Army of Darkness (1992) – Sam Raimi

Can I start of by saying: All Hail Bruce Campbell? Campbell for President? Ok, I’ll stop.

Back in 1981, Sam Raimi created one of the all time greatest horror movies of all time, ever: The Evil Dead. It was the ultimate 80’s B-horror movie. It cost less than $400,000 to make, and it showed. On paper, this movie had everything working against it. Script, acting, budget, set, you name it. But somehow, Raimi pulled it together to make a scary, funny, bloody masterpiece. The first sequel, Evil Dead 2, plays up some of the goofy slapstick stuff from the first one a little bit. But ED2 keeps the format that worked in the first one. In his 1992 installment Army of Darkness, the story picks up where EDII left off- with Ash being transported back the middle ages by the demons. Don’t worry, he’s still got his chainsaw and his ‘boomstick’ (his double-barrel 12-guague) and a box full of shells (conveniently, his car got sucked in to the portal with him and there’s ammo in the trunk).

I know, I’ll probably piss a lot of people off when I say this, because I know lots of you love this movie, but I think Army of Darkness, takes a big step down from the first two films in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it just doesn’t have the charm of the original, let alone the gore or the scares. AOD takes the campy, silliness to another level and this takes away from any possible scariness. The movie doesn’t even really feel like a horror movie. It feels more like an action adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great movie, and a lot of fun, but to me, it doesn’t even come close to the original. Also its budget was $13 million. Think about that.

Ok, so we’ve got Bruce Campbell, (Ash) getting sucked into a giant demon portal in the end of the second movie. At this point, he has chopped off his own hand because it became possessed by a demon, and he has rigged a chainsaw to his stump for chopping up zombies. He falls from the sky and lands in a medieval city and is quickly recognized to be the chosen one who was prophesized to save the city from the “deadites” (the demons that have been killing all his friends for the past 2 movies). A wiseman tells Ash that he must retrieve the Necronomicon (book of the dead) and that it contains a spell that can send Ash back to his own time. When Ash gets the book he accidentally awakens the army of the dead and they attack the city to get the book back.

One of the deadites gets into Ash’s mouth and grows inside him and then he eventually splits in half (like cell division from bio class) into a good and an evil Ash. Evil ash becomes the leader of the Army of the Dead. When Ash’s newly found girlfriend gets kidnapped by the evil army, Ash decides to stay and help defeat the monsters before getting sent home. He helps the medieval warriors train and rig up modern-style weapons to defeat the deadites and get his girlfriend back.

The first two movies were simple. I’m stuck in a cabin with my friends and a bunch of demons and everyone is getting possessed and trying to eat me. There were cool creepy voices and sound effects and the blood and guts factor was fantastic. AoD gets too big and they get away from the stuff that we loved about the first two movies. Sure there are skeletons and explosions and the finest claymation monsters money could buy, but it just didn’t quite have the appeal of the first movie. I know, it’s not fair to just compare this to the original, but I can’t really help it. In general, I get the sense that Raimi purposely toned down the blood and guts to appeal to a wider audience.

Let’s talk about what I liked. Of course, Bruce Campbell makes this movie. If he weren’t in it, it would probably have sucked some serious demon balls. Campbell is the ultimate leading man for a movie like this. He can be funny and serious at the same time. The scenes where he’s fighting his evil self are some of my favorites. And he delivers the lines about boomsticks and about shopping at S-Mart so in such a serious way, you almost forget that he’s yelling this stuff at a crowd of medieval farmers and they have no idea what he’s talking about. Raimi also keeps the campy “camera chasing you through the woods” thing that was used pretty heavily in the first movies.

Overall, the movie is good, but it’s not scary. It’s funny; it’s entertaining, but it’s not scary. And it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. It won’t get a good score here but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. Just make sure you see the other two first. In general, I think it is too self-aware and you can tell that some of it was a little forced.

