EQUINOX and EVIL DEAD I & II: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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EQUINOX and EVIL DEAD I & II: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these three films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Equinox, or Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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For years horror movie fans have debated as to whether or not the 1970 low budget horror Equinox was an influence on Sam Raimi’s 1981 Evil Deadthough there are also strong similarities with it’s 1987 sequel Evil Dead IIas wellSam Raimi has never mentioned seeing it, though Evil Dead FX man Tom Sullivan has. We may never know for sure and it’s up to us then to decide for ourselves. So read on to take a look at just how these flicks compare…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

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THE STORY

Equinox finds Four college students David, Susan, Jim and Vicki (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher), venturing into the woods to meet a Prof. Waterman (Fritz Leiber), who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find his cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), soon have the devil himself after them to get it back. In this film the evil has already been unleashed when our main characters arrive.

Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead has five young people, Ash, his sister Cheryl, his girlfriend Linda, Scott and Scott’s girlfriend Shelly (Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Betsy Baker, Hal Delrich and Theresa Tilly), going up to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying and fun. When they get to the rundown cabin, they find an old book and a tape recording in the creepy cellar that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book, and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations.

Evil Dead II finds Ash, now alone, trapped in the cabin with the forces of evil trying to get at him. Ash is soon joined by the daughter (Sarah Berry) of the archeologist, who formally inhabited the cabin and is the finder of the book. She and her party (Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley and Richard Domeier) first think Ash has murdered her parents. Soon enough, though, the evil in the woods makes itself known and Ash joins forces with his new companions. Their numbers start to dwindle as the evil lays siege to the cabin and Ash must face this ancient terror in a final showdown.

There are some differences in plot details, but all three flicks have a cabin, a book of evil discovered by a professor and a group of unsuspecting characters, being attacked by an ancient evil. All three have demons and demonic manifestations from the book. All three have a story or backstory that is revealed by way of a reel to reel tape recording.

 

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THE EVIL

Equinox has the devil himself in the human disguise of park ranger, Mr. Asmodeus (theatrical cut director Jack Woods) pursuing the four characters to get the book back. He can take on the guise of one of the other characters and appears in a flying demon form near it’s climax. He also sends various minions to get the book, such as an octopus-like creature, a mutant ape and a blue giant. His minions appear to be able to be killed by conventional means, while he can be warded off with protection symbols from the book.

The Evil Dead Films feature ancient evil spirits known as Deadites, that are unleashed when either the book is read from directly, or a recorded reading from the book is played back. They want the souls of all those in the cabin and possess and torment the occupants claiming them one by one. Raimi’s film requires the possessed victim be totally dismembered to render them harmless. The Deadites seem to hail from somewhere around ancient Sumer and there are, like in Equinox, some creature-like minions in Evil Dead II. The Deadites appear to be only able to attack at night, while Equinox‘s evil is active both day and night.

 

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THE HEROES

Equinox’s ill-fated hero is college student David Fielding (Edward Connell). He’s a clean-cut all-American college student who is forced to come up against some supernatural odds. He’s resilient and brave and is pretty much the strongest and quickest thinker of his group of friends. Poor Dave ends up doomed and in an insane asylum, but before all that, he stands up to some intimidating evil.

Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is the Evil Dead franchise’s beleaguered hero. The now iconic Ash is a mild mannered fellow and a little on the cowardly side in the first film. He leaves it up to alpha male Scott to hack up his possessed sister Cheryl and generally do the hero stuff till the Deadites get Scott, too. This leaves Ash all alone to man-up and battle the Deadites. It’s not till the sequel that he starts to take on the mantle of a hero, although an arrogant and bumbling one.

 

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THE SETTINGS

Here, settings differ slightly though both include cabins and woods. The cabin we are traveling to in Equinox is already destroyed by the time our characters get there and the film takes place primarily after that in the surrounding forest.

Both Evil Dead and Evil Dead II take place primarily inside the cabin with a few unsuccessful sojourns out into the woods.

The cabins in all three films were previously occupied by professors who found the books of evil in question.

 

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THE BOOKS

All Three movies contain books of evil that trigger the horrific ordeals the respective films’ characters endure. Equinox‘s book is discovered in the Persian Gulf by a Prof. Waterman and it is his examining the book and it’s contents that opens a portal allowing the evil to enter this world and seek the book’s return. It is described as a bible of evil.

The book of the Evil Dead films is the Naturan Demanto or Necronomicon…the book of the dead…and is described as Sumerian in origin and thus is discovered by a Professor Knowby (John Peaks), also in the Persian Gulf area.

Both books are filled with cryptic languages and spooky illustrations and are not only filled with dark rituals, but also ways to protect from the evils evoked.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

Equinox opens interestingly at it’s climax with David on the run through the woods from the demonic evil and finding himself in a hospital after being hit on the road by a driverless car. A year later he’s gone insane and a reporter named Sloan (James Philips) investigates the story to find out what happen to him. It’s his reviewing David’s initial taped testimony that sets us on a flashback to what happened.

