EVIL DEAD – Guerilla Tactics Pay Off

Written by William C. Benker

Before Spider-Man took off, Sam Raimi’s distinctive eye for campy horror was so acute that any B-Horror fanatic was sure to spot his films a mile away.  Only later did fans begin to realize that his reputation had grown.  He began with Evil Dead, (and its two superb sequels) later came Darkman (with Liam Neeson), The Quick and the Dead, and The Gift, reaffirming Raimi’s status in the directorial realm.  To most, Sam Raimi was a skilled director, but his style was peculiar: something about it just screamed a mixture of slapstick humor and suspense.  In Evil Dead we get the most comprehensive explanation to what really makes his films so enjoyable.

Evil Dead’s story is both pencil thin yet entirely sufficient: the plot centers on awakening demonic spirits from an ancient Sumerian book (bound in human flesh).  What really advances the story is its delivery.  Raimi’s primitive yet elaborate plot seethes medieval grandeur.  It appeals to both mythological and mystical fans alike, kindly bracing his audience for the ecstatic bombardment of terror that quickly consumes his actors.  But Raimi’s protagonist is unlike any other Hollywood hero.  For one, Bruce Campbell is anything but Hollywood.

Now a legendary B-Movie actor for his role in the Evil Dead Trilogy, Campbell has scored a cameo in nearly every one of Raimi’s films since the group of amateur’s found themselves knee-deep in kero syrup blood on the set of their first film.  Ash (Campbell) takes the demonic possession of his friends rather well, desperately holding onto his sanity throughout the process.  But throughout all the mayhem, never once does Evil Dead lose its charm.  In fact, much like Campbell himself, the haggard sequences and gruesome acting is what makes the film so much fun.  For Raimi, the fine line between horror and humor is what frightening audiences is all about.

For the amateur film crew, Evil Dead holds its own in terms of low-budget productions.  Not only did Raimi and his crew pull this off guerilla style, but Raimi’s own camerawork and choreography became a distinctive quality in itself.  (Check out Russell Crowe’s final shotgun blast at the end of The Quick and the Dead, you’ll see what I mean.)  It’s the particularly messy quality that erupts so satisfactorily throughout the picture.  Evil Dead defines low-budget effects, but to the point where they compliment the sheer tenacity of the picture itself.  What is most remarkable about this zombie shocker is the director’s ability to keep the film firmly on the ground, while delivering some of the most bizarre horror imagineable.  Somehow, Raimi is able to maintain the balancing act to create a terrific journey into the Book of the Dead.

But any horror film is nothing without its gore, and Raimi is sure to pull off enough of it to keep his audience satisfied.  After the incantations are read from a tape recorder they find in the basement, the plot takes off with evil spirits quickly possessing everyone in the house.  It’s certainly one of the few films that will show the real physical abuse people may endure from the forest itself (or its director).  Raimi plays hardball when it comes to the physical aspect of acting.  It’s rare to see the particular energy needed in order to highlight a film of this type.  Loud noises, smashing windows and falling debris all take on a heavy role with the actors in order to get the best out of what they had available.  You’ll easily be able to see that the future blockbuster director really wants to get the most out of his movie.  Ash takes a continuous beating throughout the picture.  What’s worse is the pure pleasure the audience begins to have after Campbell’s been put through enough mayhem, yet still seems to carry a strong air of comedy in his act: that’s exactly what Raimi is looking for.  The slapstick fanatic is ready and willing to place all his trust in his actor’s ability to take a good beating.

Evil Dead is a comprehensive analysis into the growth of any budding filmmaker.  The only difference with Sam Raimi is that his earliest quirks and charms in Evil Dead are still present in his most successful blockbusters.  He may not be the most eloquent artist in the world, but Sam Raimi is certainly a star in the American horror circuit.  His latest picture, Drag Me To Hell, is a throwback to his former fame as a horror director, but brings to the table a more palatable substance (for some) and of course a much higher budget. The beauty of Evil Dead, however, lies in its grit.  The pure horrific exposé of all that is B-Horror finds its way into the earliest installment of the now cult-favorite Evil Dead series, continuously throwing scares and laughs at high speed in every direction.  Sit back and enjoy the ride when watching Evil Dead, because the most assured lesson of all is that Sam Raimi is still in the business.

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

By Leo Racicot

The Man Who Came To Dinner – 1942 – dir. William Keighley

We call a film ‘classic’, while sometimes forgetting why and how it came to be labeled that way.  “Oh”, we say, “The Man Who Came To Dinner. A classic movie!!” But why?

