Tag Archives: Evil Dead

Recent Movie Reviews: Part V

Let’s take some time out from my 2012 Movie Blitz to go back to some movies I have watched more recently.

Evil Dead (2013)

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The original Evil Dead directed by Sam Raimi is now widely considered classic even though it’s actually a very flawed horror film that happens to have a few iconic images. Thirty-two years later, we have what is considered a reboot as well as a loose continuation of the franchise. This time, the film is directed by Fede Alvarez in his big screen debut — and the results are surprising.

In keeping up with tradition, this reboot is also about a bunch of young people who end up in a cabin in the woods (this time for drug rehab purposes) and one of them stupidly brings a demon to life by opening a book he/she shouldn’t have. The demon possesses one of them, and like a zombie virus, the possession is spread from one to the next.

Much of the scares come from the visceral details of the graphic injuries. They get scalded by hot water, get stabbed, punctured, tossed around, covered in glass and have limbs torn right off, and yet they just keep soldiering on. And the craziest thing is that the non-possessed humans are even harder to kill than the demon-possessed characters. It’s so outrageous it’s funny — but in a good way.

I didn’t expect much from Evil Dead given the disappointing horror reboots in recent years (just about all the ones you can think of). I had heard that this one was effectively gory and disgusting but not particularly frightening — but I respectfully disagree. Yes, it was excessively bloody and gruesome and gross, but it was done effectively and not gratuitously like say the horror porn films such as Hostel and the later entries in the Saw franchise.

I didn’t recognise any of the actors except Shiloh Fernandez, who was in that awful Red Riding Hood movie, but everyone does a decent job — no small feat considering that most casts of such film are laughably bad.

So yeah, while this rendition of Evil Dead won’t make us forget the original any time soon, it was still an unexpected pleasure in the way that only gross horror movies can be.

3.5 stars out of 5

Gangster Squad (2013)

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Gangster Squad has all the ingredients of a great blockbuster — the “loosely based on a true story” concept, the noir atmosphere of the post-WWII era, a fundamental good vs evil storyline, and a ridiculous cast headed by Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, plus Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick. Everything was seemingly there, and yet the film felt like it was missing…something.

I can’t quite put my finger on it except to say that there was a sense of familiarity with the film, as though I had seen it or experienced it all before. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with that, but for a film of this magnitude carrying hefty expectations it just felt like the film fell well short of expectations.

The story is based around real-life notorious crime boss and former pro-boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who basically ran LA back in those days by eliminating witnesses and bringing legal officials. When even the cops tell their own not to venture into Mickey’s property, you know he’s not to be messed with. But Josh Brolin is a sergeant who can’t say no to justice, and he accepts a clandestine mission from his boss, Nick Nolte, to bring Cohen down off official police books. The rest of the cast mentioned above are pretty much all members of Brolin’s Gangster Squad, except for of course Emma Stone, one of Cohen’s women who falls in love with Ryan Gosling (because everyone loves Ryan Gosling — even though he puts on this weird, whiny voice in this movie).

Gangster Squad is a pretty-looking film that successfully captivates the mood of the era and has some crafty action sequences (including a bare-knuckle showdown that made little sense). It is ultra-violent and perhaps unnecessarily so, but I never have a huge problem with violence as long as it’s not blatantly gratuitous (well, and even then…). Where I think the film falters is the script, which never brought out the characters properly and as a result we never develop any emotional connection to them. It’s not awful by any means, but given the stars involved being merely average is not good enough.

3 stars out of 5

Dark Skies (2013)

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I love horror films and I love alien/UFO films, and Dark Skies is an attempt to roll both genres into one.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are a couple struggling with financial difficulties, bringing a lot of tension to their relationship with each other and as well as with their two sons. Like a poltergeist movie, strange things start happening in and around their home, and if you know your alien abduction cliches, you would have seen them all. But thanks to some effective direction from Scott Stewart (who last gave us the lacklustre Priest), the scares are still quite effective.

The frequency and intensity of the weird stuff increases as the couple realise that there might a sinister force trying to take over their lives, leading them to seek the help of an “expert” played by JK Simmons (with some unintentionally amusing results). After receiving some advice, they buckle down and face what is going to inevitably come at them anyway — but wait, there might be a twist. Sound familiar?

I sound harsh about this film, but the thing is, you should not approach Dark Skies like it’s going to be some fantastic masterpiece. It’s a sci-fi horror about alien abduction, so keep your expectations in check. All you can really hope for are some eerie atmospheric tensions, a few creepy incidents, some “boo!” scares, an effectively climax and an ending that doesn’t suck too badly. Dark Skies delivers all of the above, albeit in ways we’ve all seen before. Thanks to my bias for scary aliens, I still had a pretty good time with it.