The Evil Dead opens with the camera racing through the woods with some ominous growling heard as it reaches the car carrying our main protagonists. It is quick and to the point, but sets the tone right away that something bad is going to happen to our five unsuspecting travelers as they head towards the cabin.

Evil Dead II simply picks up where the first left off, after a brief recap, with the evil attacking and briefly possessing Ash, who is saved by the rising sun. So, there is little similarity here.

All three films’ openings are perfect for setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. Though there are only minor similarities here between Equinox andThe Evil Dead, none really with Evil Dead II…except, of course, for the woods setting each share.

 

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THE ENDINGS

In terms of their climaxes, all the films have endings that resonate.

Equinox ends with David in the asylum screaming for his cross which “accidentally” is now in the hands of reporter Sloan. It’s a year and a day after the incident at the park, the day the demon predicted David’s demise. As Sloan leaves the building, David’s dead girlfriend Susan is seen walking into the hospital. As we hear David’s cries for his cross over the soundtrack, a wicked smile appears on Susan’s face. Ominous and spooky, a last chill before you leave the theater.

The Evil Dead ends with Ash having barely escaped a vicious assault from his possessed friends by burning the book in the fireplace resulting in a roller coaster bloodbath of gore. As the sun starts to rise, he limps out the door only to have the camera race towards him growling like in the opening and coming right at his face as Ash utters a horrible scream. The film cuts to black and ends with the credits rolling; Ash apparently not as triumphant as he believed. It is ferociously quick and very effective, a last jolt before you leave the theater.

Evil Dead II comically has Ash being sucked into a vortex and deposited in the Middle Ages, where, at the moment, he is seen as a deliverer come to defeat the Deadites. Again as with the opening scene, no similarity here to Equinox other than the visual of a castle.

…though all three endings do involve screaming.

 

 

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MISC.

Here, pictures speak louder than words, with these visual similarities…

 

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IN CONCLUSION…

So, we have one flick that is a horror masterpiece and one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and another that is a cult classic, midnight movie from a decade earlier that may…or may not…have inspired it. Both were derived from short films. Equinox was re-edited with new footage added from the original The Equinox … A Journey into the Supernatural, a 70 minute film expanded for theatrical release. The Evil Dead was created from the short film Within the Woods, a thirty minute version of the same story made to attract investors. They both feature some startling SPFX on incredibly small budgets and took three or more years to finally hit theaters. Both are also first films made by young aspiring filmmakers, that made an impression and got careers off the ground for some of their makers and stars.

We may never know the actual truth as to whether Sam Raimi saw and was inspired by Equinox, but the story and visual similarities make for a striking argument. At this point it’s up to you to decide as to what you believe. Did Equinox inspire The Evil Dead, or is it just a cinematic coincidence? Either way, they are both horror classics in their own rights that are now held in high regard.

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EQUINOX and THE EVIL DEAD

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MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is back! For years horror fans have discussed the similarities between the 1970 low budget flick, Equinox and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. Was this flick an inspiration for Raimi’s classic, or was it all a coincidence? We may never know exactly, but we can watch both films together and decide for ourselves…

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EQUINOX (1970)

Four college students (Edward Connell, Barbara Hewitt, Frank Bonner and Robin Christopher) venture into the woods to meet a professor (Fritz Leiber) who, unknown to them, has discovered an ancient book of evil. They find the cabin destroyed and once acquiring the book from a creepy old man (Irving L. Lichtenstein), find the devil himself is after them to get it back.

While this does sound like the plot of an Evil Dead film, it is actually the plot of the low budget horror, Equinox which was released in 1970. Over a decade before Raimi’s classic, the film does share a lot of plot elements, such as the students being possessed, here by the park ranger disguised Satan, and even the book itself is quite similar to Raimi’s Necronomicon. It’s never been stated that the film was an influence on Raimi’s flick, but Evil Dead effects artist Tom Sullivan admits seeing the film and it inspiring him to make movies. Draw you own conclusions.

Equinox is campy by today’s standards and is slow paced, unlike Raimi’s roller coaster ride, but there is some fun to be had and some nice SPFX for such a low budget flick. Equinox started out as a low budget short film, put together by three future FX legends, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen in 1967. It was made for about $6,500, from a story by Mark Thomas McGee and directed by Muren. So there is some great FX work for the time and budget, including some very cool stop-motion animated creatures, representing the Devil’s minions and Old Scratch himself in winged demon form. Producer Jack H. Harris saw their film and hired writer/director Jack Woods to film some new footage and expand the 70 minute short film into feature length and re-edit it. The film was finally released in 1970 as Equinox, shortened from the original title of Equinox…A Journey Into The Supernatural. I saw this as a kid and must admit it creeped me out back then. I watch it now and it’s more campy fun than scary, but it’s no denying that it is a valiant low budget effort, despite some very amateurish acting from the cast, including director Jack Woods, who also appears as The Devil in park ranger form.

This film, like Raimi’s, is now considered a classic. Whether it inspired Evil Dead or not, both films represent the achievement that future filmmakers can make on a micro-budget, if their hearts and talent are in the right place. Evil Dead fans should check it out for the interesting similarities, even if we may never know if Raimi indeed saw and was influenced by it, or if the familiar elements are just coincidence. It’s been released in a wonderful restored edition by the Criterion Collection, which includes the original short film and effects work that didn’t make the final cut. A campy, fun horror that gave the world, Dennis Muren, Jim Danforth and the late, great David Allen…and maybe…just maybe, Evil Dead.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated A campy fun 3 (out of 4) blue giants!

