ReelReviews #21: Evil Dead (2013)

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APRIL 30, 2014 SCREENING: EVIL DEAD (2013)

The Evil Dead (2013) is a remake of 1981 movie of the same name, and watching this film unfold, it quickly became apparent to me that the style and direction they used for the film would likely result in audiences either loving or hating this movie. Put me down the “loved it” camp, but I can certainly understand why others would hate it.

If you’re familiar with the “Evil Dead” because of how the franchise famously developed, and were drawn to it expecting to see a Bruce Campbell type figure blowing away bad guys while quipping cool one-liners, this movie isn’t for you, and you’re going to hate it because it has nothing to do with the “Evil Dead” you know and love. However, if you go into this movie disregarding the later films in the franchise and look at it solely as a remake of the original 1981 movie – long before the series became more comedic in nature and when the “Evil Dead” was just known as an over-the-top and particularly gory and messed up horror film – then this movie is for you.

Unfortunately for the remake, most people are more familiar with the later version of Evil Dead than the low budget original movie. I’m also in that camp, and was introduced to the Evil Dead through the third movie (1993’s Army of Darkness), and was shocked at how different the first film in the trilogy was when I finally got around to watching it. Evil Dead progresses from a humorless, straight-laced, messed up splatter horror film, to a crazy, creep, blood-filled horror-comedy sequel, to finally a pure lightweight comedy with tons of one liners and very little horror by the third film. The main character, Ash, starts off a young guy in a awkward situation having to fend for his life, and eventually seems to become the template for Duke Nukem by the the third movie. It’s not surprise later video games and other merchandise based on the franchise used the later entries for most of their material, even “Evil Dead: The Musical” did so, despite being set in the time line of the first movie.

In the case of the remake, it did a terrific job taking the tone and style of the movie its remaking, and having it work in a modern, updated setting. It may even be a sequel and a remake, as there are subtle hints that the teens in the movie are back at the same cabin where the events of the first film took place, and doomed to repeat history. It’s an adrenaline-filled, macabre, and nasty horror film with very little humor, but several winks to the audience that reference events and scenes from the first film, but cleverly provide a new twist on them. If you’ve seen the original Evil Dead and you remember a women being raped by a tree and a hand becoming possessed and being forced to be severed, you won’t be disappointed with how its handled here.

The other thing I didn’t like about 2013’s Evil Dead, was the last 15 minutes of the movie and the “twist ending”, which was easily the weakest part of the film and made no logical sense. The film seemed to be burnt out at that point, with the screenwriters and director being too clever for their own good and trying to put up something out of nowhere to make a character they previously killed off be the “lone survivor”, instead of the male protagonist that had been with the whole movie,and whom we expected to be the survivor since that was the case in the 1981 movie. The ending was so illogical and stupid that I feel like deducting one whole star from the movie’s rating because of it. However, being the generous fellow that I am, I’m going to let the other 90% of the movie rest on its laurels. Evil Dead is one of the few remakes that does justice to the original. When I compare this to crap that rapes everything that made the original movie good, like Steve Martin’s remake of The Pink Panther, there’s no doubt that 2013’s Evil Dead deserves a very good rating. Unlike the vast majority of remakes out there, it understands what made its predecessor a great movie.

 

*** out of ****

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ReelReviews #20: Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

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APRIL 29, 2014 SCREENING: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013)

 

Of the three horror films I looked at the final week of April, each of them was a confusing entry in an exist horror franchise. Texas Chainsaw 3D might be the most confusing of the three. After having four only loosely connected films based on the universe of the first movie, the series was remade in the 2000’s. This is not a sequel or a prequel to the remake, but rather its supposedly a “direct sequel” to the original 1974 movie. That sounded like a cool idea and I was intrigued about what they’d come up with. Alas, the results let me down.

Given that the film was advertised as picking up right when the original ended, it gave the filmmakers plenty of leeway to tell all kinds of stories about the famous backwoods inbred cannibal family from Texas. 1986’s Texas Chainsaw Massage 2 took place in real time, so it was a dozen years after the first film. Plenty of things could have happened between the first and second movies, so the new 2013 movie would have plenty of room to play around with, or so it seemed.

