Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Sentinel (1977)

Horror films about hell and the devil became ridiculously popular in the 1970's, with the fuse first being lit by Rosemary's Baby in 1968 and reached its zenith with the enormous successes of The Exorcist and The Omen. There are many other minor films made throughout the decade that tend to get overshadowed and forgotten amongst these legendary films, either unfairly or because they're so derivative of them that they don't leave much of an impression. That's where we have this little item, which I think I first became aware of when I read about it in an old book on horror films at my high school's library. I don't remember the author's opinion being that enthusiastic and the same certainly goes for John Stanley in his Creature Features book, where he gives it a mere 2 1/2 stars and calls it an, "Attempt at a classy demonic film [that] falls short in the hands of director Michael Winner." Yet, despite those less than stellar feelings on the film (which include many critical notices when the film was originally released), a scene from it was featured on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments in 2004, which was the first time I saw anything of it. And I must say, the scene in question, when the lead girl runs into the ghoulish spectre of her dead father in a dark room in the apartment building, did freak me out when I saw it on that special and I did jump a bit when her flashlight comes back on and illuminates her father's face. That was enough to where I decided I would see this one day, however it wouldn't be until 2013, when I bought the old, bare-bones DVD of it at a convention in Nashville. It was pretty cheap, so I figured, "Why not?" Well, I quickly got my answer to that question when I watched the movie the following week. Needless to say, it did not impress or stick with me at all. I wouldn't call it an out-and-out horrible movie and it certainly didn't anger me, which is why this isn't an entry of Movies That Suck; it's just a very forgettable, unoriginal, and dull one, which also commits the crime of wasting a remarkable cast. Make no mistake, what you've probably heard is true: The Exorcist, which I'm not even that big a fan of, and The Omen, which I love, are much better movies than this (in case you're wondering, I've never seen Rosemary's Baby, believe it or not).

Alison Parker is a beautiful but troubled New York model who is determined to strike out on her own and get her own apartment, despite her boyfriend's, lawyer Michael Lerman, wish that she would continue living with him and eventually marry him. After her father, who drove her to attempt suicide after she caught him in the middle of an orgy when she was a teenager, dies of cancer in Boston, Alison finds an apartment in an old, Brooklyn brownstone that is also occupied by an old, blind priest who does nothing but sit at an open window in his fifth floor apartment. Upon moving in, Alison meets some other apparent tenants, including Charles Chazen, an eccentric old man who owns a bird and a cat, and a lesbian couple downstairs who aren't at all shy of flaunting their lifestyle. As time goes on, the other tenants continue to disturb her and Alison also begins suffering from severe headaches, fainting spells, and begins hearing noises in the supposed empty apartment above hers. When she talks with Miss Logan, who sold her the apartment, she's told that she and the priest are the only tenants and when she investigates the other rooms with Miss Logan, she finds that they are indeed vacant and have been for some time. After a frightening encounter with the apparition of her deceased father, whom she stabs repeatedly, Alison is put into the hospital and her and Michael's checkered past, which involves him having an affair with her before his wife supposedly killed herself, an act that drove Alison to attempt suicide a second time, is brought back up when the detective who accused Michael of murder begins snooping around. Things become even stranger when it's learned that the people whom Alison claims to have met are not only all dead but were also murderers, and when Michael investigates the order of Catholic priests who own the building and care for the Father there, he learns that he priest is the latest in a long line of people who had normal lives before disappearing and re-emerging with different names and as priests and nuns. They also all attempted suicide at one point and Alison is intended to replace the current "sentinel" in the building, which is actually a gateway to hell.

Michael Winner is a very interesting director in that he had a career that lasted five decades, wherein he directed a number of popular and well-loved films in his career, including a number of British films with Oliver Reed, and went on to have some success in America, but also made his fair share of movies that people dislike (particularly his last films, Parting Shots, which ended up on Empire Magazine's list of the 50 Worst Movies of All Time) and never quite made it big. By the time he made The Sentinel, which he also co-wrote the screenplay for, working with the author of the novel it's based on, he'd already made his most well-known film, the first Death Wish, and since this film did fairly well at the box-office, he went on to have a couple of other moderate successes with The Big Sleep and Firepower. He worked for Canon Films during the 1980's, during which he made the first two Death Wish sequels, which both did well, along with some not so successful movies, which drug his reputation only further down. When Canon went bankrupt, Winner went back to England and only made three more films, after he which he pretty much retired from filmmaking and became known for other things, including his outspoken political views and, of all things, a critic of restaurants! I don't have much of a personal opinion on Winner since the only other film of his I've ever seen is his 1993 film Dirty Weekend but, judging from that and everything else I know he did, it seems like he was one of those filmmakers who really pushed the envelope in terms of violence and graphic sexual content, for which he received a lot of flack. That, however, isn't enough for me to want to seek out his films and, judging from what I have seen, it seems like he did it simply for pretty mean-spirited shock value, which can be effective but sometimes comes across like you're just trying to rile people up to bring attention to yourself, which is what it feels like with him.

A major problem with the film is that I didn't care one way or the other about the main character, Alison. Cristina Raines' performance isn't terrible but it's not exactly what you would call endearing, either. Her character comes with a lot of baggage in that she had an abusive, disgusting old skeleton for a father whom she caught in the midst of an orgy and beat her up for punishment, she attempted suicide as a result, had an affair with Michael Lerman when his ex-wife suddenly died, which caused her to attempt suicide again, has been living with Lerman ever since she got out of the hospital, and is now trying to strike out on her own to prove that she's capable of taking care of herself. Things start literally going to hell for her after her father dies and she moves into the apartment building, as she has to deal with the bizzare other "tenants" and begins to suffer from bad headaches and fainting spells as well as fear for her soul due to the horrible things that she's done in the past, culminating in the full disclosure of what's going on and what she's fated to become. That's a lot for an actor to play around with but, while Raines does manage to come across as convincing in the scenes where she's frightened, distressed, or in pain, there are other instances where her acting feels rather flat and, overall, there was nothing about her that made me truly care about her. Her performance is never absolutely horrible, just kind of... bland, despite all the meat to her character and what she's facing. As you can see, she ultimately does replace the old priest as the new sentinel who keeps the evil contained within the building from escaping, which is something that she must do in order to atone for her past sins, but again, I really didn't care when it happened; in fact, I was just glad that the movie was over.

