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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REVIEW: WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)

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WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD (2014)

Written and directed by Gregg Araki and based on a book by Laura Kasischke, this fascinating and involving film tells the story of Katrina (Shailene Woodley), a teen who is dealing with the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her mother, Eve (Eva Green). On the outside, Kat is trying to move on with her life, as years pass, but, not knowing her mother ‘s fate and not having closure, is eating her up on the inside. Her father, Brock (Christopher Meloni) seems oblivious, as does her stoner boyfriend, Phil (Shiloh Fernandez) and even finding herself in the arms of the older cop (Tom Jane) who investigated her mother’s case, isn’t enough to bring her peace. While trying to keep an outwardly composed appearance, she reminisces back on her mother’s odd behavior before she disappeared and is haunted by strange dreams that won’t let her rest till she gets some answers…but, will she?

Gregg Araki creates a film that is both quiet and yet very powerful as he tells the story of Katrina who is trying to go on with her life while dealing with the internal struggle of having no answers to her questions… and not much help getting those answers from those around her. Her mother appeared to be a troubled woman in their final moments together and the marriage between she and Kat’s father never seemed to really work but, this only creates more questions than it provides clues or answers. Did her mother just up and leave, or was it something darker that befell her? Araki paints a beautiful and haunting portrait of a young woman seeking closure both with a striking visual style and a subtle emotional power. He presents you with clues in flashbacks and dreams seen through Kat’s eyes but, like Kat, we still get no solid answers or inner peace. As seen from the young girl’s perspective, Araki gives us a colorful portrayal of a picture-perfect housewife who is slowly coming apart as the imperfection and boredom of her real life sets in. Despite their dysfunctional relationship toward the end, there’s a hole in Kat’s life and it can only be filled by answers she may not get…or closure she may never have. Araki takes us on a journey with Kat, who can’t truly be at peace, though she tries, till she finds the truth and the journey here is more important than the actual destination…and the destination may not be one that Kat expected or will want to accept. And Araki does it all with a touch of fairy tale whimsy that somehow works perfectly. On a technical level the film is gorgeous with cinematography by Sandra Valde-Hansen and a fitting 80s style score… the film takes place from 1988 to 1991…by composer Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, who co-founded the Cocteau Twins. A film that equals the sum of it’s parts.

Araki’s skilled and visually stunning direction is further enhanced with knock-out performances from all his cast. Woodley is a powerhouse in her portrayal of a woman trying to come to terms with the mysterious disappearance of her mother and wanting desperately to just go on with her life and despite her facade, she is slowly fragmenting inside. She is wonderful. Eva Green is also amazing as a woman who starts out as June Cleaver and slowly crumples into Joan Crawford as she realizes that this is as good as her life is going to get… and it’s not what she wants. Christopher Meloni gives us a man who seems oblivious and unable to stand up to his wife’s increasingly belligerent behavior. Once she’s gone, he seems to operate in a perpetual fog as he can’t seem to function emotionally without a woman who increasingly let it be known she didn’t love him. It’s a performance that is subtle but, has it’s layers as the story goes on. Fernandez is also strong playing the stoner Phil. He may appear to be lost in a purple haze but, there is more going on than it appears and Fernandez conveys that well, especially in the film’s revelatory final act. Jane is also good as Detective Scieziesciez, the older man and police officer from Eve’s case. He actually seems to care for Kat and Jane does nice work keeping him from coming across as a two dimensional jerk. Kat and he at first seem to use each other but, it appears to be more as the story progresses and the actors convey this in subtle but, effective ways. A great cast doing great work.

I loved this movie. I really have nothing negative to say about it. Nothing is perfect but, it’s imperfections are minor and really inconsequential when you view all that Araki get’s right. It’s an emotional journey that is exceptionally acted and one that is also subtly a mystery. A mystery where, despite all the clues and possibilities, you won’t quite see where it’s heading…and yet, it still all makes sense. Great direction, good writing and strong acting from all the cast. A great little indie movie. Also features Ava Acres (At The Devil’s Door) as 8 year old Kat and Angela Bassett as Kat’s therapist.

