My fellow freaks and geeks, lend me your ears!
Today, I present you with a cult series that should be adored by everyone: The Evil Dead Trilogy.
Making History: The Evil Dead (1981)
Bones: Five friends vacationing in a cabin in the woods discover a book (Naturon Demonto) and a tape
recording of the translation. When the recording is played they awaken an ancient evil that must be defeated less their souls be consumed.
Why Is It Groovy?
Sam Raimi got together his friends and was hellbent on making a horror movie. One problem: They had no money. So, to solve this they made a short film to pitch the idea to producers and others titled: Within the Woods (1978) [Click here to see the full film]. Needless to say, they succeeded and were able to get money for the film (and that which they could not get, they got it themselves through loans and credit and every trick possible). The filming itself was also difficult due to harsh weather conditions and the low budget they had to work within. Why is this important? It shows Raimi’s dedication. This wasn’t just a B-Movie, though, he intended it to be; this was a labor of love. Also, Raimi, choked by a budget, had to be creative, so all of the effects in the film were practical. One such instance is the unseen malevolent force that zooms around the swamps, the forests, and into the house. All of that was achieved with Raimi, and sometimes Campbell, running around with a camera attached to a plank of wood. Finally, there is the moment where Ash (Campbell) manages to defeat the Deadites and they are shown melting away. This was achieved by using the stop-motion model animation technique that Ray Harryhausen created. Throw all the ingenuity together with amazing cinematography and copious amounts of gore and you have an elevated B-Horror movie.
If Sam Raimi is Frankenstein and the movie itself is the lifeless creature, then Bruce Campbell is the spark of life. Granted, the character of Ash that we know and love today is not really the one based off of the first movie. The Evil Dead was a straight up horror flick – lacking comedy. However, Ash is still an amazing, warm, interesting character because Campbell sells him to the audience. Is the character written well by Raimi? Of course, but without Campbell’s incredible charisma he would have been just another character. (Why do you think the films revolve around him more and more as the series continues?) The other thing about Campbell is that him and Raimi have been friends since they were children, so this was just as much a labor of love for him, too. Also, considering the amount of times he gets hit (by Raimi), has something dropped on him (by Raimi), or gets coated in some liquid (usually fake blood and usually by Raimi), without missing a beat, shows his dedication to the project and his professionalism.
We Did It Before, And We Can Do It Again: Evil Dead II (1987)
Bare Bones: Ash and Linda, a loving couple, are vacationing in a cabin in the woods when he plays a tape recording of a translation
from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, releasing an evil force. Annie, the daughter of the translator, arrives at the cabin with her research partner and two people that lead them there and find themselves caught up in the chaos. It is up to Ash and Annie to put an end to the Deadites once and for all.
Why Is It Groovy?
Sam Raimi was not allowed to use footage from The Evil Dead because he did not own the rights to his own film. Challenge accepted, he streamlined the original story, realizing the film was really more about Ash and the tortures he has to endure in the presence of this evil force and the Deadites. However, this was not going to be a straight horror movie like the first installment because of Scott Spiegel. Spiegel is a childhood friend of Raimi (and Campbell), and he reminded his friend that they used to do comedy, so maybe he should try the film out as a horror comedy. The seed planted, Raimi drew on several inspirations – cartoons (inanimate objects laughing), his love of The Three Stooges (bring on the slapstick), and Spiegel’s spot on visual humor (Ash puts a book on the bucket covering his severed hand – A Farewell to Arms ). The result: One of the greatest horror comedies of all-time. Is it a horror movie? Yes, it is terrifying. One of the creepiest scenes involves a possessed Henrietta (Lou Hancock) singing from the cellar to try and get Annie (Berry) to open the door; in my opinion, it is as sad as the scene between Father Karras and the demon pretending to be his mother in The Exorcist (1973). Is it still gory? Yes. The house bleeds and people explode in geysers of blood, as if human beings were just made of blood. So where’s this humor? Plugged into the craziest moments (and it works). Two moments that drive the humor home: Ash’s demon possessed hand fighting him and Ted Raimi as evil Henrietta fighting Ash.