Chris Sarandon, on the other hand, manages to give a performance of more substance as Alison's boyfriend, lawyer Michael Lerman. Like Alison, he's hardly as pure a character as he might initially seem when you first meet him but you only gradually learn about his skeletons in the closet as the film goes on. You find out that he was previously married and that he had an affair with Alison when his wife, who wouldn't divorce him, mysteriously died. He begins acting a little bit sinister when the detective who originally attempted to charge him with murder, and who he humiliated in court, starts snooping around after Alison is hospitalized, climbing that she knifed someone to death in her apartment building, using his influence to raise complaints against the departments as well as making calls to the office someone who's revealed to be a shady detective he knew in the past. It's also revealed that his late wife sometimes let it slip in her drunkeness that he accepted bribes and is suggested that said detective may have been hired by Lerman to kill her. Lerman, of course, denies having known the man when his mutilated body is found by the police but by this point, his initial friendly, charismatic exterior at the beginning of the film has begun to crack. At the end of the film, you learn that Lerman did, indeed, have his wife killed because, when he himself is killed while attacking the old priest, his soul is damned for it. And yet, despite the horrible things he's done, he's not an out-and-out evil person in that he does seem to genuinely care about Alison and is trying to figure out what's going on in her apartment and what's happening to her. Granted, he often leaves her by herself when she doesn't need to be alone but, that said, when he learns what her fate is destined to be, he tries everything he can to stop it. Of course, little does he understand that stopping it will not only doom her soul but all of humanity as well, although I'm not sure if he would have cared even if he did know beforehand, given what you learn about him. All in all, Sarandon gives a pretty good performance and is especially memorable near the end when he's been doomed to eternal damnation and is acting all smily and chipper as he tells Alison of it.

The supporting cast of this film is made up of a veritable who's who of great character actors, both old pros and up-and-coming at the time, who are mostly wasted in the parts they're given. The one who comes out the best is Burgess Meredith as Charles Chazen, an initially harmless-seeming, if eccentric, tenant who, at the end of the film, is revealed to be something of the head of the denizens of hell in the building. Meredith was an awesome actor and you can tell that he's making the most of what he's given here, playing Chazen as an energetic, somewhat effeminate, elderly gentleman who's never far from his bird and cat, the latter of whom he gives a birthday party for. He's pretty fun to watch as he comments on the decor of Alison's apartment, telling her that her taste is impeccable, and when he excitedly drags her to the aforementioned party, and while he's never scary during the climax, he does manage to exude some menace, trying to make Alison kill herself so he and the other demons can escape the building. I'm not sure if you could say that he's the devil himself (although his name never comes up in the list of deceased killers Alison claims she met) but, again, he's clearly the man in charge here, ordering the other demons to resist when the priests show up with a cross to try to save Alison and he is ultimately banished by their power. It's just a shame that Meredith didn't bring this kind of performance to a better movie (like he did in Burnt Offerings the previous year; too bad he's only in that movie at the very beginning).

Another guy who comes out of this looking good is the always awesome Eli Wallach as Gatz, the detective who originally tried to charge Michael Lerman with murder and is once again snooping around, trying to find any shred of evidence to prove that he's a killer. This is the type of character who, if it were played by anyone else, you would find obnoxious and annoying but Wallach has such an infectious energy and charisma that it's impossible not to hate him, even when he's deliberately poking Lerman and trying to dig up dirt on him (plus, as Lerman starts to look more and more shady, it's easier to root for Gatz). Just look at that expression on his face in that image. That comes when Lerman is visiting Alison in the hospital and asks for a bit of privacy. Needless to say, he doesn't get it. Gatz also gets a lot of good lines, like when his partner mentions how Alison claims to have had a dinner party with eight dead murderers and he says, "Doesn't everybody?", or when the police department gets a complaint from Lerman's lawfirm about a threat Gatz made to him and he says, "Not so much a threat, sir; more an observation." Another good one is when he's reminded of how Lerman made him look like a lawyer in court and he says, "If we didn't exaggerate some of the evidence, every crook in town would go free... instead of only 90% of them." Incidentally, as you can see, his partner, Detective Rizzo, is played by a young Christopher Walken but he, sadly, doesn't get to do much of anything except stand around and smile while Gatz talks (he barely gets to say anything). Even worse, their investigation ultimately has no effect on the movie's actual plot and they disappear before the third act, making their subplot pointless.

Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy have roles as priests in the secret society sworn to continue placing sentinels in the building. While Ferrer's role is virtually nothing (his character is credited merely as "Robed Figure") except perhaps being the leader of the order, Kennedy has a little more to do in the role of Monsignor Franchino, the priest who is sent to New York to ensure that Alison becomes the new sentinel. He comes across as a comforting figure towards Alison when she meets him in the church, trying to atone for her sins, and while he acts suspicious and a bit sinister when he pretends not to know the significance of some Latin that Alison came up with, he ultimately saves her from damnation at the end, telling her not to give up if she wants to save her soul. Okay, so it's not much of a role, but it's much more significant than Ferrer's! You also have Ava Gardner as Miss Logan, the woman who shows Alison the apartment building and is strongly hinted to be in on everything, although you're never told for sure. Like so much of the supporting cast, Gardner's role isn't that big but she does the most that she can with it, coming across as a bit odd and somewhat sinister. A big example of wasted talent comes in the form of Martin Balsam, who, despite being third-billed, only appears in one scene as Prof. Ruzinsky, a senile, scatter-brained old man who can't remember anybody's name, even when they just told him what it is, and doesn't even know on which days he does what. They really should have given him more to do, perhaps make him one of the priests, because this role is a big waste and all he does that's significant is translate the Latin that Alison came up with as a passage from Paradise Lost. Deborah Raffin has an early role as Jennifer, Alison's friend who doesn't seem to have much love for Michael Lerman but is supportive of her friend and is always there for her in any way that she can be. Unfortunately, she is completely absent from the third act as well. But the most baffling part of the movie's cast for me is Jeff Goldblum as Alison's photographer friend, Jack, and it's not because of his presence (which isn't too surprising since he worked with Winner before on Death Wish); it's because he's dubbed. Yeah, for some reason that I have not yet found the answer to, Goldblum's voice is replaced with someone else's. Why?! Nearly all of his few scenes are outside, so the audio probably wasn't great, but was it that difficult to get him in to do some ADR? That really threw me the first time I saw the movie and was also disappointing because I love Goldblum. (I've also learned that Richard Dreyfuss has a walk-on role during the opening credits montage that I didn't catch.)