-MonsterZero NJ

4 stars… not going to get smarmy on this one, a great little movie.

four stars rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EVIL DEAD and THE LORDS OF SALEM

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I’ve covered these two movies before but, as I recently named them as my top 2 favorite horrors of 2013, I decided to watch them together and found they made quite a chilling double feature so, if you are looking for an evening of frights and chills on the couch, why not give these two a try together…

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EVILD DEAD (2013)

The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite fright flicks so, I was very apprehensive about a remake. With Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert and even Bruce Campbell on board as producers, I hoped the material would at least be treated with respect. Now having seen this new vision of one of the all time horror classics, I can say not only was the material treated with respect but, it is one of the best horror remakes and one hell of a nasty, scary, bloody blast. The best thing is that co-writer and first time director Fede Alvarez smartly takes the basic premise and does his own thing with it. This version has heroine addict, Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) being taken by big brother, David (Skateland’s Shiloh Fernandez) and 3 friends to an old family cabin to try to get Mia to quit her habit cold turkey. But, someone has been in the cabin since they were last there and something gruesome has definitely gone on inside with blood stains and dozens of dead animals hanging in the cellar. Of course there is also a mysterious book and within it ominous warnings that certain words not be read aloud… so, of course, someone does… and at the same time Mia is alone in the woods… uh, oh… I don’t need to tell you that soon Mia is possessed by some horrible demonic entity and the gruesome blood soaked nightmare begins as the ancient evil wants to claim them all. Alvarez really crafts a strong, gruesome and scary horror of the likes we haven’t seen in a while. It’s vicious and nasty with top notch gore and make-up that is done the old fashioned way without any CGI. When limbs fly… and they do, it is good old fashioned prosthetics and I loved the lack of CGI when it came to the ghouls and gore. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (Diablo Cody was supposedly hired to work on the script but, if she was credited, I missed it.) basically give us enough elements of the original to make it recognizable as an Evil Dead flick and thus fits in with the series but, makes the flick it’s own animal. And that’s the way to do a remake like this. And Alvarez is the real deal who knows how to make a good old fashioned horror movie complete with suspense, tension and intensity, not to mention, plentiful scares. He also gives the film a strong atmosphere and I really liked his visual style. He gets good work from his cast too, especially leading lady Levy whose character has a few stages to go through from heroine addict to a demon possessed creature to… well, you’ll have to see the flick to find out. Shiloh Fernandez is also very good, after a lifeless performance in Red Riding Hood, he shows us the actor we saw in Skateland was no fluke. The rest, Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, do fine making their characters more then demon fodder and they are all likable enough to make us afraid for them when all hell breaks loose.  The flick is not perfect but, any flaws are minor and can be overlooked due to all that is done right. Evil Dead 2013 may not be as groundbreaking as the original and only time will tell if it will be highly regard like it’s predecessor but, it is a strong, visceral horror that gives equal parts suspense and scares with all the goo and gore. Maybe not quite a classic but, a film worthy of the title Evil Dead. Well done!… and stay to watch after the credits!

Check out our look back at the original classic that started it all!… HERE!

A very solid 3 and 1/2 demon possessed sitcom stars

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THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

