"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Million Dollar Movie

By Jon DeRosa

Just like most other genres these days, successful horror movies spawn franchises. The studios have indulged lengthy strolls down Elm Street and at one point, seemed to have taken great care to make sure there was a fresh installment of “Friday the 13th” every time the calendar dictated.

I’ve never seen any of them, but does the number of times people wanted to sit through the same basic story to be scared in the same basic way tell us something of ourselves as a species? I’ll leave that for someone who watched those movies to decide.

In fact, to be a successful horror movie franchise, the film doesn’t even have to be a true horror movie. Both “The Evil Dead” and the “Scream” movies are horror-movie derivitives, distilling or reducing the elements of horror movies and packaging them up with laughs for a new twist.

“The Evil Dead” is a horror movie that has mostly discarded plot, writing, acting, sound, editing, cinematagrophy, and lighting. All that is left is gore, suspense and comedy. It’s poorly made but still spectacular – I challenge you to look away during a screening. The efforts appear earnest, and it’s hard to believe the people responsible for “The Evil Dead” (Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert) would someday create the best super hero fight on film (Raimi’s Doc Ock vs Spiderman on a skyscraper) and torment our hero John Schulian (Tapert).

That’s not to say the movie just a bucket of corn syrup dyed red and an eerie score. There’s a lovely moment where Ash, played by cult hero Bruce Campbell, holds a gift for his girlfriend, Linda, and pretends to be asleep. Linda wants to to grab the gift, but she suspects he’s faking. The camera catches just their eyes as she looks between him and the gift and Ash takes occasional peeks to see if his ruse is working. And then of course when Linda dies, Ash tries to bury her before she can turn into a zombie-monster. He’s too late, but she fakes him out with the same game, pretending to be dead while he digs her grave, sneaking peeks to see if her ruse is working.

When he slices her head off with the shovel, there’s an extra pang between the chuckles. The movie rightly has a devoted following for it’s knack of being bad in just the right ways. And now a remake? I wonder…

On the other side of the same coin are the “Scream” movies. These films are loaded with everything modern Hollywood does best, and then polished to a sheen. The derivative nature of “Scream” lies within the plot of the film as the psychotic killers and the hapless victims of the film are themsleves horror film fanatics. They know how horror movies work inside and out, and when they find themselves inside one, they keep track of what is happening like play-by-play commentators at a sporting event.

Most of them still die, but it’s a lot funnier when the victim does something stupid a few minutes after she discussed the universal stupidity of female horror movie victims.

Like Alex, I don’t seek out a lot of horror movies. However, consuming American popular culture for over thirty years ingrains horror movie formulae in the brain. So it doesn’t take an expert in scary movies to enjoy seeing them turned in on themselves in ingenious ways. And with all the laughs “Scream” and “The Evil Dead” bring to the table, suspense is such a potent ingredient that even these horror-comedies will take you to the edge of your seat before you’re rolling in the aisles.


1 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  Nov 4, 2011 12:41 pm

I've just finished reading Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill memoir, and had it open about the same time we were learning here of John Schulian's struggles with Rob Tapert.

It was strange to see Tapert as both the Michigan kid who joined Raimi, Campbell and others in bootstrapping the Evil Dead production and also the grown-up producer who apparently turned into an asshole but also married Lucy Lawless (!).

In any event, reading about what they went through to get that movie financed and distributed gave me a new respect for them and the process, and I've been meaning lately to give it another look.

Also wondering what kind of relationship Schulian and Campbell may have had with one another. Each seems like a decent guy (based, of course, on each guy's own opinion as expressed through autobiography). I carry a bias as a Campbell fan. Hope they saw eye to eye.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 4, 2011 1:00 pm

Interesting. I happened to be in Barnes and Noble last weekend and saw a new memoir by the guy who played Hercules. I skimmed it for a mention of John but no dice. LOL

3 Jon DeRosa   ~  Nov 4, 2011 1:38 pm

[1] You know, it took incredible balls to make the Evil Dead considering they obviously had little idea what they were doing. So much so that when they had success, i can just see it re-upping whatever ridiculouslessly misplaced condfidence they had in the first place.

4 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 4, 2011 2:12 pm

You know if I'm not mistaken Joel Coen edited that movie or at least co-edited it. I think I recall a poster of the movie in their office when I worked for them.

5 Jon DeRosa   ~  Nov 4, 2011 3:33 pm

[4] yeah, on imdb, he's listed as an asst editor. that little movie had a lot of firepower involved.

6 Ara Just Fair   ~  Nov 4, 2011 5:33 pm

Whatever email I used to sign up for the BB is long out of my memory. Had to refinagle my name. D'oh. I love Evil Dead. I am a sukcer for the 80's horror flicks. My wife and I have been watching American Horror Story which premiered on Fx earlier in October. It is some crazy, disturbing, violent shit. I don't know how long they can keep banging out episodes but it is most entertaining.

7 kenarneson   ~  Nov 4, 2011 5:58 pm

If you want to get your old account name back, let me know and I can fix that for you.

8 Ara Just Fair   ~  Nov 4, 2011 10:05 pm

[7] That's good with me. Just let me know what I need to do. I think i created an aol account about 6 years ago b/c the Banter wouldn't accept hotmail. I used a gmail account for [6]. Oi!

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