However, none of these roles compare to what I consider to be the biggest waste in the film, which is John Carradine as the sentinel himself, Father Halliran. You may be thinking, "Well, he's the title character. He's probably in the entire movie." And yes, he is... sitting at a window in his fifth floor apartment for the whole movie until the climax and even then, he doesn't get to do much except walk around like an ancient man and mumble a bunch of prayers, with his only line being, "Portal to hell," or something of the like. He has to be held up and guided by Monsignor Franchino when he wards off the demons and save his successor at the end of the film. This role could have been played by anybody and yet, they decide to put a really good character actor like Carradine and, just to demean him even more, make him wear some makeup that looks like he's got gray chalk on his face and in his hair, as well as some contact lenses to make him seem blind, which don't look comfortable at all. If you want to see Carradine give a much better performance as a man of God, watch the Twilight Zone episode, The Howling Man. By the way, there are a lot of Twilight Zone alumni in this movie, aren't there (Carradine, Burgess Meredith, and Martin Balsam)? Too bad they two of them didn't get very good roles.

Another strike against The Sentinel is that, save for the scene that Bravo featured in their special, the setting is never scary or atmospheric. Both on the outside and the inside, the brownstone looks like just an ordinary, old apartment building, and none of the rooms, even the ones that Alison investigates with Miss Logan and discovers to have long since been abandoned, don't have a creepy vibe to them; rather, they just feel vacant. Those shots of Father Halliran looking out the window could have also been potentially eerie but they're not executed in such a way either, save for a shot or two. The production design is more surreal than unnerving, particularly in the scene in the two lesbians' apartment and in Chazen's apartment where he's having a party for his cat, and the scenes that are supposed to be scary, like when Alison is awakened in the middle of the night by sounds in the room above hers that's supposed to be empty, are so derivative of other horror films that they come across as stale. (Even though I've never seen the movie, I can still see how much Rosemary's Baby was an influence on this film given what I've heard of it.) The only scene that's likely to inspire terror is when Alison, searching for the source of the sounds upstairs, finds herself in a dark room and a shadowy figure appears behind the door and walks past her. That creeped me out when I saw it on that special and I jumped a bit when her flashlight kicks back on and illuminates the ghoul's horrifying face. That scene is still skin-crawlingly disturbing to me even now and the sequence that it leads into, with Alison running for it, while seeing spectres of the women her father had an orgy with and then basically mutilating him when he attacks her is also fairly shocking because of how unexpectedly gruesome the violence is. It's a shame that the entire film isn't as well-constructed as one scene because if it were, might get more positive attention.

Another connection that this film has to The Exorcist is that the legendary Dick Smith, working with Bob Laden, created the makeup effects and, while they're certainly not his greatest work, they're one of the few really memorable parts of it. And what's more, according to IMDB, the makeup for John Carradine, which I don't care for at all, was done by somebody else, which I was happy to learn since I figured that couldn't have been Smith's work. With that, I'm guessing that he did the makeup on Cristina Raines when she becomes the sentinel at the end, which looks a little more effective to me. However, that does not compare with the makeup design of Alison's father (Fred Stuthman) when he as a creepy ghoul in the building. They took somebody who was already disgusting during that flashback of him with those hookers when you saw his gaunt, naked body and made him really scary with that ash-colored skin, those wart-like spots along the side of his face, and those milky-white eyes. The film also has a fair amount of graphic violence and it's executed in a way guaranteed to make you squirm, like when young Alison uses a razor-blade to slit her wrists after finding her father with those hookers (scenes like that always make me cringe), when she comes across the horrific vision of Chazen's cat eating his bird, when she attacks her father's spectre, slicing him across the left eye and cutting his nose completely off, with a fair amount of blood squirting, and when the police find the similarly mutilated corpse of the shady detective Lerman once worked with. Other gore effects that are more over-the-top than truly disgusting come at the end of the movie when Michael Lerman shows up after his death with a big, bloody chunk of the right side of his face missing, along with crack-like cuts on his forehead and left cheek, and when he gets stabbed in the neck later on, as well as when some of the demons begin to bleed when they're vanquished by the two priests. That said, though, the sight of the two naked lesbians eating from Lerman's cracked open head is also likely to make you squirm.

When I rewatched the film for the first time since I bought it in order to form a foundation for this review, I had completely forgotten about the deformed people who appear at the end of the movie and my reaction was, "Good God, those are some disgusting makeups!" Well, as it turns out, those weren't makeups but rather real deformed circus performers who Michael Winner and his crew convinced to be in the film. Not only did I now feel like a complete asshole for thinking what I thought but in addition, I felt, "Wow, way to keep it classy, Winner." I guess I shouldn't be too disturbed by this since they did agree to be in the film but it still doesn't seem right to me. And I know what you're thinking: "Yeah, when Tod Browning did it in Freaks, he made a horror classic, but when Michael Winner did it, it's exploitive and in poor taste." Well, putting aside the sensibilities of the 1930's in comparison to those of the 70's, Freaks made the sideshow performers sympathetic characters, whereas these people are portraying evil demons from hell who are trying to make Alison commit suicide so they can escape the building they're trapped in. Kind of a big difference, don't you think? Also, my skin can't help but crawl when I see stuff like this in a movie, which is why, while I respect it, I don't watch Freaks that often. I mean no offense to anybody who is deformed but, unless it's handled very well, I don't feel it belongs in something that's meant to be a piece of entertainment. It's another instance where it's like, "We watch movies to kind of get away from things like that." (I was originally going to compare it to the genuine animal killings in Cannibal Holocaust and other movies of that sort but then I figured I'd better not because that comparison made me feel really dickish.) Again, no disrespect intended, but I can't help but feel that way.