In the case of this Epstein Brothers-produced gem, the answer is easy. A super boffo comedy romp, it follows all the rules of how to make a movie that lasts, past time, past fashion: keen direction, faultless dialogue and performances, perfect pacing, plus a theme whose lessons remain timeless.
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Harlow Makes Her Mark in BOMBSHELL

By: Victoria Large

Bombshell – 1932 – dir. Victor Fleming

I first saw the 1932 screwball comedy Bombshell, which stars Jean Harlow in one of her best roles, as part of retrospective at the Brattle titled “Blondes Have More Fun!” The program had grouped Harlow with other blonde Hollywood icons of the classic era: Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, and Veronica Lake. (Funnily enough, Bombshell was at one point known as Blonde Bombshell to flag it as a Jean Harlow comedy rather than a war picture.) Placing Harlow in the context of a fascinating tradition of fair-haired starlets is illuminating – she somehow bridges the worldly toughness of West and the fragility and innocence of Monroe. In the film that made her a star, Howard Hughes’ 1930 epic Hell’s Angels, Harlow famously announced that she was ready to slip into something more comfortable, sending a smoldering look over her shoulder. Starlets have been copying her moves ever since, but it’s rare for actors of either gender to nail Harlow’s distinctive blend of glamour, wit, and grit. (James Cagney, Harlow’s co-star in The Public Enemy, has a similar appeal, blending fast-talking edginess with disarming vulnerability.)
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Nick and Nora’s Infinite Guest List: THE THIN MAN

By Christine and Robert Bamberger

The Thin Man – 1934 – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

Most people get a terrific kick out of the interplay between William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, especially in the original, made just before the Production Code in Hollywood went into full force. But the film’s convoluted plot and numerous characters make it necessary to keep notes just to follow along. In getting a handle on the many personalities in the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that this large cast of characters, spread all over the periphery of the plot, is not peripheral at all. Indeed, this bunch serves to draw our attention even more to Nick and Nora Charles.

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FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK

By Leo Racicot

Footsteps in the Dark – 1941 – dir Lloyd Bacon

A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career.  Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds.
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THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN

By Amy Tetreault

The Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984 – dir. Frank Oz

Muppets Take Manhattan is the third in a series of live-action musical feature films with Jim Henson’s loveable Muppets. Released in 1984, this is also the final film before Jim Henson’s sudden death in 1990. In 1992, Henson was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience Award for being a “Humanitarian, muppeteer, producer and director of films for children that encourage tolerance, interracial values, equality and fair play.” Muppets Take Manhattan is a great example of Henson’s renowned work for both kids and adults. In fact, at times, I thought the Muppets were better geared for adults than kids. Besides the fact that the Muppets are made of cloth, their story in Muppets Take Manhattan is totally relate-able. Especially right now.
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NASHVILLE

By Peggy Nelson

Nashville – 1975 – dir. Robert Altman

Set in Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville (dir. Robert Altman, 1975) follows musicians, con artists, politicians, and weirdos as their lives overlap and intersect over the course of a fateful few days.  The film showcases Altman’s signature style of combining multiple story lines, noisy, overlapping dialogue, and realistic, scattered camera angles into a complex yet consistent narrative whole.  Considered by many to be Altman’s best film, it sashays between dialogue and song, the individual and the political, and humor and tragedy, without missing a beat.

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FIGHT CLUB

mayjun-fightBy Peggy Nelson

Fight Club – 1999 – dir. David Fincher

So will you be at the meeting on Tuesday?  The first rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The second rule of Fight Club is, you don’t talk about Fight Club.  The third rule of Fight Club is . . .
I’m going to talk about Fight Club.  Based on the Chuck Palahniuk book by the same name, the film concerns a disaffected white-collar worker who can sum up his life with the three C’s: Catalogs, Condo, Condiments.  Not surprisingly, for his efforts he’s got insomnia, ennui, and anhedonia.  He starts going to support groups for diseases he does not have, to jump-start his atrophied connection to life.  But then he meets a woman doing the same thing; recognizing her as a fellow “tourist,” all his ennui and insomnia come racing back.  Then his house explodes.  Then the movie starts.

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Jesus Christ’s Lust for Glory: MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN

By Jared M. Gordon 

Monty Python’s Life of Brian – 1979 –  dir. Terry Jones

In a motion picture “destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third,” you know to expect the Pythons on top of their game.  Life of Brian, being the British comedy team’s farcical view of first-century Judea, parallels the life of Brian Cohen, born in the manger next door to Jesus.  Mistaken for the messiah his entire life, Brian’s trials turn a camera squarely onto the audience, examining our hero worship and dogmatic obsessions, challenging us to laugh at crucifixion.  And do we ever.
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Sand and Blood: THE MUMMY

By Jared M. Gordon

The Mummy – 1999 – dir. Stephen Sommers

Whether it’s action, romance, or angry, angry beetles, Stephen Sommers’s 1999 hit The Mummy has what you’re looking for.  Marketed as a next-generation’s Indiana Jones, The Mummy succeeds as a film by delivering exactly what it promises – and a little bit more.

With an ensemble cast including Brendan Fraser, pre-Oscar Rachel Weisz, John Hannah, and Arnold Vosloo, there are enough contrasting, zany characters for any “Which character are you” Internet quiz.  But what keeps The Mummy from being just another visual-effects-laden Hollywood song and dance?
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