3.25 stars out of 5

Odd Thomas (2013)

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I first became acquainted with Odd Thomas, the character not the film, a couple of years ago, when a friend got me In Odd We Trust, a graphic novel about a young man who can see dead people and decides to do something about it. The graphic novel is based on a series of novels written by horror master Dean Koontz.

I liked the graphic novel but thought it would be even better as a movie, and what do you know, a year or two later and we have Odd Thomas, the motion picture version, starring Anton Yelchin (one of my favourite young actors) as the titular character and the pretty Addison Timlin (whom some might recognise from Californication) as love interest Stormy. The film is actually in limbo at the moment because of a lawsuit, so I won’t disclose how I actually came about to watching it.

Odd Thomas is a film that is tonally difficult to get right because it’s supposed to be scary (with dead people and ghosts and demonic creatures and so forth) but at the same time it has to have that kiddy graphic novel feel where you have to partially suspend disbelief but not to the extent where it becomes a farce. And at the center of it lies a sweet romance between Odd and his one true love, Stormy, but it can’t be too sweet or else it will put off viewers.

Amazingly, director Stephen Sommers (GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Mummy franchise) gets it right, or at least gets close enough. Odd Thomas is essentially a fun, quirky and sweet detective film laced with elements of horror and fantasy — and some well-executed action. Not everything works (some of the concepts were either too “out there” or convoluted for my liking) but on the whole the elements meshed well together.

Anton Yelchin’s unusual look makes him a perfect Odd, and his chemistry with Timlin is scorching. Willem Dafoe also gets to show off some of his comedic chops as the police chief who can’t seem to get a minute alone with his wife. It’s not cult classic material but I’d like to think it’s enjoyable enough to possibly be the first instalment of a franchise.

3.5 stars out of 5

25 Films That Scared the Crap Out of Me When I Was a Kid

When I was a snotty little kid, my older sister used to always borrow horror movies from the local video store.  Scary movies were all that she watched.  Scary movies and Stand By Me and White Fang (on loop — thanks to crushes on River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke).

I grew to like horror films too, but it wasn’t before they caused some serious lifelong trauma.  Without further ado, here the 25 that scared me the most (entirely from memory).

Before we begin, note we weren’t very selective with our choices, so not all of these were exactly classics or blockbusters…but probably more interestingly, a lot of these were also comedies, but I guess I was too young to get the jokes.  By the way, I have no idea how my parents allowed us to watch them.

25. Fright Night (1985)

Before Twilight, vampires were scary, and none scared me more than the fanged creatures in Fright Night.  It’s one of those typically campy 80s films where a teenager is the protagonist and he discovers something amazing but no one believes him.  In this case, of course, it’s that his neighbour is a blood sucking vampire.  This was pretty much the first horror video that I can remember, and it was because my uncle borrowed it and never returned it (the video store eventually went bust), so we must have watched it half a dozen times.  By the way, a remake is due this year.

24. Creepshow (1982)

I remember the poster more than anything else.  Directed by George A Romero and written by Stephen King, Creepshow was really a series of short films, but what freaked me out was of course the famous Crypt-Keeper that tied everything together.  My favourite story was ‘The Crate’, starring Hal Holbrook and a big, scary monster nicknamed ‘Fluffy’.

23. The Shining (1980)

The Shining is of course a Stanley Kubrick classic and considered one of the best horror films of all time.  I must admit, when I was young I actually fell asleep watching it (too slow, I think it was the bar scene), but the moments where I was awake did freak me out, especially after Jack Nicholson lost it and started running around with an axe.

22. Children of the Corn (1984)

There have been about a million sequels, but the original Children of the Corn was the best.  There’s always something about children that frightened me, even when I was a child myself.  Does that make sense?  Maybe it was just the sickle.  By the way, that’s 3 Stephen King films in a row, and there’s more to come.  What a legend.  Oh, and apparently there was a 2009 remake that I’ve never heard of.

21. Gothic (1986)

Really interesting film about a fictional evening featuring a bunch of famous horror writers including Mary Shelley and some guy played by Julian Sands.  Another one of those horror films where I didn’t really know what was going on but it still freaked me out.  Great poster too, I think it’s the reason why I still remember it after all these years.

20. Graveyard Shift (1990)

Stephen King again, and I remember this one for the giant bats and the giant rats in some kind of undergound factory place.  To this day I don’t like bats and rats because of this film, even the small ones.