This is an example of something I said earlier: it feels like Winner tried to make this movie as shocking or surreal as possible with no other purpose than to bring attention to it. He's certainly not the first or last person to do that and there are other movies that have done that which I do like but here, it didn't impress me. There's all the graphic sexual content that also just happens to be some of the most unappealing examples imaginable, with that old man who's basically a skeleton having an orgy with two hookers who are very unattractive in and of themselves (they're also eating cake with a lot of frosting on it, which only adds to the "ick" factor) and appear in spectral form throughout the film; those two lesbians, Gerde Engstrom (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D'Angelo), who are not at all shy about their relationship (you can tell what their relationship is from the very minute you see them), with Gerde telling Alison that they fondle each other for a living and Sandra masturbating right in front of Alison when they're left alone in the living room; the dream that Alison has of the birthday party for Chazen's cat being more sexual in nature, with more naked people; and the plethora of nude people you see during the climax, including the lesbians who are also seen eating from the wound on Lerman's head. There's no reason for any of that other than to make you cringe as much as possible. Speaking of the party for the cat (whose name I can't remember, although I do know it was a female), that's one of those scenes where you go, "What?!", when you see the shots of that cat with a party hat on her head, looking as confused as the viewer, and the games Alison gets roped into with the attendees, including singing Happy Birthday to her. And later on, you see that cat eating Chazen's bird, which I'm really hoping wasn't real, for no other reason other than to disgust you. Finally, while I hate to use John Stanley's description of the climax being a "freakshow" given the use of real deformed people, I do agree with his sentiment that it degenerates into absolute chaos and is throwing a bunch of weird and nasty stuff at you for no other reason than because it can (which makes the use of real human oddities all the more distasteful).
Another observation of Stanley's that I agree with is that there are too many parts of the screenplay that are left unexplained, parts that were no doubt expanded upon in the original novel. I don't consider this an instance of things simply being left up to your imagination, either, but rather that there are plot-points and events that are never explained. The biggest one for me is why this particular apartment building is a gateway to hell. I don't like the idea of the entrance to hell being confined to one place anyway, unless it's done really well, because I feel it demeans it and makes it feel less frightening, but regardless, why this building? How did it come to be a place where demons are held prisoner and unable to escape into the real world? Was it originally constructed to be so or did it just happen? Could Satan not find anywhere else to allow his followers to escape? And what was the point of replacing it with a more modern building once Alison took over as the sentinel? Does that just happen every time a new one steps in? Speaking of the sentinels, if they're meant to be keep the demons from escaping, why do they always become blind when they take up the position? And why does their sitting in the top room, at the window, make such a difference? Is it their mere presence that keeps the demons at bay? If so, then why not keep the next intended one away from the building until it's time for them to take the position so they can't possibly be corrupted and doom all humanity, as almost happens with Alison? Other things that are never explained include the headaches and fainting spells that Alison begins to have. Is that part of the process? Is it her starting to go blind? And there's also the fact that the shady detective whose services Michael Lerman tried to enlist is inexplicably found dead in a gutted car, mutilated in the same manner that Alison claims she did to the apparition of her father, and it's never explained who killed him. Given that he wasn't exactly a good man, you could conclude that somebody simply wanted him dead, but it adds yet another unresolved complication to the plot, which is to say nothing of Getz's investigation, whose only significant revelation is the affair between Alison and Lerman when he was married and that he may have killed his wife; otherwise, it has no baring on the main plot before Getz and Rizzo vanish before the third act.
The studio had a tough time securing a composer for the film. Their first choice was John Williams, who ultimately bowed out to do Star Wars instead, prompting them to next go for Michael Small, who at that time had done the music for The Stepford Wives and Marathon Man and would go on to score The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jaws: The Revenge, and Wagons East. He then dropped out, which ultimately led to them going with Gil Melle, who had scored The Andromeda Strain as well as episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, Columbo, and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. (This kind of mirrors how they originally wanted Don Siegel to direct the film but he turned it down since he didn't feel comfortable doing this type of movie... and then he went and did Damien: Omen II the following year!) In any case, a piece of the film's score that I find to be truly frightening is what you hear in the scene where Alison runs into that apparition of her father. There's a low, rumbling sound when the door slowly opens to reveal him standing there, which already makes the scene unnerving (that becomes something of a theme for this character because you hear it again when he reappears during the climax), and when her flashlight illuminates him, you're hit with this high-pitched screaming sound that has stuck with me ever since I first heard it on that Bravo special. There is no denying how freaky that is. Unfortunately, the rest of the score is nowhere near as memorable to me. There is some distant vocalizing here and there that's a bit reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Omen but overall, the music is pretty forgettable and is also much too big and overdone for a fairly low-key movie that's mostly set in an apartment building. Like everything else this movie tries to do, I've seen, or rather heard, it done better elsewhere.
I think those points on the 'S' are meant to be demonic horns
but it makes it look more like a dollar sign to me.
After everything I've said, I figure there are a lot of people who are like, "Are you sure this isn't an entry in Movies That Suck?" Like I said, The Sentinel never becomes so horrible that it pissed me off; it's just a very forgettable film whose subject matter has been done better in other movies. The two leads are okay but never become really great, the supporting cast includes a number of really good character actors who are mostly given nothing to do, there isn't much atmosphere or genuine tension to 99% of the movie, it feels like Michael Winner put in a bunch of disgusting sexual content, nasty violence, and downright bizarre scenes for no other than to shock the viewer, of which the climax is an extension, especially given the ill-advised use of real deformed people to play the demons, and the music score is mostly pretty lame. There are definitely good notes to it, like the performances some of the supporting actors manage to bring out of their roles, no matter how limited they may be, some good makeup and gore effects by the legendary Dick Smith, and a genuinely creepy moment around the half-way point that's accompanied by some very unnerving music, but as a whole, the film is nothing remarkable and is kind of dull more often than not. If you like it, power to you (some must like it, given the Blu-Ray edition with plenty of extras that was released in 2015), but if you haven't, my advice is to just stick with The Exorcist and The Omen (and possibly even Rosemary's Baby).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Franchises: The Evil Dead. Evil Dead (2013)

