Sam Raimi

The Evil Dead (1981, Sam Raimi)

For whatever reason, Sam Raimi now has The Evil Dead released in a matted version (to 1.85:1 from 1.37:1). It looks awful.

Raimi’s strength as a director comes from his constantly agitated camera; his static shots are–well, I guess the shots of the sun setting and the moon rising in Evil Dead are cool–mediocre at best. With the improper matte and the utter lack of head room, his static shots become much, much worse.

I haven’t seen Evil Dead in about ten years (I still have the OAR DVD release around and feel like it deserves another look) and I think the ship’s sailed for me. I saw the unrated, NC-17, rated X version. I can’t figure out how the film, with it’s super-cheap special effects, deserves such a rating. It’s cartoon violence.

Things I noticed this time include Theresa Tilly’s terrible scream (wish there was a good synonym for scream starting with t, let me tell you) and Richard DeManincor’s character’s complete indifference to other people.

There’s a lot of other stuff to the picture, sure, but it’s basically all about seeing Raimi’s camera movements. Joseph LoDuca’s score might be the best thing about the film, just because it’s so good, compared to the roughness of everything else.

Campbell does an all right job–definitely the best performance–but everyone’s underwritten here. It’d be impossible to gauge acting talent from Evil Dead.

The last third is unbearably long though. Boring gore. Who knew?

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Sam Raimi; director of photography, Tim Philo; edited by Edna Ruth Paul; music by Joseph LoDuca; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ashley J. Williams), Ellen Sandweiss (Cheryl Williams), Richard DeManincor (Scott), Betsy Baker (Linda) and Theresa Tilly (Shelly).


30 Days of Night (2007, David Slade)

30 Days of Night is a fine example of bad writing hurting a good idea, which is what I heard about the comic book source too–vampires in Alaska with no sun, Dracula versus Northern Exposure, sounds like a good idea. But it’s just an idea, it’s not a two hour movie. There are some other basic writing problems–poor dialogue and an utter lack of back-story. It doesn’t make it difficult to sympathize with the characters’ plight (the nasty vampires do that one pretty well), but it does make it impossible for 30 Days to even approach a full experience. The simplest example is the absence of any explanation to why the characters are in the place they are in–the most isolation settlement in Alaska.

The actors take the most significant hits from the screenplay, Hartnett in particular. His character literally needs no more back-story than a reference to high school athletics (and where’s the high school in this town… couldn’t they have hidden in the high school? Or any school…) to be acceptable as the stoic lawman. In terms of his martial distress with Melissa George a lot more work is needed to make it good, but it doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to work. George is incredibly ineffectual in her role and I spent her first five minutes on screen recasting her role, then lost interest because she disappears. Mark Boone Junior probably comes out best.

The other big problem is the pacing. The first half hour or more takes place the first day, then it skips to the seventh, then to the seventieth, then to the twenty-ninth. It just isn’t believable, because there’s never any shots of the survivors surviving in the non-setpiece moments and because there’s not enough for the vampires to do when they aren’t attacking the survivors… I mean, I’d buy it if Danny Huston’s lead vampire (the vampires in 30 Days speak some variation of Klingon, which is real silly) sat and read poetry to his leading vampire lady… but they just go on pause.

But this post actually isn’t negative–it’s positive. David Slade’s a great director and he really works with the CG elements (mostly scenery) and the isolation. He also knows how to shoot actors (just doesn’t know how to hire writers–or a composer, the music is terrible) and action scenes and quiet scenes and make the whole thing a lot more palatable than the script deserves.

Oh, and Ben Foster. Foster chews scenery better than any actor in a generation, playing the film’s Renfield, in a performance Dwight Frye would admire. Foster only creates a performance here, not a character, which shouldn’t be a problem… if he were the only one….

Maybe Slade should have brought in the “Northern Exposure” writing staff to do the non-vampire stuff. They might have made the Alaskan setting a little more believable (the New Zealanders and Australians in the cast locking down American accents would have helped too).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Slade; written by Steve Niles, Stuart Beattie and Brian Nelson, based on the comic book by Niles and Ben Templesmith; director of photography, Jo Willems; edited by Art Jones; music by Brian Reitzell; production designer, Paul Denham Austerberry; produced by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Eben Olesen), Melissa George (Stella Olesen), Danny Huston (Marlow), Ben Foster (The Stranger), Mark Boone Junior (Beau Brower), Mark Rendall (Jake Oleson), Amber Sainsbury (Denise) and Manu Bennett (Billy Kitka).


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