All posts by Pam Jahn



Format: Cinema

Release date: 31 May 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Neil Jordan

Writer: Moira Buffini (based on her play)

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Arterton, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Riley

UK, USA, Ireland 2012

118 mins

Eighteen years after filming Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, Neil Jordan has returned to undead mythology with another adaptation, this time of a play by Moira Buffini. Eschewing the usual clichés, Byzantium, set in a rundown seaside town, is a moody, melancholy film that focuses on the complex relationship between a mother and a daughter who became vampires two centuries earlier.

Saoirse Ronan is spellbinding as eternal teenager Eleanor, who seems condemned to be a sad, isolated outsider forever, while Gemma Arterton plays her more earthly, busty, gutsy mother Clara, with much vim and vigour (sometimes a tad too much). After a violent incident, Clara and Eleanor are forced to leave their tower-block apartment and move to an unnamed coastal town. Posing as sisters, they meet the meek and lonely Noel, who invites them to move into the dilapidated guesthouse he owns, the ironically named Byzantium. But tensions develop between Clara, who sets up to provide for her daughter and herself as only she knows how, and Eleanor, who is tired of hiding and yearns to share her secret, even more so after befriending sick teenager Frank (Caleb Landry Jones). As mysterious black-clad men try to track mother and daughter down, the conflict between them only increases the danger of their situation.

The focus on the mother/daughter dynamic provides an original, inventive angle on the vampire myth. There is great love between the two, but they have come to the heartbreaking moment when the daughter has grown up and is pulling away from her mother. Eleanor has become critical of her mother’s choices, but Clara will still ruthlessly do anything it takes to protect her daughter, as she’s always done. Their eternally youthful appearances add a strange twist that heightens the poignancy of a familiar situation. And although Gemma Arterton is not capable of the same emotional weight and expressiveness as Saoirse Ronan, her shortcomings may actually work well to convey the clumsy love of a woman forced into motherhood at too young an age.

Byzantium was the opening night film at this year’s Sci-Fi-London (30 April – 6 May 2013). Check out the full programme here.

There is also a little feminist touch to this vampire story: Carla is up against a male-dominated society (doubly so, both the society of her time, as well as a secret brotherhood), where her class and gender put her at a disadvantage. But with tremendous energy and spirited cheekiness, she fights and claws things back from the men who have maltreated her, raising herself and her daughter to a unique – and forbidden – position.

The film alternates between modern times and flashbacks to their past, contrasting today’s burnt-out pier, seedy guest house and grey skies with lush, candle-lit interiors, stunning coastlines and dark crypts. The vampiric transformation takes place on a sinister rocky island where a waterfall turns blood red once the change has been effected. It is a stylish, atmospheric film, with gorgeous cinematography and true visual flair, although it’s not without flaws. Gemma Arterton’s performance is patchy, while Caleb Landry Jones is totally overplayed. There are some jarring tone shifts and the pace does not always feel fully controlled, with the final showdown, most notably, ending too quickly. Despite these gripes, however, Byzantium is a thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully shot vampire film with a beating heart.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Baron Blood

baron blood
Baron Blood

Format: DVD + Bly-ray

Release date: 29 April 2013

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Mario Bava

Writer: Vincent Fotre

Cast: Joseph Cotten, Elke Sommer, Massimo Girotti, Rada Rassimov

Original title: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga

Italy 1972

98 mins

Mario Bava’s 1972 film Baron Blood was a surprise hit that bought him the opportunity to make 1974’s Lisa and the Devil, a movie that went virtually unreleased at the time. Ironically, the latter film’s reputation as a baroque, surreal masterpiece has now entirely eclipsed the former’s more modest and conventional virtues, but both films should give pleasure of some kind to horror aficionados.