You haven't experience many films, have you?
This is a prime example of a movie that, had it not been for this blog, I would have never seen. Not being a fan of this franchise, its development had no impact on me whatsoever and the TV ads that I saw in the time leading up to its release didn't pique my interest either. It didn't look any different from the numerous other remakes of 70's and 80's horror films and what little I heard about it after its release confirmed that feeling. While there were some people who truly enjoyed it, the general consensus seemed to be that it had some really impressive gore but the rest of the movie was completely forgettable. If you've seen my review on the slasher movie The Prowler (aka Rosemary's Killer), you'd know that good gore effects alone aren't enough to save a movie for me and so, after that summation, I definitely was not at all interested in seeing this. But, when I decided to review this franchise, I figured, "Might as well talk about all the movies while I'm at it," and so, I found it online to watch the night I finished my review of Evil Dead II. I watched it a second time before doing this review simply because I don't like reviewing something when I've only seen it once but, regardless, this could possibly be the freshest perspective I've ever brought to one... and that perspective is that the general consensus was right. This film does have great gore effects, especially during the climax, and it's nice that they decide to stick with practical effects rather than over-use CGI, but that's all it has going for it. I may not really like the original film but, in addition to the gore, it also had Sam Raimi's innovative directing style and some nice bits of atmosphere to compensate for the meager budget, whereas this $17 million film (the biggest budget the series has ever gotten) is just another dime-a-dozen, visually murky remake with some Abercrombie and Fitch-like teenagers as the cast. Even worse, at least Raimi tried to use cliches and familiar tropes of the genre to come up with something unique; this is just another generic demon-possession film that steals from The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Asian horror flicks like The Grudge and comes across as nothing less than tired as a result. I was originally going to make this an entry of Movies That Suck but I couldn't really do that since it didn't actually make me mad or bore me tears (although I was disinterested throughout) but, at the same time, it's still not a good movie. It's a pointless, unoriginal waste of 91 minutes, time that could be much better spent doing just about anything else.

As usual with these remakes, they picked an young, unknown director with no experience in features to make the film (why not, for a change, get someone experienced who also loves the original movie?) In this case, it's Fede Alvarez, a director from Uruguay who'd only done some shorts up to that point, particularly Ataque de Panico (Panic Attack), a little science fiction short that was reportedly made for only $300 and had Alvarez doing everything, including the visual effects. This short was what impressed Sam Raimi and his production company, Ghost House Pictures, enough to where they wanted to work with him. Initially, they were going to have him make a big budget sci-fi picture but when that didn't happen, they offered him Evil Dead instead, which he also co-wrote with Rodo Sayagues. In the years since this film, Alvarez has, at this point, only directed an episode of the From Dusk Till Dawn TV show, although according to IMDB, a horror film he directed called A Man in the Dark is due out in August of 2016 and he also plans to do a film adaptation of the video game Dante's Inferno, as well as a possible sequel to this film since it did pretty well (because, yeah, let's continue to drag this out; it can only get better).

One thing they can't seem to avoid with these remakes is take the fairly simple plot of the original and make it more complicated. In the original Halloween, Michael Myers was simply someone who was born evil and had a need to kill even when he was a six-year old kid, whereas in Rob Zombie's remake, it's because he comes from a bad, white-trash family; in the Friday the 13th films, you either had a group of counselors going to Camp Crystal Lake to reopen or a group of kids going somewhere in the vicinity just to have some, whereas in the 2009 movie, you have that as well as Jason Voorhees kidnapping a woman and her brother coming to look for her; and in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, you had Freddy Krueger basically being a demon who stalks kids in their sleep as revenge for being burned alive, while in the horrendous 2010 movie, you have a complicated backstory between him and the kids, that he molested them, which they don't remember, and he got lynched for it. It's the same thing here. The set-up for the original Evil Dead was about as simple as you could get: five college kids go up to a cabin in the woods to have some fun. Here, you have a bunch of kids there as an intervention for a heroin addict, as well as the cabin belonging to the family of the brother and sister there and it being the sight of a grisly ritual to expell a demon. You get this same scenario with just about every one of these remakes and, while no one wants another shot-for-shot remake like Gus Van Sant did with Psycho and sometimes, it does work, it gets tiresome after a while and you wish they would just try another simple plot, like what Zack Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead or even what Marcus Nispel did with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by having it be some kids on their way to a concert (in fact, that's an example of an inverse since the original had the more complicated plot of the kids driving out to make sure a loved one's grave wasn't disturbed and with one of them being disabled).

