Free Movie Friday: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Last week I finally began a theme I meant to kick-off at the beginning of the year, which is to feature public domain films that you can find easily online. This week will continue a horror theme, the genre does have its fair share of public domain films that are newer than most. Today is the film that redefined the zombie genre forever, which you should have seen by now Night of the Living Dead.

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61 Days of Halloween: The Mist

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

When it was released The Mist was one of those films that just fell through the cracks for many. Mixed reviews are likely the reason. It is a film that should be seen if only as a conversation piece because it does have one of “those” endings, you know the kind that will get you talking and will inflame passions. In other words, it takes a risk and that alone makes it worth watching.

However, for the two hours leading up to said ending it earns that “should be watched” distinction. The running time alone is worth noting. Few films in the horror genre have enough substance to add a half-hour to the usual running time to build character but if a film can it should. Knowing who these people are and whether we as an audience love them or hate them makes a huge difference. The personal dramas and threats keep us locked in when there is no threat from the creatures in the mist.

The situation in which these varied characters find themselves in is built up steadily, slowly and sinisterly; such that before any of the characters realize the peril they are in we are already feeling tense. In combining two techniques of the genre we get in this film a very compelling drama with a horrific backdrop: characters trapped in a building with assailants outside (reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead) and a multi-character yet character-driven tale, which is a forte of Stephen King’s, whose novella is the source material for this film. Darabont’s handling of King’s difficult-to-adapt material is again nearly spot-on, Darabont creates and in some ways amplifies King’s effective scenario and makes it one of the most enthralling and captivating no-win horror scenarios ever created. There just seems to be no escaping it.

In a horror film one can forgive flawed acting from a lead, Thomas Jane, but the antagonists and most of the cast, especially in a film such as this need to be solid and they are. Andre Braugher plays his character convincingly enough such that you despise him, forgetting that it’s the part and not the man annoying you. Marcia Gay Harden, as always is brilliant, and downright frightening in this role. Her ability to convince those in the supermarket, though a bit overwrought at times, is fantastically illustrated. Some of the smaller parts are also very well-played like the Woman with Children at Home (Melissa McBride), Nathan Gamble as Billy (most well known from Dolphin Tale) and the Terrified Woman (Kim Wall).

The thing which is the most inconsistent in the film is the CGI. It seems whenever there was a good to great sequence of effects they would extend it too long or cut too close to the action and the illusion would fall apart. Typically, CG looks better on DVD than in the theatre, but not here. Some elements, like the bugs, were very impressive but the CG was not judiciously used and not carefully crafted enough, which is the only major inconsistency in the film. However, there has been worse it’s just upsetting to see such a glaring problem in a film which is of a very high caliber most of the time.

The ending is a conversation piece. It is strong and unlike King’s story it’s not open. King approved of this change. Certain elements are very effective some aren’t. What you make of it is up to you. It does not detract from the whole and the film is definitely worth watching.

This review pertains to the standard edition DVD not the two-disc special edition.

8/10

Horror Films and Stephen King (Part Five)

Note: What follows is a full analysis of the entire film, all other parts of this essay are fairly spoiler-free with regards to the film but this is not. You’ve been warned.

Maximum Overdrive begins with a title insert basically stating that the earth will be stuck in the tail of a rogue comet for about a week. The insert seems a extraneous to me and takes away from the story to a certain extent, however, King may have stated his reasoning in an earlier writing “…any horror film (with the possible exception of the German expressionist films of the teens and twenties) has got to at least pay lip service to credibility” (Danse, 156). One will note that even Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street give their slashers traumatic pasts they must exorcise. In this film the explanation comes early and removes a necessary suspense element I feel would’ve helped the story out. One may also notice that the picture of the earth used in this sequence is backwards meaning Egypt now looks out on the Atlantic. I don’t know how no one caught that.
    

The film is set in Wilmington, North Carolina for the duration of the story. The only other time King set a tale in the south was The Green Mile. He’s set tales in Nevada, Pennsylvania and had a few go across some states but usually relied on atmosphere or people he could sketch reasonably well, which is Maine. The characters in this tale while are sometimes sketched and drawn out by King, to the extent he could with the limitations of the film but they’re acted like caricatures in most cases.
 (Note: This geographic note was correct upon the original writing. Since then King has taken to wintering in Florida, thus his fiction goes there sometimes too).    