  1. Is it scary: 2- It’s not really the kind of movie that scares you. The silliness takes over and there’s no room for scares. Even the suspenseful parts are punctuated by goofy noises and slapstick fighting.
  2. Originality: 5- I guess there are some new features to this one, but it just took a lot from the original movies.
  3. Blood: 3- This was one of the biggest disappointments of this film. The first two were so bloody and nasty. In this one, most of the time, he’s killing skeletons so no blood at all. It was almost like he intentionally toned it down.
  4. Believability: 3–It was intentionally goofy and unbelievable. It’s supposed to be over the top.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 4- Some parts of the setting are a little creepy, but it’s hard to divorce yourself from Campbell’s antics enough to get yourself scared.  Nothing too fancy with the camera work other than the chasing through the woods stuff that I mentioned.

Final Score: 17/50

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The Posession (2012) – Ole Bornedal

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Based on a true story. For some reason, all these demon possession films say they are based on a true story. I’m not here to weigh in on the spiritual or religious implications of real-life demonic possession, but I do know that “Based on a true story” is essentially false advertising.  Every time. When you see those words on a movie poster, you might as well read: “Bullshit”.

Ole Bornedal’s 2012 The Possession, is touted as based on a true story. I read a little about the back story and it was actually a pretty interesting one too. I’ll get into it a little later. Overall, the movie was OK, but it was just sort of bland. Vanilla. Also, Sam Raimi was credited as a producer. We all know how much Sam loves his demon possession: (The Evil Dead, Drag me to Hell).Now, If I’ve learned anything from watching Entourage, they just throw those producer credits around like Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans and they don’t mean much, but I was hoping for a little Evil Dead flare to this one. Spoiler alert: There wasn’t any.

Like so many modern horror movies, The Possession had a cool idea/storyline but it was poorly executed. Or rather, it was the cinematic equivalent to not following through with that homerun swing. This one sailed into the outfield but it was an easy out for the center fielder. It was dark, it was spooky, atmospheric, whatever, but overall, there was just something missing. I will say the movie did have a cool new take on the possession story. This time instead of a Catholic priest, there was a Jewish rabbi- who, by the way, was most badass characters in the movie.

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So the story starts out when a girl, Emily buys an ornate old wooden box from a yard sale. Her parents are in the process of getting a divorce and there’s some tension around the two households. The box is mysteriously sealed and hard to get open. One night the Emily figures out the trick and opens the box. Inside are some creepy items like a tooth and what seems to be a disheveled lock of human hair. Also a large moth flies out even though the box doesn’t seem to have been opened for many years. The next day, the Emily starts hearing weird voices and acting strangely at school. She stabs her dad in the hand with a fork. The family and the school officials blame this behavior on the divorce and nobody notices that something really bad is happening. Then one night the dad goes to check on her in her room and hundreds of those moths are swarming around her in her bed.

Shit gets worse and worse and people start blaming the dad for making this girl act like this. The daughter gets hospitalized after she freaks out and tries to kill the mom. Dad does some research and figures out that the box has some Jewish markings on it and that they are meant to keep a demon trapped within. Then he recruits the Chuck Norris of all Rabbis to come help him save his daughter. There’s a fairly anti-climactic climax and some predictable twists at the end. All pretty standard stuff.

Apparently, this story was based on a true event where somebody sold a cursed box containing a demon on eBay. Why anyone would do this, I have no idea. Everyone’s the worst. If you ever get your hands on a demon box, do the world a favor and dig a 100 foot hole in your back yard and bury it. Because if you don’t, the demon will get out and it will fuck up everything. That’s what they do.

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Now I don’t want to make it sound like the movie was bad- it wasn’t, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I’m not even really sure why. It had a lot of the elements that we look for in a horror movie. But maybe it just had too many of them. There were some cool things but they were just a little used, I think. Clichéd. Scary little girl in a night gown leaning forward so her black hair covers her face. Girl opening her mouth and looking into the mirror and something crawls out of her throat. This was like a cross between The Grudge and The Exorcist that had been edited for TV. There were a couple of cool scary moments but not enough to really save this one I think.

Also, there is one, and only one black person in this movie. She’s on the screen for a total of 90 seconds before she gets tossed around a room like a rag doll and then thrown from an upstairs window to her death. Is this still a thing? Are we just killing black characters for no reason? Come on people Barrack is president. Let’s cool it with the not-so-subtle-cinematic racism.