My biggest problem with the original Evil Dead was that the acting wasn't that great, a couple of the characters were rather bland, and the dialogue was sometimes downright idiotic. My biggest problem with the remake also has to do with the cast, who may not have as many dumb lines to say (although the f-bomb is dropped a lot throughout the film, another annoying aspect of the majority of these remakes) but are all still very bland and played in ways that range from passable to just forgettable. They also try to make you care by giving most of them something of a backstory but it's ultimately not enough to make them memorable or to make care about them when things really start going down. Case in point, our lead, Mia (Jane Levy). We're told that she's trying to kick a heroin addiction that she's had for a while, that her friends already tried this type of intervention once before and it failed, she overdosed, we see her going through the torture of withdrawals, and we also learn that her brother David virtually abandoned her to take a job in the city and left her to deal with their dying mother, who at some points thought she was David and she simply played along. We're told that she feels a lot of resentment towards David for that, which the demon brings up when it possesses her, and that, coupled with her drug addiction, is why we should care about her... but I, for one, don't. Some have praised Levy's performance but I don't think she was all that compelling. In fact, there are a number of moments where her facial expressions and her acting come across as laughable, particularly in the scene where she melodramatically tells David that they have to get away from the cabin and that she thinks something in the woods is now in the cabin with them. And when she gets possessed, she's not scary in the slightest and simply talks like Pazuzu while making jerky movements like Emily Rose. Particularly during the scene where she's telling Natalie not to cut her arm off, I just sat there and thought, "Really? You honestly think this type of performance is going to freak anybody out after it's been parodied to death?" Finally, they try to make a big deal about her being cleansed and freed of the demon to become the only one left standing to send it back to hell but, like everything else about her, it doesn't leave an impact at all.

Even less impactful is Mia's brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez), the closest thing this movie gets to an Ash equivalent, which is pitiful. Like Mia, they try to make us care about this guy because of the guilt he feels over abandoning his sister for a job, leaving her alone to care for their dying mother and never coming to see them even at the end, and also because of the lengths that he goes to help her, attempting to drive her to a hospital when she gets ready bad, only to find that the road has been wiped out by a flood, and cleansing her of the demon per a ritual in the Book of the Dead, but it's ultimately meaningless because of the bland performance he gives. This guy has no personality to him at all. Even when he's trying to come across as scared or concerned, it doesn't feel genuine. Because of that, I couldn't have cared less about all of the crap he goes through to save his sister, including sacrificing himself along with one of the possessed by blowing up the cabin. I may not have cared much about Bruce Campbell's first performance as Ash in the original movie but at least he looked as if he was being physically and emotionally tortured by what was going on; this guy needs some kind of stimulant just so he can get some life into him. (He knows how to make good use of duct tape, though; he even uses it as a bandage when a real one isn't at hand.)

The rest of the characters I don't care about either but, if there's one person to honestly dislike, it's Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci). Why? Because he's the guy who unleashes the evil and for no other reason other than he can't mind his own damn business. When they go down into the cabin's cellar for the first time, they not only find dozens of dead cats hanging from the ceiling but they can also smell something like burnt hair and something on a table that's not only wrapped up in a garbage but also bound in barb-wire. That should be a big clue that this thing is not to be trifled with but Eric takes the thing up to his room, snaps the barb-wire off, and rips open the bag to find this book bound in human flesh and inked in human blood. This still doesn't sound off any alarms for him and neither do the blatant warnings inside the book, which are written in big bold, red letters, to not mess with it. He reads aloud some incantations that he finds inside and even uses tracing paper to bring up one that was rubbed out, the one that unleashes the evil. Dumbass does not even begin to describe what this guy does. However, he gets punished for it in that he's the one who takes the most abuse in the film: he slips and falls in the bathroom, gets stabbed around the eye with a hypodermic needle, gets shot repeatedly with a nailgun, gets his left hand split open with a crowbar, and ultimately gets a deep stab wound in the side that does him in. Other than that, there's nothing else to say about him besides the fact that he looks like a hippy and that his relationship with David is particularly strained in that he hasn't heard from him since he moved to the city. They do reconcile before he buys it, just in case you cared (and I doubt you did).

For anybody who was annoyed that none of the previous films had any African-Americans in the cast, the remake makes up for that with Olivia (Jessica Lucas)... and she's the first one to get killed. What's worse is that the most memorable thing about her is how she mutilates herself after she becomes possessed, attacks Eric with a hypodermic needle, and gets her head bashed in by a big chunk of the toilet. Before she gets possessed, though, she's as bland as everyone else. She's the one who's determined to make this intervention work after the last one failed. is convinced that they can help Mia without taking her to a hospital, and unlike Eric, doesn't hold a grudge against David for leaving to take a job in the city, which are all aspects of the character that don't mean anything to me since she never does anything that makes herself all that endearing. But, as shallow as the other characters are, at least they have some semblance of a backstory, which is more than I can say for David's girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). She has nothing to her and, for most of the movie, she just stands around and does nothing, which really sucks because I think she's the prettiest of the three women in the movie. In fact, as the film unfolded, I became more disappointed since I knew going into it that the last person standing would be a woman this time and I figured that it would be Natalie once Mia got possessed and Oliva was killed. I thought this would be their way of doing a twist on the original's technique of making the last survivor someone who was initially just another face in the group and, even though she's the character who has the least amount of substance to her, we would up rooting for her as she battles the evil by herself. But no, she mutilates herself even more horrifically than Olivia, gets possessed, and is killed, while Mia is eventually cleansed of her possession and becomes the lone survivor (and only for the film's climax as well, whereas in the original, Ash spent the entire third act fighting off the evil by himself).