Unfortunately, while the movie starts off well enough and seamlessly goes from the end of the 1974 movie to minutes later to show us what happens next, the rest of the movie just bizarrely jumps ahead 40 years to “modern day” Texas. Why? I guess they figured audiences wouldn’t want a period piece and need to see events set in 2014. There’s been a ton of criticism here because the time line they came up with doesn’t make sense. I agree. It picks up in “modern day” after a baby is born at the start of the movie, but instead of an actual 40 year old actress playing the role, the character is now 25ish. Not only does this movie squander its opportunity to tell more stories in the original era of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it apparently breaks its own rules for the time line its set in.

I guess it really not fair for me to give this movie a detailed review (or any kind of review), since I lost interest after about 20 minutes. I “watched” this film in the sense that it played in the background while I went about doing other things, so I missed most of the plot developments, if you can call them that. I did stick around for the climax, which included some pretty ridiculous stuff that the filmmakers no doubt thought would be a “kewl” idea. One example is a female character discovering that Leatherface is her long lost relative that her family has shielded from her all these years, leading her to embrace him in the end as her savior. She gleefully yells “Do your thing, cuz!” as he shows up with his chainsaw to slaughter the guys that have been pursuing her. Groan. By the way, Leatherface sure seems to get around pretty well for a character that would now be in his 60s.

It’s a shame that a concept for a film that had such intriguing promise was apparently mishandled and now there’s no place for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise to go. A horror series about a deformed retarded guy wielding a chainsaw on behalf of his crazy inbred family should be pretty easy to write a fun horror story. But in this case, they totally dropped the ball.

* out of ****

ReelReviews #19: Fright Night 2 (2013)

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APRIL 28, 2014 SCREENING: FRIGHT NIGHT 2 (2013)

 

Let’s begin with a disclaimer: Fright Night “2” is not a sequel to 2011’s Fright Night. It’s not even a remake of the original Fright Night II from 1988. Despite the title, it’s actually yet another remake of the original 1985 film. You can think of Fright Night (2011) and Fright Night 2 (2013) as different ways of retelling the original 1985 movie in modern times. It’s almost as if someone in Hollywood had a contest and told two different film crews to watch the 80s film and come up with their own separate ways to keep the basic storyline intact but radically alter the material for a fresh, modern take on the story. Going into the film with this in mind, you can view the 2013 film objectively.

For a low budget, direct-to-video movie with a bunch of unknown actors, I thought the results were pretty damn impressive. That’s not to say this movie doesn’t have flaws or that its any kind of award winning film, but it is very creative and entertaining. However, it starts off strong and ultimately finishes pretty weakly. Interestingly enough, it shares the common trait that is predecessor had of re-inventing the original Fright Night story so much that you won’t know will happen next, even if you’ve seen the 1985 movie a dozen times. The basic characters are there and it takes you from point A to point B, but does so in a completely different way. Even more interesting, it tends to make the opposite choices that the 2011 remake did. For example, the 2011 movie decided to change the villain, a vampire named Jerry Dandringe, from merely a suave SOB to a bloodthirsty psychopath who still maintained an aura of a nice guy on the surface. Here, the vampire is “Gerri Dandridge”, a sophisticated female college professor, and it turns out she’s really the famous historical figure Elizabeth Báthory. The latter was a real life figure who used to bathe in the blood of her victims and claimed it maintained her eternal youth.

The Bathory twist had me very intrigued but it seemingly re-invented Fright Night from the ground up. In other ways, its much more faithful to the 1985 movie than the 2011 remake. The famous late night TV horror show host who has the persona of a real life “vampire hunter” but is just an actor was memorably played by Roddy McDowell in the 1985 movie. The 2011 remake radically changed this to a Las Vegas stuntman played by David Tennant of the Doctor Who fame. The 2013 movie goes back to Fright Night’s roots and once again the vampire hunter is a late night TV star – although this time he’s cleverly changed to a reality TV host to make it more relevant for modern times. Sadly, while the character is a major player in both the 1985 and 2011 movies, he’s reduced to a much smaller supporting role here. Another change that was more faithful is that the main character’s sidekick is much closer to the 1985 version, so much so that many of us watching the movie expected him to say one of the famous lines from the original like “You’re so cool, Brewster!” or “Dinner’s in the oven!”

Unfortunately the film de-evolves to standard vampire fare towards the end of the movie, but the journey it takes us along the way makes it worth while. In terms of the cinematic legacy of vampire films, I doubt this movie will make a blip on the radar. But as an obscure, cheaply made, direct-to-video remake that is falsely advertising itself as a sequel to a remake, it’s a pleasant surprise. I think it’s worth a watch.
** ½ out of ****