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The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite horror movies, if not the all time favorite. I was fortunate enough to see it in a theater when it was released in 1981 and it changed how I looked at horror movies. This one was furiously paced, wildly inventive and delivered buckets of blood and gore, all on a shoestring budget. It launched writer/director Sam Raimi’s career and made a cult legend out of star Bruce Campbell.

The film opens as Ash (Bruce Campbell) and girlfriend, Linda (Betsy Baker) are traveling to vacation in a remote cabin with another couple, Scott (Hal Delrich) and Shelly (Sarah York), along with Ash’s sister, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss). When they get to the rundown cabin they find an old book and a tape recording, in the creepy cellar, that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations. The quiet Cheryl is the first to be possessed, as she is attacked and literally raped by the trees during one of the film’s most talked about scenes, As the panicked bunch lock her in the cellar, it is only the beginning as they are soon possessed one by one by an ancient evil that can only be stopped by total bodily dismemberment. Let the fun begin!

The first Evil Dead did not have the heavy comic elements of it’s two sequels or recent series and what follows is a gore soaked roller coaster ride, when Ash finds himself the last man standing against his demon possessed friends. Raimi uses some fantastically inventive camera work and low budget gore effects to bring us Ash’s battle to survive against the people he once loved, in all it’s gory glory. The film is fast paced and once it starts, it never stops, as this classic turns the screws on it’s viewing audience with a barrage of scares, jolts and suspense, all bathed in buckets of blood. This was the first of it’s kind to use such a relentless and merciless attack on it’s viewers where most films at the time, like John Carpenter’s Halloween, or the original Friday The 13th, used a bit of a slower burn and more of a methodical pace to present it’s suspense and scares. Raimi paces this like an action flick. Carpenter did crank things up in the last act of The Fog, a year earlier, but it was still nothing like Raimi’s final act, as the outnumbered Ash refuses to “join us”, as his demonic assailants constantly taunt.

Evil Dead revolutionized horror to a degree and inspired some of today’s best young horror directors. Without it, we may not have a Blair Witch, Dead Alive or Martyrs. While we still get the occasional slow burn horror like Paranormal Activity and the films of Ti West and Stevan Mena, which is just fine, Raimi opened the door for horror filmmakers to take a far more aggressive approach and showed us horror can be deliriously scary, delightfully gory and just plain fun. A true classic that placed Raimi amongst the likes of George Romero and John Carpenter!

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out our review of the remake!

A solid 4 (out of 4) Ash salute!

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ALSO…

If you’ve got time, add Evil Dead II as a third feature, which also shares some amusing similarities with Dennis Muren and Jack Woods’ 1970 cult classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

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THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2013: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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THE EVIL DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2013: A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead or Fede Alvarez’s  Evil Dead remake, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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After seeing  Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe recently, it made me go back and revisit his Evil Dead remake. Since I haven’t done a Comparison In Horror in a while, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to compare Raimi’s classic with Alvarez’s update…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

THE STORY

Sam Raimi’s classic The Evil Dead has five young people going up to a secluded cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying and fun. When they get to the rundown cabin, they find an old book and a tape recording in the creepy cellar that claims it is the book of the dead and wrapped in human flesh. Thinking it’s all a joke, they play the recording, which includes someone reading from the book and find out the hard way that it’s all too real, as they unleash horror beyond their imaginations.

Fede Alvarez’s remake has five youths going up to a old family cabin that hasn’t been visited in years. They are there as an intervention for one of their number, who is addicted to heroin. When they get to the rundown cabin they discover some spooky goings on have occurred there and find an old book in the creepy cellar that claims it is the book of the dead. Despite being wrapped in plastic and barbed wire and filled with warnings to not read from it, one curious person does and unleashes horror beyond their imaginations.

There are some differences in plot details, but basically both flicks have a cabin with five unsuspecting youths, two of whom are brother and sister, being attacked and possessed by an ancient evil conjured from reading an ominous book that has been left there by others.

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THE ANTAGONISTS

Both flicks basically have the same antagonists. They are ancient evil spirits known as Deadites that are unleashed when either the book is read from directly, or recorded reading from the book is played back. They want the souls of all those in the cabin and possess and torment the occupants claiming them one by one. There are slight differences, too. The methods in which they can be stopped are slightly varied. The original 1981 film requires the possessed victim be totally dismembered to render them harmless, while the new film offers a variety of demises such as burning, boiling water…and the old favorite, bodily dismemberment. Their origins are also slightly different as well. The Deadites in the original seem to hail from somewhere around ancient Sumaria, while the Deadites from the 2013 remake seem connected more directly to Satanism or The Devil and claiming a certain amount of souls will unleash their master, The Dark One.