At the time, Baron Blood would have seemed a departure, since it attempted to graft the Gothic horror elements of Bava’s earlier, very successful films, such as 1960’s Black Sunday and 1963’s Black Sabbath (both also available from Arrow Video) onto the fashionable, groovy settings Bava had exploited in Hatchet for the Honeymoon or Five Dolls for an August Moon (both 1970). In effect, the movie anticipates the swinging Gothics of 1972’s Blacula and Dracula AD 1972.

Black Sabbath will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 13 May 2013.

Oddly, this genre revolution doesn’t seem to have energized the director. Filming on location near Vienna, in a magnificent castle and its surroundings, Bava seems less inspired than constrained by his surroundings, though things get livelier as the film goes on: the early scenes are over-reliant on the zoom lens, but the camera starts to move about and there are some typically elegant visual explorations in the second half. Italian filmmakers have always moved the camera less to follow narrative than to investigate space and instill atmosphere, and Bava exemplifies this tendency.

It’s a good thing too, since the plot here isn’t one of the best he ever worked with, recycling as it does numerous horror tropes, both recent and old. The malign influence of the ancient torture chamber is borrowed from Corman’s Pit and the Pendulum (1961). The hideously charred villain, who masquerades as an unscarred but chair-bound gentleman, is derived from House of Wax (1953). Both movies starred Vincent Price, who was the first choice for this one, according to Bava-expert Tim Lucas’s typically informative commentary. Price being unwilling to work with Bava after the miserable experience of 1966’s Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (I’d say not Bava’s fault, that one), Joseph Cotten took the role of Baron Von Kleist (a meaningless literary reference), which freshens things up a little.

Bava compliments the Frankenstein’s monster of a narrative with a magpie-like visual approach, exploiting the settings with a wide angle lens, but throwing in nods to everything from 1963’s The Haunting (an oak door bulges inwards as if made of India rubber) to 1943’s The Leopard Man (seconds later, blood flows under the same door) to House of Wax again, with a sustained chase sequence which shows, if nothing else, that Bava’s memory for shots, in those pre-video days, was extremely sharp.

In addition to Cotten, who has a great entrance scene, gliding through an auction like a phantom, until his wheelchair is revealed as the source of his locomotion, the film stars Elke Sommer, who also returned for Lisa and the Devil. She’s rather good here, with her odd line readings, broad-shouldered, busty Teutonic fortitude and forceful screaming. She does terror well, though her best depiction of that emotion in a film, for my money, is still her rising panic at finding herself trapped naked in a car alongside a nude Peter Sellers in 1964’s A Shot in the Dark – it’s almost too convincing to be funny. A footnote for fans: I believe on the Italian soundtrack, Miss Sommer’s voice is being provided by Arianne Ulmer, daughter of the great Edgar Ulmer, whose crazy noir Detour (1945) was a favourite film of several Italian horror maestros, notably Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. Also appearing is Rada Rassimov as a female psychic, the only really interesting character, and one who manages to mix the plot up a little and make things less predictable.

As always with Bava, the photography and special effects do conjure up some memorably lurid and exotic imagery, and if this isn’t his most enthusiastic job, it’s still a fascinating late work: one could say that while this film acts as a compendium of his influences in the horror genre, its spicier follow-up serves as a summation of his personal obsessions.

Alan Jones’s intro to the film hints that the theme of returning evil from the past might be a reference to Nazism and Hitler, citing the film’s Italian title, which translates as The Horrors of the Castle of Nuremberg, but I think that title owes more to the earlier, and rather similarly themed shocker The Virgin of Nuremberg (1963), than to any political subtext. Bava doesn’t seem to consciously explore politics in his films, and in the film itself the castle is known as Von Kleist Castle or Castle of the Devils. Thematically, the film might have been strengthened by the casting of a horror icon in the Cotten role, so that the movie could have had some self-reflexive fun with the idea of an aging horror star returning in the seventies: a little like Peter Bogdanovich’s use of Boris Karloff in Targets (1968).

Arrow’s two-disc set features both the European and American cuts of the film, with their contrasting soundtracks (Stelvio Cipriani versus Les Baxter), both of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Serious Bava fans are going to want to own this.