We first see the way that the comet affects machinery on the streets of Wilmington.  First, we see a news ticker over a bank that constantly displays the phrase “Fuck You.” Then we get the early King cameo in which, he’s a bumpkin who’s called an “Asshole” by his ATM machine, this is humorous but nowhere near as good as his role as Jordy Verrill in Creepshow.  These small details may add a bit of eeriness to the beginning but as is the theme throughout this film we get a lot more humor than fright. In this sequence all the laughs are intended.

After this we get what might be one of the more frightening sequences of the film, unfortunately no one really escapes this scene unharmed. There is no protagonist who makes their way out of this wreckage and moves on to where a bulk of the action takes place. Instead, what we get is quite an effective crash scene that shows that all machinery can now think and the drawbridge lifts even though all the cars got the green light. The bridgemaster and his assistant look befuddled and the bridge is a disaster area. Everyone is stuck at the base of the lifted bridge. A motorcycle rider flies off the edge, this is the source of the big continuity error one man slides of his motorcycle and we see him seemingly go in two directions, and also go out the gap which hasn’t opened as big as camera angles would have us believe later. This huge mistake is also surprising considering Evan A. Lottman, who edited The Exorcist and Sophie’s Choice worked on this film. This scene is somewhat freaky but is also a little extraneous.
    

We then cut and see the Happy Toyz truck, it’s adorned with a huge demon face on the grill and has a slogan emblazoned across its broadside (“Here Comes a Load of Joy,” King’s ability to come up with clever and humorous slogans is uncanny). It is driven by Andy (J. Don Ferguson) who stops at the Dixie Boy Truck Stop. We get our first good shot here it comes when Andy’s talking to one of the gas jockeys, it’s a medium from the inside of the truck and we get a hint that soon there’s going to be some trouble.
 

We’re introduced to our protagonist next, Billy played by Emilio Estevez in his first role outside of “The Brat Pack.” Someone should have told Emilio that it is very difficult to flex your acting muscles and make a name of yourself from one horror film. Inside the Dixie Boy we now see that the pinball, coffee and cigarette machines are going crazy in the game room and we get a bad performance out of Videoplayer (Giancarlo Esposito) who is quickly killed off.

The first act’s pace is relentless as soon after Duncan (J.C. Quinn) is outside filling the Happy Toyz truck and the pump has mysteriously stopped. He removes the nozzle to check what’s going on and gets sprayed in the eye with diesel. At this moment we get our first sample of the score, the true score and not any sort of source music. While the score like so many is reminiscent of Hermann’s Psycho we only get this stabbing music on a few rare occasions. A few old AC/DC songs were used for this film along with a new one entitled “Who Made Who?” I happen to know that Stephen King is a big fan of AC/DC but I feel that he knows enough about horror to not have left most of the music track in this film dead. There is a lot of silence and it wasn’t very effective at all. AC/DC provided the wrong kind of mood with their high to medium Heavy Metal riffs. It makes me wonder if most of the budget wasn’t diverted towards pyrotechnics and Emilio’s salary further taking away from the film’s quality.
    

We’re later introduced to Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle) who shows himself to be the human villain in this tale. He is unscrupulous and uncaring. His character is quite well played. Then we see King’s first big touch when we see a headline about the comet. Prior Duncan and Joey (Pat Miller) had been talking and it was more subtle and many people won’t realize that the “Mickey Mantle” they were referring to is Deke (Holter Graham), Duncan’s son. In this film King had a little more than 90 pages and too many characters to deal with in that allotted time.
 
   
Our next two mechanical attacks work in different ways and introduce two more characters. A hand-held electric saw attacks the waitress Wanda June (Ellen McElduff) gets her forearm sliced into this is quite a gross moment and also establishes Billy as the protagonist. Then we cut to the baseball field and Deke’s team has just won and the coach is attacked by soda cans shot out of the vending machine. There is some great makeup work in this scene and it’s also pretty funny along with a shocking steamrolling shot that literally made my jaw drop. There are more characters to get to though.
    

We are in a car and getting a radio report about the odd occurrences a la Night of the Living Dead, but more subtle, and are introduced to the Bible Salesman (Christopher Murney) and Brett (Laura Harrington) a hitchhiker he has picked up. The Bible Salesman actually ends up being quite a good hypocritical character in this tale carrying a briefcase with has gold leaf on it and has “The Holy Bible” scrolled across it. Brett is going to be the love interest and this party like Deke are heading to the Dixie Boy. Laura Harrington should have gotten an Oscar…thrown at her, she was so terrible in this film. As a matter of fact the casting in this movie for the most part is rather weak; I wonder why in the closing credits the Casting Director got top billing. A director should know his actors limitations and should have reworked his characters accordingly.
  

