Archive for June, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

2009, US, Directed by Sam Raimi

Colour, Running Time: 99 minutes

Review Source: Cinema Screening; Image: 2.39:1 Super 35

After an extended hiatus away from anything too gruesome or terrifying, Sam Raimi - now mainstream director extraordinaire thanks to his levitation to greater heights with Spider-Man 1, 2, and 3 - is back seemingly attempting to prove that he still has the ability to shock. Actually I reckon he was feeling a little caged by his prolonged commercial viability in Hollywood (and its associated restrictions for all but those at the top) and wanted to metaphorically let his hair down for a while before heading into production on Spider-Man 4. Can Raimi appease some of the older hardcore fans who have remained addicted to The Evil Dead and its bloody good first sequel for all of these years (i.e. me, et al.)? I enjoy the Spidey movies personally and have no problem with someone evolving their career from low-budget origins, and the likes of Raimi and Peter Jackson demonstrate what amazing talent can spawn from the horror genre when that talent is allowed to flourish. However I wasn’t really sure what to expect with Drag Me To Hell

It’s really nice that Raimi can get his slightly older brother Ivan involved in bigger budget productions such as this and the preceding Peter Parker films - Sam’s movies always feel like Edward Wood-type scenarios whereby he hangs around with a core motley crew of contributors, those whom he presumably feels secure with and able to rely on. So Sam and Ivan wrote this story (reportedly back in the early nineties before being sidetracked with other endeavours) about Christine Brown, a career-driven banker woman who is cursed by an old gypsy following her ulterior refusal to prevent repossession of the gypsy’s property. Brown soon begins experiencing frightening visions and learns from a possibly dodgy fortune-teller that the curse will result in her being ‘dragged to Hell’ in three days time if she cannot prevent it somehow, though it will be three days of increasingly malevolent supernatural activity. First she gives animal sacrifice a bash, to no avail, then the services of an exorcist-like medium, who dies following a violent séance, and then the old Night of the Demon trick - passing the item that holds the curse on to another owner. Mixed up in all of this is her rivalry with a fellow banker as they both compete for the recently vacated assistant manager position at their branch, plus the prospect of Brown impressing her boyfriend’s uppity parents as they (particularly the mother) look down on her due to her origins as a farm girl. Her boyfriend (the likable Justin Long from Jeepers Creepers) meanwhile attempts to bring sanity to the whole mess, sticking with his girl through escalating situations of difficulty and unable to tell his parents precisely what to do with their preconceived notions of what’s right for him.

Alison Lohman, getting all dirty...

Brown’s predicament seems a little contrived but the Raimis successfully manage to make us feel a tad sorry for her as her desire to please and progress only winds her up in deep problems to the point where her very soul is under threat. However the schizophrenic approach to the story turn this on its head as the character resorts to animal sacrifice to ward off the invading demon - perhaps the writers are suggesting that anybody is capable of such malicious action when subjected to certain conditions. They’d be correct of course but I’m not sure this was as well conveyed as it could have been. There is an overt reliance on jump effects to fool the audience into thinking they’re scared - this often works but is so overused in modern genre products that it’s a little tiresome, and tiring. However, some of these effects admittedly have impact. As the movie gains momentum it becomes obvious that Raimi is having some fun - the séance/possession sequence really steps back into Evil Dead territory, and for a few minutes I thought minimal tweaks to this film could have resulted in another feasible chapter in the franchise. It’s a perverse cross between horror and slapstick comedy that only Raimi produces in such a ridiculous but effective fashion, and I’d argue that his style is better realised here than in Army of Darkness, which for me was too far down the slapstick route for it to be anything other than irritating. As with Evil Dead 2 the balance here is good, though many audience members not familiar with these earlier flicks may wonder what the hell is happening on occasions. Aside from several cool in-jokes throughout (the periodic appearance of a similar car to that used in Evil Dead) it’s honestly a real shame that there’s no Bruce Campbell in sight - I‘ve come to expect at the very least a cameo from the man in this director‘s films. There is a sadistic edge to Drag Me To Hell that’s satisfactory - it makes you squirm in places (Raimi won‘t be winning any fans in Help The Aged), gives you a few frights, causes a smile here and there, and sometimes forces you to stare in utter bewilderment at the onscreen activities. The morbid graveyard exhumation is especially a highlight for me and the conclusion is beautifully grim. As aforementioned, the movie is a touch schizophrenic in many respects and it won’t necessarily find classic status but it is a welcome return to the genre for a director who’s been noticeably absent for some time.