David Cairns

Billy Liar

billy liar
Billy Liar

Format: DVD + Bly-ray

Release date: 6 May 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: John Schlesinger

Writers: Keith Waterhouse, Willis Hall

Cast: Tom Courtney, Julie Christie

UK 1963

98 mins

Billy Liar (1963) stars Tom Courtney as Billy Fisher, a young man with an overactive imagination struggling to come of age in an industrial Northern city. He looks to escape his dead-end job at a funeral director’s, his tangled love life and his oppressively ordinary family by escaping to London to become a scriptwriter. But what makes Billy Liar a masterpiece of British Cinema is that it is not a classic Bildungsroman –a ‘how I became a writer/artist/filmmaker story’ – but a tragedy. It is the story of a flawed character striving to better himself, doomed to failure and to retreat into his imagination. It is also a painfully funny comedy.

Billy is a product of class confusion. Having passed his eleven-plus and received a grammar school education, he finds himself alienated from his working-class parents, even though they live in a semi-detached house. He has none of the work ethic of his father or the know-your-place-in-society of his mother. ‘I’m not ordinary folk, even if she is,’ claims Billy. The class conflict is internalised by Billy as he flits between accents, from a parody of well-spoken RP to a Yorkshire brogue full of thees and thous. His two fiancées also emphasise this conflict: Barbara is a nice but boring and unimaginative girl who Billy calls ‘Dwarling’ as they make plans for their cottage in Cornwall; Rita, a mouthy waitress who demands an engagement ring, claiming ‘You don’t handle the goods unless you intend to buy.’ Although he aspires to that classic middle-class dream – a job in the media – he is not prepared to work for it.

Whatever you call it, either the British New Wave or kitchen sink realism, the brief period from the late 1950s into the 1960s (from Jack Claytons’s 1959 film Room at the Top to 1969’s Kes, by my reckoning) produced some great moments in British cinema. The films are wonderfully written. A concurrent literary movement, especially in the theatre, brought a mix of social conscience, comic wit and a new urge to tackle difficult issues to film writing. Many of the films were based on current plays or books by Keith Waterhouse, John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney and others. Yet despite their origins on the stage and page, kitchen sink films are very cinematic. Many of the directors had previously worked in documentaries and as part of the Free Cinema movement, which spawned Lyndsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson. Their films were strongly influenced by French poetic-realism and a particular love of Jean Vigo.

However, John Schlesinger was never really part of the Free Cinema movement. He had made documentaries, but had also worked in television directing episodes of Danger Man. Thus Billy Liar is less self-consciously ‘poetic’ and less gritty realist than A Taste of Honey (Tony Richardson, 1962) or This Sporting Life (Lindsay Anderson, 1963), and although a little slicker (at times looking like an Ealing comedy, with darker humour) and more openly ‘entertaining’, it is a brilliantly directed film. For a movie in which so little happens, the dramatic pacing is excellent – Hitchcock would struggle to put so much suspense into someone buying milk before catching a train. The performances are all exceptional, with Courtney’s distracted nervousness as Billy nothing short of brilliant.

From its opening travelling shots of British housing estates, from semi-detached to terraced houses, to rows of flats, the use of locations is stunning. Largely shot in Bradford, we see the city as it modernises, with wrecking balls bringing down the old and cranes building up the new. New supermarkets are opening – the world is changing. As the celebrity ribbon-cutter Danny Boone says, ’It’s all happenin.’ The fantasy scenes, however, were shot in Leeds, creating a somewhat lesser Kansas versus Oz dream/reality contrast.