Staying in the mode of less than satisfactory acting we switch over to Curt (John Short) and Connie who are a newlywed couple. Connie (Yeardley Smith) who went on to make a name for herself on The Simpsons as Lisa, is so annoying in this role it is nearly impossible to sympathize with her. John Short is one of the actors who ruins some of Stephen King’s great dialogue by having no idea how to deliver it. This is where King should have stepped in and altered the dialogue. It does pain a writer to change effective and intelligent dialogue for simple, pedestrian dialogue but it should be done when the actors sound stupid saying these lines.
    

Along Deke’s journey on bike to the Dixie Boy we see the wrath of the machines has left many dead bodies splayed all over the place. We get an eerie feeling again with a guitar riff for each corpse that is found. If there is one thing that can be said for this film is that all the effects are well done; as we see the trucks maneuver, drive and terrorize people. When these vehicles are on the move on their own they even drive better than real people in film they did quite an admirable job in that respect.
    

Perhaps the best dialogue King has to offer us in this film is when the Bible Salesman is trying to sell some editions in the Dixie Boy. This is also where we see Wanda June start drinking it may be the most well written scene of the film capped off by the salesman saying “This Bible has everything from the creation of this beautiful world to the fall of mankind.” This is the closest we come to seeing the implications that King had intended to impose, aside from a painting of the Last Supper we see for a few seconds, in the short story and there isn’t enough emphasis placed on this scene in my opinion. I also feel it’s a humorous commentary on how the salesman doesn’t know his scripture because all Bibles, regardless of denomination, include those tales.
    

Right before Duncan goes out to be killed we see how the blood has escaped his burned eyes. It’s a rather creepy shot that reminds me of one of King’s favorite films X – The Man with X-Ray Eyes. This death occurs in minute 32 and already we’ve seen so many characters. The Bible Salesman is later sent flying into the sewer after he charged the truck that smashed his car. King, being one who doesn’t believe in any one Christian doctrine, throwing a Bible Salesman into a gutter is a great touch. The truck that decks him also rolls over his Bible briefcase which I liked. When the body is returned to the truck stop we get another good piece of dialogue Bubba says, “He’s dripping all over my floor.” to get the people moving.
    

Stephen King also usefully employs the sewer in the attempted rescue of the Bible Salesman who we find many minutes later is clinging to life in the gutter. This provides the film with it’s only truly good looking and dark cinematography. John Short also displays his inability to deliver a great off-color line written by King in the sewer sequence (“What happened to the people who peed in this?”). The salesman we see is ultimately not worth saving when Deke finds him and the salesman says “Help me or I’ll kill you,” very Christian.
     

Just after the trucks smash a phone booth, we assume in order to effectively isolate them, and begin to angrily circle the truck stop instead of attempting to build some tension we cut away to Curt and Connie, who are chased by an eighteen-wheeler, it’s literally a cut to the chase situation. King had the opportunity to have a situational and somewhat atmospheric film but I feel that was robbed from him by producers looking to imitate many of the 80s poorer films.
    

The way in which these massive hunks of metal are fought most of the times is through gunfire, this is aided by the fact that Hendershot has a huge armory in his basement, which seems to hold everything from AK-47s to Bazookas. The only way in which the special effects fail in this film, being no ballistics expert I’m not sure, but the bazooka’s missiles are never seen in flight we only see the truck exploding. With something that big I’d go to the optical lab and add it even if it is technically inaccurate. 
    

King touches upon the flying airplane mentioned in his short story but this also comes out as comical. Once again we have a nice shot from the inside of the plane and can see the plane operating itself. It is turned humorous by the employment of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”
    