Posted on 19th June 2009
Under: Horror | 2 Comments »

Demons 2

1988, Italy, Directed by Lamberto Bava

Colour, Running Time: 87 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R2, Divid2000; Video: Letterbox 1.78:1, Audio: DD Mono

Rather than continue the story exactly where Demons left off, the writers of the sequel adopted the novel idea of retelling a very similar story that occurs elsewhere, and using a number of the same actors too. Instead of watching a movie in a theatre the eventual victims of the demon plague here inhabit a high-rise apartment block and whilst passing their time away with various inoffensive activities such has having parties, training in the onsite gym, and keeping the prostitution industry afloat, they have their TVs on in the background whereby an apparently fictitious film portrays the coming of a demon plague… Before long one of the creatures of the onscreen story has supernaturally escaped (almost Videodrome-style) from the TV of an apartment where a crazy party is underway and, as in the first movie, hell breaks loose and the slaughtered partygoers are soon transformed into the bloodthirsty undead. Thus a rampage through the apartment block takes place as its innocent dwellers fall victim to the relentlessly violent monsters.

Get up yer big pansy!

I’m not sure if choosing to follow the path that the sequel does - almost remaking the first movie - is a good or bad idea. Demons 2 doesn’t work as well as its predecessor, that much is sure, but I don’t think its failings are specifically attributable to the notion of telling almost exactly the same story. It’s certainly fun spotting a couple of the original cast (who were horribly murdered in the first outing) show up again to reprise different roles (though with almost identical personalities) and the pace of the story is built up from relaxed to frantic levels, then maintained in a similar fashion. A number of the same crew are also present: Lamberto takes up directorial reins again, Dario Argento returns to produce and write (with Franco Ferrini and Dardano Sacchetti), Gianlorenzo Battaglia is once again responsible for functional cinematography, and special effects maestro Sergio Stivaletti helps out with prosthetics and mechanised creations as before. So why doesn’t Dèmoni 2: L’incubo Ritorna (the subheading translating as The Nightmare Returns) quite do the trick? On first seeing this film around 1991/2 I was fooled into thinking the film works just as well, but multiple viewings bring about the realisation that there are problems: Simon Boswell replaces Claudio Simonetti in the music department and whilst his contributions are adequately executed the deliberately non-metal soundtrack choices don’t inject the proceedings with the same energy and chaotic drive (I remember reading an interview with Boswell where he stated that he wanted to move away from metal for the sequel; I think this was a misjudgement on his part personally). Next is the overall gruesomeness, which is substantially reduced compared to Demons. I understand that it was originally intended to be just as gory but was cut down prior to release - again this stripped down violence makes the film feel somewhat anaemic after sitting through the first film, particularly noticeable if watching them in the same evening. If a ‘special edition’ of some kind was to reinstate the excised footage we could be in for a more satisfactory thrill ride. Finally there are moments of the plain illogical - okay, I hear you scream that the original wasn’t exactly the artistic result of a college science project, but the sequel takes ridiculous liberties even with the flimsy laws already established (what was all that about with the TV monitors at the end?). Having said all that there is still a consistent flavour underlying the story that makes it watchable for fans of the first, the special effects that have remained are pretty visceral, and, despite the music itself not lending itself so well to the material, I love the way The Cult’s Rain plays as a backing track to the aftermath of the party massacre. In summary though, Demons 2 is at least a little bit disappointing.

 

This old UK DVD looks smooth enough despite a low bitrate and some digital problems but the audio here is one of the worst transfer jobs I’ve ever heard: levels are all over the place and sounds are frequently so muffled even a sudden and aggravated swivel of the volume knob barely helps - I don’t think the film sounded this bad on videotape. So aside from a surprisingly comprehensive presence of extras the presentation of the film itself is a major letdown.

Posted on 3rd June 2009
Under: Horror | No Comments »

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