Friday, April 5, 2013

EVIL DEAD (2013)

Fede Alvarez’s 2013 Evil Dead is probably closest to Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn Of The Dead remake in style and execution. Both films take a cherished low-budget classic and, while sticking fairly close to the setups of their predecessors, they cycle in new characters and ramp up the action/blood/intensity for a faster, meanier, gorier approach. In our current heyday of PG-13 horror and toothless, unimaginative spook-em-ups, the commitment these filmmakers show to bloody mayhem is welcome, but the new model Evil Dead, like Snyder’s Dawn before it, still only manages to be occasionally diverting, but ultimately disposable. In both cases, there’s no substitute for the cheapo charm of the original. Evil Dead 2013 (which was produced by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell) starts off with an intriguing but confusing prologue—intriguing, because it hints at a broader mythology for this version of the story, but confusing because it never bothers to deliver on it. We see the fiery conclusion of one girl’s demonic possession, taking place in the basement of the series’ now-familiar cabin in the woods. Then, some time later, a group of five friends arrive at the cabin—not for a weekend of hard partying in the usual horror-film tradition, but so that drug-addicted Mia (Jane Levy) can dry out in the company of her concerned pals. The gang decides that, no matter what she says or does, Mia will not be allowed to leave the woods until the weekend is over and she’s gone completely cold turkey. This promising angle, which ensures that the kids actually have a good reason to stay in the cabin when things get weird, is ditched all too quickly since Mia is the first to fall under the spell of what lurks within the woods (an evil unleashed when one of the gang finds a creepy book bound up in barb wire and, of course, proceeds to read from it). At first, Mia’s increasingly crazed behaviour is dismissed as symptoms of drug withdrawal, but it isn’t long before the demonic infection spreads to the others, leading to an outbreak of self-mutilation, trash-talking, and all manner of goo and glop spewing out of character’s faces. You have to admire how the new Evil Dead gleefully goes for the gross-out (largely achieved through practical effects rather than CGI, always a plus. Apparently several cuts were made to ensure an R rating, but even so, this has got to be the bloodiest horror flick to get a wide release in quite some time. That being said, beyond the troubled family history between Mia and her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), the characters are so thinly drawn that it’s hard to get emotionally involved when they all start cutting each other into bloody chunks. I kept forgetting that one character, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), was even in the movie. I can’t imagine that her character had much description in the screenplay beyond “blonde hair/David’s girlfriend”, if her total lack of personality traits of any kind is any indication. The standout in the cast, by way of default, is Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric, if only because hipster fashion has come around again to the point that his now-weirdly-contemporary plaid shirt, long hair, and Chief Brody-sized eyeglasses make him look like…the victim in an early 1980s horror movie, appropriately enough. But beyond the rehab angle and the demonic, candle-headed boss beast in the demonic tome (who, sadly, never appears beyond the blood-printed page), Evil Dead doesn’t bring enough new to the table. The evil spirits are given a face this time, in the form of the ghoulish girl from the prologue, but this has the weird effect of making the threat seem smaller rather than bigger (if you can defeat the evil by chopping it into pieces with a chainsaw, it’s really not all that insurmountable, is it?). One can only assume that the mythology teased out by screenwriters Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, and Diablo Cody is dropped in to tantalize viewers back for an inevitable sequel, which is exactly the kind of breadcrumb-dropping storytelling cheat that made Prometheus such a stinker last year. Far too much of genre filmmaking these days is about luring viewers in with the promise of something new, and then, in the wake of a pile of unanswered questions, winkingly suggesting that you hang in there for Part II. Commendable for its carnage, but forgettable due to its flimsiness, Evil Dead 2013 feels regrettably incomplete and, as such, as unnecessary as most other horror remakes. Give me Sam Raimi chasing Bruce Campbell around the forest with a camera any day of the week.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Curse Of The Werewolf-Themed 45s!

My folks had my girlfriend Hillary and I out for Easter dinner yesterday, and they graciously allowed me to rummage through their old collection of 45 RPM records and take whichever ones caught my eye. Y'see, they don't have a working record player anymore, and we're reasonably new to the whole vinyl collecting craze, so I guess they figured all these singles would have a better home with us than where they were--in a big pile underneath the china hutch. Needless to say, it was a real treasure trove of campy singles that probably hadn't been spun in about thirty years, like the theme to The Greatest American Hero (or, if you prefer, George Costanza's answering machine greeting), and "General Hospi-tale", a late disco/early rap novelty song designed to cash in on the Luke & Laura-era General Hospital craze of 1981. There were also some cool finds that didn't mean much to me as a kid but are favourites now, like Helen Reddy's "Delta Dawn" (AKA the song that plays at the end of the little-seen but terrific Patton Oswalt movie Big Fan), and The Monkees' "Goin' Down" (which was featured in a great meth-making montage on the last season of Breaking Bad). But strangest of all, there seemed to be a recurring strain of lycanthropy-themed cuts in there too...or maybe that's just my werewolf-obsessed brain connecting the dots. You be the judge. First of all, there was the above number. Most people know the Five Man Electrical Band as the act behind the counterculture anthem "Signs", but to me, they will always be the guys who, for whatever reason, recorded this chilling tale of shapeshifting and sheep slaughter. Okay, maybe not quite chilling, but as a kid, I was pretty fascinated with the idea that anyone would record a pop song about such a terrifying subject. From the ominous opening ("Mama said/there's something weird 'bout Billy...") to the shrill, screamy chorus ("Is it any wonder we hate to see the sun go dooooown..."), the song is like a cool little horror movie in miniature. For the record, I still like it better than "Signs". And then there was this. It's no secret that An American Werewolf In London is one of my all-time favourite horror flicks, and I'm sure that at some point I must have become aware that its star, David Naughton, was a pop singer. But I must have repressed that memory, because this sure came as a shock to me. It's a pretty silly, but not entirely un-catchy, disco number, but I feel like the future David Kessler must have known that pop stardom wasn't in the cards. Considering that the B-side is the forgettable reprise "Still Makin' It", I think he had a pretty good idea of his inevitable one-hit wonder status. And finally, not really a werewolf song, but its inclusion in An American Werewolf In London makes for a nice little trilogy here. Nearly twenty years ago, I created a minicomic about a werewolf that took its name from this song, and, my love for CCR aside, I'll always have a soft spot for this song because of it. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go fire up the record player and listen to Jeannie C. Riley sing "Harper Valley PTA" one more time.