Directed by Sam Raimi
It’s perhaps a tad hypocritical of me to be such a devoted fan of the Evil Dead Trilogy whilst lambasting the recent work of Sam Raimi, most notably the stylistic choices made famous by the series of films that helped cultivate my love of horror. Drag Me to Hell was Raimi’s attempt at “returning to his roots,” particularly those nourished by the slapstick humor of Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness; yet, I simply couldn’t reconcile my love of these films with Drag Me to Hell’s amateur script, terrible acting, and utter tonal misfire.
This blending of slapstick humor worked for Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness because the content allowed it to. Flying eyeballs, “Three Stooges”-esque dialogue, and gallons upon gallons of blood lent themselves to Raimi’s unique visual style and the over-the-top performances required of his actors. Everything was tongue-and-cheek, and perhaps most importantly, he knew it. It didn’t work with Drag Me to Hell because, despite Raimi’s trademark zooms and gross-out gags, the film is a thriller with an attempt to frighten the audience, not gross them out, with the end result being an uneven blend of the two that is only made worse by the film’s poor acting, weak script filled with massive gaps in logic, and laughable dialogue. These same problems plague Raimi’s newest venture, Oz: The Great and Powerful, with such pervasiveness that it becomes almost unwatchable, with the most egregious offenses coming in the form of what looks suspiciously like “acting.”
As a con man transported to the Land of Oz and compelled to kill the Wicked Witch, James Franco’s performance as Oscar Diggs highlights the disconnect between the content of the film and Raimi’s inability to let go of his unique style to benefit a film that doesn’t need it. Franco is a solid comedic actor, made evident by his role as the good-natured stoner Saul Silver in Pineapple Express, but his attempts at drama and action fall completely flat at almost every turn. Instead, a serious character with a mischievous streak is turned into a laughable oaf who seems unable to control the muscles in his mouth to quell his shit-eating grin. Franco turns a boring movie into a bad one, compounded by a story that moves so quickly that major characters such as Theodora the Good, played by Mila Kunis, and her sister Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, are given the bare minimum of screen time and character development in order to focus on Oscar and the good witch Glinda, played by Michelle Williams.
The only stand-out characters are Finley, a flying monkey voiced by Zach Braff, and China Girl, a small porcelain doll voiced by Joey King that Oscar rescues after the Wicked Witch destroys her village and kills her parents. The former is the closest we’ll ever get to a new episode of “Scrubs,” with Braff delivering the only dialogue in the film that’s remotely funny, while the latter is a quick-witted and adorable little scamp whose rallying cry of “Let’s go kill a witch!” serves as one of the funniest moments in the film. Beyond this, every other character, from the denizens of the Emerald City to the munchkins, is nearly forgettable.
Raimi’s fantastical Land of Oz, replete with lush scenery, giant plants, bizarre creatures, and the requisite subtle morbidity that makes Oz a stone’s throw away from being a Tim Burton film (the first few notes of Corpse Bride’s leitmotif are clearly heard in several scenes), is created with a mix of CGI and practical effects that is, for the most part, visually impressive. Unfortunately, Raimi’s intended scope is severely diminished by the use of 3D and its tendency to un-blur the line that divides the computer-generated imagery from the actors. It’s a minor quibble in a film already filled with far more serious issues, but in a land like Oz, it belies the intended grandiosity of this magical world, thus sucking the viewer out of it. Furthermore, the incredibly insulated story allows for very little attention to be paid to the sweeping landscapes of Oz as a whole, with Raimi preferring instead to set most of the action in or around small areas and castles.
It’s amusing to point out that as Raimi’s revisionist tale-cum-prequel to the classic Wizard of Oz unfolds, you can’t help but notice the similarities to Army of Darkness in terms of the story: A hero arrives in a foreign land and reluctantly agrees to rid the area of a destructive force to serve his own selfish end. This can be easily dismissed as an interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, but beyond this lie other similarities, perhaps accidental, that discerning fans of Army of Darkness will quickly pick up on. Unfortunately, the similarities stop there, because like Drag Me to Hell, what worked in Army of Darkness doesn’t work in Oz: The Great and Powerful, and for a movie that runs two hours long, it’s hard to believe it’s so empty.
1 1/2 out of 5
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.
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