If Stanley Kubrick, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci got drunk and decided to make a horror movie together, Lords Of Salem would probably be close to what you’d get. Even back in the White Zombie days, rocker/director Rob Zombie has always shown a heavy influence from movies, especially horror so, it’s no surprise to see such influences in his films. And this time, Zombie sheds the 70s grind-house style that his earlier films have had and goes for something that evokes the work of the previously mentioned filmmakers and also some of the 70s occult themed flicks like the infamous Mark Of The Devil. To a degree, it is Zombie’s most solid effort as director but, also his most experimental as Lords gets downright head trippy and surreal at times, especially in it’s last act. If you liked his dream sequences in Halloween 2, there’s lots more where that came from. Today’s impatient audiences weaned on cookie cutter horrors and endless sequels may not appreciate what Zombie has done here but, to me it was a disturbing breath of fresh air. In a time of CGI phantoms and overused jump scares, I really like that Zombie had the courage to make something that aims to simply unsettle and disturb you with it’s atmosphere and imagery and doesn’t rely on cheap scares and elaborate post production hocus-pocus. Lords tells the creepy story of late night Salem DJ Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) who receives a wooden box with a record in it from someone referring to themselves simply as “The Lords”. When she plays the vinyl album she suddenly starts to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations and her life starts to spiral out of control. When author Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) begins to investigate, he finds that an ancient evil in the form of a devil worshiping witch coven, once burned at the stake, may be returning to Salem and Heidi might be key to their vengeance. Director/writer Zombie tells his disturbing tale with a deliberately slow burn yet, never at any moment does he ease up on the atmosphere that something sinister and very wrong is going on here. Whether it’s the haunting visuals that he fills the film with or the excellent use of Griffin Boice and John 5’s score… which evoked Fabio Frizzi and Goblin at times… the film oozes atmosphere and keeps us involved even if the film’s narrative flow doesn’t always follow a tradition path. And as for the visuals, they range from haunting to shocking and as disturbing as they can be, they are also beautiful. This is certainly, at the very least, a visually striking film. And despite all the shocking imagery, I actually feel Zombie showed some restraint at times which made the horror elements all the more horrifying when they arrive. And Rob is not the only Zombie to watch here, Sheri, who proved she had some acting chops as Deborah Myers, is again very effective here as Heidi, a woman with emotional troubles and past bad habits who is being drawn into a living nightmare that she is not equipped to fight. Jeff Daniel Phillips is also good playing one of the two Hermans who DJ with her, a man with feelings for Heidi who tries to help her without knowing the true cause of her emotional down-turn. And Zombie also peppers his film with genre vets like Ken Foree (the other Herman), Meg Foster, Sid Haig and the effectively spooky trio of Dee Wallace, Patricia Quinn and Judy Geeson as Heidi’s neighbors, who are more then they appear. Overall Zombie has created his most interesting work yet and one that won’t appeal to everyone. It evokes a type of horror in the vein of Argento’s early films or Fulci’s The Beyond, that they don’t make anymore. But, that’s why I liked it so much. Zombie remembers a time before the MTV generation when horror films took their time to draw you in and had loads of atmosphere. He also knows, like those films, that there is a time to shock you too, and he does that well. And finally, he knows that sometimes the best way to make sure you leave the theater spooked is to not wrap everything up in a neat little bow and thus leave you looking over your shoulder when you are home at night. I would recommend this film highly for those who don’t mind a slow burn and a splash of avant garde with their horror. Not perfect but, a really spooky flick for those that can appreciate it.

A very spooky and disturbing  3 and 1/2 haunted heroines

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: EVIL DEAD 2013 and CABIN IN THE WOODS

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I admit I’ve covered these two films here already at the Movie Madhouse but, I watched this double feature last night and had a bloody good time with it so, I thought I’d share. They make a great double bill!

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EVILD DEAD (2013)

