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By Charles On 11 Apr, 2013 At 08:39 PM | Categorized As Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No Gravatar2012_10_29-EvilDead2013-1200How far can one take a trope? Seriously, consider what I’m asking here. Tropes are called tropes for a reason, usually because (like their literary cousins, the cliches) tropes are so often utilized and over-utilized that they eventually lose all the impact and meaning their initial use conveyed. And when something transforms from plot device into trope, that usually also takes with it any sense of innovation the trope might once have had. Cynical, I know, but not far off the mark- tropes need to find new ways to make themselves relevant.

I mention this because I spent some time this past weekend getting reacquainted with an old friend. And this old friend apparently had a makeover. Was it a good idea for said friend to have a makeover? Maybe. It all depends on how much you like this friend to begin with. But you can’t deny that this friend is a little sharper, a little cleaner (relatively speaking) and a little less campy than he was before.

This friend I spent the weekend with was Evil Dead, and he has aged rather well (makeover notwithstanding). The granddaddy of campy horror, the progenitor of the oft-utilized “cabin in the woods” trope, and inspiration for any film that likes to throw young people to the proverbial wolves (or demons, elder gods, nazi zombies, Eli Roth, half-redneck sociopaths and Tyler Labine, etc etc), Evil Dead made a splash when it was first released for being rather funny…unintentionally or not. So when I first saw trailers for the “re-make,” completely devoid of campy overtones and taking itself rather seriously, I was a bit concerned.

Was this an attempt for the production team to distance itself from its predecessor (especially in the wake of last Spring’s utterly hilarious send-up “Cabin in the Woods”) with a darker, more forbidding film, or were they attempting to make the film Sam Raimi had “intended to” way back when he was still slumming around with Bruce Campbell and looking to make his mark in the worlds of B-horror and blood. After all, serious horror films often fail miserably, especially when they take themselves too seriously.

Thankfully, Evil Dead does not.

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See this man: he is NOT in this movie. Sorry. No Bruce for you.

I’m going to start this by saying that if you’ve NEVER seen Evil Dead before, then you will probably love this film. You have nothing to compare it to. You have no emotional connections to certain characters or scenes, you probably didn’t laugh yourself silly at the “serious” horror of the original, and you likely have never heard the term “boomstick” in its “native tongue” (and yes, I know that’s from Army of Darkness, I’m trying to make a point here). For all intents and purposes, this is a new film, no matter how “old” it might feel.

For those who HAVE seen Evil Dead, approach with caution. There have been changes, lots and lots of changes. No more promiscuity. No more fountains of blood. No more stupid-looking rubber demons terrorizing those poor college students…hell, no more college students either, as everyone is now a blissful twenty-something. Do not go into this movie expecting Evil Dead, because unless you are a very forgiving person who understands that sometimes remakes aren’t a bad thing, you will nitpick this into oblivion before going home to cry into your copy of “Drag Me to Hell” while cursing Raimi and company to a painful afterlife alongside “Mac guy.”

(Don’t believe me? Check out some critics reviews lamenting the lack of camp and humor the original had…most of which was unintentional. Thanks for missing the point, Richard Roeper, as much as I might agree with your assessment of the players in this game.)

This time around, Evil Dead deals less with teenage matters and more with addiction, fear, loyalty and why its not a good idea to read from the Necronomicon. Five young adults meet in a cabin in the woods (the same cabin used in pretty much everything these days) to help a friend cope with a heroin habit. While there, they discover a secret room in the cellar full of dead cats, and a book wrapped in barbed wire. Predictably, one of them opens and reads the book, and bad things start to happen. One friend slices her face off. Another pours boiling water on herself. There’s some conflict involving a nail gun, and unconventional use of a turkey knife.

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This is NOT what one means when they refer to getting a “facial.”

Evil Dead is a very “gross” movie, much like the original was. Drawing on elements of 80s splatterpunk and body horror, this film highlights how humans are simply sacks of meat and blood, and gloriously delights in showing the many ways we can be corrupted, putrefied and ripped apart. There’s plenty of filth present in both the cabin and the woods itself from the get go, leading one to wonder why the people present would even think to stay in such dirty surroundings. It practically screams “bad stuff is going to happen!” I once had issues with my uncle’s “summer home” because some squirrels got in and left nuts in my bed. These people trudge through mud and muck, and never seem to mind…or take showers.

The characters are also hopelessly dumb. Not in a “poorly written” sort of way (well, one of them is), but in the fact that they seem to completely lack common sense. It’s bad enough reading from an odd book you found in a “devil worship” room…actually no, that IS pretty bad. It’s wrapped in barbed wire, for god’s sake. You need bolt cutters to get it open. There are plenty of warnings written in ink and blood telling you not to read from it. And if you’re smart enough to read Sumerian, you should be smart enough to know NOT to read Sumerian. Seriously, lack of common sense here…oh who am I kidding, I would have done it too, if only for kicks.

My only real complaint is how the writers handled the entire affair: unlike the original, this time around the entire “reading from the book” angle seems more like an afterthought tacked on in as quick a way as possible. I never quite believed why said character did it, nor what he hoped to gain by doing it. Rather slapdash, which is disappointing considering how much careful thought was put into the rest of this movie.