Throughout the film, Fede Alvarez tries his best to emulate the unique camerawork and editing that Sam Raimi brought to the original film. After the film's title screen, he has an upside view of the road leading to the cabin, big wide-shots of the David's van driving there, a tight push-in on the old-style clock on the wall that's very reminiscent of the original, the return of the POV shot of the evil force flying through the forest (which is now going so fast that it threatens to break the sound barrier) and chasing Mia later on, and a couple of times where there's a moment of very quick, sped-up panning followed by the sound cutting out for a couple of seconds to emulate a sharp blow to the head that someone received. Not only have some of these techniques been done to death and don't feel at all original anymore, especially the last one I just described, but the thing about Raimi's use of them in the original is that he had no money and rather primitive tools to work with and yet, did it anyway to make the film stand out from other low-budget horror films made around that time, whereas this is a big-budget movie that can afford the finest in advanced camera equipment, makeup effects, and CGI, and so it only feels like Alvarez is showing off. Take for instance that big pull-back on the wrapped up Book of the Dead sitting on the table that eventually reveals Eric sitting there, looking at it, and the quick cuts to other relevant scenes, like when David and Eric go down into the basement and, when they comment on how something was burned down there, we get a brief, silent cut to the prologue where a possessed girl was burned alive down there. Back in the late 70's when the original was filmed, that kind of stuff may have been interesting but by this point, it's far from original and is just style over substance. What's more, it's always irritating when filmmakers throw so many nods to the original film into a remake, like they don't understand the concept of making something your own (what's worse is that if the remake is terrible, it's only going to make you wish you were watching the original). But those similar technical aspects are not the most blatant reminders of the original Evil Dead that this film has to offer. When David and Natalie arrive at the cabin, you can faintly hear, "Join us," and later on when the evil force blasts its way into the cabin, if you listen closely, you can hear an audio clip from the original of Cheryl going, "One by one, we will take you." Over the latter part of the ending credits, you hear the audio recording of the professor talking about his discovery of the Book of the Dead and the evil he has unwittingly unleashed. They even do a new version of the, "I'll swallow your soul," "Swallow this exchange," from Evil Dead II at the end when Mia kills the main demon. But the most baffling callback comes after the ending credits, when Bruce Campbell suddenly appears in shadow, says, "Groovy," and sharply turns to look at the screen. That just dumbfounded me, to say the least, because of how pointless it was. And no, Bruce, this movie is not groovy.

I can't put my finger on why but the cabin and the surrounding woods don't have the same eerie quality to them that the original film did. I think a big part of it, though, is that the original cabin was an actual place that they just found and naturally looked the way it did, whereas the cabin here looks the way Hollywood would try to portray an old, run-down place like this. Another part of it is that this is another remake that has the over-stylized, muted look of a music video, and I know a lot of people are probably rolling their eyes, thinking, "God, here he goes on that tangent again," but I cannot express how sick I am of this look. If used well, it can establish a creepy mood, but most of the time it seems like filmmakers do it simply because it looks cool. Sepia tones, lots of backlighting, and big shafts of light do look interesting when you see them for the first time (as I felt when I first saw the 2003 version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) but, when you see this look over and over again, it loses a lot of its luster and becomes very ho-hum. Plus, in this case, it does not make the cabin and the woods look scary in the slightest. And finally, adding in a bunch of dead cats hanging from the ceiling in the basement and the remains of a demonic-cleansing ceremony is nowhere near as creepy as the rundown look of the basement in the original film, with the pitch-black, the constant sounds of dripping water, and the discovery of the Book of the Dead and everything else down there only adding to the feel.

After the cast, the thing about this movie that really struck me is how utterly uncreative the depiction of the demons is. Like I said in my introduction, I can respect Sam Raimi for trying to come up with his own unique take on demons and possession, with the only "borrowed" element being the voices, which did call The Exorcist to mind, but here, the filmmakers did nothing but plaguirize not only that movie but numerous others about possession. The look of the possessed is that pale, malnourished design, with the sunken eyes and such, which brings to mind what Regan looked like when she fell completely under possession. They're well-designed and disgusting, especially Olivia and Natalie's, but they're nothing you haven't seen before, as is the self-mutilation they tend to perform. The jerky movements that they tend to make bring to mind The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism, and countless other movies, including [REC] and even The Descent when the possessed Oliva is crawling across the bathroom floor towards Eric. But by far the most unoriginal thing about them is that they often curse and verbally abuse their victims like Pazuzu. The scene that really brought that to mind is when Natalie is dragged into the cellar by the possessed Mia, who, right before kissing her, says, "I can smell your filthy soul," and, "Kiss me, you dirty cunt!" And after David pulls Natalie out, Mia snarls, "Why don't you come down here so I can suck your cock, pretty boy?" and follows that up with, "Your little sister's being raped in hell!" She might as well have said, "Your sister's sucking cock in hell." There are other moments, like when Mia is told near the end, "You're gonna die here, you pathetic junkie!" and the crap that possessed teenager hurls at her father at the very beginning of the movie, letting you know right off the bat what you're in for, but I think you get the point: the lack of originality here is stunning.

The thing about the demons that really confused me is the main evil force behind everything, which is called the Abomination in the credits (the only Abomination I know is Tim Roth but that's beside the point). Even though I now realize that it looks like Mia when she's possessed, I initially thought that the figure she encounters in the forest that ultimately does take control of her was the teenage girl who you see burned alive in the prologue and that she was also what rises up out of the ground and attacks Mia during the climax. We learn that the Book of the Dead tells of an evil force that, once it's feasted on five human souls (I guess the other demons that possess everyone else act as a conduit for this force), will allow the Abomination to rise up and make the skies rain blood, so I figured that it was still using that teenager as a host. However, after rewatching the movie, I realized that it always takes the form of Mia even when it's not possessing her... for some reason. That really confused me, especially when I read that the name of the actor who plays both the possessed Mia and the Abomination was Randal Wilson, which sounded like a guy's name to me. In any case, it has nothing to do with the teenager at the beginning, except that the Abomination was possibly inhabiting her at first, making that prologue pointless. And it's possible that I'm completely wrong about that too but this movie's mythology is so confusing and I have such an indifferent opinion on it that I really don't care. Also, does the description of a creepy, pale girl with dark hair obscuring her face remind you of anything, say just about every Asian ghost movie you can imagine? I guess I shouldn't be surprised since Sam Raimi produced the American version of The Grudge but I thought we'd had our fill of that look and had moved on.

As for the look of the Book of the Dead, it does look better than it did in Army of Darkness, definitely looking like it's bound in human flesh and inked in human blood, but like I've said, they could never recreate the visceral quality of the book in the original film. While the drawings inside it look fine and it does have something of a creepy vibe to it, I miss the face on the cover (doesn't it look bland without it?) and it still looks like a well-made prop rather than something genuine. It does look ominous when you first see it wrapped in a black plastic bag and with barbed wire around... although, again, that, along with those blatant warnings written on the pages, should have been a clue to Eric that this is something to leave alone, but whatever. Although, it's weird how, more so than in any of the previous movie, the book is a guide to how the demonic possession works and how to free those who do become possessed. It's almost like Demonic Possession for Dummies in that regard. However, I do like how here, the book cannot be burned like in the original, ruling out the possibility of ending it all that way.

