Evil Dead (2013) – epic fail

Evil Dead (2013) ★
Director: Fede Alvarez
FilmDistrict and Ghost House Pictures
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez

evil-dead-remake-movie-poster-2013So I finally got my ass to a theater to see the much anticipated remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic Evil Dead. I have to be honest — I did not want this remake. For the most part, I’m leery of remakes no matter the purity of intent or the talent and ambition involved. Certain films especially are such products of their time and the people behind them that any attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a second time is bound to fail. You’re either left with a painful pastiche or a hot mess. All parties involved are so determined to either “hold true to the original” or break away to become “its own movie” that the effort seems agonized and confused one way or the other, defeated before the first scene is even shot from trying too hard or not hard enough. Rarely does something emerge that’s new and exciting with its own unique vision of a story.

My problem with remakes is that if you can’t do it better,  why bother doing it at all? Yet people continue to try.

I’ve been a diehard fan of the Evil Dead trilogy for years, and while I did not think a remake of this sort could succeed, I was willing to give it a chance. It did have the blessing of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell after all and maybe a young new director could bring a freshly terrifying spin to that cabin in the woods and the inadvertent awakening of sleeping demons.

Then again, maybe not.

e3Without even comparing it to its source material (there is no comparison), this remake is an epic failure. Yes, there are some gooshy, icky splatter effects to make you squirm and wince and gag and a few loud bangs and demons jumping out of dark spaces to make you startle — BUT — that’s all there is and I’m sorry, anyone who tries to argue any different is wasting your time.

I was shocked by how little plot set up there is (the ludicrous intervention / detox getaway weekend is so throwaway and unconvincing). What’s worse, there is hardly any tension or buildup before the gore starts to fly. Hello!! Where’s the foreplay, people? This isn’t a porno that needs a sex scene in the first 15 minutes. Yeah it’s a horror movie, but one that claims to be more evil-dead-2013-critique-L-S0Cu8cthan a B grade slasher flick, boasting in fact to be the most terrifying film I will ever experience, so where’s the goddamn character development? I need a hero to root for, I need someone to really like and relate to who’s going to act as my gateway into this nightmare landscape. All of the characters are so underdeveloped and just not that likable that when the possessions start (too soon, way too soon) I felt neither frightened for them nor invested in the outcome. I don’t scare if I don’t care, it’s as simple as that.

Horror 101 — anticipation is everything, an addictive emotional, visceral response. Create suspense please, let my imagination do a little bit of work first, give me some room to savor the dread. The approach here is heavy-handed and obnoxious. I did not feel like an active participant but rather someone who is being dragged along for the ride.

evil-dead-2013I was also disappointed by the visuals, not just the demons, but how dark this movie is shot. Throw on some lights! Dark isn’t always the scarier choice. This is the only time I will mention Raimi’s original in which he shoots a lot of his most violent scenes cast in bright light (I’m thinking of Cheryl and the pencil stabbing here). It’s in our psychological makeup to feel safer when there’s light, so that when something horrific happens it’s even more frightening because we’re not expecting it. This remake is too dark as to be almost monochromatic, and with no contrast that very quickly translates into visual boredom.

Horror and comedy may seem like strange bedfellows, but any horror junkie knows that the juxtaposition of scary with funny is a magic combo that is one of the genre’s greatest strengths. When the tension is coiled just tight enough, a slap dash of comedic relief is always welcome. That is sorely lacking in this movie. There are no comedic moments, no absurd occurrences to get you giggling right before you scream, and god knows this bleak piece of work needed that more than anything else. If it’s not going to serve any other purpose than to make your characters more likable, locating those natural moments to exploit for a laugh is paramount.

evil-dead-jane-levyAnd as for those demons? Meh. The possessed looked more like a cross between a vengeful Japanese ghost and a Romero zombie. Nothing about the way they move or speak impressed me as new or particularly frightening.

Was I grossed out? Yeah, you bet, but that’s not the same as being terrified, and wasn’t that supposed to be the whole point?

Renowned film critic fails a cinema classic

The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder ★
David Thomson
Basic Books, 2009

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” ~Norman Bates, Psycho (1960)

***Note: the following review contains spoilers for the films Psycho, Carrie, and Friday the 13th.

Layout 1I’ve had this slim volume by film critic David Thomson on my currently reading shelf for months and it was high time to finish it, or abandon it. I finished it…barely.

Psycho is one of my favorite movies for a thousand reasons, including all of the fascinating stories that surround the mythology of how it was shot, Hitchcock’s battle with Hollywood censors, his genius marketing plan, and the film’s subsequent shell-shocking and titillation of 1960 movie audiences. So when a book like this promises to show me the moment of Psycho and how its director taught America to love murder, I’m there. The only thing that rivals talking about the movie itself for me, is talking about the cultural Zeitgeist in which it was made and received.

Thomson’s thesis in an ambitious and exciting one. His book, on the other hand, is a wishy-washy example of intellectual masturbation that goes nowhere and proves nothing. Dare I say he comes off as an idiot quite frankly, full of sound and fury, in a treatise absent of any real meaning or value. He has added zero new to the debate on Hitchcock’s films, or Psycho in particular.

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They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? ★

by Horace McCoy

shoot horsesI know I must be missing something here, but I just don’t get why this has endured as a profound piece of classic American literature. Apparently 1930s French Existentialists went gaga over it and Simone de Beauvoir named it as “the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America”. So if you are a literary theorist, and get off on those labels and how they come to mean something to a certain group of people during a certain period of time, then you probably want to read this book and are going to think it’s pretty important.

As for myself, I was bored senseless. I didn’t know what to expect going in (having never seen the movie), but somehow I had the words horror and dystopia clanging around in my head. I was neither horrified nor presented with a gripping dystopian landscape. The concept is appealing I give you that — an idea redolent with potential: a marathon dance in the dirty ’30s that exploits and capitalizes on participant despair and desperation. The dancers dance because they have no other options. Guess that’s what got the French Existentialists all worked up.

In the introduction to this 2010 edition Gloria Beatty is described as driving the story:

with a tremendous negative energy that wells up from her understanding that the world – her world, the world that plays out beneath the Hollywood sign – is one of amorality and illusion.

She is also described as a complete nihilist. ::yawn:: Nihilists piss me off. It’s too easy to hate everything and everyone and only see the hypocrisy and cruelty in the world.

So the themes are “big” in this book, I get it, and I get why certain people would be attracted to it and want to talk about these big themes (I went to grad school with some of you), but not I sir for this very simple reason; I hate “big” ideas (insert jazz hands here) that don’t come wrapped in a gripping story that’s going to smack me in the face and wake me up. Story. Comes. First. Always. You may be brilliant and have awesome insights into the human condition, but unless you can weave a tale that’s going to put me on my ass I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not helping you along by faking it When Harry Met Sally Style pretending you wrote a great novel because I’m keen to wax poetic on how the world is shit and then we die.

I think what really pissed me off is this review on Amazon.ca which writes:

it’s McCoy’s Horses that…so beautifully reflects the darkest side of the Depression days in the U.S., even more so than Steinbeck’s wonderful The Grapes of Wrath. McCoy gets to the very core of human desperation and misery, a cutthroat atmosphere where people will resort to ANYTHING just to survive.

Excuse me?! First of all, unlike Steinbeck, McCoy doesn’t come close to accomplishing any of that and second of all, comparing this short, painful, pretentious book to one of the greatest novels ever written is JUST SO WRONG. Epic delusions of grandeur my friend and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Epic fail.

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