Schlesinger’s reputation has suffered over the years, culminating in his Party Political Broadcast for John Major, a grammar school boy who dreamt of becoming Prime Minister. It is tempting to subsequently look for evidence of this conservatism in his earlier works. His outsiders and anti-establishment characters are rarely rewarded at the end of films (1965’s Darling, 1969’s Midnight Cowboy and of course Billy Liar) and are all certainly flawed characters. Billy and Darling’s Diane are incredibly selfish – Billy stops to pull faces at himself in a mirror when he is supposed to be hurrying to fetch his grandmother’s medicine. ’You’re idle and you’re scruffy and you’ve no manners,’ Billy’s mum tells him. But Schlesinger should be applauded for allowing such flawed heroes, and certainly for allowing the heart-breaking ending, which is amongst the greatest in cinema. Dreams are for dreaming, it tells us, not achieving. Anyway, if Billy had made it to London he would have spent the next 20 years writing sit-coms for Leonard Rossiter.

The results of achieving your dreams can be seen in Schlesinger’s following film, Darling, which stars Julie Christie playing almost the same character as in Billy Liar. Liz, the free-spirited, handbag-swinging object of Billy’s desires, shows him the possibilities of escape and adventure. She has ’been all over’, even as far as a Butlin’s Holiday Camp and Doncaster, we learn. In Darling she makes her entrance (although now called Diane) swinging her handbag as in Billy Liar. She goes on to become the ‘Happiness Girl’ and an Italian princess, and thoroughly miserable.

In some ways Billy Liar is a film very much about the post-war period, the war still colouring Billy’s imagination. In his dreams he is Churchill, or a general leading the victorious marching armies of Ambrosia, or simply machine-gunning his boss. And yet the film’s appeal is timeless; Morrissey putting Tom Courtney on a record sleeve and air-machine-gunning the Top of the Pops audience helped another generation discover this classic, and I’m sure there are enough good-for-nothing daydreamers around now for it to continue to resonate with audiences.

I once watched Billy Liar with a girl I was trying to impress. ‘And you can relate to this loser!’ she exclaimed at the end. ‘It’s much worse than that,’ I told her, ‘this is the closest I’ve come to seeing myself in a film.’ It is a film for us underachievers, that shows what is means to grow up intelligent, imaginative, semi-educated and bone-idle.

Paul Huckerby

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I’m So Excited

Im so excited
I'm So Excited

Format: Cinema

Release date: 3 May 2013

Distributor: Pathé & 20th Century Fox

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Writer: Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Javier Cámara, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas

Original title: Los amantes pasajeros

Spain 2013

90 mins

Pedro Almodóvar has said that he has often contemplated making a film in the English language. I suspect I’m So Excited would have been the perfect film with which to start. This colourful comedy, set on a malfunctioning aeroplane, is one of the campest films he has ever made (which is saying something), so imagine what Carry On fun he could have had with ‘cockpits’, ‘touch down’ and ‘oversized baggage’ as opposed to their less-euphemistic Spanish equivalents.

On the flight, destined for Mexico but doomed to ‘doing circles around Toledo’, we have three out-and-proud flight attendants (one alcoholic, one pill-popper and one Hindu), two sexually-confused pilots, a drugs mule, a psychic and a high-class dominatrix. If you think this sounds like early Almodóvar, you’d be right, and I’m So Excited recalls the director at his most fun, his most rebellious and his most absurd. In a nod to the spiked gazpacho of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1987), the flight staff numb the passengers to the impending danger with Bucks Fizz laced with mescaline, while there’s more than one Labyrinth of Passion-style love triangle (1982), and the cabaret and lip-synching used to emotional effect in High Heels (1991) and Law of Desire (1986) are reinvented here by a hysterical song-and-dance number to the film’s title track.

It’s a relief to welcome back a puerile Almodóvar after the knowing Broken Embraces (2009) and the dark melodrama of The Skin I Live In (2011), and – with colours as bright as a high-vis jacket and his usual parade of interesting faces – nearly every frame of this film is a joy to behold.

I’m So Excited is not an entirely smooth ride though. An ensemble piece with numerous interweaving stories, the strongest plot points take place in the cabin, despite Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz putting in game cameos on the ground. And, although one of the characters is given a key part in the film’s emotional and narrative denouement, it’s hard to care too much about a passenger who spends most of the film conked out.

More problematic still are the film’s two rape scenes. That there are any rape scenes may escape many viewers, and this ambiguity appears to be an emerging motif in the director’s body of work (the Skin I Live In is a case in point). It might be po-faced to get moralistic with a director as irreverent and loveable as Almodóvar, but the fact is that having sex with someone who is drugged and/or asleep is rape, and that it’s not treated as such is alarming. Almodóvar made light of rape in the early film Kika (1993) and was upbraided for it then. The difference is that Kika’s response to her rape was arguably funny and part of a grander narrative about the metaphorical ‘rape’ of subjects by the media. Similarly, the director made child abuse funny in What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1984) and terrorism funny in Women On The Verge. But the rape in I’m So Excited is not funny, it’s flippant, and, for someone capable of writing an otherwise tight and comedic script, he should know better.

Luckily for him, it’s bad turbulence and not a fatal crash. Tourists to his wacky world won’t be disappointed, and those with him for the long haul will be pleased to see he is at least travelling in the right direction.

Lisa Williams

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In the Fog

In the fog2
In the Fog

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Sergei Loznitsa

Writer: Sergei Loznitsa

Based on the novel by: Vasil Bykov

Cast: Vladimir Svirskiy, Vladislav Abashin, Sergei Kolesov

Original title: V tumane

Germany, Russia, Latvia, Belarus 2012

128 mins

Based on the novel of the same name by Vasil Bykov, Sergei Loznitsa’s follow up to the wonderful My Joy is a hard-hitting, brilliant experience. The year is 1942 and the place is the Western frontier of the USSR – Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) is suspected of collaborating with the Germans after he is let go when three of his co-workers are hung. Two partisans, Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov) are given the task of killing Sushenya in punishment for his crime. However, what awaits the trio is much darker than they could have anticipated…

Continuing his exploration of the dark heart of the Russian people, Loznistsa constructs a brutal but paced affair. Reminiscent of The Killers (1946) in its opening act, the film unravels to show exactly how the darkness operates – In the Fog can almost be considered a companion to Loznitsa’s previous work – the bleak landscape reminiscent of the road in My Joy, while the guilt the characters carry can be seen as being handed down through the ages.

Although the deliberate pacing might put off viewers, those willing to invest their time will find a film that’s dripping with atmosphere: eschewing the black-and-white morality of big-budgeted epics, Loznitsa constructs a personal journey to hell.

The cinematography washes the barren landscape out even to the point of indiscrimination – these places are beyond the audience’s imagination. The harsh winter is reflected in the way the light constantly bleaches the surroundings. The lengthy takes almost dare the audience to look away, while the performance of Vladimir Svirskiy is nothing less than mesmerising: his take on a man whose guilt has long been assumed before any proof is produced is both angry and laden with the weight of a thousand resignations.

The other mention must go to Grossmeier, played with aplomb by Vlad Ivanov, who is perfect at bringing the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ to life. His cruelty, the moving force of the tragedy on the screen, is indeed one of the most affecting performances anyone can hope to see on the big screen this year.

All in all, In The Fog is one of the most impressive films of this year, a brutal tale told in the most languid language imaginable. Unmissable and a terrific step forward for Sergei Loznitsa.

Evrim Ersoy

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Writer: Garry Michael White

Cast: Al Pacino, Gene Hackman

USA 1973

112 mins

The road movie genre and the vast geographical and often turbulent social landscape of the United States of America have, over the years, proved endlessly fertile territory for filmmakers, writers and actors alike. Counter-culture dropouts, anti-heroes (and heroines), warring families, dispossessed loners and happy-go-lucky friends have travelled the length and breadth of the US on journeys always as emotionally affecting as they are literal, whatever the destinations or eventual narrative resolutions. The late 1960s and early 1970s in particular saw a spate of such movies, an entirely understandable outcome given the radical social upheavals of the era, with the likes of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson,1970) rubbing contemporaneous shoulders with Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974), Vanishing Point (Richard Sarafian, 1971) and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973).