Speaking of Ash, Campbell made the character we are familiar with starting in this film. After having to kill his girlfriend, chop off his possessed hand, fight said hand, being turned into a Deadite, and getting thrown into a cellar with Henrietta, Ash suffers a complete break with sanity and becomes the anti-heroic chunk of awesome he is today. I am convinced that Sam Raimi’s direction for Campbell was, “Just keep doing it bigger.” And that’s what happens. Every scene with Ash in it one-ups itself until Ash is a Deadite’s worst nightmare. Really, it is Campbell’s over the top charisma that makes these films hard to forget as you find yourself quoting his lines: “Groovy,” “Come get some,” or “Swallow this!” They are cheesy, but coming out of that mouth that carries that chin of power, they are bad ass. However, the male lead aside, one of the smartest things done in this film, was to give Ash some help. He may be a hero, but he is an incompetent hero in this one. Enter Annie. Annie is the unsung co-protagonist of this piece, and Berry did a hell of a job portraying her. She is a strong character who manages to make the evil become corporeal and send it into a portal with her dying breath. Ash could never have saved the day without her. There is even a heartwarming moment where Annie has died and Ash says, “You did it, kid.” Together, Ash and Annie make a power team of brawn and brains, respectively.
Plus It: Army of Darkness (1992)
Lay Out Them Bones: At the end of the last film, Ash was sent back to the year 1300 A.D. where he discovers he is the hero prophesied to quest for the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis and destroy the Deadite army once and for all. Of course, it’s Ash and things don’t
go as planned…
Why Is It Groovy?
Sam and Ivan Raimi… and Bruce “I-Am-A-Bad-Ass” Campbell.
Walt Disney (this seems like an odd person to bring up here, but follow me for a second) is someone I do not enjoy giving credit to because he was a horrible person. That said, he had this concept that was brilliant: “Plus it.” I bring this term up because it is the greatest contribution to art, business, and everything in-between. The concept was to take something and make it better, never going backwards, which is what Sam Raimi did with The Evil Dead Trilogy. And the one film that proves this is Army of Darkness. Sam Raimi originally wanted Scott Spiegel to return to help him write the script because of the great humor he injected into the second film, but he was unavailable. Without Spiegel, he turned to his brother Ivan Raimi, known for his humor, and a strong partnership was formed. They knew they wanted to get the movie out of the cabin in the woods once and for all and put Ash out in the world, so they stuck with the setting of 1300 A.D. Also, the Raimis worked closely with Campbell and Robert Tapert (THE producer for the trilogy), exchanging notes to make it better. In the end, what we fans got, was a film that was “plus-ed” into being a horror comedy that raised the bar. As always, there are geysers of blood and, like the last film, there is over the top slapstick, Three Stooges references, and ridiculously awesome moments.
And all those awesome moments are thanks to Campbell. Bruce Campbell is the star of this film and the man who helps elevate it to a whole new level. In fact, another title for this film should have been Ash Unbound. Ash, though still an incompetent anti-hero, has become the greatest warrior humankind has against the Deadites. Why? The only explanation I can come up with is after all of the shit he has been through in the former films, there is nothing left in the world that can be put in his path – mainly because he’d either shoot it with his “boomstick” or put a chainsaw through it. He makes a robotic hand. He makes gun powder using a Chemistry 101 book. He converts the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 (Sam Raimi’s trademark car that appears in everything he has ever done) into a tank. Ash does everything that one would think impossible, and not only are you willing to accept it, but it makes perfect sense. I would try to sum up how amazing he is in this film, but Ben Thompson has put it better than I ever could, here:
The fact is that you can’t hold Ash to the same standard that you hold mere mortals to. He is not only just a complete and total badass; He is the standard by which all future badasses will be measured. So if he wants to jump onto a department store trampoline and fire fifteen perfectly-aimed shotgun shells in rapid succession while soaring twenty feet in the air, he can do it. You and I can’t; but you and I are also not Ash. And while it may seem impossible for do the things that he does and kick as much ass as he is famous for doing, I assure you that it isn’t. Why, you ask? Simple. Because he’s Ash.
To further emphasize Thompson’s point, here’s the remarkable scene from the film that proves Ash is a B-Movie Titan (though, I do prefer the original ending Sam Raimi and Campbell wanted):
If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Evil Dead (2013)
Dig Up Them Bones: Mia agrees to go to a family cabin in the woods with three friends and her brother to go “cold turkey” and fight
her addiction. There, a book is discovered and when a passage is read from it an evil is unleashed that will destroy all of them.
