s too bad to recommend a watch, but there are definitely worse zombie movies you could waste your time with.  Grade: D+

huntingcreatures

Next up was, sadly, our second ever disqualification.  The Bay, directed by Barry Levinson, is actually a fairly well-made entry in the “found footage” horror subgenre.  Instead of some singular handheld nonsense, it is told from many different perspectives in the form of a tell-all documentary about an ecological disaster compiled from government-confiscated footage.  The problem is that it feels like it is building to something great and then fails to deliver.  If the victims had all turned into zombies or even just crazed killers, the movie would have not only qualified but probably gotten a good grade.  As it is, all the decent build lazily climaxes with the dying people just dying and the resolution to the disaster occurs offscreen.  So much wasted opportunity here.  And definitely no zombies  Grade: N/A

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After deciding not to change the name to Eco-Disaster Movie Night, we hit up Netflix Instant for another option.  We chose Remains, a made for Chiller television production.  This one wastes little time setting things up as a massive fireball hits Reno, instantly turning everyone into flesh-hungering undead.  Inside a casino are four survivors, a failed magician and his surly girlfriend, an excitable young guy and a douchey jock type.  As the horde outside grows by the day, things become more and more hopeless.  They make a few failed attempts at escape, they are “rescued” by a military unit with ambiguous intentions and of course, zombies eat people.  Most of the film is cookie cutter boring and when its not, it’s full of gaping plotholes.  For example, if the zombies go to sleep at night, why are you turning on a spotlight and hoping help arrives, instead of just, uh, ya know, leaving?  You can’t complain about being trapped when you’re not really trapped.  The acting isn’t bad; Lance Reddick, from LOST and Fringe, even shows up for what amounts to a cameo, but the problem lies more in the characterizations.  Part of this might stem from the sound quality, as some characters just speak louder than others.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t invested enough to want to figure out what the quiet ones were saying.  It gets a better grade than Hunting Creatures simply because of the better production value, but honestly, to me, it was  more of a trudge to get through this one.  Grade: C-

remains