Initial: Okay, so this movie is pretty much a remake of The Evil Dead (1981), right?
Production Notes: Apparently, Raimi and company had always intended for an Evil Dead sequel to happen, but wanted one in which Ash gets sucked into a time portal to the Middle Ages. Men with money wanted a sequel more like the original, so Raimi gave them a sequel that was a pretty much a better (?) version of the original and made sure that a direct sequel would involve time travel.
What Did I Think: It’s hard for me to parse how effective Evil Dead II is because when I saw The Evil Dead, I was somewhat surprised by it. While schlocky and extra, The Evil Dead was also unnerving. But now, the bizarre camera angles, the tree assault (which is revisited in Evil Dead 2), and the gouts of blood are much less discomfiting. Plot-wise, Bruce Campbell is left to chew scenery for the first portion of the film and, later, the story hackily sets up Army of Darkness.
It’s interesting how different the gore is in Evil Dead II and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It can be argued that Chain Saw Massacre is less gory—the corpses and random limbs, while ubiquitous, aren’t very bloody. In Evil Dead, there is so much blood that it’s cartoonish. Violence is treated similarly. Of course, one of these movies is a horror comedy, one is not. Is it telling that only in the comedy does the male “final girl” take most of the abuse?
Army of Darkness
Year: 1992 Runtime: 1h 21m Rated: R
Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi
Stars: Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert
Initial: I know there are catch-phrases in this one . . .
Production Notes: Set in vague medieval Europe, filmed in California.
What Did I Think: Some Sam Raimi movies are a like a carnival dark ride. And not a slick Disney dark ride, but one of those mall parking lot set-ups. Everything is a little schlocky, a little shoddy and a little too loud, but you’ll probably going to have a good time if you let yourself.
In the 4–5 years between the sequels, Ash has been given a backstory and a couple more brain cells. The end of the previous movie has been retconned: instead of almost immediately being hailed the prophesied one, it takes some doing to convince the primitive screwheads. And the trunk of the ’73 Oldsmobile Delta 88 is now chock-full of stuff needed to MacGyver a successful-ish offensive against an army of darkness.
I don’t think it’s entirely the stop-motion skeletons that made me think of Saturday matinee fodder like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) or Jason and the Argonauts (1963)—though give me a stop motion skeleton over a CGI one any day of the week. It’s probably more the anachronisms in setting and the convolutions of plot. But with a goofy, slapstick twist, and lots and lots of blood.
Monday Miscellanea, a look back at the stuff of last week.
Finished two books last week!
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark – Why did I wait so long to read this? Great characters and world building, as always from Clark.
Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown, edited by Marvin Kaye – This anthology is too large; too many of the stories are not masterpieces and had little terror or the unknown. The standout was “The Throwing Suit” by Darrell Schweitzer and Jason Van Hollander.
Before I sink into some classic supernatural tales by Elizabeth Gaskell for Spring Into Horror, I’m going to work on my occasional Harlan Ellison read-through.
Other than some Chainsaw Massacres movies, I started watching HBO’s new series Winning Time. And, well, watched a couple basketball games. While my bracket was pretty broken, St. Peter’s was fun to follow.
It was mostly a Nine Inch Nails kind of week, starting off with Broken (1992), but of course this collaboration between Danny Elfman and Trent Reznor came up.
Ultimate frisbee. On Monday, our league team was savage, meaning we had no subs at all. It was windy, we played a zone D, and surprisingly won the game. On Wednesday, our league team was savage for us lady-types for half the game. It’s a mixed league, so we have a certain ratio of men and women on the field; the guys had some subs, one of our women showed up at half, and the other team loaned us a player. Managed to win that game too. And at pick-up on Friday, I played mostly against a fast 23-year old. I’m glad Eric and I do our own style of interval training at times when we don’t play as much. Otherwise, the week would have been really rough.
Writing & Entangled Tomes
No news on “Colors of the Sea.”
Didn’t write any fiction.
Decided on what might be the next Entangled Tome.
Up to 8 of 25 books read for my Beat the Backlog challenge.
I had planned to rewatch the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as well as two of its sequels that were available on my current bunch of streaming providers. Alas(?), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was not available via hoopla like I was led to believe.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Year: 1974 Runtime: 1h 23m Rated: R
Director: Tobe Hooper
Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Initial: Rewatch, though I found that there was a lot about The Texas Chain Saw Massacre that I didn’t remember.
