What I thought of Ash Vs. The Evil Dead episode one

30 years ago Evil Dead 2 was unleashed upon the world, and the planet became a better place. A few years later Army of Darkness appeared and that was the last we saw of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series til a couple of years ago when a reboot/sequel appeared that wasn’t actually anywhere near as bad as I expected, but Bruce Campbell’s Ash Williams was nowhere to be seen. Until now.

Ash Vs. The Evil Dead is a 13 part series on the Starz (such a shite name for a channel, but still) channel in the US, and seems to disregard the events of Army of Darkness and takes up as a sequel to Evil Dead 2, but as someone that loves the Sam Raimi Evil Dead films I don’t care. The tone the series takes in the first six or seven minutes is simply perfect, and this preview ends just as the going gets good….

It’s Bruce Campbell being brilliant, though any concerns that the series is going to be too comedic is quickly thrown out the window and yes, there’s Raimi’s Three Stooges inspired slapstick in there but there’s also some very scary scenes, and of course, buckets of blood and gore.

I found myself grinning like a loon throughout the 45 minutes or so of this first episode, though there’s times when the TV budget shows. Ash’s trailer park is clearly a TV set, and not a very good one, and at times the American accents are fit to break (the series was filmed in New Zealand) under the suspension of belief but overall these are tiny criticisms of something that’s simply a joy.

A second series has already been commissioned before this first episode was even broadcast, so Ash Williams and the Evil Dead is going to be with us for some time yet and I couldn’t be happier…

My top 20 Comic Book films-11-Spider Man 2

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence and 12, Kick Ass.

As we get to the cusp of the top ten, only Spider Man 2 stands before us!

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What Sam Raimi manages to do is create the template for the perfect superhero sequel, so we as an audience now know who Spider Man is, so there’s no messing around with any more time-wasting explanations and it’s right in with a near perfect recreation of late period Ditko Spidey, with a big chunk of Romita era Spidey thrown in. Raimi is allowed to make Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus a tragic, but yet brutal figure in a way Stan Lee would approve of.

Yes it’s all a bit two-dimensional. Yes, it’s camp. However the action scenes are extraordinary, especially the fight on the train between Spider Man and Doctor Octopus which isn’t only just the best directed bit of superhero action you’ll see, but gets the whole Lee/Ditko/Romita vision of Spidey in a way that the rebooted version hasn’t.

Spider Man 2 is what a good superhero film should be. It’s well acted, with effects that don’t get in the way and Raimi directs it all with a joy that’s lacking from many superhero films in this last decade since Spider Man 2 came out. It has a story to tell and it sticks to it. No setting up another three films, or referencing films that came previously to the nth degree, nope, it’s just tremendous fun and more enjoyable than these sort of blockbusters had been in some time.

Sadly the third film in Raimi’s series was on the whole, pretty poor to average, but this is at least something which is going to last for as long as the superhero film continues.

Next time we penetrate and thrust into the top ten….

My top 20 Comic Book films-17-Spider Man

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow and 18, Heavy Metal.

At 17 it’s Sam Raimi’s first Spider Man film.

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Raimi takes his inspiration from the Steve Ditko era of Spider Man, rather than the later Stan Lee/John Romita run. That’s mainly because Raimi sees the Ditko Peter Parker/Spider Man to be more interesting than Lee’s ‘not that fucked up really’ Peter Parker/Spider Man.

That’s how it should be because the Ditko Spider Man is the first real superhero in the post-modern era. Other Marvel characters had ‘realism’ over their DC counterparts because they had a limp, or blind, or had a bat heart and a pencil moustache but they were always brilliant doctors, lawyers or just millionaires. Peter Parker was a lonely boy with no mates who only had his sick aunt to help him grow up after his complete and utter selfishness saw his Uncle Ben die. It’s this guilt that drove Spider Man and Raimi’s film captures this though it does tone down Ditko’s Peter Parker who was a pretty alienated and at times, objectionable teenager to more like the Lee/Romita version where you at least feel some sympathy for him.

For two thirds of the film, it’s a perfect superhero film. We get the set up asPeter moves from hated loner to how he gains his powers. We see him explore those powers. We see Peter’s responsibility for his Uncle Ben’s death and his birth as Spider Man. Then the Green Goblin turns up and things get a bit tedious, partly because the Goblin design is so bloody awful and Willem Dafoe stops any pretense of acting and hams it up like a right old dear for the rest of the film. This is a problem with a lot of superhero films that spend two thirds of the film explaining the origin and then lose it when they realise there’s no ending.