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HEROES and HEROINES

Here there is a vast difference in our leads. The 1981 version has ill-fated Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell). In Raimi’s classic, the now iconic Ash is a mild mannered fellow and a little on the cowardly side, leaving it up to alpha male Scott (Richard DeManicor) to hack up his possessed sister Cheryl and generally do the hero stuff till the Deadites get him, too. This leaves Ash all alone to man-up and battle the Deadites. It’s not till the sequels that he starts to take on the mantle of a hero, although an arrogant and bumbling one.

In the 2013 version, Alvarez wisely chose not to try to recast such an iconic character and left Ash out of things altogether. Instead, we get siblings David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his heroin addicted sister Mia (Jane Levy). When Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) reads from the book and unleashes the Deadites, vulnerable Mia is the first possessed and David steps up into hero mode trying to battle the evil and somehow save his little sister. In it’s last act this update throws us a twist by having Mia freed of her possession, by some clever thinking by David and then having her brother killed. Mia then takes vengeful center stage against the dark ones, becoming the sole surviving heroine when she started out the film as possessed and villainous.

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THE SETTINGS

Here, settings are exactly the same. Obviously there are differences due to different creative talent, actual location and budget, but both take place in old cabins deep in the North American woods. Raimi filmed much of his epic in Tennessee and the remake filmed on locations in New Zealand.

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THE OPENING SCENES

Both movies have opening scenes that really establish the mood and tone. The original The Evil Dead opens with the camera racing through the woods with some ominous growling heard as it reaches the car carrying our main protagonists. It is quick and to the point, but sets the tone right away that something bad is going to happen to our five unsuspecting travelers.

Alvarez’s Evil Dead opens with a pretty young girl being chased by some rednecks in the woods and being violently captured. She finds herself tied to a post in an old cellar and only after some dialog with her captors, do we realize that these are her family and she is actually a possessed Deadite who curses her father as he sets his own daughter on fire. It is a shocking beginning that certainly sets the tone very well for what is in store for the remake’s group of young folk.

Both openings are perfect for setting us up for what is to come, starting us off with an atmosphere of fear and foreboding. Raimi’s may be simpler, but Alvarez’s is no less effective and a little more shocking.

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THE ENDINGS

In terms of their climaxes, both films have endings that resonate.

The Evil Dead ends with Ash having barely escaped a vicious assault from his possessed friends by burning the book in the fireplace resulting in a roller coaster bloodbath of gore. As the sun starts to rise, he limps out the door only to have the camera race towards him growling like in the opening and coming right at his face as Ash utters  a horrible scream. The film cuts to black and ends with the credits rolling; Ash apparently not as triumphant as he believed. It is ferociously quick and very effective, a last jolt before you leave the theater.

Evil Dead 2013 has Mia, free of Deadite possession, battling the Dark One in a rainstorm of blood with a chainsaw…a battle that costs her a hand. She cleaves the evil doppelgänger of herself in half and slowly walks off holding her bloody stump as the blood rain abates and the sun rises. The last shot is of the book sitting on the ground, as the cabin burns and then suddenly slamming shut as to indicate the evil has not been completely defeated. It is not quite as effective as the original’s, but still works very well.

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MISC.

There are other similarities and differences. The original was shot at a cost of around $400,000 dollars,  while it’s remake benefited from a budget of around $17 Million. Sam Raimi’s classic has some stunningly original camera work concocted on a shoestring budget by Raimi and cinematographer Tim Philo, while Alvarez’s re-imagining has some sumptuous and spooky visuals captured by Aaron Morton.

Also adding atmosphere for both films are their scores. The Evil Dead has a truly unsettling score featuring frantic strings mixed with disturbing growls and sounds concocted by Joseph LoDuca. Evil Dead 2013 has an equally unnerving score also featuring some glaring sounds and sound FX by Roque Baños. Both are really good at setting mood and atmosphere.

Raimi’s masterpiece is infamous for it’s ‘tree rape’ sequence featuring Ash’s sister Cheryl and while Alvarez pays homage to it with Mia, it’s not nearly as shocking as what Raimi did in 1981 and wasn’t trying to be. He also pays homage to Ash’s hand loss in Evil Dead II with Mia losing a hand in her blood soaked battle with the Dark One.

The 1981 film does have a bit of a twisted sense of humor, while the 2013 remake seems to take itself very seriously, though not too seriously that we don’t have a blood spattered good time.

Speaking of blood…Raimi’s flick is filled with some wildly inventive low budget gore FX, mixing prosthetics with stop motion animation and tons of blood. It was released unrated. Alvarez’s flick is extremely violent and gory, but does so within the restraint of it’s R rating…though it does push the boundaries of that quite a bit. Raimi’s inventiveness with his gore has a charm that the top of the line FX of the remake just don’t have, despite being excellently executed by the FX team and quite effective in their own right.

As with all Raimi associated flicks, Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 appears in both Evil Deads with it being Ash’s car in the original and a junked heap at the back of the cabin in the remake.