Production Notes: Set in Texas, filmed in Texas!
What Did I Think: The first time I watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I wasn’t really impressed. While I could see its influence on later horror movies, I didn’t find it that interesting. I never went out of my way to watch it a second time (before now) or watch any of its sequels.
Two things that caught me this time around: First, I feel like there is an amorality to the fate of the characters. Sure, Franklin is annoying, and Pam and Kirk go to find the swimming hole to do things other than swimming, but they’re adults. This is the 70s after all. Instead, it plays out a little like a reality-based Ju-On (2001). They’ve stumbled upon the Sawyer family and now they’re screwed. They’re not being cosmically punished, they’ve just had bad luck.
Secondly, I do like the setting that is created. The beginning voice over doesn’t do much, really, but I love radio broadcasts in the background and this “art” that is shown. One of the Sawyer family is a frustrated artist, creating bone sculptures, mobiles, and such. It’s probably grave-robbing Nubbins, but maybe it’s Leatherface since he’s the only member of the family with any style. None of this is ever explained and I like that.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Year: 1994 Runtime: 1h 27m Rated: R
Director: Kim Henkel
Writers: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Stars: Renée Zellweger, Matthew McConaughey, Robert Jacks
Initial: As someone who grew up in the 80s, I have an automatic distrust of horror sequels since so many of them seem to be blatant cash grabs. I haven’t even seen many of the sequels in horror franchises I like (Hellraiser (1987), for example). Then again, I have trouble finishing books series too, so . . .
Production Notes: Aw, young Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey! How many horror movies that aren’t The Silence of the Lambs (1991) can claim two Oscar winners in it?
What Did I Think: Going in, I figured, “At least it’s written/directed by one of the original writers.”
There is an argument that Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation is parody and I almost buy it, especially since the original title of the film was The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yes, it kind of riffs on itself (no one is actually killed with a chainsaw) and the umpteen slasher films that filled the 80s and 90s (we start the movie at a high school prom), but there is a befuddling amount of WTF?! to this movie’s plot. Vilmer (McConaughey’s character) has a robotic leg? Leatherface and family are now being employed by a secret society to bring transcendence via terror? (The character of Rothman, their employer, reveals scarification and piercings that, I guess, are supposed to be shocking and Hellraiser-ish.) Leatherface also cross-dresses more which feels a little like the movie was leaning into the success that Silence of the Lambs had a few years earlier. Overall, the effect is bigger and broader, but for me loses the things that made the original worthwhile.
You know what April is? It’s halfway to Halloween!
Last year, I celebrated with a horror movie A to Z. I’m not quite that ambitious this year, though I do intend to also keep up a series of horror-aspected Cinema Saturdays. In the works are trio of Texas Chainsaw movies and an Evil Dead/Army of Darkness post.
As I’ve said, my reading has been pretty free-range this year, but I think I can definitely get “seasonal” for Seasons of Reading’s Spring into Horror Readathon. My Classics Club Spin book turned out to be Curious, if True: Strange Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell, which is perfect for Spring into Horror. I’m also thinking about rereading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and probably some other horror, mystery, thriller or gothic from off my shelves.
Monday Miscellanea, a look back at the stuff of last week. Or something like that.
Nearly finished with Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark. It has not disappointed. I’ll probably read something nonfiction next.
Also nearly finished with the too large Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown anthology. If I continue with a story a day, I should finish by the end of the week. Next up is probably work on my Harlan Ellison read-through.
The Forest for the Trees has been a bit of a slog. The “writers” of the subtitle are writers of literary fiction, which really are different from writers of genre fiction. (Just the fact that Lerner refers to “genre” as being novels, short stories, plays, etc. befuddles me.)
National college basketball tournament began last week. University of Nebraska, Lincoln is my alma mater. UNL is not good a basketball. They’ve never won a game at the tournament in seven appearances and finished this season 10–22. So, once again, I have no horse in the race. That doesn’t mean I didn’t fill out a tournament bracket for the sheer agony of failing spectacularly in my predictions.