Amid these releases, Jerry Schatzberg, fresh from directing a young Al Pacino as Bobby in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), gave audiences his own take on the genre in the shape of the Palme d’Or winning Scarecrow. Again featuring Pacino, this time as Francis Lionel ‘Lion’ Delbuchi, a good natured but emotionally immature ex-sailor, alongside Gene Hackman as volatile ex-convict Max Millan, Scarecrow ‘s narrative journey follows the path of those on the margins of society. Working-class drifters rather than counter-culture rebels, Lion and Max, one a bundle of naïvety, energy and humour, the other ill-tempered, uptight and world weary, are both searching for something, anything, to give their lives direction. Hoboing their way from California to Pittsburgh, where Max dreams of opening a car wash, the apposite personalities (exemplified by Pacino and Hackman’s contrasting acting styles) come to have a profound effect on each other during their sometimes comedic, other times brutal, experiences. Lion and Max’s adult coming-of-age journeys become inextricably linked as their buddy-movie partnership is tested both by outside forces and their own, very recognizable, human foibles.

Dust bowl landscapes, railroad sidings, flea-pit bars, roadside diners, correctional facilities and industrial wastelands on the outskirts of cities are the environments inhabited by Lion and Max, aptly mirroring their outsider status. The spaces and places traversed and visited are peopled by non-professional extras and stunningly captured in widescreen by Vilmos Zsigmond, who would later shoot Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978) and Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981) among many others. Issues surrounding the American Dream, adult responsibilities, social status and masculinity are filtered through Lion and Max’s changing relationship, with Garry Michael White’s impressive debut screenplay giving Pacino and Hackman plenty of scope for impassioned monologues and quick-fire, semi-improvised dialogue interplay. Schatzberg directs in a loose-limbed fashion that fits the unsettled, scatter-shot lifestyles of his central protagonists. Short snappy vignettes flow into longer, sprawling sequences with overt comedy interrupted by outbursts of violence, reflective melancholy, casual cruelty and genuine tenderness.

Now forty years after its original release, Schatzberg’s sprawling drama has been fully digitally restored and plays for two weeks at the BFI during April and May. With its two peerless leads delivering riveting performances, this snapshot of the landscape of early 1970s America – external and internal – is a fine entry into the road movie canon.

Neil Mitchell

Watch the trailer:

The ABCs of Death

ABC of death
The ABCs of Death

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Monster Pictures

Directors: Various, including Adrián García Bogliano, Marcel Sarmiento, Angela Bettis, Noburo Iguchi, Jorge Michel Grau, Yûdai Yamaguchi, Anders Morgenthaler, Timo Tjahjanto, Ti West, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Srdjan Spasojevic, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura

USA/New Zealand 2012

123 mins

A high-concept portmanteau piece for which 26 modern horror directors were assigned with a letter of the alphabet and tasked with creating a short film. The resulting 123 minutes, from A for Apocalypse to Z for Zetsumetzu is, as you might expect, a mixed bag, with low-key, lo-fi naturalism next to cartoon expressionism, art house butting up against gross animation.

The batting average for the shorts is pretty high overall, with few outright duds. The problem is that most of the contributors come from a similar age, sex and mindset, resulting in a cumulative blokey, snarky chat-room feel as the film progresses – a battle to be more transgressive, freaky and cool, with surprisingly few films aiming to actually scare you. The viewer starts to feel somewhat numb, clocking up where they are in the alphabet and wondering how much more T & A, toilets, reflex post-modernism, bugs and Cronenbergian ickiness they can take.

For the record, Timo Tjahjanto wins the sickness race with Libido; Ben Wheatley delivers a sharp, subjective camera shock with Unearthed; Hydro-Electric Diffusion is agreeably bonkers; Quack and WTF are pretty funny, in a knowing, American smartarse way; Youngbuck winningly feels like a twisted loveletter to the 80’s high school movie and Fart and Zetsumetsu (both Japanese) seem determined to throw as much weirdness as possible at the screen in the hope that some of it might mean something. For my money, the real standouts were Dogfight by Marcel Samiento, a jagged little tale with a political edge that is scored, edited and shot to perfection, and Forzani/Cattet’s Orgasm, which is a beautiful, erotic semi-abstract nightmare unlike anything else around it. But hell, dive in, there’s something to upset everyone.