Aside from the seemingly incessant presence of the comedy in this film we are also pestered by the lack of darkness; we are bombarded by light. “The dark, it goes without saying, provides the basis for our most primordial fear.” (Danse, 182). Cinematographer, Armando Nannuzzi, had done plenty of films in Italy for years on end and had most recently done quite an admirable job with King’s Silver Bullet. The nighttime footage in that film was effective in deemphasizing the low-budget werewolf but he seemed to thrive on the use of daylight to make some of his more impressive shots in Maximum Overdrive. In all fairness, Maximum Overdrive is a bright, pretty to look at film with sporadic good shots but it’s not quintessential horror. With the positive affect of darkness being so obvious one must wonder if budgetary concerns or perhaps weakness in the lighting department played into it. Even though much of the story is at day time in prose King must have realized he’d need more nighttime scenes for the film. He also knows that not only is it needed but the dark and night time is often heavily used in certain films. “All but approximately eighteen minutes of John Carpenter’s Halloween are set after nightfall.” (Danse, 186). Whereas after sunset we have but 17 minutes in the dark, and then we also have the interesting situation in which most of the human deaths occurred in broad daylight. In this film, the first scene to be set in a darkened place is in minute 48 and the sun only sets three minutes later more than halfway through the movie. Later on in the sequence, the truck stop also loses its power but this is not used in any sort of dramatically moving way and it comes back on before ever having taken any sort of toll on the story. And we are made well aware of it by a beautiful shot of the sunset.

Afterwards, we get the weird green effect in the sky which is larger in some areas of the sky than others. It was used at the beginning to symbolize the comet’s tail. In a poorly acted moment yet again provided by Laura Harrington, in the role of Brett, assumes the comet must be causing all this. It’s in a way also King’s most unfortunate piece of writing because the title card shown from the beginning is practically reiterated for the audience.  At night it seems that only Wanda June and Deke have been affected negatively. Billy is courting Brett, all others are unmoved by the celestial oddity. It’s very unusual that King with the understanding of character he has wouldn’t have gotten on these actors and told them they weren’t driving home the suspense and claustrophobic elements that should have been what was carrying the film.
    

Billy and Brett dominate this section of the film with their nighttime romance which I can only describe as filler. While I understand people can cling to each other in such a situation there was too much focus on the romance for my liking while I do applaud King for not being afraid to implement it. Wanda June dies an overacted death, she was completely drunk and yells the lines I least liked from King’s short story “We made you.” and if a film such as this can have a subtext she just blurted out part of it and she made this little speech more than once.

    
Another thing which constantly plagued this film was that it was very heavy with incident in the beginning and towards the middle of the film the action begins to taper off. The story becomes diverted to an extent.
    

Many times we are shown that Deke is the best drawn of all the characters. In the beginning we see him check on his injured coach, he’s then scared off by the salesman. He breaks down upon hearing about his father’s death, then the next morning has apparently regressed and is blowing bubbles. Not only that but when the trucks start beeping he not only realizes it is Morse code but translates it. What would have made this a better film was some more focus. At the end, when the great exodus of the Dixie Boy begins, we see eleven characters running, three of which I don’t think ever had their name uttered in the film but were perhaps named in the script.
    

The Morse incident is where the trucks admit that they need to be refueled. Billy’s reasoning eventually wins out. They pump gas for the truck because the dried out ones might call for one or many that can destroy them. A few more vehicles do show up including what appears to be a mini-flatbed with a machine gun set on a tripod, which in the end seems a little too beatable. During this sequence Emilio Estevez’s performance, which was nothing earth-shattering to begin with, also slips when we see him yelling at the truck, the Happy Toyz one with the Green Goblin face.
    

Towards the end we get an escape. The truck stop blows up. The Evil Truck which has been harassing the people and is the villain gets a bazooka in its open mouth. This moment is somewhat effective as we think for a moment maybe that one can’t be beat but then it explodes. We end with another annoying title card with a sappy finishing touch and some odd Soviet involvement in destroying a “weather satellite.” And the film closes on a comedic note with the last line of dialogue being Connie saying “Ooh, I think I’m gonna whoops my cookies.”
  
 
Maximum Overdrive is a film that has a few shocking and jaw-dropping moments. All the effects are well done and the cinematography is well-composed. What King ends up providing is a movie that ends up being a pretty good comedy/adventure, which is probably why he didn’t like it all that much. He should definitely give it another go because despite the bad casting there were some good performances in this film most notably those of Holter Graham as Deke and Pat Hingle as Hendershot. One thing King can be thankful for is that his film doesn’t ever tread into the so bad it’s good region.
 

Spielberg Sunday- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (Amblin)


Owing to the fact that I have decided to honor Steven Spielberg this year with my version of a Lifetime Achievement Award I figured it was an appropriate time to dust off some old reviews I wrote when I took a course on his work. The remarks still hold true, he is an amazing filmmaker.

When a movie is a hit it’s sometimes called “home run.” But Steven Spielberg doesn’t hit home runs he hits Grand Slams. If there is any film that absolutely defines Spielberg in my mind it’s this one. This film is a complete and total success both as entertainment and within the framework of the director’s objectives.