The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite fright flicks so, I was very apprehensive about a remake. With Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert and even Bruce Campbell on board as producers, I hoped the material would at least be treated with respect. Now having seen this new vision of one of the all time horror classics, I can say not only was the material treated with respect but, it is one of the best horror remakes and one hell of a nasty, scary, bloody blast. The best thing is that co-writer and first time director Fede Alvarez smartly takes the basic premise and does his own thing with it. This version has heroine addict, Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) being taken by big brother, David (Skateland’s Shiloh Fernandez) and 3 friends to an old family cabin to try to get Mia to quit her habit cold turkey. But, someone has been in the cabin since they were last there and something gruesome has definitely gone on inside with blood stains and dozens of dead animals hanging in the cellar. Of course there is also a mysterious book wrapped in barbed wire and within it ominous warnings that certain words not be read aloud… so, of course, someone does… and at the same time Mia is alone in the woods… uh, oh… I don’t need to tell you that soon Mia is possessed by some horrible demonic entity and the gruesome blood soaked nightmare begins as the ancient evil wants to claim them all. Alvarez really crafts a strong, gruesome and scary horror of the likes we haven’t seen in a while. It’s vicious and nasty with top notch gore and make-up that is done the old fashioned way without any CGI. When limbs fly… and they do, it is good old fashioned prosthetics and I loved the lack of CGI when it came to the ghouls and gore. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (Diablo Cody was supposedly hired to work on the script but, if she was credited, I missed it.) basically give us enough elements of the original to make it recognizable as an Evil Dead flick and thus fits in with the series but, makes the flick it’s own animal. And that’s the way to do a remake like this. And Alvarez is the real deal who knows how to make a good old fashioned horror movie complete with suspense, tension and intensity, not to mention, plentiful scares. He also gives the film a strong atmosphere and I really liked his visual style. He gets good work from his cast too, especially leading lady Levy whose character has a few stages to go through from heroine addict to a demon possessed creature to… well, you’ll have to see the flick to find out. Shiloh Fernandez is also very good, after a lifeless performance in Red Riding Hood, he shows us the actor we saw in Skateland was no fluke. The rest, Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, do fine making their characters more then demon fodder and they are all likable enough to make us afraid for them when all hell breaks loose.  The flick is not perfect but, any flaws are minor and can be overlooked due to all that is done right. Evil Dead 2013 may not be as groundbreaking as the original and only time will tell if it will be highly regard like it’s predecessor but, it is a strong, visceral horror that gives equal parts suspense and scares with all the goo and gore. Maybe not quite a classic but, a film worthy of the title Evil Dead. Well done!… and stay to watch after the credits!

Check out our look back at the original classic that started it all!… HERE!

A very solid 3 and 1/2 demon possessed sitcom stars

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THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) 

The Cabin In The Woods was originally filmed in 2009 but, wasn’t released due to financial problems at it’s original studio, MGM. The film was finally released by Lionsgate in 2012 after an almost 3 year wait… and worth the wait it was!

If anyone knows how to have fun with pop culture horror conventions, it’s Joss Whedon (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) and he and Director Drew Goddard craft a funhouse of a horror movie by doing just that… and we are happily along for the bloody fun ride. Cabin is a movie where the less you know going in, the better… so, I’ll simply say that it starts out with the classic “5 young partiers heading up to an isolated cabin” scenario and then turns this horror sub-genre into something quite different and deviously fun. Aside from a really clever script, Cabin benefits from the fact that Drew Goddard knows how to craft suspense and scares, despite letting us in early on what is going on. We also get a bunch of likable characters to root and care for and the cast is as likable as the characters they play. This is very important to make a horror flick work and so many films today makes their leads unlikable jerks who we could care less about. We are only scared when we care what happens to the antagonists and here we do. From plucky heroine Dana (Kristen Connolly) to hunky Curt (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) to stoner Marty (Fran Kranz), we really like all five characters and it adds to the film’s effect that we don’t want to see them suffer the fate that has befallen them. And what a clever and cruel fate Whedon and Goddard have in store for their victims. And, in turn, providing a clever and inventive blood-soaked horror for all of us. The FX are top notch and the performances from his cast, especially leading heroine Connolly, are all good and help make the wicked scenario work. The script provides plenty of scares and gore but, also gives us some tension-relieving laughs with Whedon’s trademark sly humor. Everything is blended together well by director Goddard, who gets us primed and ready for the “all hell breaks loose” final act. And that is a blood spattered treat, let me tell you! A real horror movie blast! Also stars Jesse Williams as Holden, Anna Hutchison as Jules and a really fun surprise cameo that I won’t spoil here! One of the most inventive and fun horror movies in quite a long time! Highly recommended!