Mark Stafford

Evil Dead

Evil Dead

Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 April 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas

USA 2013

91 mins

Better than the dismal Texas Chain Saw 3D but not as brutal and affecting as Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is the third remake of an influential American horror film from the 70s and 80s to be released so far this year. Produced by the star and the director of the 1981 original, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, the remake is an undemandingly fun and instantly forgettable update that provides the required amounts of blood, gore and demonic possession, although no real scares or re-invention.

This time, the five who fall victim to the demonic forces unleashed by the reading of the flesh-bound book of the dead are a group of friends who have come to the iconic cabin in the woods to help drug-addicted Mia as she goes cold turkey. There is marginally more characterisation than in the original Evil Dead, with the difficult family history of Mia and her brother, and a parallel between drug addiction and demonic possession. Thankfully, this is not pushed too much, but just enough information is given for the film to play nicely with audiences’ expectations as to which of the characters may survive.

Some of the gruesome highlights of Fede Alvarez’s remake include possessed characters cutting off their own tongue or limbs, a nail gun attack, a crawlspace scene and a chainsaw showdown in blood rain set to an oppressive choral score – the sound design as a whole is one of the film’s strengths. The problem is that so much is lifted from other films (not just the original Evil Dead, but also most obviously Evil Dead II and The Raid, while The Exorcist is clearly an influence) that nothing feels very fresh or surprising. Alvarez respectfully and competently provides the expected motifs – the demonic POV, the tree rape, the gift of a ring, the cutting-off of the only access road, etc. – with a few minor variations, but without any new twist or angle.

For a truly madcap reinvention of the original Evil Dead formula, it’s better to revisit Evil Dead II, released on Blu-ray this month. While Sam Raimi’s uninhibited low-budget debut established some of the horror tropes that are now taken for granted, its 1987 follow-up was a surreally comic, exuberant, irreverent take on the story, influenced by the comic sensibility of Raimi’s friend and co-writer Scott Spiegel. Bruce Campbell is a hilariously hyperactive Ash, who inadvertently summons the demonic forces from the book of the dead while on a romantic weekend with his girlfriend in the fateful cabin. As he is driven insane by various supernatural occurrences, the previous occupants’ daughter and her companions turn up and come under attack from the demon.

The film is a succession of brilliantly offbeat set pieces, including the wonderful dancing corpse; the diabolically laughing house; the flying eyeball that lands in someone’s mouth; the terrific sequence, inspired by Spiegel’s short film Attack of the Helping Hand, that plays like a macabre early Disney cartoon, in which Ash cuts off his murderous possessed hand – said hand scuttles off, squeaking like a mouse, through holes in the wall and is caught in a mousetrap before flicking Ash the finger and disappearing; and of course, the insane ending set during the Crusades.

This non-exhaustive list is probably enough to convincingly demonstrate the different natures of this month’s two Evil Dead resurrections. For efficient Saturday night popcorn horror, see Fede Alvarez’s remake. For riotously fun, maniacally imaginative comic horror, get the Evil Dead II Blu-ray.

Evil Dead will screen in a special 35mm double bill screening with the sequel Evil Dead II at London’s Regent Street Cinema on 11 June 2017, presented by Cigarette Burns.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Evil Dead II

To tie in with the theatrical release of the much anticipated remake of Evil Dead, Patrick Walsh revisits the 1987 follow-up Evil Dead II, re-released on a special edition Blu-ray this month.

Evil Dead II will screen in a special 35mm double bill screening with the original Evil Dead at London’s Regent Street Cinema on 11 June 2017, presented by Cigarette Burns.
Comic Strip Review by Patrick Walsh
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