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So, we have one flick that is a horror masterpiece and one of the greatest horror flicks of all time and a remake which is a solidly effective horror and while it pays tribute to the original quite well, also has it’s own identity, too. Both films have basically the same plot, but differ when it comes to it’s characters and climaxes. Original director Sam Raimi went on to an illustrious career in movies, including making two classic sequels (see our reviews for Evil Dead II HERE and Army Of Darkness HERE) and three Spider-Man films, while Fede Alvarez is off to a good start with Evil Dead 2013 and Don’t Breathe.

In conclusion, the remake may not be on the same level as the classic masterpiece original, but it is a scary and bloody good time that can stand on it’s own and also makes a nice companion piece to the Ash and Evil Dead saga…which includes the new series (yup, review for that HERE!).

-MonsterZero NJ

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FROM THE DARK (2014)

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FROM THE DARK (2014)

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Irish horror film begins in the rural countryside where a farmer (Gerry O’Brien) is doing an excavation and unearths what appears to to be the corpse of something humanoid buried beneath the ground. It proves to be not quite dead and attacks him. At the same time young couple Sarah (Niamh Algar) and Mark (Stephen Cromwell) are traveling through the area and run into car trouble. As fate would have it, they arrive at the farmer’s home to seek help and encounter the man with a severe neck wound and acting strangely. The farmer isn’t their only problem, though, as something else is out there in the dark night…something with a thirst for human blood.

Conor McMahon’s last film was the 2012 clown horror/comedy Stitches but, here he goes for a completely serious approach as he tells his Irish vampire story. He generates some nice tension and suspense, especially when using a plot device dealing with the creatures aversion to light…of which there is a lack of. There is some nice atmosphere and McMahon gives it a deliberately smoldering pace which works very well in maintaining the mood. There is plenty of action and more than adequate blood spilling and we also get a fiery and resourceful heroine from Algar’s Sarah, who has to battle the creature once Mark is badly wounded early on. It’s a small film and true, some scenes could have used more impact but, otherwise this is a fresh twist on the time-worn vampire story and a case where the ambiguity of our blood sucking fiend works very well for it. The Nosferatu-like creature (Ged Murray) is effective and kept in shadow and there is a tense cat and mouse game between it and Sarah for the last act. McMahon also establishes Sarah and Mark’s relationship and character very quickly which helps us sympathize and empathize with them throughout the story. There is some crisp cinematography and good use of the remote Irish locations by Michael Lavelle and a spooky score by Ray Harman to add to the film overall. A solid little horror.

I liked this little movie. It could have used a bit more intensity at times but, the minimalist approach worked very well in maintaining a subtle creepiness and the scenes of full-on horror are very effective. It’s atmospheric and manages to add a few small fresh twists to vampire lore while delivering the bloodshed and suspenseful action expected. Niamh Algar makes for a very endearing and feisty heroine and our creature is effectively vicious and mysterious. A good little horror that goes for a smaller, more intimate story in an age of bombastic FX overkill. Recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FINAL EXAM (1981)

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FINAL EXAM (1981)

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Final Exam is a 1981 slasher that has a bit of a following, though I’m not sure why. Even with the personal nostalgia of having seen this at the legendary Oritiani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. in 1981, it didn’t impress me much then and it still doesn’t upon a recent revisit.

The almost nonexistent story starts with two college coeds being murdered on campus by a mysterious figure (Timothy L. Raynor). We then switch to another campus where the film changes gears into a lame college comedy for almost an hour before the killer shows up and the film switches gears back to a horror. Our generic coeds are stalked and murdered in fairly uninteresting ways till the ambiguous killer and our final girl Courtney (Cecile Bagdadi) face off in the school gym. That’s kinda it.

Written and directed by Jimmy Houston, Final Exam is a rather tame and lame slasher that can’t decide whether it is a horror or an Animal House style campus comedy. It doesn’t even try to mix the elements, but just jarringly switches from one type of flick to another. The killer is so mysterious that his identity is never given and his motivations never revealed. Just a random psycho, killing random kids at colleges. Bargain basement writing with no imagination or ingenuity. Even the most basic Halloween rip-offs gave their killer some kind of identity and reason for their ill deeds. This robs our villain of having any personality or presence, as he is just some big guy with a grudge and a knife and the lack of any reason for his crimes makes the proceedings rather pointless. That might be forgivable if there was any suspense, or, if we cared about the characters, but there is little or no tension and the characters are as generic as they come. The kills are also fairly routine and uninteresting, so there isn’t even anything to boost the film on a gore level. The movie isn’t even funny during the first hour that Houston spends introducing his stereotypical characters in a more frat house sitcom style format before becoming a horror film again in the last act. It’s all rather dull and Houston’s camera offers no style or atmosphere.

The cast are all dull and forgettable, as well. Final girl Bagdadi is perky, but it’s wasted when she comes up against Timothy L. Raynor’s silent and nameless killer, who evokes little fear or impact. The rest of the cast are stereotypical college types portrayed by mostly unknowns, most of whom have stayed that way.

Obviously, I have no love for this movie, even with the 80s nostalgia it now carries. It’s dull, pointless, has little to no story and the killer and victims are equally dull and forgettable. It’s a boring horror that can’t decide whether to be a slasher or frat comedy and fails miserably at both. All due respect to those who are part of this film’s cult following, but I just don’t get it.