19. The Fly (1986)

‘Be Afraid.  Be Very Afraid.’  And I was.  One of my favourites growing up.  I loved the mixture of sci-fi and monsters, and when Jeff Goldblum started mutating I started checking my own body out, terrified I was going to turn into a giant mosquito because one had just stung me (and I believe there was a rip-off film that actually took the mosquito concept).  I also remember being excited when the sequel with Eric Stoltz came out.

18. Sleepwalkers (1992)

I remember this one better because I was a little older, but it still freaked me out because of all the cats.  There’s just something about a lot of cats that make me uncomfortable, especially when they just sit around and stare (which is why I think that cat scene in Let The Right One In all those years later is still ingrained into my brain). The film also helped me develop a crush on Madchen Amick, which is why I started watching Twin Peaks.

17. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The original (not the 2010 remake) was one that actually gave me nightmares.  I never dreamed about Fred Krueger, but his burnt face and claws kept giving me nightmares of being trapped in fires and getting attacked by cats (again, the cat theme).  I watched most of the sequels as well, but only the original truly scared me.

16. The People Under the Stairs (1991)

I loved this underrated Wes Craven movie about a kid trapped in a house owned by a pair of crazy siblings determined to hunt him down with their ferocious dog, while rumblings from between the walls suggest that there is more to the house than meets the eye.  For years after watching this film I was afraid to go anywhere near the basement of any house.

15. Tales from the Dark Side: The Movie (1990)

This was also known as Creepshow 3, but for me this was a culmination of fear from all the Tales from the Dark Side short films I watched over the years.  As usual, the film featured the Crypt-Keeper, but my favourite part of it this time was, not unexpectedly, the one called ‘Cat From Hell’.  Also a very good first story with Steve Buscemi and Christian Slater.  I remember I had a friend over to watch this, and they never came back to our house again after that.

14. House (1986)

No, not the medical drama series or the 2008 horror film.  This House is about a real, um, house, a haunted house.  I’ve always been terrified of ghosts, and House was one of the films I attribute that fear to.  The mangled hand in the poster pressing the doorbell was something that always stood out in my memory.

13. Clownhouse (1989)

If there’s one thing that scares me more than cats, it’s clowns.  Even though this was a slasher film with no supernatural elements, the escaped mental patients dressed as clowns scared worse than most ghosts and monsters.  From my research I just found out that Sam Rockwell was one of the three brothers in the movie.  And did you know an irrational fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia?  I think I may have that.

12. Hellraiser (1987)

Few images are more memorable than Hellraiser‘s Pinhead holding the puzzle box on the poster.  I still can’t believe I watched this cringeworthy film, which I’m sure was restricted for my age (with all its flying blood and guts).  Looking back, I think this was a precursor to torture porn films such as Saw and Hostel.

11. Child’s Play (1988) and Child’s Play 2 (1990)

It wasn’t one of the scariest, but it was one my favourites and one of the most memorable.  Cats, clowns and ghosts scared me, but so did dolls, thanks to Chucky.  I know in later films Chucky becomes almost a parody, but in the original he was as terrifying as anything I had ever seen.  I ended up watching both the original and the sequel multiple times and became a fan of Alex Vincent, the child protagonist who amazingly never acted in another film.  Here’s his website for those interested.

10. Poltergeist (1982)

One of the most popular haunting films of all time, and the best and most successful of the series.  Two things stood out more than anything else for me — of course, little Heather O’Rourke in front of the static-filled TV declaring ‘They’re here!’ and freakish Zelda Rubinstein as the blobby psychic.  Made me afraid to go to the bathroom at night for years.  I did not know this at the time, but O’Rourke died four months before the release of the third film in the franchise (at the age of 12), giving life to various urband legends.

9. The Amityville Horror (1979)

This film made me believe my house was haunted for years and frightened me more than others because it was supposedly ‘based on a true story’.  When you’re a kid, you just accept such claims at face value.  The flies, the upside down crosses, demon pigs and the bleeding walls — I believed it all happened.  I remember watching the 2005 remake with Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George when it came out and wondering why it scared me so much, but when I rewatched the original again a couple of years ago I realised it was just wasn’t a very good remake.

8. Candyman (1992)

After watching this film, my sister and I dared each other to look into the mirror and say ‘Candyman’ five times.  We never did.  Did I mention I don’t like bees?qs]

7. Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Funny that the sequel to this film, Army of Darkness, is now one of my favourite comedic guilty pleasures, but back in the day, Evil Dead 2 (never saw the original) kept me up at night.  Demons, possession and crazy trees were all frightening, but it was Bruce Campbell’s arm severing scene that I remembered clearer than anything else.