3 and 1/2 cabins!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SKATELAND and ADVENTURELAND

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SKATELAND (2010)

Drama of a young man coming of age in a suburban Texas town during the 80s is a well written and acted story focusing on teen Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez ) who’s coping with becoming a man while his parents divorce and his world changes around him. High school is over and it’s time to decide what he wants to do with his life, but Ritchie would be perfectly happy to continuing working at the Skateland roller rink and hanging out with his friends. But times are changing and life has no intention of standing still even if Ritchie wants it to. Along with him are best friend Brent Burkham (Heath Freeman) and Brent’s beautiful sister Michelle (Ashley Greene), with whom he has feelings he’s also not ready to deal with.

The movie smartly tackles the melodramatics and cliche’s usually associated with these type of flicks in a way that makes them feel fresh and keeps them quite effective. We’ve seen certain story elements before, but director Anthony Burns turns them back from cliche’s into life experiences we can all identify with by weaving them into the story and not presenting them as set pieces as many films like this do. The film really captures that moment in time between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of your life, the one you wish could last forever, but life moves you forward whether you like it or not, as Ritchie finds out.

And as Ritchie, lead Fernandez shows some really nice acting chops here and that he has a lot of potential with a subtle but emotion filled performance. Leading lady Ashley Greene shows far more range than her supporting part in the Twilight films allows and proves with a good script and director she is more than just a pretty face. Heath Freeman is also a hoot as the rambunctious Brent, who dreams of being a famous dirt-bike racer and has to face that this dream may not come true. And Haley Ramm is impressive as Ritchie’s younger sister, Mary a headstrong and very mature teen trying to help keep her already fractured family from falling any further apart. The dynamic between Ritchie and little sister Mary is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Ramm and Fernandez are gold in their scenes together. The supporting cast of relative unknowns also give strong performances that help give the story it’s weight and sense of realism and come across as people and not characters.

Add to all this, there is a great 80s soundtrack and that is one cliche’ that’s always welcome with these movies. Having come of age in the 80s, I am a sucker for these kind of flicks and Skateland is one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite a while. I highly recommend it. Also stars James Le Gros as Brent and Michelle’s dad, Clive and Brett Cullin and Melinda McGraw as Ritchie’s mom and dad, David and Debbie Wheeler.

A solid 3 and 1/2 Rubik’s Cubes!

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ADVENTURELAND (2009)

Adventureland tells the story of James (Jesse Eisenberg) a recent college grad whose plans to spend the summer in Europe and then go to New York to grad school to study journalism are dashed when his dad is demoted at work. To earn the money he needs to go to the Big Apple, James is forced to get a job at Adventureland, a third rate amusement park in Pittsburg. But there he meets an eccentric group of characters and the pretty Em (Kristen Stewart), a young girl with her own issues and dreams. As James struggles to figure out how to get his life back on track, the two bond finding solace from their perspective woes with each other.

More drama than comedy, flick has grown on me a bit since first viewed, but overall, nothing we haven’t seen before. Yet despite it’s familiarity, it’s easy to identify with the story and it’s characters are somewhat endearing even though I wanted to throttle Frigo (Matt Bush). The cast give some very eclectic yet, down to earth performances. They seem exactly like the kind of people you’d expect to find working in a place like Adventureland and they grow on you as the film progresses. As for the leads, Stewart is not nearly as wooden as she was in Twilight, though still doing her disassociated thing. Eisenberg is fine, if not a little bland, as James, a young man who seems to be having a hard time accepting that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to and that, occasionally, you have to take life’s lemons and figure out how to make lemonade. James needs to grow up and take control of his life. Sometimes you want to slap James out of his self pity, but that is part of his character and not the fault of the actor. Ryan Reynolds plays the park repairman, a musician wannabe named Mike Connell who is married yet likes to sample the park’s young female employees. He creates a guy whom you understand why people like, yet is obviously, in reality, a phony douche. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader add some comic relief as the clueless husband/wife operators of the park and Martin Starr plays Joel, another intelligent college student who seems fine with wasting his life away as a pipe smoking slacker, but ironically, seems to support James’ not giving up on his dream.