It’s very odd to look at these films in retrospect after most of them have already gone on to become world-wide phenomena and see that many studios rejected not only this film but many other successful Spielberg ventures. Oddly enough Hollywood insiders have always viewed him as a risk-taker. This film’s success, however, shouldn’t have surprised anyone at all. In E.T. we have a wonderfully structured story that seamlessly crosses over from fairy tale to comedy to drama without ever missing a beat. It always keeps you emotionally involved both through the story and with the assistance of the score.

One of the most impressive things about this film is the dialogue. It is often humorous and insightful. The thing that makes it stand out is how succinct it is and how perfectly adept to the situation. A prime example of this is during the emotional good-bye between E.T. and Elliot. They meet each one points to their heart and says “Ouch” then they exchange pleas “Come” and “Stay.” Four lines of dialogue, four words exchanged between the two of them yet that says it all; can it get any tighter than that? The best part is that it works so brilliantly. The comedic dialogue is just as effective Elliot is asked, “Did you explain school to him?” and in response Elliot says “How do you explain school to higher intelligence?” There have been entire films on the subject of how futile public education is and in that one line everything has been said.

Another great detail in E.T. is the use of inside jokes. First, we see Elliot introducing E.T. to the characters from Star Wars and later in the Halloween sequence we see an homage to that film as well as to Night of the Living Dead and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. One thing that makes E.T. special is that it uses situations that all of us can relate to from our own childhood even if it’s only there for a second. There’s bickering amongst siblings, the use of comics, adults that just won’t listen to what you have to say, Halloween, being caught daydreaming by a teacher and many others. Spielberg implemented enough shared experience that even if we didn’t feel that Elliot was a snapshot of our past we could identify enough to get lost in the story. What also aids the story a great deal is the almost supernatural connection that E.T. and Elliot form. It’s akin to what identical twins are supposed to have according to parapsychologists. The connection of their emotional and physical states leads first to some very comedic moments with Elliot sharing E.T.’s drunkenness and also the magical mimicry of the John Wayne film. Later on it leads to some of the most emotionally wrenching scenes where E.T. and Elliot are sharing an illness. Everything is so beautifully set up in this film that you might even stop and consider, “Hey, didn’t that come out of nowhere?” but upon examining the film you’ll find there really are no holes in the narrative. An example of this being the bike flying one of the most brilliant moments ever recorded on film. It still catches me off guard but it was set up when E.T. levitated the balls in the kid’s room to demonstrate where he came from.

To measure a film’s impact it is probably best to look at landscape of the entertainment industry a few years later as opposed to just looking at initial box office returns. In both regards E.T.’s impact was enormous. There was a cheap copy-cat film a couple of years later called Mac and Me along with a very successful television series that took a different angle called ALF. Even scenes in E.T. had an impact, for example, the anti-dissection episode is now another staple in the sitcom book of ideas. The reason that this film epitomized Spielberg so well is not the emotional intensity although that has a lot to do with it and it’s most definitely not the fact that there are aliens involved. What makes it such a trademark in my mind is that it is such a resounding success.

This film is also timeless, it will never, ever, ever seem dated no matter how much magic computers can conjure up you’ll never be able to put aside a story as involving and touching as this one, it’s a classic and it’s quite hard to imagine someone making a film this beautiful, one of the best films ever made.

10/10

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween II (1981)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II (Univeral Pictures)

What is interesting to note about the second Halloween film is that much like the Friday the 13th series it rewinds and replays the end of the previous film. This film does so to great affect because it doesn’t go back too far or splice it up it only backtracks the necessary amount to be able to continue the story in exact chronological order. So in the world of this film it is still October 31, 1978 and the film does a tremendous job in creating a very believable continuity in all aspects.

Much like the first film, and many horror films, there is an homage on a TV and you see clips from Night of the Living Dead.

Part of what makes this film interesting is that it starts with the media not yet having released that it is Michael Myers. So his legend is not yet re-popularized, which does mean you need to make a leap of faith when you see that someone is walking about dressed like him. The first seems to indicate the jumpsuit is acquired from a trucker. This potential hole aside the scene is still tremendously effective because later you do see the medical examination of the charred corpse and also because it ends up being Bennett Tramer, Lori’s crush who is merely mentioned in the first film.

This is also the first real taste you get of the vilification of Dr. Loomis. The police show a lot of, if not infallible, patience in the first film. Here Myers affects them personally and they lash out at Loomis.