6. Basket Case (1982)

A weird choice, but for some reason this low budget film has stuck in my mind.  It’s about this guy who walks around with a basket carrying his parasitic siamese twin.  They were separated at birth but the ‘monster’ didn’t die, and needless to say, it’s crazy and loves to kill people.  Go figure.

5. The Omen (1976)

For a while, I was obsessed with this franchise, convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Damien was real and that the world was coming to an end.  I also checked whether I had ‘666’ on my scalp regularly just in case to make sure I wasn’t the devil’s spawn.  Luckily I only had dandruff.  And how about the somewhat pointless 2006 remake with the kid that just wasn’t scary at all?]

4. The Haunted (1991)

How about this for another strange choice?  This was a TV movie based on the ‘real’ haunting of the Smurl family, and even now, I have a feeling that a lot of the stuff depicted actually happened.  The filmmakers went for ‘authenticity’ instead of over-the-top scares, and that actually made it scarier for me.  Of all the films on this list, this might have been the one that lingered in my mind the longest after watching it.  Youtube has the entire film (in parts) but strangely does not have a trailer, so I’ve posted this Entertainment Tonight segment on it instead.

3. Pet Sematary (1989) and Pet Sematary Two (1992)

Few films have terrified me into the foetal position the way Stephen King’s Pet Sematary has.  A sacred American Indian site beyond a cemetery for pets brings the dead back to life, but not surprisingly, they aren’t quite the same when they return….Oh, and the sequel with Edward Furlong was a must-watch for us (my sister developed a crush on him after Terminator 2: Judgment Day).  Thanks to the films, I incorrectly spelt ‘cemetery’ for a number of years without realising it.  Some scenes from the original actually inspired me to write my first novel, a lame 119-page hand-written zombie horror.  It will be burnt before I die.

2. The Exorcist (1973)

An expected choice, I would assume, for anyone who has ever seen this movie, no matter how old they were.  Probably the scariest film on this list, and some would argue ever.  Linda Blair’s demonic girl remains at the apex of all possessed subjects in the history of film and has probably had a hand in all future possession movies.  I actually thought the 2004 prequel, the widely panned Exorcist: The Beginning, was underrated because it still scared the crap out of me.

1. It (1990)

Leave it to Stephen King to create the movie that scared me more than any other in my childhood.  Even though It had one of the worst endings (albeit a typical Stephen King ending), this TV mini-series about seven kids (and later adults) who were terrified and had their lives destroyed by a monstrous clown named Pennywise was THE freakiest thing I had ever seen in my young life.  The film confirmed my lifelong fear of clowns and my admiration for the genius of Stephen King.  Apparently, Warner Bros announced a remake in 2009, set for a 2011 release.  Not much more info apart from that for now, but I’ll be keen to see what they make of it.

So there you have it, the 25 films that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.  What are yours?

PS: One film I may have been too afraid to watch was The Serpent and the Rainbow.  Just this poster alone scared the crap out of me.

Thanks to Youtube I can now watch the whole film on it!

Movie Review: Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Drag Me To Hell – that’s what my 2 weeks of exams did to me.

But today, finally, at last, my goodness, it was all over!

Oh yeah.

Apart from a much-needed, long-overdue haircut, the first I did was to go watch Drag Me To Hell (as Terminator Salvation was on too late), the supposedly freaky horror film written and directed by Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi.

So, was it any good?  Well, I think it depends on two things.

First, whether you’ve seen Raimi’s old Evil Dead films (which I am a big fan of).  If you haven’t and are used to the same old formulaic horror films being churned out the last few years, then you might not ‘get’ this movie.  It’s got a fair share of boo moments, ultra-sickening scenes, mixed in with the same unique comedic-style that will make your stomach churn.  It’s scary, silly, campy, and it may make you go ‘WTF?’ more than once, but it’s not pretentious and knows exactly what it’s doing.

Second, it depends on the mood you’re in.  If you’re up for a scare then it will scare you.  If you go in thinking that it’s going to be stupid, you’ll probably think it is.

There are no big complaints from me, even though I guessed the ending a fair while in advance.  The cast is solid.  Alison Lohman does a decent job in the lead, but she’s no Ash from The Evil Dead series.  Justin Long continues to prove that he is one of the most underappreciated actors in Hollywood, and Lorna Raver is outstanding as the horrifying Mrs Ganush.

So, I enjoyed it, though I wouldn’t call it mindblowing.  I guess you could say it’s a throwback to the classic horror films of the 80s.  I hope they make more of them.

3 out of 5 stars