The gore may have been the best aspect of the original Evil Dead to me but I could also appreciate other aspects of the film, whereas it's the only thing this film got absolutely right, which is kind of a shame. But, that said, the gore here is quite a sight to behold. It not only trumps the original by sheer volume but, at some points, it reaches Dead Alive levels of craziness, making it quite possibly the goriest demonic-possession movie ever. Among the grisly sights are, along with the dead cats in the basement, a dead dog that Mia apparently killed off-camera; Mia vomiting blood all over Olivia; the latter slicing off a big chunk of her cheek with a piece of broken glass when she becomes possessed; Eric getting stabbed around his right eye with a hypodermic needle, which is followed up with a close-up of him pulling out a piece of the needle from underneath his eye (that's really cringe-inducing to watch); Mia slicing her tongue open with a box-cutter (which is never touched on again and, after the demon leaves her, she's perfectly fine) before giving Natalie a bloody, lesbian kiss; a bite wound that she left on Natalie's left hand spreading an infection throughout her arm, causing it to look horribly diseased, and she deals with it by cutting it off with an electric knife, splashing blood all over her face and the floor; Natalie shooting herself in the face with a nail-gun before shooting Eric and David with it, as well as splitting Eric's hand open with a crowbar, before getting her other arm blown off by a shotgun; David getting slashed with the box-cutter before Eric gets it in the stomach; and David getting stabbed in the neck. By the climax, it's literally raining blood as the Abomination rises up and that leads to more mayhem like Mia's knee getting cut open by a blade, the Abomination's legs getting sliced off by a chainsaw, Mia being forced to pull her own arm off when it gets pinned by a tumbling van, and finally, Mia taking the chainsaw to the Abomination's head and slicing it and the torso completely in half, sending gore everywhere before the body sinks back into the blood-soaked ground. It's all practical makeup effects, it's gross and horrific, and it's very well done. (This I can understand having problems with the ratings board, not Army of Darkness.) So, if you want a lot of brutal carnage and nothing else, this movie has you covered. It may not do anything else that well but, when the blood starts flying, it's hard to laugh while going, "Ew!" in delight.

There is some CGI to be found here, although it's used very sparingly. In fact, the only real blatant one that I can think of is a really dodgy fire effect when that possessed girl at the beginning is set ablaze. It doesn't look as bad as that close-up of Freddy Krueger's burning face in the 2010 Nightmare on Elm Street but it's still a pretty weak effect nevertheless. The only other sequence where CGI may have been used that I can think of is the recreation of the tree scene from the original (since he was involved with the film, I'm surprised Raimi even let them do that considering how much he regrets the original) and even then, it somes like a lot of that was pulled off with physical effects instead. I'm pretty sure that the shot of the Abomination coughing up that black, worm-like thing was computer-generated but it crawling around the weeds and up Mia's leg may have been done practically (if it was indeed done digitally, it was really good). In conclusion, if there's any other compliment that I can give this film, it's that it was a rare instance of a horror film in this day and age not relying too much on CGI, which I wish we could get more of.

I don't remember a damn thing about the music score by Roque Banos, who has scored a lot of stuff but the only thing I recognized was The Machinist with Christian Bale. It's nothing more than a bunch of generic horror movie music that either drones in the background or becomes bombastic, only not memorably so, when all hell breaks loose. Joseph LoDuca's scores for the other movies may not have been favorites but they at least all had pieces that I could remember, whereas if you asked me to describe a specific theme from this score, I'd just sit there in awkward silence. Many give Steve Jablonsky crap for his scores to the Platinum Dunes remakes, saying that they're not at all memorable, but speaking for myself, I really like his music for their two Texas Chainsaw Massacre films and I also enjoy parts of his score for their 2009 Friday the 13th, all three of which are scores I can remember with greater ease than this one.

I may not be a fan of this franchise but I can safely that Evil Dead is, without a doubt, the weakest of the bunch. There are many aspects of the other films that I can praise to high heaven, whereas the only compliments I can give to this one are to the amazing gore effects and the fact that the film is 98% CGI-free. Otherwise, there's nothing to this flick: the characters, despite the filmmakers' attempts to give them compelling backstories, are all bland and not worth caring about, the murky, music video look to the film is tired and doesn't give off any kind of atmosphere, Fede Alvarez tries to emulate the camerawork and editing that Sam Raimi put into the original film but it has none of the impact since he wasn't struggling with a shoestring budget and because it's all been done to death by this point, the film has that annoying habit that many remakes do of constantly reminding you of the original, the depiction of the demons and possession is cliched and unoriginal, the concept behind the main evil force is confusing in my opinion, and the music score is the definition of forgettable. It's just another overly serious (that's something I forgot to touch on in the review: there's no humor here at all), joyless, and needless remake that brings nothing new to the table. If you only want some practical, bloody carnage, you'll get that but, trust me when I say that's all you'll get.

As you should know by now, The Evil Dead is not my franchise. I can understand why it has such a strong cult following and why Sam Raimi went places after creating it but it's one that simply does not float my boat. The biggest reason for that was the timing. I was introduced to the Halloween series, the Friday the 13th series, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and all the others at exactly the right times for me to become enamored with them (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre almost didn't make it by the time I saw the original movie but it grew on me), whereas by the time I got to The Evil Dead, the time had long since passed and the hype around all three of the films only added to the fatigue and disappointment I felt. So, as you can guess, I do not care what else comes of this franchise, be it the Ash vs. The Evil Dead TV show, the sequel to this that's supposedly in development, or the video games based off of it. The only reason I did these reviews is so I could finally say my peace on these movies and move on, which is what I'm now going to do. Hope you enjoyed them and we'll see you next time.