2 knives.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: AFFLICTED (2013)

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AFFLICTED (2013)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Afflicted is a Canadian found footage horror flick directed and starring Clif Prowse and Derek Lee, that cleverly documents a young man’s transformation into a monster and while the film isn’t always successful in what it sets out to do, it is still very effective and also one of the more intimate examinations of what it’s like for an average person to turn into a creature of the night.

The story has two friends, amateur filmmaker Clif (Clif Prowse) and IT man Derek (Derek Lee) planing a year long trip around the world despite Derek’s recently being diagnosed with cerebral arteriovenous malformation. Clif plans to document their travels for a web series/travel blog and thus his camera follows them every step of the way. But, an experience of a lifetime soon turns into a nightmare as Derek is attacked in Paris by a girl named Audrey (Baya Rehaz) whom he takes back to his room from a party. Bloodied and left with some nasty wounds, Derek can’t remember what happened but, insists he’s fine and he and Clif continue on with their trip only to discover that Derek is starting to change. He can’t eat and he starts to blister and burn violently when out in the sun. But, he also has increased strength and enhanced agilities, too. Clif continues to document as it becomes apparent his lifelong friend is changing into something unearthly, not realizing that it puts him in mortal danger as it appears Derek can only now feed on blood… human blood.

I’ll start out by saying that this flick does have a few flaws that hold it back a little but, gets a lot more right than it does wrong. Prowse and Lee start out the film with a lighter tone. An almost party/road trip atmosphere then it starts to turn darker and more grim as Derek gets ravaged and starts to change. The changes are subtle at first but, gradually get worse as Derek seems to sicken and yet get stronger by the day. The found footage format works really well as we follow Derek on his path of transformation and discovers both his new strengths and weakness, such as his aversion to sunlight and food. There are some very creepy sequences as the condition worsens and Derek and Clif begin to realize Derek is becoming a creature of myth… and a dangerous one. Sure we’ve seen this before but, the film is successful in presenting the negative effects of his transformation and the emotional turmoil that comes with it. It is only when he is reveling in his new strengths that things get a bit borderline silly and it evokes scenes from Chronicle and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and changes the tone of the film a bit from the more smoldering intensity of the negative aspects of Lee’s change. The flick also switches gears a bit about halfway through as Derek decides to hunt Audrey down and get answers, while being pursued by Interpol… as let’s just say he’s been very bad. When it becomes more of a hunt/chase film, it is still entertaining but, changes tone a bit and is not nearly as gripping as us watching him transform and feeling his pain and experiencing the increasing danger Clif may be in. His encounter with Audrey also gets a bit over-the-top as compared with the more grounded moments earlier on but, still presents an interesting twist on a very familiar horror story as Derek must now face that he is a monster. For the most part though, the film works and Prowse and Lee have some potential as filmmakers and the horror elements of the flick work a lot better than when it veers into the superpowers elements… though those have their entertainment factor too, as it is part of a very familiar type of horror character. The film has some nice atmosphere and the cinematography by Norm Li is well shot and without loosing the found footage feel. The portrayal of some of the more fantastic elements of Derek’s transformation, such as his augmented strength and agility, are well staged and help keep them from crossing the line into silly.

As for the cast… It’s basically a two man show with Prowse and Lee playing ‘themselves’ and they are fine as they come across as real people and Derek Lee actually portrays his torment and confusion quite well and can be scary when he wants to be. Prowse comes across a caring friend and inquisitive filmmaker but, also someone who may be too close to the situation to realize how dangerous things are getting. Baya Rehaz is effective as Audrey and gives her character a presence in her brief screen time and appears quite formidable and yet not entirely inhuman when Derek tracks her down for their climactic confrontation in Paris. The scene goes over-the-top a bit but, overall works.

I liked this flick and with the found footage format at a point where it’s starting to wear out it’s welcome, it is a novel use for it that puts an interesting spin on a very familiar horror story. The horror elements of this story work far better than the more over-the-top elements and the shift in tone when the film changes story focus at halftime isn’t as involving as what came before but, isn’t a failure either. Prowse and Lee show some real promise as filmmakers and overall this was a refreshing twist on a an overly saturated horror sub-genre and manages to give this somewhat neutered horror staple back a little bit of it’s teeth. Watch through the credits for a chilling epilogue.

3 sets of fangs.

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WARNING: this trailer shows A LOT…

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US TRAILER and POSTER FOR DEAD SNOW 2: RED vs DEAD arrives!

 

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Filmaker Tommy Wirkola’s horror/comedy sequel Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead is arriving in the  US on October 10th, 2014 and as a huge fan of Dead Snow, I can’t wait. Right now we have the official US release poster and trailer for this eagerly awaited 2nd installment to hold us over.

source: Youtube/shocktillyoudrop.com

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ROB ZOMBIE REVEALS “31” DETAILS!

 

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Filmmaker/ Musican Rob Zombie has finally released some details about his, up till now, mysterious new film project ’31’. Not only does he give plot details but, has revealed it will be fan-funded! About the plot of this new horror he had this to say…

“Welcome to my next film. It is called ’31,’ ” …

“It is the story of five random people kidnapped on the five days leading up to Halloween and held hostage in a place called Murder World. While trapped inside this man-made Hell they must fight to survive playing the most violent game known to man… a game called 31.”