This complete ignorance of basic survival instinct and sense is what ultimately makes the film enjoyable. Let’s face it, we as a people like seeing bad stuff happen to stupid people, and the people here definitely qualify. While possibly not the intent of the director, it can be deliciously entertaining to watch demons possess folks and turn them into sacks of flesh to be toyed with. You will likely find yourself egging on the monsters, anticipating the next gruesome death scene with more enthusiasm than you would like. That chill you’re feeling…that’s revulsion at yourself, not the film.

Worst. Nightmare.

Worst. Nightmare.

And despite what some critics might say, this film is not without its own brand of twisted humor. You will laugh, but you will also squirm. Some of those chuckles might not be for outrageous plotting, but at that awkward feeling creeping slowly into your gut as the film progresses. It takes a truly well-paced and -plotted film to make an audience feel that, something which Tarantino, Roth and even Miike (these days) have been trying to cultivate, often to their own dismay. Even me, as desensitized as I am to “horror” films, found myself shifting uncomfortably at certain times, and muttering “worst nightmare” under my breath while my friend next to me closed his eyes and shivered.

So by all means, go and see this movie. It’s a raucous good time. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

By Charles On 19 Apr, 2012 At 12:16 AM | Categorized As Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarIt’s easy to say that everything’s been done. Because it mostly has been. Be it movies, manga, novels, games- how often do the words “revolutionary” or “genre-defining” actually live up to the hype. So when something truly original or well done actually does come around, it all too often tends to get marginalized, or judged by some inane criteria that does no justice to the work itself.

Case in point: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s latest film, “Cabin in the Woods.” This is one of those films that has a horrible name (even if it does hearken back to another movie with the same premise from long ago, starring Bruce Campbell) but delivers so much in the way of entertainment, that it definitely should not be skipped. And yet, looking at reviews online reads something like a troll festival (which, by the way, also would make an awesome movie).

“Don’t waste your money on this movie. it was more of a comedy than horror. If you really must watch it wait for the DVD or until it comes on cable.”

“Don’t go see this movie its the worst movie made in history save about 2 hours of your life it doesen’t even make sense even at the end. Just don’t see this movie.”

“Cheesy acting, bad casting, highly predictable and a poor story line that is all over the place. This movie may appeal to the gore/horror fan but just about everyone else will have a reason to hate it. I like quality films that stimulate the mind but this was nothing close.”

Bad reviews? Just another day at the office for these working (soon-to-be) stiffs.

This is just a sampling of what Fandango had to offer. There’s more of it, should you be interested. (And these are all direct quotes.)

One thing I need to mention: “Cabin in the Woods” is not your father’s slasher flick. While it does contain the requisite amount of blood and gore, this film also highlights something that has been missing since Wes Craven decided to lampoon himself back in ’96: humor, and a veritable ton of tropes. This becomes apparent from the first scene, depicting two working stiffs talking about their upcoming weekend plans (and some rivalry with Japan) and continues throughout the 90+ minutes of frontal shots, cheap sex, flowing booze and zombie rednecks. Seriously, every possible trope found within the slasher genre is here and on display. The difference is, this movie, to paraphrase a great thinker, “just don’t give a f***.”

“Cabin In The Woods” is that rare horror film that intentionally doesn’t take itself seriously. At all. Which, in the end, makes the movie more entertaining. Calling it a comedy actually works: a good deal of the scenes are supposed to make you laugh while you jump (something more serious horror flicks fail at miserably). Cliched characters abound here: the Jock, Slut, Geek, Virgin and Fool are all present, but are, at the same time, artificial along with being named. In fact, at times “Cabin in the Woods” actively criticizes the actions of its main players, calling them out for being “too whatever.”

From George Kirk to Thor to a “dumb jock:” the decline of Chris Hemsworth becomes apparent in this green letterman

This open critique of the slasher genre continues up until the “twist” ending, which not only proves that Whedon still has the same talent and knack for grandeur that made “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” a huge success (not to mention the ambition that was Firefly), but also shows that he pays attention to what others in his field do, and finds creative ways to refute/mess with them. Not since Scream sent up a genre Craven essentially created has a movie achieved such a level of intentional shlock. And believe me, it’s worth it just to see what he got right. (Points for the integration of yuurei into the story- how hard IS it to kill 9 year olds?)

Which is why I find some of the internet critiques so annoying. Calling the acting cheesy and the plot predictable essentially proves that the reviewer was missing the point- it’s supposed to be. Same goes for expecting a slasher flick to “stimulate the mind.” Seriously, if you’re aiming for haute cinema, why do you expect to find it in the horror section? You don’t go into Coppola’s “Dracula” expecting Bela Lugosi or Count Orlock, so why the sudden disappointment now?

Does she survive? Do we care?

Now I will admit, I did not expect much from “Cabin in the Woods.” I went because some friends whose opinions I respect both gushed about it via Facebook over the weekend. The trailers, commercials and even poster ads all make the movie out to be a re-imagining of “Evil Dead,” or a serious foray into “traditional horror,” when in actuality the movie is more akin to “Evil Dead II”- ridiculous and unforgiving against itself. It’s not afraid to be over the top, but rather relishes in its display of parody and corn syrup. It doesn’t aim high, because those bars will never be reached, but is perfectly happy to deliver exactly what the audience expects of it, then throws in a few (literal) bones to keep things interesting. In the end, what’s left is equal parts send-up and tribute to a genre that is definitely played out, but still draws the faithful in. “Cabin in the Woods” is the reward for years of slogging through mindless slasher flicks: an honest story we’ve all seen before, full of blood and tropes, that actually goes where a lot of people hope its more “serious” counterparts would.