Tobey Maguire does a great job of making Parker/Spider Man work, with a great bit of support from Kirsten Dunst but there was a better Spider Man film begging to be made. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for that at all….

Next time, some assembly will be required…..

My Top 20 Horror Films-6-The Evil Dead series (1981-2013)

It’s October, the month of Halloween and what would be more clichéd than doing a countdown of top horror films, so fully admitting to being a walking cliché, I will be doing a series of blogs running down the films in my own personal top 20. Here’s the previous blogs for numbers 20, Audition, 19, Night of the Demon18, Zombie Flesh Eaters, 17, Last House on the Left, 16, The Beyond, 15, An American Werewolf in London14, [REC], 13, Don’t Look Now, 12, Event Horizon , 11, Cannibal Holocaust10, The Wicker Man, 9Halloween, 8, The Blair Witch Project and 7, Hellraiser

At #6 I’m going to cheat a bit and have not one, not two, not even three films, but four as I slap all four Evil Dead films in one blog.Lets start at the beginning..

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Everyone reading this knows the plot. Five kids go to a cabin in the woods, unleash demonic forces and carnage ensues. That’s it. Doesn’t sound much but the first Evil Dead film is simply one of the most fucking enjoyable times you’ll ever have watching a horror film, and yes, much of this is due to the sheer sadism that the director Sam Raimi inflicts upon his young cast, including a young Bruce Campbell. Yes, the effects are cheap. Yes it looks cheesy but it doesn’t matter. It’s wonderfully directed even as there’s all manner of sticky horrible things being thrown at the screen.

Sadly this also suffered at the hands of the moral campaigners as one of the most famous Video Nasties, but it had a prodigious life in the cinema and if memory serves me right, ran continuously in a cinema somewhere in Glasgow for something like three years In London it was a regular late night show at the sadly departed Scala in Kings Cross. As soon as it hit video in a sadly butchered form it still managed to go from strength to strength but it took until 2001 or so before a full uncut version was released on DVD/video in the UK which seems so insanely censorious now because, well, it fucking is!

In 1987 Sam Raimi gave us Evil Dead II.

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What can you say about this apart from that if you don’t like this film, or indeed love it then you’re dead from the scalp down. From the moment it opens to it’s barking mad ending it’s just a mix of Raimi’s comedy and horror with some of the best sight gags, physical horror and sheer slapstick you’ll see in a horror film. It also elevates Bruce Campbell very, very firmly into the role of a cult hero

There’s two scenes in particular that rank as among my favourites in any genre of film. Please feel free to take a wild guess as to what these scenes are…

Moving forward to 1992 we find Army of Darkness. At this point the series moves away from horror towards a more jokey tone, mixed in with the sort of fantasy epic Ray Harryhausen used to do.

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In the UK it has the subtitle, The Medieval Dead, which I still think is a great title for the film, but Army of Darkness it was. It’s a good film, not great as it suffers from a middle section which is frankly padded out far too much, plus it’s not quite got the edge of the first two films. This isn’t to say it’s a bad film, it’s not, but it’s a missed opportunity.

There’s also two endings to the film. One clearly wraps up the series while the other leaves things open for more, and for years there was always a feeling that Raimi and Campbell would return, but Campbell seemed to rule out a return while Raimi became a huge success thanks to the Spider Man films.

This all changed this year when the reboot/sequel Evil Dead was released.

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I was prepared to hate this. Ok, Raimi and Campbell were producers, but it looked like every single other ‘reboot’ of classic horror films, so that would mean cynical CGI violence, a rape scene, crap actors and all of would be shot in the same sort of deep grey tones that would hide the seams not to mention the shoddy CGI.

Evil Dead isn’t that. It glories in it’s violence (very nasty with little CGI getting in the way) in such a way that it makes other reboots seem like the half-arsed efforts they are. It’s also made clear it’s a continuation of the original films through a few subtle hints throughout the film, but you really, really have to stay to the end to have the biggest hint laid in your lap.

I won’t spoil it, but the end is a glorious frenzy of red which hints of a sequel and of a connection to Bruce Campbell’s Ash character from the first three films. Give it a chance, seriously. As you’ll find out soon enough I have no time for reboots of classic horror films but this was a pleasant surprise.

The best news is that not only will there be a sequel to this year’s film, but Army of Darkness 2 is coming, to be followed by one last film which unites both strands together. Done right these could be very special films so lets hope shall we?

Next time, your mother knits socks in hell….