“What kind of film is this you ask? It is a fast paced, mean dirty film for those who like it rough. Get ready for a sick piece of celluloid! This is some hardcore business for the blood-thirsty gore hounds.”

The film’s official site, where you can contribute in exchange for some cool stuff, also had this to say about ’31’

“31 has no rules. 31 has no boundaries. It is ever so simple. Do whatever you can do to kill your opponent before they kill you. Keep this up for 12 hours and freedom is yours.”

and…

“Who are the opponents? Well… a group of vile, filthy, blood-thirsty clowns known as THE HEADS. They come in all shapes and sizes and each grows nastier than the last.”

Sounds cool to me!

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Check out this video of Rob Zombie himself  explaining his reasoning to fund the project in this way…

source: Youtube/Bloody Disgusting.com/31-rob-zombie-film

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

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BOOK OF SHADOWS: BLAIR WITCH 2 (2000)

While this Blair Witch sequel is not that good, it’s not quite as bad as it’s reputation suggests. Sequel has some good ideas, such as being about the mania caused by the movie The Blair Witch Project and not a direct sequel to the film itself and tells the story of a group of oddball characters that seek to find out if there is some truth behind the movie and if there really is a witch that inspired the film. Obviously some weird stuff starts to happen to them as they investigate and death and madness soon follow.

The biggest problem with Blair Witch 2 is simply not doing anything interesting with the ideas director Joe Berlinger and his 3 co-writers, Dick Beebe, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, have come up with. The film is a lot of talk and finger pointing as strange occurrences start to make the characters unravel and turn on each other. Video evidence changes and disappears, characters vanish and then turn up dead, but this spooky activity never comes together to form a solid story. It’s almost like a bunch or random acts that are only thinly related. By the time we find out what happened, we really aren’t that interested anymore, despite the fact that better handled, it could have been very unsettling. It also doesn’t help that the film is peppered with police interviews and scenes that occur after-the-fact and thus we know what’s coming. It neuters any suspense the film might be building. There are some mildly spooky images and sequences throughout and a few bloody moments, but not enough to make this film work completely or consistently. I appreciate the effort to do something different then a generic sequel, but the filmmakers just didn’t take their concept far enough. At least there is a spooky score by Carter Burwell and some cool songs on the soundtrack CD. (see track listing below)

The cast is fine, though the characters are stereotypical Hollywood cliche’s such as the handsome con-artist with a past (Jeffrey Donovan), the hot Wiccan (Erica Leerhsen), the attractive yuppie couple (Tristen Skyler and Stephen Barker Turner) and the hot Emo Goth chick (Kim Director). My biggest peeve cast-wise, though, is that the actor, Lanny Flaherty, playing the local sheriff, is so awful that even had the film been better he would have ruined it. Yes, he’s that bad.

Director Joe Berlinger gives the film some decent atmosphere and some creepy moments but, doesn’t seem to be able to assemble all his parts into an effective whole. Apparently the film was taken away from him and re-edited with new footage shot to make it more of a horror film, but if this is better than what he delivered, then I doubt I want to ever see a director’s cut… though, as a film geek, I’d probably watch it if it ever surfaced. Again, some cool ideas wasted without anywhere to go with them.

2 and 1/2 hot goth chicks.

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CD SOUNDTRACK TRACK LIST

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  1. The Reckoning- Godhead
  2. Lie Down- P.O.D.
  3. Goodbye Lament- Tony Iommi/Dave Grohl
  4. Dragula- Rob Zombie
  5. Mind- System Of A Down
  6. Stick It Up- Slaves On Dope
  7. Suicide Is Painless- Marilyn Manson
  8. Soul Auctioneer- Death In Vegas
  9. Ps- Project 86
  10. Old Enough- Nickleback
  11. Feel Alive- U.P.O.
  12. Tommy (Don’t Die)- Steakknife
  13. Arcarsenal- At The Drive In
  14. Human- Elastica
  15. Feel Good Hit Of The Summer- Queens Of The Stone Age
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YEAR END HORROR ROUND-UP 2013

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I’m not a big fan of top 10 lists and all that year end fuss but, I thought I would give a bit of a look back at what I liked and didn’t like in the horror genre this year and, or course, share it with all of you. These are just my opinions and since the world is filled with different tastes and preferences and each horror film effects, or doesn’t effect, everyone differently, I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my selections but, this is how I look at what the horror genre had to offer this year…

BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR

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EVIL DEAD (2013)

To a degree it’s sad that the best horror of the year was a remake but, I had a blast with Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining and it had some nice scares, plenty of gore and Jane Levy rocked in the lead. Alvarez showed he’s a director to keep an eye on and he paid tribute to the original while doing his own thing. Fun horror! Read my full review HERE…

BEST HORROR RUNNER-UP

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THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Rob Zombie’s latest horror is not for everyone but, I enjoyed this out-there story of a Salem Mass. DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) who is sent a record that, when played, sets in motion the return of a coven of Devil worshipping witches and their plan to bring great evil into our world. Zombie’s flick has some really disturbing visuals and some very subtle and creepy scenes to go along with it’s more shocking moments and evokes the works of some of horror’s best directors while remaining a Rob Zombie film. His most solid directorial effort and a refreshingly off-beat and very unsettling movie. Even the soundtrack was disturbing and, as usual in a Zombie film, there are some great songs included in it that almost become a character in the film themselves. An acquired taste but, I really enjoyed it. Read my original review HERE…

BEST HORROR HONORABLE MENTION

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MANIAC (2013)

For a guy who bitches a lot about all the horror remakes, it is quite ironic that two of my favorites this year are in fact remakes but, Franck Khalfoun’s re-imagining was a vast improvement over the sleazy and overrated original and Elijah Wood gave me the creeps. There were some truly shocking and disturbing moments, strong tension and the film made creepy use of it’s POV shooting style. An art house style horror that really worked for me. Read my full review HERE…

MOST ORIGINAL HORROR

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AMERICAN MARY (2013)

Sure Mary isn’t perfect but, this story of pretty Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a down on her luck medical student who is lured into the world of underground body modification surgery for money and then is turned into a sadistic killer when horribly wronged, is a breath of fresh air in a genre saturated by generic haunted house and home invasion thrillers. A wickedly fun and disturbing flick from the Soska Sisters and one that made me second guess myself and I give it a lot of credit for that. Read my full review HERE…

ORIGINAL HORROR RUNNER-UP

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EXCISION (2012)

Yes, this film is from 2012 but, I didn’t catch up with it till this year and it deserves a shout out for being one of the more original flicks I watched during 2013. Another surgery themed flick has a troubled teen Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) whose obsession with surgery and bizarre fantasies leads this demented ugly duckling to commit some horrible acts. A trippy and disturbing  little movie with a really strong performance by McCord who disappears into the role. A nice turn by Traci Lords as well as Pauline’s overbearing mother also gives this flick some weight. Read my full review HERE…

ORIGINAL HORROR HONORABLE MENTION

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JUG FACE (2013)

Chad Crawford Kinkle gave us an unsettling and offbeat little horror about a rural backwoods community presided over by a supernatural creature that resides in a large sink hole just inside the woods. The creature watches over the village and even cures ills as long as the residents feed it the appropriate sacrifice when it calls for it. When one of the intended sacrifices has other ideas, she brings it’s wrath down upon her entire village. Read my full review HERE…

BEST DIRECT TO HOME MEDIA HORROR /

BEST COMEBACK

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CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013)

This flick sadly went direct to home media but, Chucky’s first horror in almost 10 years is a fun, gory and suspenseful tale that returns to the series’ more serious roots and sets Chucky loose in a spooky old house. It had some nice suspense, some vicious kills, Fiona Dourif made a plucky wheelchair bound heroine and there’s some nice surprises for fans of the series too. Chucky was back in style and didn’t get the attention/respect he deserved. Read my full review HERE…

 

MOST OVERRATED HORROR

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THE CONJURING (2013)

Don’t get me wrong, The Conjuring is a well made and fairly enjoyable horror flick especially in it’s spooky first act, but with a second act that gets not only theatrical and a bit hokey, but climaxes with yet another routine exorcism, it lost it’s grip on me much like Wan’s Insidious did in it’s second half. A good flick, but not the masterpiece internet hype makes it out to be. Also doesn’t hold up under repeat viewings as the scares have lost some of their effect and the flaws only get more obvious. Read my full review HERE…

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING HORROR

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YOU’RE NEXT (2013)

With all the positive buzz and internet hype I heard about this flick, it was a major disappointment when I left the theater having seen this predictable and routine home invasion flick with transparent plot twists and a completely contrived excuse for the lethal skills of it’s final girl… though Sharni Vinson was effective in the part. Otherwise the bland cast recites some really bad dialog and does incredibly stupid things to set themselves up as victims both invaded and invader alike. A weak script and a shaky cam obsessed directer make this not only one of the year’s biggest disappointments, but one of the weaker horrors I saw this year. See my full review HERE…

 

WORST HORROR

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THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013)

After the entertaining and effectively chilling first flick, this shameless and stupid cash grab sequel is awful in almost every way. A poor script and story, lame direction and a laughable climax makes this hands down the worst horror I saw this year. Ashley Bell does try really hard, but the actress is given garbage to work with and garbage is what this sequel is. Read my full review HERE…

WORST HORROR THAT I STILL ENJOYED

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TEXAS CHAINSAW  (2013)

I’m not going to defend this flick, it had some glaring story problems, a highly questionable timeline…our plucky heroine Heather (Alexandra Daddario) should be in her forties not a nubile 20 something…and numerous other issues, but it gave me some chuckles and a couple of real hotties being chased by a chubby, balding Leatherface…who should be like 60 here…there were also some gruesome kills and did I mention it’s got Alexandra Daddario? A guilty pleasure for sure for, as bad as this was, I had fun watching it and it did have some nice cameos and homages to Hooper’s original masterpiece. Read my full review HERE…

HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE NEW YEAR!

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