Why Is It Groovy?
Let me begin by saying, my expectations were really, really high for this film. I went to the panel they had at New York Comic Con, I saw the footage, I loved the trailer, and Bruce Campbell said it was going to be an excellent watch. All that said, and with great respect to the Raimis and Campbell, I felt that the film had no idea what it wanted to be and that the so called “female-Ash,” Mia (Jane Levy), was one of the weakest and most pointless characters ever to be put on screen. Then again, that’s not really fair because I did not enjoy a single one of the characters. But, let me expand on my two biggest problems: 1) A lack of heart and 2) Mia.
The original The Evil Dead had a lot of heart in it (and I am not talking about the creators this time). The characters were a bunch of twenty-somethings that decided to go to a cabin in the woods for a peaceful vacation, only to uncover a great deal of evil. Sure, there was an asshole in the group (played by Richard DeManincor), but everyone else was lovable. Also, there is a sweetness between Ash and Linda that makes the film all the more tragic when it is destroyed. The reboot has no sweetness – not a moment of heart. Let’s begin with the fact that Mia goes up there to go “cold turkey” with a group of people that do not get along because of her drug addiction and her horrible brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), who seems to have fucked everyone and their mother over. Even if this film did not involve Deadites and a demonic presence, I would have been waiting for them to kill each other. One of my writing mentors explained why you need likable characters in fiction (or at least someone you could sympathize with): The reader, or viewer in this case, needs someone they can relate to in order to feel grounded in THAT reality. I could not relate to a single person in the whole film. And thank the geek gods because if I could, I would have no friends. Sitting there, at the free screening I went to, I wanted every single one of them to die (and, no, not just because Diablo Cody wrote the dialogue). They were annoying, uncaring, and oozed distrust.
Then there is my second point, which pisses me off far more than the fist, so hold on tight, my fellow geeks and freaks. Bruce Campbell, the man I would marry, said that Mia was going to be a female Ash. I am praying to the geek gods that he was paid to say that because if he believes Mia is anything close to Ash, then he does not think much of the character he created (yes, Raimi wrote Ash, but, as stated before, Campbell made Ash). Mia is not a hero. At all. AT ALL. Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Well, Ash really wasn’t the grand incompetent anti-hero we get in the later films in the first movie, and you pointed that out.” You’re right. Ash was not that type of person until the sequel and Army of Darkness. However, Ash had more at stake (Cheryl and Linda), is a likable guy (charming, charismatic, and funny), and he did not spend the almost the entirety of the movie possessed and locked in the cellar. Mia, on the other hand, had problems with everyone, was annoying as hell (which, oddly enough, had nothing to do with going “cold turkey”), and spent the majority of the film possessed and locked in the cellar. To be honest, her brother David was more Ash-like than her, and that pains me to say considering that he was a dick (and not a lovable dick like Ash). Being serious, though, I think what bothers me the most is how Mia in the last, I don’t know ten minutes or so, manages to come back from the dead, defeat a SINGLE Deadite that was supposed to be really powerful, and walks off into the sunset a champion. THAT IS NOT A HERO. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from the Alien series is a hero. To call Mia a hero is spitting in the face of heroines everywhere because she does nothing even semi-heroic until the last ten minutes. The rest of the time she is busy spreading the evil to everyone else, locked in the cellar, or dead. There is no build up to her becoming a hero, like with Ash who was psychologically tortured throughout the whole first film only to have to face the darkness by himself. In the reboot, David takes down the Deadites, minus the last one. This leads me to feel like this film was saying, “The only way a woman can possibly be the hero is if someone takes care of most of the challenges for her.” That is a pathetic way to write a heroine. I was expecting a lot more Annie (from Evil Dead 2) in Mia. Shame on this movie for promising a strong leading woman, only to give us another “mad woman” locked in the attic (or, cellar, in this case).
Stick with the original trilogy, pray to the geek gods that Sam Raimi will make good on his promise for Army of Darkness 2 (there’s an IMDB page, but until I see a teaser I’m not rejoicing), and do not support this movie.