The flow of news that’s being disseminated is very well handled from news stand ups to snippets overheard from a boom box. It reflects the widening of Myers’s scope. While this widening is well handled it’s part of what makes this film not quite the first. While it is very chilling throughout there was a certain sense of claustrophobia that was created by focusing on two babysitting assignments on either side of a street in the first film that is better and absent here.

The cinematography in this film is perhaps even better than the first. An advantage of the changed scope is that Dean Cundey is given a wider variety of canvases upon which to paint.

What propels the series in this edition is the twist it provides. It provides Michael both in the original and in this installment with motivation that goes beyond just simple revenge. It is also different as it provides a twist to the nature or identity of the victim as opposed to the villain.

There is more, however, which makes this a truly special film not only in horror but in the realm of sequels. This film also has an iconic moment, more a concept really, and that is finding the word “samhain” written in blood on an elementary school chalkboard.

What is perhaps best about the character of Lori Strode is that she always seems to very genuinely connect with the audience, which is not merely a function of her being played by Jamie Lee Curtis. It is also due in part to the fact that she very often reflects the audience’s thoughts: “He is the Boogeyman,” or in this film “Why won’t he die?” and because it’s Jamie Lee Curtis it sounds like a genuine question and not a punchline from an Austin Powers film.

Lori is also able to distract Michael long enough to get him offguard by showing she knows who he is. In what could’ve been a move that took it over the top Michael is shot in the head and blood runs out of his mask’s eye holes and represent the tears he cannot shed. It does work, however, because his action belies that seeming representation of emotion. However, he was stopped when he saw he was recognized.

This film also makes Loomis, despite all the failings he’s had whether they were his fault or not, its hero as he manages to stop Michael (or so it seems) even in the final confrontation there is a great image and moment to be had.

While it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor it does do right by the story, concept and its characters.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween- The Evil Dead

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

The Evil Dead

Ellen Sandweiss in The Evil Dead (New line Cinema)

If there was ever a horror film in the gore sub-genre that goes for the throat and just won’t quit it is unquestionably The Evil Dead. This is a film with such pulverizing scenes of blood-letting and death that there’s no time to be concerned with much else it just draws you in and you become absolutely enthralled.

At the beginning we see just enough of these characters to differentiate amongst them. They are sketched out just enough such that we don’t hate them and so that their deaths aren’t a relief but sometimes it does come as a pleasant shock.

The use of the subjective camera to represent the spirits make this film and absolutely does wonders to add to the atmosphere. The relentless speed and the bowling over of trees on the part of these spirits who never really manifested themselves in their true form make the film what it is.

Of course, one cannot talk about the cinematography without discussing the score of this film for without it these would have just been cute camera moves. Instead the spirits had their own theme song: a tenebrous, loud yet low-pitched thump that struck fear into my heart every time I heard it.

Another way The Evil Dead is interesting is that it takes some precepts of film and the horror genre in general and uses them masterfully. First, is the Book of the Dead, which may also be known as the Necronomicon, the filmmakers implemented it to unleash unknown powers on these characters and it was done tremendously well.

The Book of the Dead is undoubtedly a piece of work that has been sparingly used but here it is a perfect fit and shows these people have at least working knowledge of the works of Lovecraft. In Lovecraft’s fiction man’s desire to know what they had absolutely no hope of understanding always leads to his downfall a similar parallel can be drawn to this film.

Secondly, this film masters the use of the subjective camera as the villain which was initiated with It’s Alive! and made famous by Jaws, after The Evil Dead it would be foolishness for someone to try and rely so heavily on it because it just wouldn’t work as well.

Third, there is the great use of possession in this film which is no doubt inspired by The Exorcist and comes close to reproducing an equally effective result along that line. Some audiences may look back on this film which is now 30 years old and think it looks dated but they can’t argue with the fact that it works. I happen to think that the special effects are great especially for when they are made. Claymation or Stop-Motion Animation are great techniques and truly lost arts. Granted it is very difficult to film but the results are great especially with The Evil Dead because the clay and whatever other materials they chose to throw in there just added the extra grotesque touch the film needs. I think it is just wonderful!

There is a great debate between people who are proponents of Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead. I think all the arguing is futile. Both of these films are their own unique kind of beast and they’re both beautiful in their own way. Enjoy both these films for what they are and the debate should end and everyone busting a vein trying to win the argument should just shut up.

10/10