Tag Archives: Fede Alvarez

Evil Dead (“When Horror Met Funny”)

26 Jun


Synopsis: “Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 31 minutes)

There are so many different types of horror movies, it’s actually become challenging to track them all. Between supernatural horror, exorcism movies, slasher films, torture porn, even Japanese horror has become its own genre (think of The Ring or the equally terrifying original Ringu as one of many movies with pale, disturbing ghosts staring at the victims, and literally scaring the life from their bodies). Some use humor as their characters get picked off one by one (Scream was an extreme example of this, while the later Final Destination movies were gruesomely hilarious). Others go via a humorless route, hoping that where they fall short in making their audience laugh they’ll make up for it by scaring the bejesus out of you (Insidious and the aforementioned The Ring were prime examples of this).

In this piece I’m interested in discussing the humorous variety. Anyone who hates being scared would understandably ask how a horror movie could ever be funny. Allow me to describe the different ways:

Horror Spoofs – This is the most obvious kind, as movies such as the Scary Movie franchise are anything but frightening. They take the scary ideas, and use humor so silly that even if there is gore it’s absolutely absurd. These flicks are not intended to scare, chill or make their audience jump, and their genre would more aptly be considered comedy – not horror. (Examples of this include a couple of movies I reviewed this year, such as Scary MoVie and the less awful A Haunted House.)

Horror Satires – This is where the lines start to get blurred between comedy and horror. Half the people leaving these films will refer to them as horror, others laugh at the description and claim they are simply comedies with gore. They ideally are clever satires that take the genre and try to flip it on its head. It’s an interesting device because some of these movies have no intention of actually scaring you, but will have as much gore as you can imagine (Tucker And Dale Vs Evil) and others truly want to scare you, but the humor is not merely comic relief, it is central to their core (Scream).  Some of my favorite horror movies fall into this category. (Other examples: Shaun Of The Dead and Cabin In The Woods.)

Horror Camp – No, I’m not referring to the countless horror movies that take place in a summer camp, though those will often also apply to this category. I’m referring to campy horror flicks, both intentional and also marvelously unintentional. I refer to the many horror movies where the acting is so terrible and the dialogue is so lame, that when they say “I’ll be right back” you’re not wondering what will happen, but rather how the person will soon die. It’s the movies where one teenager (always played by older actors of course) goes to the forest to have sex (let’s just ignore the fact that they always seem comfortable on the twigs, bugs and rocks for a moment) and you get those fun moments of gratuitous nudity followed by a (hopefully) creative death. Bonus points for the movies that enjoy combining those two elements and include gratuitous nudity and death in the same image (use your own imagination, this is supposed to be a semi-clean blog!) Countless movies fall into this category, from some of the later Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, to the more recent Final Destination movies. Each of these started as serious horror movies, but at a certain point the mystery of WHO the killer was revealed, and the fun became more about HOW each person would be, ahem, dispatched. I used to watch these movies with my childhood friend Josh, and we’d laugh hysterically as each person would be killed in a ridiculous way, and rewind and re-watch some of the better scenes. And by better, I mean over-the-top cheesy-bad special effects, where you could see the person clearly become a mannequin as they’re killed due to lousy editing. And for any of my parents reading this blog, no we wouldn’t rewind and re-watch the nudity over and over again cracking up, of coooooourse not…Speaking of Josh, if you haven’t already read about him in my Blockbuster Video story, check it out here, trust me.

There are many other categories of horror as mentioned earlier, but those are generally not comedic. Very few people will be laughing at or with The Ring or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and they have a strong place in the horror medium, but not really anywhere in the horror comedy spectrum. Although I will note that there is some laughter that sometimes emanates from the audience even in the scariest of movies immediately after a scare has been truly effective. This is less a statement of the audiences’ sadistic pleasures, and more a catharsis of relief after the scene ends, as it generally gives you a breather until the next scary part builds up.

The Evil Dead has always been a franchise that interestingly mixed comedy with horror. Directed by the brilliantly inventive Sam Raimi, there were three movies made that would each fit into my different categories. The original was probably “Horror Camp”, since it was predominately intended to scare, and although people find it hilarious now, that is in large part due to its extremely low budget production quality, as well as the cult phenomenon that has come from it. (Think of how people laugh throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show now, it’s in line with that same idea of cult-classic camp.) Its sequel, Evil Dead II, was more of a “Horror Satire”. It took the same ideas and story of the original, and somewhat recreated it in an intentionally hilarious way, while still maintaining the gruesome factor. The third and (until now) final one was called Army Of Darkness, and I suppose it fit into the “Horror Spoof” category, since it was really nothing but a cartoonish comedy that still had a bit of a horror theme. I actually discussed these films in a previous post you can read here, in the paragraph about Sam Raimi.