Superbad writer/director Greg Mottola gives us some nice moments and there are some fun bits too, but sometimes there is just too much melodrama for it’s own good. It does poignantly portray love at that period of time in life when you are just becoming an adult but still haven’t fully matured. That first relationship when you start to think a bit more seriously about the person you’re with, yet are still hesitant to give up your freedom to commit to something more meaningful. And it also nails the sense of having a dream and the frustration of not knowing how to reach it when things don’t work out as you planned. Add to that a great soundtrack of 80s tunes that really helps add a lot of atmosphere.

So, things even out a bit when you add it all up and having graduated high school in the early 80s, this film is nonetheless nostalgic for me, so I cut it a bit of slack for some of it’s flaws. At the very least Mottola shows some versatility as this is quite different than his raunchy Superbad.

3 Rubik’s Cubes!

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REVIEW: EVIL DEAD (2013)

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EVIL DEAD (2013)

The original Evil Dead is one of my all time favorite fright flicks, so I was very apprehensive about a remake. With Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert and even Bruce Campbell on board as producers, I hoped the material would at least be treated with respect. Now having seen this new vision of one of the all-time horror classics, I can say not only was the material treated with respect, but it is one of the best horror remakes and one hell of a nasty, scary, bloody blast. The best thing is that co-writer and first time director Fede Alvarez smartly takes the basic premise and does his own thing with it.

This version has heroine addict, Mia (Suburgatory’s Jane Levy) being taken by big brother, David (Skateland’s Shiloh Fernandez) and three friends to an old family cabin to try to get Mia to quit her habit cold turkey. But, someone has been in the cabin since they were last there and something gruesome has definitely gone on inside, with blood stains and dozens of dead animals hanging in the cellar. Of course there is also a mysterious book and within it, ominous warnings that certain words not be read aloud…so, of course, someone does…and at the same time Mia is alone in the woods…uh, oh…I don’t need to tell you that soon Mia is possessed by some horrible demonic entity and the gruesome blood-soaked nightmare begins as the ancient evil wants to claim them all.

Alvarez really crafts a strong, gruesome and scary horror of the likes we haven’t seen in a while. It’s vicious and nasty with top notch gore and make-up that is done the old fashioned way without any CGI. When limbs fly…and they do, it is good old fashioned prosthetics and I loved the lack of CGI when it came to the ghouls and gore. Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues (Diablo Cody was supposedly hired to work on the script but, if she was credited, I missed it.) basically give us enough elements of the original to make it recognizable as an Evil Dead flick and thus fits in with the series, but makes the flick it’s own animal…and that’s the way to do a remake like this. Alvarez is the real deal, who knows how to make a good old fashioned horror movie complete with suspense, tension and intensity, not to mention, plentiful scares. He also gives the film a strong atmosphere and I really liked his visual style.

He gets good work from his cast too, especially leading lady Levy whose character has a few stages to go through from heroine addict to a demon possessed creature to…well, you’ll have to see the flick to find out. Shiloh Fernandez is also very good, after a lifeless performance in Red Riding Hood, he shows us the actor we saw in Skateland was no fluke. The rest, Lou Taylor Pucci (Spring) as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, do fine making their characters more than demon fodder and they are all likable enough to make us afraid for them when all hell breaks loose.

The flick is not perfect but, any flaws are minor and can be overlooked due to all that is done right. Evil Dead 2013 may not be as groundbreaking as the original and only time will tell if it will be highly regard like it’s predecessor, but it is a strong, visceral horror that gives equal parts suspense and scares with all the goo and gore. Maybe not quite a classic, but a film worthy of the title Evil Dead. Well done!… and stay to watch after the credits!

Check out our look back at the original classic that started it all!… HERE!

A very solid 3 and 1/2 demon possessed sitcom stars

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