  1. Is it scary: 5- Kindof cool, dark and creepy atmosphere but the suspenseful scenes fell a little flat for me.
  2. Originality: 5- I like the twist that it was a rabbi instead of a priest, but the cursed box from a yard sale, it just seems too Gremlins for me.
  3. Blood: 2- I mean, it was PG-13, but there was basically no blood. One awesome scene that I won’t spoil-best part of the movie.
  4. Believability: 7-There were some logical inconsistencies and a couple of loose ends with the plot that didn’t get answered, but overall, it felt pretty believable to me.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7- I think the best thing about this movie was that it always looked scary. Even when the plot was lacking, the way everything was lit made it dark and spooky all the way through. Its always night or cloudy and rainy outside. This is really day 1 stuff, but not everybody does it right.

Final Score: 26/50

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Drag Me to Hell (2009) – Sam Raimi

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Do you like gypsies? Do you like demons? Do you like Justin Long? Do you like watching bodily fluids fly across the room? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you’ll probably love Sam Raimi’s 2009 return to horror, Drag Me to Hell. Nearly 30 years after his classic horror masterpiece, The Evil Dead, Raimi is back at it with this off-beat, modern demon-possession film. If you didn’t know he was the director, you might think that it was a bad movie, but some of the choices he makes are intentionally unconventional and designed to be subtly humorous in while still being scary. If you’ve seen The Evil Dead, you know what I’m talking about. (And if you haven’t you should go do that right now. Like stop reading this stupid blog and go watch it on Netflix.) Drag Me to Hell is somehow both an actual horror movie and a sort of parody of itself at the same time.

The movie is about a young lady, Christine, who works as a loan officer at a bank. She’s in competition for a big promotion with this douchy dude at the bank. To prove that she can make cold, fiscal decisions, she denies a loan extension of a gross old gypsy woman. The woman gets pissed and after an awesome and disgusting fist fight, puts a gypsy curse on Christine. The demon that she’s cursed with doesn’t waste any time. As soon as she gets home and her boyfriend, (Justin Long- remember Jeepers Creepers?) conveniently leaves the house, the demon shakes up some pots and pans, blows open some windows and slams Christine around her bedroom for a few minutes. So she goes to see a psychic and finds out that this demon will kill her and take her soul to Hell in 3 days if she is in the possession of the cursed object-a button from her jacket.

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Now, when you’re in a Sam Raimi movie, and you’re getting double-teamed by a pissed off old gypsy woman and a demon, you should be prepared for anything. And don’t think the fact that she’s dead (sorry spoiler-she dies half way through the movie) is going to stop her from fucking with you, vomiting bugs and maggots into your mouth, and shoving her arm into your mouth and down your throat, because it won’t. Oh and about the bug thing-there’s a scene where homegirl is asleep and a fly buzzes around her and lands on her face. It’s slowly poking its way around her face, nose, and finally squeezes into her mouth and disappears down her throat. Watching it is so unnerving and gross. Totally freaked me out. The buzzing sound is so good too. Nasty.

Also a bit more on the sound effects. Everything in this movie is over the top. Sound effects included. Everything is extra squishy and sloppy and loud and disgusting. There’s a scene where the gypsy lady pulls out her false teeth and sets them on the desk. The oozing, slapping noises of drool and gums that just seem to slide out of this woman’s disgusting old mouth are really just upsetting. Raimi can shoot a scene in a brightly lit bank office and still make it grotesque and horrific while still being kind of funny. It’s so exaggerated and repulsive that you have to just laugh at it.

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Now, the movie is not perfect. I don’t really love the acting. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel about the main character. She says and does some things and carries herself in a way that makes me not really feel for her as much as I should. And Justin Long-the boyfriend, whom I usually love in movies, is sort of flat and kindof a douche in this. He’s nice but too nice. Kindof neutered or something. The character is a good guy and all.- I just get the impression that Justin was bored while he played him.

I don’t know if it’s the direction or the acting, but something doesn’t quite do it for me in terms of a conventional movie. There’s an intense scene with Christine and her kitten (that I’m not going to give away) but it really makes this point. Fortunately, the movie is sort of subtly winking at itself. So I think we can forgive these logical and technical imperfections and keep in mind that there’s more going on here than a straight-up ghost story. The story itself is not half bad either, and it’s got a couple of cool twists at the end.

Overall, I think it holds up pretty well. Raimi could have drastically improved this movie by casting Bruce Campell in ANY of the roles. Any of them.

  1. Is it Scary: 6- Not the scariest thing in the world, but there are some good intense and scary moments. Plus the whole thing is creepy and grotesque. Made me jump more than most movies also.
  2. Originality: 6- I can’t say there’s anything truly new or innovative here, but it also didn’t feel like a rip-off of another movie. Interesting take on the demon possession story too.
  3. Blood: 5- Good not great. Especially knowing who directed it. I thought he could have made it a little bloodier, but it still had a good bit of blood and other unidentified fluids all over the place.
  4. Believability: 5- I don’t know if I totally buy everyone’s reactions to the demon possession. The way some people acted was inconsistent and didn’t seem real. Also, SHE RAN UP THE GODDAMN STAIRS. -1 POINT
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7: Like I said before, Raimi has found a way to make even the most mundane and normal settings feel scary and grotesque.

Final Score 29/50

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The Evil Dead (1980) – Sam Raimi


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This is the Cult Classic that inspired 2 sequels 6 video games, a few dozen comic books and and upcoming remake (big surprise there). Enter the legendary (and my perennial write-in candidate for all presidential ballots) Bruce Campbell as Ash- the reluctant hero. He and a group of friends are visiting a remote cabin in the woods when they accidentally awaken some demonic spirits. The spirits begin to take over the bodies of the group and one-by-one they become zombified monsters. Not only is this movie thoroughly scary, funny, and soaked in gallons of zombie guts and blood, it helps you tackle the real-world issues:  “Is it socially acceptable to hack your friends into little pieces with a chainsaw if they’ve turned into zombies?” And “If you just chopped off your zombie girlfriend’s head with a shovel her body lands on you and starts humping you, do you let her finish?”

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At first, you can’t tell if this movie is intended to be scary or funny. It’s certainly campy, but it’s hard to tell if that’s intentional or if this movie is just a victim of it’s age. The late 70’s/ early 80’s was a special time for horror. It was the puberty of modern horror. All the good modern horror movies are directly stolen from these films.  Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Shining, American Werewolf in London to name a few- I don’t mean to name-drop, just making a point. It was a special time and this movie came right when this movement was coming to a head.

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It’s almost like this movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it horror? Is it comedy? Or is it possible that by some happy accident, it actually pulled off both? This movie is simultaneously terrifying, hilarious, self-aware, and completely a victim of it’s own microscopic budget but it still works so well. The lighting and camera work are shoddy at best but that makes everything dark and kind of hard to see so you’re scared. And just when you’re about to roll your eyes at the delightfully terrible dialogue, you realize you can’t look away  because another scantily clad co-ed has just changed into a flesh-eating monster and she’s spewing blood across the room. And –Wait, did she just get raped by the forest? What?

You heard me.

So now I think I’ve got it. This movie isn’t a victim of anything. It actually takes advantage of all the campyness, the sound effects, the horrible and simultaneously incredible 70’s synth-horror music, the ever-present mist in the background and it actually works. Somehow, Raimi has taken all these 70’s horror cliches and put them in a blender, mixed in a few extra squirts of blood, some awesomely-lame special effects, and the worlds greatest leading man, and he’s come up with the perfect 80’s horror movie.

It’s so bad that its good. But it’s really just really fucking good.

  1. Is it scary: 8. It brings together all the great elements of classic horror and while it is funny, it’s definitely still scary as shit.
  2. Originality: 6. It brings a lot of tried-and-true horror elements to the table. Granted Raimi handles them as well as anyone before him, but there’s not anything really new here. I don’t think that was the point. The Evil Dead a tribute to these films.
  3. Blood: 10- This thing had gallons of blood spraying across the screen for the entire movie. It was banned in several countries when it first came out. Thats the mark of a good horror movie.
  4. Believability: 5- It wasn’t supposed to be believable-it was poking fun at the shitty movies that had come before it but that doesn’t mean i can dole out free points. Scream did the Same thing in the 90’s after the slasher genre had grown up.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7. Delightfully low budget camera work and a creepy dilapidated cabin in the middle of nowhere. Nothing fancy, just nuts and bolts, balls to the wall horror.

Final Score: 36/50

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