As a quick tangent, I would like to point out that the Gremlins franchise also drastically changed horror genres. The original 1984 movie was a cleverly funny horror film, and the much-maligned (but quite underrated in my opinion) 1990 sequel transformed into a comedy with only slight horror elements. The idea of a movie sequel creating a noticeable tonal shift is a discussion I will leave for another day.

For years the fans of the Evil Dead franchise had been hoping that Raimi would return to create another sequel, but he simply wasn’t ready to do so. Along came Fede Álvarez from left field (aka his house in Uruguay), and he won over the studio, as well as Sam Raimi’s blessing to make the fourth movie without him. How did this happen? It’s quite the Cinderella story…

Álvarez spent a whopping total of $300 to make a 5 minute short called Panic Attack. Let me clarify that, not 300 million dollars like the budget to huge blockbuster movies, not 300 thousand dollars like the budget of a tiny independent film, not even 3000 dollars like the budget of a little student film. No, he spent the same amount of money to make his special effects-riddled short, as it costs to buy an Xbox. He wrote, directed and edited the movie, and then created the special effects using his computer. Before you continue this article, sit back, turn off the lights, and watch the short here. (Fear not scaredy cats, it’s tense and exciting, but not scary or gruesome).

Finished yet? Now imagine watching that, realizing this man managed to make it for next to nothing, and seeing it go viral within days of being put online (in large part thanks to Kanye West tweeting it when it was first released). It definitely got him immediate attention, meetings, and a deal that eventually resulted with him directing this newest Evil Dead. Although it’s somewhat ironic that the special effects he cobbled together in the short were computer generated, considering the movie was almost exclusively not. It turns out that Álvarez finds much of CGI to be cheap and lazy (a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly) and went out of his way to make all of the special effects old school. Nice! And there were some impressive effects here ladies and gentlemen. Hands sawed off, things flying in the air, and even the infamous nod to the original – yes, there was a tree-rape scene. In fact, thanks to my friend Shani (who went with Adi and myself to see the movie), I got tons of great information about the movie itself. Here is a great link for anyone who’s already seen it (because it CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS). If you’ve seen the movie, it will show many of the many respectful nods to the original that Álvarez included.

How did I like it? Quite a lot. It was definitely meant to be great fun to watch, but not necessarily funny like the originals. Of course Álvarez knew that he would be providing funny moments simply by association, but as a whole the movie was tense, had great timing, and a consistently awesome visual setting. He also provided a clever context to justify the typical idiocy of a bunch of guys and gals staying in the woods who clearly should get the hell out of there. The main character quickly starts doing crazy things and has clearly been taken over by some sort of evil demon spirit, and in lucid moments she begs everyone else to leave. Álvarez had to think up a way to most creatively keep them there, and he came up with a doozy. The entire plot of why they’re isolated the woods is that they’re all trying to dry her up from her recurrent drug addiction. They know she’ll lie and do anything to get out of it, so it becomes a hilarious and convincing reason to not believe anything she says or does, because she’s a lying junkie. So clearly when she’s covered in wounds and looks like a ghost and making things fly in the air, it’s all part of drug withdrawal. Awesome. That reminded me of one of the truly hilarious moments of the horror classic The Exorcist. After Linda Blair first levitates her bed and speaks in tongues, her doctor describes that this is all explained by ADHD, and prescribes her this miracle drug called Ritalin. AMAZING.

Unfortunately, my horror-loving fiancée didn’t enjoy it much, because it was simply too gruesome and gory for her. As much as she loves the genre, she can’t handle explicit (fake) imagery, which made this movie a bit of a losing battle for her. But as for Shani and myself, we loved it. A now somewhat-typical horror story, with a hefty offering of great scenes and visuals, along with some nifty film-making and editing, made for a fun night out at this rebirth of the horror franchise.

And if you’re a fan of the series, be sure to stay until the end of the credits, you’ll see…

The movie was better than Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, which was a funny “cabin in the woods” riff. But it wasn’t as amazing as THE ultimate “cabin in the woods” riff, you know, The Cabin In The Woods!

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A