Writing & Entangled Tomes
According to the online submission thingy, “Colors of the Sea” is still “under review.”
Didn’t do much work last week, but I spent a good deal of time scheduling and planning, which was totally important and needed.
I’m going through what’s currently popular in horror (according to Just Watch) on my chosen streaming services. These three films are all currently available on Hulu.
Year: 2021 Runtime: 1h 48m Rated: R
Director: Julia Ducournau
Writers: Julia Ducournau, Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio
Stars: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier
Double Feature Fodder: Crash (1996) (a movie I haven’t seen, actually)
Initial: Going in to Titane, I only knew what the blurbs were telling me: girl with a titanium plate in her head, unexplained crimes, and a father reunited with his son.
Production Notes: Won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Julia Ducournau is only the second woman director to win it.
What Did I Think: (avoiding spoilers) I’m annoyed by this film. Visually, it’s great. I’m not familiar with DOP Ruben Impens, but I’d watch Julia Ducournau’s Raw (2016) for his involvement alone. Agathe Rousselle? What a wonderful debut. There is body horror in this movie that actually made me squirm (I’m still listing the good things here). And I really liked half the plot.
And the other half of the plot, I just don’t understand. If there’s some allegory, I’m missing it. If it’s just to be shocking, I don’t think the other half of this movie needed it or deserved to be upstaged by it, although I guess it’s gotten everyone talking about the movie. All the things that made me squirm? They weren’t part of this plot.
Year: 2022 Runtime: 1h 54m Rated: R
Director: Mimi Cave
Writers: Lauryn Kahn
Stars: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jojo T. Gibbs
Double Feature Fodder: Dumplings (2005)
Initial: I knew a smidge more about Fresh than I knew about Titane. And, well, when a film mentions “appetites,” you know where it might be heading.
Production Notes: Mimi Cave’s feature length debut. Cave comes from the world of music videos, which historically includes my favorite directors.
What Did I Think: (spoilers ahead) In relation to Titane, Fresh is *so* conventional. It is very stylish, though. Sebastian Stan’s performance and the soundtrack reminds me a lot of Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000), but again, Fresh is more conventional than that film too. Honestly, for a film about cannibalism, I feel like it was just a little too tame. It’s really more about the horrors of modern dating than about eating other people. I’m glad I’m married.
Year: 2022 Runtime: 1h 35m Rated: R
Director: Damien Power
Writers: Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, Taylor Adams
Stars: Havana Rose Liu, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl
Double Feature Fodder: Identity (2003)
Initial: I wasn’t super interested in this film, but it was on the aforementioned “popular” list.
Production Notes: Set on the way to Salt Lake City, Utah, but filmed in Auckland, New Zealand.
What Did I Think: This movie was only an hour and a half long?! It felt so much longer . . .
As a writer, I’ve learned that sometimes, you can start a story in the wrong place. You think that maybe a chapter establishing a character’s background, or a situational background, will give scope to the story you’re about to tell. You’re usually wrong. This information does little to engage the audience in the story and the details are better used later in the narrative. This movie starts in the wrong place. It should have started nine minutes in with Darby driving in the snow (which is where the novel it’s based on starts) or even 15 minutes in when she walks into the visitor’s center (which is where a Quentin Tarantino movie would probably start). Knowing about Darby before anything else happens adds nothing. Would that change alone fix No Exit? Probably not. By the time there is any other twist in the plot, everything feels very tedious.
My reading this year has been mostly “free range,” so I am a little hesitant to commit myself to reading any specific thing, but I’m also still willing to keep at my Classics Club list. Well, my rejiggered Classics Club list. Earlier in the year, I moved a few titles off the list and replaced them with backlog books—books I own but haven’t read. I’d like to kill as many birds with the fewest number of stones possible.
Anyway: Classics Club Spin is an occasional event put on by the Classics Club blog. I take my list and pick twenty books I haven’t read yet. On Sunday (March 20th), CC picks a number between 1 and 20. I read the corresponding book by April 20th.
So, here’s my list:
Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson
The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham
The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce
In Ghostly Japan by Lafcadio Hearn
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective by Catherine Louisa Pirkis
King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Curious, if True Strange Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
Piazza Tales by Herman Melville
Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Shakespeare’s Sonnets by William Shakespeare
The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe